Sunday, September 22, 2013


My Mother at 18 Years

Harry James & Betty Grable

The other day while twiddling around with knobs I stumbled across the last 30 minutes of the 1954 movie, “The Glenn Miller Story” on ABC-TV. Actually, they weren’t knobs - I was fiddling with my remote control; one of them.  Knobs are almost outdated these days.

I wasn’t fiddling around with nobs, either. They’re few and far between around here, too; most are hidden within the walls of Downton Abbey or the like. I’m not, and never am, in the mood for hobnobbing!

Seeing the irreplaceable, endearing Jimmy Stewart as Glenn Miller, and the engaging June Allyson with her twinkling, smiling eyes playing his adoring wife on the screen before me, I had to stop, watch and listen. 

I grew up to the music of Glenn Miller.  It was through my mother and grandmother that I was introduced to Glenn and his band. I grew to love his music as much as they did. When Mum was in the mood, as she very often was, she’d sit for ages in front of the piano, her nimble fingers tickled the ivories of our Irving upright; they were putty in her hands.  

Our old steel-framed German-made Irving piano had been a wedding present to my grandmother and grandfather; my mother’s parents, on their wedding day.  It was a gift from a spinster aunt of my grandfather, Jack (John) Hay. 

The keys of that sturdy piano held more than one lifetime of stories and melodies. With a depth of tone as smooth as golden syrup I don’t remember it ever needing tuning. 

My mother was a brilliant pianist; at times she played in local dance bands.  I took piano lessons for five years from a Miss Gidley, a local piano teacher. Even though I passed all my exams with flying colours, I never did have my mother's expertise on those black and white keys.  I doubt I could even play Chopsticks these days!

I loved listening to and watching my mother play the piano.  She’d had lessons when she was a child, but she played by ear, as well.  Her talent at the piano was a natural talent; one not learned.  

Nana, Mum’s mother and I knew our limits when sitting on the piano stool. We played similarly.  Nana and I were no where near as good as Mum when it came to piano-playing.

Throughout my childhood and teen years rarely a day went by without piano music echoing through our home.  Situated next to the piano stood a cupboard packed tightly with sheet music; some of which dated from the early 1900s. Those treasured old sheets belonged to my grandmother.

My mother had many favourite songs; and all her favourites featured each time she sat at the piano.

 “Moonlight Serenade” was a favourite, amongst many, many others.

“Elmer’s Tune” was another; probably because, in name, it was pretty close to my mother’s first name, which was “Elma”!

Almost every day we joined Glenn Miller as he and his band members travelled aboard the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” on their way to “Tuxedo Junction”.

Having rung “Pennsylvania 6-5000” to make a date with his lady, he proudly exclaimed; ‘“I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo”’. “At Last” he was going to present her with a “String of Pearls”!

While Glenn was doing his thing, Benny Goodman was “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Stomping at the Savoy”. In the meantime, the only thing his band mates could do was “Sing! Sing! Sing!” 

Benny told them, ‘“It’s Wonderful”, but “Don’t Be That Way”. Don’t let the “Stardust” get in your eyes. It’s difficult enough  when the ‘“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes!”’

He then turned to his “Honeysuckle Rose”, and said; ‘“After You’ve Gone”, “Oh! Lady Be Good”, otherwise “I’m Coming to Virginia” via “Avalon”’! 

I lost count how many times the beguine began!  I wish I had a dollar for each time, though!

Artie Shaw often strolled in tune to "The Donkey Serenade" along "Lambeth Walk" in the hope of missing the "Traffic Jam". Regularly at night, he was seen "Dancing in the Dark" while thinking "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody"; especially "Sweet Lorraine".

Finding the "Temptation"  too strong to ignore, Artie told her; '"Any Old Time" - "I Get a Kick Out of You!" and "I Don't Want to Walk Without You"'!

The big band swing era of Miller, Goodman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and Harry James et al was a time filled with romance, glamour and great music.

Ellington told Basie to “Take the ‘A’ Train” while he went by “Caravan” because, he, Ellington liked to take his time, allowing him time to leisurely watch the “Autumn Leaves” change colour and fall.

Basie didn’t mind because he’d asked his “Lil’ Darlin’”, “Sweet Georgia Brown”, to spend “April in Paris” with him.  He'd planned a cruise “Up a Lazy River”. In his “Corner Pocket” he had a pair of “Shiny Stockings” to give her.

