The Liberty Gazette
March 14, 2017Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: December 15, 1944 was a cold and dreary day around England. Hardly a surprise. The most accepted theory of the disappearance over the English Channel of the airplane in which Big Band Jazz star Glenn Miller was riding is that ice formed in the engine, carburetor, or intakes. Ice blocks air and fuel from going where it needs to go, choking off the fuel flow, with the same result as though the tanks had run dry. This was a devastating blow to humanity. Glenn, the patriot who volunteered for duty even though he was beyond the age to be drafted for WWII, had livened up America with his record-breaking records, and endeared himself to a worldwide audience with music we could love – and still do.
Thanks to Lee College for hosting the Glenn Miller Orchestra recently – the real thing, still going strong. The band only stopped performing for two brief periods after Glenn’s death, but since 1956 has been playing non-stop, from the original sheet music that was used by Glenn and his orchestra.
Highly skilled trumpet players belt out sounds in rhythm that make it impossible to sit still. The clarinet players duplicate Glenn’s distinctive reed sounds. If you know this sound, these musical memories will produce an unstoppable grin that takes over all available space on one’s face.
Linda: I grew up listening to Glenn Miller’s music, along with others of that era, and from the time I heard they were coming to Baytown I ached for my father to be there with me. Dad passed in 1998, but my memories of him jamming to the sounds of 1940’s Swing are fresh and vivid. Dad loved a great drum solo, and dominating high notes on the trumpets by strong embouchures. He would move wildly with the beat and shout in excitement during the fast-moving parts, just as he and his contemporaries did when they were in high school.
Appreciating the opportunity to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra live, there was another gift waiting in the wings. Seated in the row in front of us, and just a few seats over was a man about the age my dad would be now. My heart swelled to see the sheer happiness of this man, accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law, to watch him bob his head with the beat, and sing along with some of the songs, a fresh, energetic smile on his aged face. His happiness brought me joy. I wanted to hug him and say, “Thank you!” but they got out ahead of us.
Mike: What’s not to love? I thought of my mom singing these songs, such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, as I watched the side-to-side swing of the trombones and trumpets while the drum, piano and string bass added depth. When the name of a beloved song was announced by the band’s current leader, Nick Hilsher, outbursts of recognition and youthful enthusiasm from the most elderly in the audience infused the air with a sense of near immortality.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra is on the road about 48 weeks out of the year, traveling all over the world. However, most of their time is spent enticing grins from several generations of folks across this great land of ours. If Glenn knew this, I think he would say he went out on a high note.