And On Bass...JACKIE GLEASON?

Friday, 01 March 2013 04:00 PM Written by 

Funny the things you find on YouTube, including the introductory moments of the 1942 film Orchestra Wives, a mediocre film centered mostly around the Glenn Miller Orchestra, starring then hot actors like George Montgomery, Ann Rutherford and in lesser roles, Cesar Romero.  While it was basically a B-movie with A-list actors and very popular music, it had some interesting moments.  Miller band stalwarts like tenor saxman and vocalist Tex Beneke, drummer Moe Purtill, clarinet player Ernie Caceres, trumpeter, Bobby Hackett (a virtuoso then and later) Marion Hutton and the Modernaires are all visible in the film   For whatever reason, Miller is referred to as "Gene Morrison.'' Don't ask why. 

This was Miller's last film before he dissolved the Miller Orchestra and joined the Army Air Force, where he created a dramatically different band that made history entertaining troops in Europe before his untimely death in 1944 over the English channel.

There are a couple ringers here, actors playing musicians.  The male lead, Montgomery is one playing trumpeter "Bill Abbott." If you see the bass player. "Ben Beck," it's actually a thinner, then-obscure New York comic named Jackie Gleason, who never played bass.  The pianist is Cesar Romero.  Miller's regular bass player, Trigger Alpert, and his pianist, Chummy McGregor, sat this one out (though they played on the soundtrack sessions)

The the dark-suited trumpet player is the great Pittsburgh born jazz legend Billy May, who'd make a name for himself in the 50's with his own orchestra, arranging for Sinatra and composing TV music.

Gleason, as his TV stardom surged in the 50's hired onetime Miller assistant Bullets Durgom (seen in Orchestra Wives as an equipment manager) as part of his management team. And while The Great One was no bass player, he did have a love of trumpet players, putting his name on a series of jazz-tinged 1950's and 60's mood music albums.  Though untrained in music, he somehow "composed" some of the tunes, but the trumpeter he relied on most was a longtime pal, ex-Miller sideman Bobby Hackett. 

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