Miller Time at the Marjorie Luke
The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s bus was rolling through the Arizona desert when music director Erik Stabnau answered the phone last week, but it could have been anywhere from California to Kalamazoo, as the big-band jazz outfit pretty much lives on the road, performing 200 dates a year. What makes that remarkable is that the band has been doing it for more than 65 years, working steadily since reforming a decade after Miller’s reign as perhaps the most successful of all dance bandleaders back in the Swing Era of the 1930s and ’40s ended with his death in 1944.
“This is really the last full-time touring big band,” agreed Stabnau, an Eastman School of Music-educated saxophonist and pianist who grew up favoring big-band jazz. “He had 59 singles that made it to the Top 10 and 17 that hit No. 1, and a lot of those made it into the lexicon of popular songs. So, folks still know and recognize this music.”
At this point, the audience is on average a lot older than the musicians, who range in age from mid-20s to nearly 70, Stabnau said, but the music continues to be passed down not only by families but also by the movies and the re-emergence of swing dancing back in the 1990s.
It also doesn’t hurt at all that the Miller Orchestra’s repertoire includes several hundred songs, though about a dozen of the biggest hits – “Moonlight Serenade,” “A String of Pearls,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “In The Mood,” and “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” are nightly staples.
“It’s a deep catalog and there’s a ton of great stuff – instrumentals, male vocals, female vocals, vocal group songs,” Stabnau said. “You’re always going to hear the hits, but if you come see us every year, there’s always different music and always new stuff. That’s fun for us, too.”
The bus unloads locally for an early evening concert at the Marjorie Luke Theatre on Monday, March 20. Miller time is at 7 pm. Visit https://luketheatre.org for more information and tickets.