Tommy Dorsey told “Marie”; “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”. "It's Started All Over Again"!  "Easy Does It" or “I’ll Never Smile Again”,  but  I guess “That’s How It Goes"!' 

Harry James told his second wife, Betty Grable;  ‘“It’s Been a Long, Long Time”, and “I Know You’ve Heard That Song Before”; but “You Made Me Love You”; so you have to shoulder some of the blame!” 

I class myself as being very fortunate to have grown up listening to the music of the maestros from a time long gone; an era never to be repeated, but hopefully never forgotten. 

I didn’t get to see Glenn Miller play in person, of course; but I did see The Glenn Miller Orchestra under the direction of Buddy De Franco perform at Brisbane’s Festival Hall on a Saturday afternoon in the early Seventies.

My friends and I were running a few minutes late, something I abhor; being punctual is one of my many quirks; but my legitimate excuse for that day is I was in the hands of others regarding travelling arrangements to the venue. 

The orchestra had just begun to play as we entered the main auditorium.  Tears immediately sprung to my eyes as the strains of “Moonlight Serenade” greeted us.  I will never forget that moment.

And then in 1973, on one hot, humid February night in the very same building, I was fortunate to be in the presence of Benny Goodman. Sitting on a stool on the stage, dressed in a tuxedo Goodman did what he did best, as cool as a cucumber. 

I kept waiting for Gene Krupa to appear, but of course, Krupa wasn’t travelling with Goodman at the time. 

Krupa died in October of 1973.  From when I was a small child I adored Krupa.  I adored drums…and Krupa was the master drummer. I had a glossy photograph of Gene Krupa on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood.  I’ve never lost my adulation for Krupa.

Peter Appelyard was the drummer playing in the Benny Goodman Orchestra that February night I sat in awe, listening and watching; sometimes in disbelief.  Appelyard was brilliant; but I was sure I sensed the spirit of Krupa on the stage that night!

Interval came and went.

The second half of the evening’s entertainment began with none other, of course, than….”Sing! Sing! Sing!” 

Needless to say…I was a quivering, misty-eyed mess with a smile as wide as the Great Australian Bight across my face as soon as I heard the first beat. 

It was a performance to savour.  Being in the audience; being in the presence of Goodman was so very special. 

Even though it was before my time, that night I felt I’d been transported back to the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.  It was a magical experience.  There are not enough words to fully, completely describe the night….magical is probably the best I can come up with, for now.

I hope the music never dies.  I hope this generation and future generations are introduced to the brilliance of the musicians of that uniquely wonderful era. My other hope is that they learn to love the music; and appreciate its excellence.

As Red Nichols played; and Ella Fitzgerald often sang; “The Music Goes Round and Round”….


  1. What truly wonderful memories. Misty eyed here. Thank you.

  2. Yes, they are, EC.

    It would appear you are similar to me...I seem to mist up over many things...always have done...but even more so these days, it seems. :)

    Thanks for popping in.

  3. Fantastic piece! My dad was also a huge fan of Harry James, as well as Gene Krupa. I appreciate music the most when the drums are utilized as part of the melody and not just as a means of keeping time.

    Where you (and maybe still are) a fan of Maynard Ferguson? He came on the scene 20-30 years after Harry James, but the boy could flat out blow his horn.

  4. Hi Jerry. I was a fan of so many; Ferguson included. He played with Stan Kenton in his early days.

    Music always held a big place in my life, one way or the other; in one form or many other forms!

    When I was a teenager a couple of nights a week my friends and I spent sitting around in someone's home listening to music...we had a vast range to choose from - we were into all genres, not just pop and rock. A lot of our group were renting flats/units in town. They were newcomers to the town because of their work...transferred as school teachers, public servants/government workers or bank employees; and in some cases, radio announcers.

    There was always a gathering going on somewhere or other.

    Back in those halcyon days our nights were filled with music, interesting conversations and great fun.

  5. Benny Goodman! Man, I am jealous. Mind you, my brother waited outside the bathroom for Tito Puente so he could introduce himself. How's that for celebrity stalking...

