The Fort Stockton High School Band (1966-67)
February 14, 2019 10:21 AM | Posted in: ,

This is the first in a series of four posts spotlighting music from the Fort Stockton (Texas) "Pride of Pantherland" High School band. These posts will span the school years from 1966-67 through 1969-70, corresponding to the time yours truly (and MLB) spent in the band. I'm doing this as a way of preserving some of the musical memories that were made in those years. I'm sure that not everyone who was in the band at that time kept the record albums that were issued after each spring concert.

If you were a band member during that era, please feel free to share your memories via the comments section below. A half century has passed, as have many of our schoolmates. This is a good time to record some history.

I was a freshman clarinetist entering high school in 1966, and being in the band was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I don't have many specific memories of that year, but I do recall being rather intimidated by the director, James A. "Buddy" Jarrell. What I do remember is that Fort Stockton had a pretty good band, and we proved it by winning "Sweepstakes" that year. Sweepstakes was awarded to high school bands that received a "1" ("superior") from the judges in three separate contests: marching, sight-reading -- playing never-seen-before music -- and prepared concert.

I was a pretty good clarinet player in junior high, but high school was a whole other ballgame. Still, even as a freshman, I managed to work my way up to the middle of the section, playing the second part. 

The best part of the year was when my future wife walked into the band hall. Little did I suspect that in seven years, we'd be married, and I'm sure she would have been aghast at the proposition at that point.

Here are photos of the band's album front sleeve and the record label. The song I've selected from this album is Incantation and Dance, composed by John Barnes Chance and premiered in 1960. Chance composed a number of pieces popular with high school bands, including Variations On a Korean Folksong which our band actually performed the next year. Chance died from accidental electrocution in 1972, at age 39.

Record album front sleeveRecord album front sleeve
There I am...third row on the right, third from the end. You see me, right?

Here's the song, ripped directly from the original vinyl, in all its crackling glory. It starts slowly, but morphs into a pretty challenging piece.

Lately, I've seen a lot of discussion on various local social media about folks who are having issues with critters tearing up their lawns and/or living where they shouldn't be living (e.g. skunks declaring a homestead under a back yard deck). These discussions often contain a lot of good advice, as well as some that's ineffective (in my experience) and other that's just wrong. The real problem is that, as far as I can tell, there's not a single repository for advice backed up by local on-the-ground experience, hence this post. Google being the good servant it is, I trust that someone searching for trapping tips in the Texas Hill Country will find this article and try out some of the things I've learned since moving here.

First, I probably should establish my bona fides as a trapper, although if you're a regular Gazette reader you've seen this many times before and can skip the next paragraph. 

Before moving here in the late summer of 2017, I had never caught anything bigger than a lizard, nor had I any reason to do otherwise. But we moved into a house that backed up to a creek and was surrounded by a golf course and large vacant lots and wooded areas. We immediately were confronted with a seemingly endless parade of varmints dedicated to the proposition that our lawn was the animal kingdom's equivalent of a Golden Corral. Also, there was this.

Out of necessity, then, I became a trapper, and after just over a year, this is my scorecard:

Pictograph showing numbers of animals trapped, by species

In case my icons aren't intuitive, that's 17 raccoons, 24 armadillos, 7 possums, 4 skunks, and two house cats...more than 50 animals in all. So, perhaps I've gained some experience you'll find useful.

  1. Learn the Law. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is the state agency that regulates, among other things, "fur-bearing animal" trapping and hunting. The definition of "fur-bearing animal" includes the most commonly trapped animals in the Hill Country: raccoons, skunks, and possums (note that armadillos are not included). If any of these species are damaging your property, they fall into the category of "nuisance fur-bearing animals" and may be lawfully trapped by the property owner without any license or restriction. However -- and this is a big one -- trapped animals cannot be relocated to someone else's property without that property owner's permission. Visit TPWD's website to familiarize yourself with the relevant regulations.

