Glenn Miller AAF Band Christmas Medley. (Plus Bonus Song!)

A Christmas medley recorded by the Glenn Miller AAF band on December 18, 1943.

There is more to this than meets the eye.

Miller, born on March 1, 1904, in Iowa, and his orchestra finally achieved commercial success and, by 1941, was the number one “big band” in the country. When war came to the United States on December 7, 1941, Miller wanted to use his musical talents for the war effort, and he managed to obtain a commission in the AAF in November 1942.

At Maxwell Field, his first assignment, Miller was assigned as assistant special services officer. He discovered that Maxwell had a dance band called “The Rythmnaires,” with Jerry Yelverton, a former member of Miller’s prewar orchestra, as one of its musicians. The band played five times during Miller’s five weeks at Maxwell, culminating with the Christmas Eve concert. Five days later, he was on his way to the AAF Training Command’s basic training center at Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In route to his new assignment, Miller stopped at the Headquarters AAF Technical Training Command, Knollwood Field, N.C., and convinced the commander to use former professional musicians, now assigned to the AAF, to form military bands at AAF installations. These bands would provide musical programs for the trainees and better utilize musicians’ talents for the war effort. By the end of the war, the AAF had formed over a hundred such installation bands.

From March 1943 to May 1944, Miller commanded the recently activated 418th AAF Band at the AAF training center at Yale University, consisting of top musicians from around the country.

After the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, Miller persuaded Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, the AAF commanding general, to allow him to take a select group of band musicians to England to play for the troops. This band, officially organized as the Casual Detachment (Glenn Miller’s Band), arrived in England in mid-June 1944.

Glenn Miller’s Band gave 300 live performances in England and 500 radio broadcasts to Allied troops on the continent. In December, Miller, now a major, obtained approval to give live performances to the troops in recently liberated Paris. On Dec. 15, 1944, he departed England to make preliminary arrangements for the band. Tragically, the aircraft Miller was aboard disappeared over the English Channel, and Miller is still officially listed as “missing in action.”

Glenn Miller’s “Big Band” sound provided a holiday morale boost to the airmen at Maxwell Field for the Christmas of 1942, and a taste of home to thousands of American service members across the United States and Europe. In July 1944, Maj. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, the commander of Eighth Air Force, told Miller: “Next to a letter from home, Captain Miller, your organization is the greatest morale builder in the European theater of operations.”

As Major Glenn Miller was lost in 1944, this recording would have been one of his last Christmas concerts.

In 1982, 40 years after Miller began entertaining the troops at Christmas, Maxwell Air Force Base decided to carry on Miller’s vision of entertaining the troops at Christmas and started the “Glenn Miller Holiday Concert.”

The “new” concert has become its own tradition, each year providing service members and the citizens of the area Christmas music and holiday cheer every year since 1982 except for 2013.

The tradition lives on this year with the US Air Forces’ “Airmen of Note” appearing at Troy University’s Davis Theatre in downtown Montgomery, on Wednesday, December 18. The concert is free and open to the public, but you must get tickets.

How cool is that?

It is about to get even cooler.

In 2013, the last man to play with Glenn Miller, trombonist Paul Tanner passed away at the age of 95 due to pneumonia.

While you may not remember him playing with Miller, he has a musical connection that you may be more familiar with:

His interests included early forms of electronic music, and he developed the Electro-Theremin in the 1950s, said [stepson Dick] Darnall. The device, which is mechanically linked to an audio oscillator, produced the eery, almost human sounds showcased by the Beach Boys on “Good Vibrations” and on the TV series “My Favorite Martian.” (emphasis ours)

The Electro-Theremin also was used in movies, including 1964’s “Strait-Jacket,” with Joan Crawford. “She was accused of chopping off everybody’s heads,” Tanner said in an interview in 1997 that is posted on his website.

“So, she was a psycho, they thought. There was one spot in the picture where she was to go up the wall, and they put her in a little small room, and then she got more and more and more excited and then she gradually got limp and passed out. And all through that, I’m the only thing playing.

“So, I told the guy who was going to conduct me, I said, ‘Just raise your hand up when you want more intensity, and lower it when you want less intensity, that’s all you got to do,’ which was mainly a case of widening the vibrato. There was no music for that, I was just to make an effect, that’s all.”

Though Tanner did not invent the device, “He enhanced on it and made it easier to play,” his widow, Jeanette, said in a telephone interview. “He made it more like piano keys.”

But the device proved to be so simple that he put it into an elaborate container to make it look nicer. “Otherwise, it would look like an oatmeal box,” he said.

As there is a Glenn Miller to Tanner to Beach Boys connection, we’ll add this to today’s “Christmas Music Extravaganza!”

Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick (Shindig) Live

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