One Note/One Phrase: Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade

Glenn Miller (1904-1944) was an American jazz musician, his instrument was the trombone. He was also a composer, arranger, and bandleader during the swing era – one of the hippest and most enviable eras from last century. He enjoyed the most success in the early '40s until his untimely death as a MIA military casualty over the English Channel during WWII while traveling to entertain US troops.

In today's One Note/One Phrase I take a look at his classic Moonlight Serenade, which heavily features the clarinet. The recording is Glenn Miller and his Orchestra featuring Willie Schwartz as the soloist. 

One quality of a truly remarkable performance is that there is often one note and/or one phrase that can encapsulate the grace, fire, virtuosity, subtlety, or authenticity of the artist. I believe it is the duty of all Listeners and Performers to seek out, catalog, & utilize these gestures as references to further inform their aural pallets.

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra: Moonlight Serenade

The most notable and immediate facet of this composition is that it sounds like Glenn Miller. Miller defined an era with his clarinet led saxophone section, and it is beautiful. Slow down, take few moments, and enjoy the fluidity of Willie Schwartz's playing. The entire band exudes Schwartz's mellow and liquid sense of rhythm and harmony, and the recording is still striking after all these years.

What I enjoy best is the moment right at 1:21 where the band breaks from their legato playing and touches a few staccato harmonies before the clarinet enters again with a small scale flourish. A similar figure happens exactly one minute later. For this same reason, I also enjoy the shaping of the second to last note of the composition. The band accelerates towards the end of their phrase, but then cuts short at the final note leaving just enough space to drag the listener forward before finishing the performance with their final chord. It's masterfully done, thoughtful music making, and subtle. Sometimes it's hard in music not to beat a good idea to death by overdoing it. This is a premier example of both Glenn Miller's compositional sound, as well as his engrossing interpretations. You dig?