  2. Identify your culprits. A lot of different animals live around here, and most of them are diggers or can otherwise damage your property. Squirrels dig tiny holes, but generally in flower beds or pots. Skunks dig holes, but not many and not too deep. Raccoons are worse than skunks about digging, but armadillos will make a literal minefield out of your yard, searching for grubs and worms. You need to figure out what's doing the damage in order to know what steps to take to mitigate it. Invest in a good game camera (I use a Moultrie) and set it out overnight near where you've spotted evidence of animal activity.

    Not only will you be able to know for sure what you're dealing with, you might also have some interesting surprises.

    Buzzard inspecting trap

  3. Get the right trap for the job. An effective armadillo trap probably won't work for a raccoon or skunk, and vice versa. For armadillos, I highly recommend this scented trap. Armadillos are creatures of habit and will often follow the same trail multiple nights in a row. Set this trap at night somewhere along where you first found the damage, and chances are you'll find an armadillo in it the next morning. It doesn't need to be baited; the scent (don't ask) embedded in the wood lures them in. They lumber blindly into the trap, hit the length of wood hanging down in the middle, and both ends of the trap drop down. The armadillo will bang around inside for a while, and then settle down and go to sleep.

    For raccoons and skunks, I use a Havahart Live Animal trap, a wire trap that humanely imprisons animals for later release. The wire part is important; you want to be able to see if you've caught a skunk instead of a raccoon, for example. These traps are relatively inexpensive and are available at most hardware stores in the area. They do need to be baited. I've found that an open can of sardines is effective in luring fur-bearing varmints into the trap while being ignored by armadillos; other people have claimed success using cat food. (This might not be the best idea if you have a lot of cats in your neighborhood, although they'll eventually steer clear after spending a couple of nights in your trap.)

  4. Don't underestimate the capabilities of your foe. I've learned the hard way that I'm not always smarter than a raccoon, and I have grudging admiration for their ability to develop countermeasures for each of my trapping strategies. So, here are a couple of sub-lessons:

    • If you place a raccoon trap in your yard, make sure you place it on something they can't dig through -- like a thick doormat -- and stake it to the ground. I use bungee cords front and back attached to tent stakes embedded in the ground (make sure the cords don't interfere with the trap mechanism). These are critical steps because they WILL attempt to dig their way through the floor of the trap and they WILL absolutely destroy the grass beneath the cage in the process. Raccoons are very active prisoners and they are able to roll a trap if it's not tied down and sometimes escape in the process.

    • Raccoons are also inventive little thieves, so your bait should be placed as far back in the trap as possible to increase the likelihood that they'll step on the trip plate instead of reaching over it and absconding with a full can of delicious sardines. At some point, you may also discover that they've figured out a way to reach through the sides of the trap and pull out the bait a little at a time. I eventually customized my trap with wire mesh tied to the sides and end of the trap closest to the bait to prevent this behavior.
  5. Release responsibly. First, never set a trap if you won't be able to check it within the next twelve hours. It's inhumane to leave an animal in a trap for an extended period of time (and, yeah, I realize that some of you are simply going to exterminate what you trap, and that's certainly your prerogative, but while they're alive, be nice). Second, abide by the TPWD's regulations for releasing your animals, something that I confess I haven't always done due to the difficulty of tracking down property owners in undeveloped areas. Your best bet, if you live within city limits, is to call your local Animal Services department and have them deal with the trapped animal. This is especially true if you've trapped a skunk and don't want to simply release it (which, by the way, can be done safely if you're careful), or if the animal is behaving erratically, evidence that it may be rabid. I would also recommend getting Animal Services involved if you trap a fox...which is unlikely in my experience, but not impossible.
I hope these tips are useful for ridding yourself of these kinds of critters. If, however, you're dealing with something like a black mamba or a 1,000-pound feral hog or a man-eating Bengal tiger...well, good luck with that, and let us know how that turns out.

Glenn Miller & Liner Notes, Pt. II
February 4, 2019 7:16 AM | Posted in:

Alert Gazette readers will recall the Gazette's staff's unnatural fixation on vinyl albums featuring the music of Glenn Miller, and album notes related thereto. For those who were hoping this was a passing fancy, we regret to inform you that there's (at least) one more episode.

