A band ought to have a sound all of its own. It ought to have a personality,” Glenn Miller once said. His orchestra had both in spades, so much so that when on 15 December 1944 the then army/air force captain Miller boarded a transport plane to Paris, never to be seen again, his legacy would continue. It does so in the form of bands determined to preserve the big band sound for future generations – one of them is the Glenn Miller Orchestra and What’s On speaks with current bandleader Wil Salden about the enduring appeal of swing.
Bandleader and the orchestra’s namesake Glenn Miller disappeared 69 years ago, but you’re more than a tribute act, so what basic idea does the Glenn Miller Orchestra stem from?
Even as a child and later as a music student I was a fan of swing music of the 40s. For me, Glenn Miller is the epitome of this music. It is my desire to present on stage the same style and perfection he achieved with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra has been described as “The Beatles of the swing era” – why does this music endure?
This music will always be known, because it is timeless, famous and still used a lot, for example many commercials are backed by this wonderful music. Names like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Marilyn Monroe, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and so on.
It is up-beat music played in dark times, but the original audience is dwindling. What is it like preserving the legacy and introducing this music to new listeners?
Even though the development of music during the last decades has influenced the training and performing styles of the musicians, we emphasise a perfect interpretation of the original sounds, and our new listeners are enthusiastic about our performances 70 years on from when this sound was first introduced.
And Glenn Miller is basically a franchise isn’t it? There’s one on constant tour in the States, yours touring Europe, one in the UK and one based in Scandinavia – how does it work?
Indeed there are several bands worldwide, we work across 34 countries and our territory is quite amazing. I once saw the Glenn Miller Orchestra US but never visited the other ones. There is no general format and every band works in its own way. I only can say that our band has maintained a very high standard for many many years and that gives me a good feeling.
So there are really no changes in the arrangements, no room for improvement from when this music was first played 75 years ago, not even when technology?
We use the original, fantastic arrangements of the original Glenn Miller Orchestra. Those arrangers really were excellent, so there is no use at all trying to do this job better. Also our audience wants to hear the original stuff.
The present Glenn Miller Orchestra Europe was officially licenced to use Miller’s name in 1990 and has been touring consistently since, playing an average of up to 200 live dates a year.
A schedule with up to 200 shows a year indeed is rather crazy. In the last four years we pared it back a little doing around 150 gigs a year. That still is amazing but it also proves our band is still “hot” and as long as we can maintain the workload, it is a great pleasure to be on stage in all these countries.
In the past decade you’ve regularly brought the big band sound into former Soviet countries. What was it like introducing the East to music that is so associated with being all-American?
At the beginning of our shows in Eastern Europe, we really were very surprised about the amount of young people coming to our shows. Besides that, they really knew a lot about swing music and they were very, very enthusiastic. It is always fun working in all these countries, like Ukraine, Russia, Baltic States, Czech Republic, Poland and so on.
Is there still something you dream about achieving with your orchestra?
My dream is to have a calendar full of appointments for a lot of years to come and a captivated audience in sold out concert houses. Oh, and of course to keep swinging.
Glenn Miller Orchestra (DE, jazz)
8 November at 19.00
Palace Ukraine (V Vasylkiyvska 103)
by Jared Morgan