When swing and big band were the music of the day, Glenn Miller and his orchestra were at the top of the heap.
His music is still popular 80 years later.
“One of the reasons is the sheer scale of hits at the time. If you take a decade of music, there are certain songs that rise to the top and enter the lexicon of popular music that is played. In the 1930s and 1940s, Glenn was undoubtedly at times the most popular musician in the whole country, if not the whole world,” said Erik Stabnau, current musical director of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
“He had something like 69 (singles) that hit the Top 10 on the charts. Sixteen of them reached No. 1 on the charts. He’s had more top 10 success than almost anyone else in history.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra will perform at 7 p.m. on June 3 at the Genesee Theater in Waukegan.
Glenn Miller was a legendary musician and bandleader, but he had a relatively short business career, leading his band from 1938 to 1942. He then led a military band from 1942 to 1944, Stabnau said. In 1944, the plane he was on disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel and he was never seen again.
Tenor saxophonist Stabnau has been a member of the orchestra since 2017. He took over as musical director about six months ago.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in jazz music and contemporary media from the Eastman School of Music in his hometown of Rochester, New York, and a master’s degree in audio arts from Syracuse University.
“It was a nice challenge, it was a lot of fun and I think the band sounds good,” he said. “Everything went well, all things considered. I think at this point we’re all just happy to be playing music again.
As musical director, he still plays tenor saxophone with the band, coming to introduce soloists or give information about the band or the music. He also does a bit of conducting, he said.
“I’m sort of the host of the show, if you will,” he said. “Apart from the stage there are a variety of other responsibilities like choosing the music or rehearsing the band or a number of those things behind the scenes.”
He had to learn quite a bit of history to lead the group, he said.
“There’s a lot of Glenn Miller history to know and a lot of Glenn Miller fans know it too. I’m trying to follow.”
Audiences will experience a two-hour performance with an intermission and include all of the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s greatest hits; including “Moonlight Serenade”, “Pennsylvania 6-5000”, “In the Mood” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo”.
“There are also some of his lesser-known songs. Plus additional music from the big band era that kinda comes out of Glenn Miller’s library,” he said. “If you’ve seen the band before and want to hear something a little new, we’re still spinning some of their lesser-known songs.
“There will always be new material, new music that we will play. We also pay homage to some of the other great bands of that period and play a few songs that aren’t Glenn Miller’s, but popular music from that swing era that people will recognize.
Stabnau hopes Glenn Miller enjoys the current iteration of his famous orchestra.
“I think the two goals of the band, for me as musicians, is to pay homage to Glenn’s music and we try to play that music as authentically as possible,” he said. “I think we’re doing a really good job of that. Our other responsibility is to provide an entertaining show for the audience and I think we do that too. I certainly hope he would be happy.
Above all, he wants fans and non-fans to give the show a chance.
“For people who know Glenn Miller and his music, you can expect to hear all the songs you want to hear, all the big hits, and you can get a bit of band history as well,” he said. “For people who have never seen a performance like this or maybe you are unfamiliar with the big band era and are thinking of going to the concert, I would say give it a try and you won’t be disappointed.
“I think there’s something for everyone at these performances, there’s a lot of good instrumental music, there’s vocal music. I will sing, there is a girl who will sing and we also have a vocal group. There is fun choreography on stage. Personally, I think it’s quite a fun show and anyone would enjoy it.
Glenn Miller Orchestra
When: 7 p.m. on June 3
Or: Genesee Theater, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan
Information: 847-263-6300; geneseetheatre.com
Annie Alleman is a freelance journalist for the News-Sun.