Album front coverI have previously mentioned that I'm digitizing LPs from my parents' collection, but I've also got a few albums that were previously in the possession of my father-in-law. One of those, a two-platter set, is entitled Glenn Miller -- A Memorial -- 1944-1969
If you're wondering, as I did, about the seemingly odd span of years in the album title, the only explanation I found is that it corresponds to the 25-year period between Miller's disappearance over the English Channel and the year of this album's release. It's a non-intuitive reference, to be sure.

This particular collection contains thirty of Miller's performances, most of which are duplicates of other albums I've already digitized. But there are some new cuts, such as Perfidia, Elmer's Tune, and At Last, a song that I had always attributed to Etta James but which was actually first recorded by Miller's orchestra.

One track that appears on more than one album is a swinging arrangement by Bill Finegan of Song of the Volga Boatmen, the no-doubt-familiar-to-you, normally-dirge-like Russian folk song. I started to give you my own condensed description of how this arrangement unfolds, but instead I'll direct you to this Swing & Beyond post that leaves absolutely no stone unturned. But I will tease you with a clip highlighting Ernie Caceres's 30-second alto sax solo:

The tracks on this collection are listed in the order of the recording dates for each song, beginning in April, 1939 and ending in July, 1942, the year Miller enlisted in the Army. He recorded additional music with the Army Air Force (AAF) band he led, but no additional recordings with his original orchestra were made.

Liner Notes

The album notes included in this collection are significant due primarily to their author: Benny Goodman. Mr. Goodman elected to not comment on the individual performances included in the collection, but rather focused on his personal relationship with and observations about his fellow musician and close friend. Following are those liner notes in their entirety.

The Personal and Distinctive Sound of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

The majority of you who buy this record are probably dyed-in-the-wool fans of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, and perhaps this music will revive the memories of dancing to Glenn in person.

I too have been a Glenn Miller admirer, and for over a longer time than any of you, for we were friends for many years. During the late '20s we worked together in Ben Pollack's Band, for which he arranged and played trombone and in which I played sax and clarinet. When the band broke up in the early '30s, Glenn and I lived together and hoped we would find enough work to support us.

At first it wasn't easy. Those were deep depression days and there wasn't enough work to go around for all the musicians. We lived at the Whitby Apartments on West 45th Street and things got so rough for us that occasionally we would get up early and borrow empty mile bottles from in front of other apartments and cash them in at the local grocery store so we could buy hot dogs for lunch.

Glenn in those days was exactly the same as he was about eight years later when he became leader of the most popular band in this country. He was an honest, straightforward man and you knew just where you stood with him. He was always serious about his work, but off the job he was an excellent companion with a wonderful sense of humor and a great feeling for the ridiculous. Have you ever heard the nonsensical lyrics he wrote for the Dorsey Brothers record of Annie's Cousin Fanny? You had to have a pretty real sense of humor to come up with ideas like those.

We who knew him well in those days found him to be an excellent friend - generous and concerned, sometimes serious, but never stuffy, and all the musicians in our circle admired him tremendously. He was a dedicated musician and an excellent arranger, full of original ideas such as the lyrics he contributed to the Charleston Chasers recording of Basin Street Blues, the one on which Jack Teagarden sang. We both played in the pit of two Gershwin shows: Strike Up The Band and  Girl Crazy.

I think his greatest contributions were made to organized dance orchestras. He wrote many fine arrangements for us in the Pollack Band, so when the Dorsey Brothers decided to form their own band, they asked Glenn to arrange for them. He not only created some exciting charts but also played a major part in the formation of their band. And so it wasn't surprising that when Ray Noble came to this country he selected Glenn as organizer and arranger for his American band. Here again Glenn turned in a first-rate job.

Those of us who had been close to Glenn weren't entirely surprised when he decided to form his own band. After all, he had proven himself to be a careful and thorough organizer and rehearser, and, even though he had never officially been credited as such, at least some sort of co-leader of the various bands in which he had played.