  6. Wow! That would've been great, RC! Nothing wrong with a bit of stalking...if done correctly! ;)

    My brother and I met John Denver after a concert in Townsville a year or two before his untimely death. That was a huge thrill. Denver was a really good-looking fellow, face to face...much different to how he appeared in photos or on TV...I thought, anyway. Strong features...great facial bone structure.

  7. I,too, come from a musical father being a music teacher and classical as well as brass band musician. My mother was also a musician in her own right and my brothers and I all play instruments of some kind. Like you, Lee, I adore drums and Gene Krupa was a huge favourite of mine. I love big band music and my youngest daughter loves that era as well. She has brought her three up to appreciate the era, something which I am really pleased about.

    Great post, Lee, and it sure brings back some memories.

  8. More similarities between us, Robyn!! ;)

    It pleases me to learn that your daughter has introduced this wonderful music to her children...and the beat goes on.

    Thanks for coming by. :)

  9. I too am familiar with many of the songs and artists you mention and I'm sitting here trying to figure out how that's possible. Our farm home was centered around music but almost always out of a church hymnal but there must have been strong, other influences that I can't pin point.
    I will say that having 3 kids and now grand kids all who did or will play in the band, every concert I've attended starting back a lot of years, has contained a segment on the big band era. My kids are all familiar with a lot of the songs you speak of. The high school band instructors, even today, are deeply influenced by those earlier years.

  10. G'day Cliff...the music of that era seems to have played a huge part in all our lives, one way or the other. Its quality, obviously, influenced many...and for that reason, it appears it shall remain...never to be forgotten. And that is great!

    It was classy and stylish... and the musicians were so very talented. It had a purity of sound.

  11. Yes, lovely memories and your mum was beautiful. x

  12. Hi Pat...they are good memories.

    Mum was quite the stunner in her time...a tall, natural auburn-haired blue-eyed beauty!

    Nice to see you as always. :)

  13. My dad taught me to love Big Band music and I have part of his collection, including a set of 45 records of The Glenn Miller Orchestra.

    So neat that you got to see them play. And so did I, under the direction of Larry O'Brien. They came to Spivey Hall in Atlanta a few years ago and I got tickets and took my parents. They were thrilled and I was, too. The next morning I put on a Glenn Miller CD and my mom taught me how to dance the jitterbug.

    Thanks for this post - I am having a not great morning and you have made it better.

  14. I'm glad I helped raise your spirits, Lynn and you're feeling brighter. That's what the music does. :)

    I bet your parents were thrilled pink to see the orchestra play...there is something about that music, that's for sure.

    Take care. :)

  15. Wow, nice job of tying all those songs together! I'm amazed at how many recognized so maybe there is hope for the future. But then again I'm not that young, I'm more past than future. I'm very impressed with your diverse taste in music.

  16. Lee
    That was a nice post and the sharing of memories. Unfortunately, I did not discover those until later as "country music" was all over rural TN. In high school I strayed from CM to a grand crush on Dean Martin and when I first heard Gene Krupa I fell in love. I was very very fond of Musicals. Too bad really good Musicals have gone the same trail as Big Band. Peace

  17. I know a lot of those songs - not all - thanks to my mother.

    I just love Jimmy Steward too.

    And I think your mother must have loved music and passed that on to you.

    Music heals us. I hope it never dies either.


  18. Hello Dexter...I too have more past than future. I hope the future doesn't go past as fast the past! ;)

    I do have a diverse taste in music - my likes/loves cover all genres from classical onwards. I hate to think what life would be like without music in it.

    Thanks for coming by. :)

  19. Hey there Lady Di. I love country music, too. It's been a part of my life from when I was kid. CM has always been popular in this country.

    "Everything old is new again" - it has been said; so perhaps the big bands and the musicals will have their time again. (I wonder if that saying applies to me, as well)!

    Krupa was unique...he was the Master! He was special.

    Take good care. :)

  20. G'day Chattie Crone...the radio was always on when I was a child. Between the radio and the piano...we had many sing-a-longs beside the piano...we were introduced to all kinds of music and encouraged to enjoy a wide variety.

    Thanks for popping in. :)

  21. Some good music in there. Obviously loooooong before my time,....

  22. Adullamite!!!!!!!! And about time, too! I was starting to worry about you! :)

    Of course the music is loooooooong before your probably hasn't even reached where you are yet!!!!!