GLENN MILLER: The Godfather of Bop?


By Richard Jessen

The idea of Glenn Miller being the godfather of bop at first sounds like the most outlandish of ideas. Yet this is just what he became. In 1939, Glenn Miller recorded the first evidence we have of what would become known as be-bop (later known as bop). Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary tells us that bop is "jazz characterized by harmonic complexity, convoluted melodic lines, and constant shifting of accent and played at a very rapid tempo." The word be-bop comes from the Spanish word "ariba" which means, "Go!"

The Miller recording we are going to examine was of a song co-written by Eddie Durham and "Taps" Miller, both favorite musicians in the Count Basie Orchestra. The song? "Wham (Re - bop, Boom, Bam!)." As arranged by Eddie Durham for Glenn Miller, this recording contains the same revolutionary phrase later heard on Dizzy Gillespie’s trailblazing 1944 recording with Charlie Parker: "Salt Peanuts." How this came about is one of the most overlooked mysteries in the history of jazz.

Eddie Durham was born on August 19, 1906 in San Marcos, TX and died on March 6, 1987 in New York City. He led an incredibly varied life as a pioneering electric guitarist, trombonist and arranger. He arranged for all of the best-known bands of the swing era including Jimmy Lunceford, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and Glenn Miller. He was also a prolific composer, having written "Topsy," "Slip Horn Jive," "Glen Island Special" in addition to "Wham! Re Bop Boom Bam." After a long absence, he returned to playing and touring with a group of ex-Basie musicians in 1969, remaining active as a performer until his death.

Eddie Durham’s lyricist on "Wham..." was Marion Joseph "Taps" Miller who was born on July 22, 1915 in Indianapolis, ID. Like Durham, Miller was a triple threat performer, predominantly active as a dancer although he also played trumpet. He gained fame in the late 1930's and 1940's as a dancer in stage productions and as a sideman with various big bands including two stays with Count Basie (1942 and 1947-1949) as a singer and trumpet player. Taps’ best friend Buck Clayton wrote "Taps Miller" for the Basie band that recorded it for the first time on December 6, 1944. Miller went on tour with Buck Clayton in the 1950's through a highly successful European tour until he disappeared from sight after 1954. One of the showstoppers of his stage performances was his singing, “Wham! Re - bop, Boom, Bam” while playing his trumpet and dancing!

"Wham (Re - bop, Boom - Bam)," composed by Eddie Durham with words by "Taps" Miller, was among several songs arranged and contributed by Eddie Durham to the Glenn Miller Orchestra at a session scheduled on 1 August, 1939 at RCA Victor Studios in New York City, NY which included "In the Mood;" "An Angel In A Furnished Room," "Twilight Interlude;" "I Want To Be Happy;" and "Farewell Blues." "Wham..." was pressed on the "B" side of Bluebird 78 rpm record number B-10399, the "A" side given to another hit song of the era called "My Isle of Golden Dreams."

The revolutionary "Salt Peanuts" bop phrase occurs three times on the commercial release of Glenn Miller’s 1939 recording, played very noticeably every time its heard by the entire brass section in unison. They occur at 01:02, 01:13 and at 01:36 on the record.

On the immortal Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker 1944 recording of "Salt Peanuts," our bop fanfare is heard as both a brief but recognizable vocal phrase by Dizzy as well as a noticeable instrumental phrase, appearing an astonishing 14 times in 3:16 minutes! These occur at 00:11; 00:14; 00:17; 00:20; 00:24; 00:33; 00:36; 00:46; 00:49; 00:52; 00:56; 01:05; 01:08; 03:11!

Jazz is an improvisational art. As an art form, it progressed through labor-intensive jam sessions where players learned new ways of self-expression. We may never know precisely where Eddie Durham or Dizzy Gillespie heard the brass phrase which was featured so prominently in Durham’s arrangement for Glenn Miller’s recording of "Wham (Re - Bop, Boom, Bam)." Yet we now know something of which jazz scholars have ignored for a long time: that Glenn Miller, through Eddie Dunham, was the godfather of bop.

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