As all Miller fans know, it wasn't easy for Glenn at first. I remember that in either late 1937 or early 1938, when we were playing in Dallas, I ran into Glenn, whose band was working one of its first steady jobs at the Adolphus Hotel, and he was very downcast and discouraged and kept asking me just what it was he needed to become successful. I really couldn't tell him anything he didn't already know, but I remember I did try to encourage him all I could. Nothing I said, I suspect, had anything to do with it, but within a year Glenn's band had suddenly hit. If after that anybody was going to anybody else for advice, it might have been smart of me to turn to Glenn for his!

Many people try to analyze just what it was that made Glenn's music so successful. I can think of several reasons. He had a great sense of the commercial, of what would attract the average listener, and this he managed to do without sacrificing his musical integrity. This is one reason why his band was so loved by so much of the public while still retaining the respect of so many musicians. Glenn was also able to find the particular sound he was looking for that gave his orchestra the personal and distinctive sound which was recognized as his signature.

Glenn had an amazing ability to recognize talent, even when it was in the raw, and to help develop it. Think of the many young musicians who broke in with his band - men like Tex Beneke and Hal McIntyre and Trigger Alpert and Willie Schwartz, and especially the arrangers like Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray and Billy May who had done all right with other bands, but really blossomed under Glenn.

And, finally, I should point out that Glenn had a great knack for handling people. He may have seemed aloof to some of his public - and that aloofness was natural, for Glenn was not an outgoing person, at least not until he got to know somebody well - but he still managed to impart a sort of mature warmth to his public. However, it was in dealing with musicians that he really shone. He was a "driver," as many of us leaders of those days were labeled, but he drove his men gently and with reason, and he invariably respected them and treated them as human beings, just as he himself always expected to be treated by others.

The music contained in this album certainly reflects the spirit of Glenn Miller, the Musician. I hope these notes will have added to your knowledge of Glenn Miller, the Man. I shall ways remember him and be grateful to have had him as a good friend.

Signature - Benny Goodman

Digitizing My Life: Five Vinyl Album Takeaways
January 29, 2019 7:28 PM | Posted in:

Bored Gazette readers are justifiably tiring of reading about my record digitizing efforts. I understand completely. One of the benefits of retirement is having time to spend on frivolous activities like mid-morning naps, mid-afternoon naps, converting record albums from the last century to a digital format, and writing tedious, repetitive blog posts about it all. So, here goes.

I've been using a free, open source, cross-platform bit of software called Audacity to rip a collection of about 200 vinyl records into AIFF format so I can import the music into iTunes and get rid of the physical albums. 

We have plenty of closet space in our house so storage isn't really a motivating factor, although records do take up a lot of room. What I don't have is room in our A/V cabinet for a turntable, nor the inclination to play records. Having to get up every 15-to-24 minutes to flip a platter is such a chore.

I'm almost finished with this project, and here are a handful of observations that might benefit anyone thinking about doing the same thing.

  1. A good quality USB turntable will make your life easier. I have an Audio-Tecnica AT-LP120-USB unit. This player can be connected to a receiver with a phono pre-amp and played through your home theater speaker system, or connected directly to a computer via USB cable to make digitizing vinyl drop-dead simple. The turntable even comes bundled with the aforementioned Audacity software. And speaking of Audacity...

  2. The right software makes your life even easier. Audacity is the right software. It not only provides intuitive and simple controls for digitizing your albums to your computer, it has extensive features for editing, cleaning up, and enhancing the music. Audacity has many more uses beyond digitizing LPs, but even if that's all you want to do with it, it's worth the cost (did I mention it's free?). Its documentation even provides a sample workflow for digitizing your records.

  3. Not all music ages gracefully. OK, that's probably not fair to the music. Let's just say that my musical tastes have changed since the mid-60s, and some of the music I thought was worth buying in the past is not worth keeping today. I'm not sure why I thought Virgil Fox's Heavy Organ at Carnegie Hall was a good buy and whatever attraction I once had for The Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For the Money has disappeared with time. The oldest album in the collection was a 1964 release entitled Draggin' and Surfin' with classic songs like Little Surfer Girl and Wipeout. Sadly, I had forgotten that instead of featuring the original groups like the Beach Boys and Surfaris, the LP was recorded by a studio band called The Jalopy Five. The cuts didn't make the cut.

  4. Buying an entire album to get one good song was a loser's game. Anybody remember the 1984 song 99 Luftballons by the German singer Nena? It's a pretty good 80s anthem, but the rest of the LP (same title) is forgettable. I kept only two songs from that album...the German- and English-language versions of the song. This is just one example of record after record with one or two "good" (yeah, it's subjective) songs. And 45s were not always an option, and even if they were available, they weren't good options. So, digitizing your LPs lets you pick and choose which songs you feel are really worth listening to again.

  5.  Discogs is probably an underappreciated resource for vinyl fans. Admit it, you've never heard of Discogs, because if you had, you would have told me about it. It's the most comprehensive database of recordings I've found; it's a combination of Wikipedia and eBay for "open-source" collaborative website where you can not only find information about albums (and singles) but also buy, sell, and trade. And now that I've found this resource, I'm beginning to regret donating my old albums; check out some of the prices for "the most expensive items sold on Discogs" in a given month. Granted, our copy of Henry Mancini's Greatest Hits is not going to garner the same interest as a vintage Sex Pistol's album, but who knows what nostalgia people are jonesing for nowadays?
I mentioned at the top that I'm almost finished with this project. But a variation looms on the horizon...I have a 7" stack of 7-inchers (aka 45s) waiting for the same treatment. And I'm just sure some of them will be ridiculously irresistible to Discogs junkies.

Photos of 7-inch record covers
I'm going to be rich! Rich, I tell you!

A Modest Tribute to Glenn Miller...And Album Liner Notes
January 23, 2019 9:17 AM | Posted in:

Alert Gazette readers will remember that I'm in the middle of a VIRP, namely digitizing a bunch of old vinyl record albums. I'm now going through my parents' collection, and I've turned up another couple of gems.

But first, some context. I'm a long-time fan of Glenn Miller's music. In fact, one of the first music CDs I purchased was In The Digital Mood, which contained a dozen of Miller's original arrangements played by what was in effect a cover band (the musicians are listed on the preceding link). I remember playing it for my dad and pointing out that, while the music was certainly crystal clear, the most amazing thing was the absolute silence between the tracks. I also remember that while he said nothing in response, his expression communicated the fact that I was clearly daft and possibly switched at birth at the hospital.

Anyway, I found a couple of Glenn Miller LPs in my parents' collection, and both of them featured original recordings by both Miller's orchestra and the Army Air Force (AAF) band he led during the latter part of World War II. One is a two-platter set with the unwieldy title of The Complete Glenn Miller - Vol III - 1939-1940; the other is The Authentic Sound of Glenn Miller - Yesterday.

Album cover - 'The Complete Glenn Miller - Vol III'Album cover - 'The Authentic Sound of Glenn Miller'

The first album, released in the mid-70s, featured songs that were originally issued by RCA Victor's budget label Bluebird Records. According to the liner notes on the second album (the entirety of which are included below), Miller actually requested that his music be published by Bluebird instead of the flagship RCA Victor in order to avoid the competition of the likes of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw. The Bluebird records primarily contain songs that I'm not familiar with, but there are arrangements of standards like When You Wish Upon A Star (the first Disney song to win an Academy Award), Stardust, and Melancholy Baby.

On the other hand, The Authentic Sound album is pretty much a greatest hits collection, with the exception of Alice Blue Gown, a waltz that I'd never before heard. Miller was primarily known for his swing music, and waltzes were a rarity in his book, according to the album's liner notes.

And speaking of liner notes -- they are real focus of this post. They were written by George T. Simon, a close friend of Miller, his drummer in the band's early days and then later as a member of the AAF Band, and eventually a long-time editor of Metronome, a music magazine that ended in 1961 after eighty years of publication. After reading up a bit about Mr. Simon, I suspect that if there was anything he didn't know about jazz and swing during the Glenn Miller era (and for decades afterward), it probably wasn't worth learning.

Liner notes (aka album notes) are a literary art form that I suspect are underappreciated in the age of streaming music. But I didn't realize that "Best Album Notes" are an ongoing Grammy Award category, and have been since 1964. And in 1978, George T. Simon won a Grammy in this category for his contribution to a Bing Crosby album. (By the way, that Wikipedia article about the Grammy award is a fascinating read in itself, containing such tidbits as Johnny Cash's award for the notes on a Bob Dylan album, and Tom T. Hall's award for the notes on...a Tom T. Hall album.)

Excuse the rambling...back to the subject at hand. The Authentic Sound album is a pleasure to listen to, especially knowing that it represents performances by the actual musicians that comprised the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Army Air Force Band. The skill of those musicians is evident even to a casual listener. If you can find a copy of the album, I recommend it...and not just for the music.

Simon's liner notes, following a quick history of Miller's early recording career, provide a descriptive blurb for each of the dozen songs on the album. Simon assumes a certain amount of musical knowledge on the part of the reader, and throws in details that only someone who was on the ground with Miller could have known. Glenn Miller's arrangements and his bands' skill made their music incredibly accessible, but Simon's liner notes somehow even improve that accessibility. For that reason -- and to preserve the historic record -- I'm reproducing those notes in their totality below. You may think that's a geeky thing to do and I won't argue it's not, but if you're a Glenn Miller fan, I believe you'll appreciate Mr. Simon's contribution.

By the way, even if you choose to skip most of the liner notes, at least jump to the bottom and read the one about Little Brown Jug, because I include a little surprise to go along with it.

The Authentic Sound Of Glenn Miller -- Yesterday
Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

Album notes by George T. Simon

(George T. Simon, a close friend of Glenn Miller's, helped him organize his original band and played drums in it during its early stages. As a friend, and as editor of Metronome, he remained close to the band during its entire life, and later joined Miller as a member of his AAF Band. He is currently a free-lance recording and television producer.)

This is the way the Glenn Miller band used to sound in its heyday. The tunes are a dozen of the most popular the band ever recorded and all these versions are the RCA Victor originals, most of which, of course, were first issued on the company's economy-priced Bluebird label. Seems Glenn wanted it that way when he first joined the company, because he figured he'd have less competition from Victor's already established star bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, all close Miller friends, by the way. Toward the end, though, the Miller band became such a big attraction that everyone concerned considered it most ridiculous not to raise the band to the advanced-price label - ergo, Rhapsody in Blue and American Patrol appeared on Victor. 

You may not hear any stereo sounds, nor modern jazz choruses either, on these recordings, for they were made in the period from April 1939, when the band was playing its first engagement at Frank Dailey's Meadowbrook, to July 1942, shortly before Glenn volunteered and was accepted by the U. S. Army Air Force. But you will hear a meticulously disciplined crew that had an over-all sound and definiteness that few outfits approach these days. For Glenn was a disciplinarian who would even drill each section individually for hours at a time, if necessary, and then eventually blend each of them into a cohesive whole. It was a band whose musicians worked with a zeal and a pride and a sense of purpose that are rather rare on today's scene. 

All of these sides have been previously reissued on RCA Victor long-playing records, but they have been programmed this way especially as interesting contrast to the new recordings of the same arrangements made by today's Glenn Miller band under the direction of Ray McKinley on a companion disc. 

American Patrol (April 2, 1942) was arranged by Jerry Gray and features another arranger, Billy May, on trumpet. The band had achieved an amazing precision by this time, quite apparent on this recording. 

Rhapsody in Blue (July 16, 1942) was the band's final commercial recording. Bobby Hackett, who also played guitar in the band, is featured on trumpet, while Tex Beneke blows the very relaxed, wistful tenor sax. 

In the Mood (July 1,1939) proved to be one of the band's really big hits. Originally this was a long work which composer Joe Garland had first given to Artie Shaw, but the latter couldn't cut it down to effective record-length size. This Glenn did. The two-bar tenor solos alternate between Beneke and Al Klink, a vastly under-rated saxist in those days, while Clyde Hurley plays a forceful trumpet solo. 

Alice Blue Gown (March 31. 1940) was one of the few waltzes in the band's book. The very legitimate, Freddy Martin-like tenor was played by Beneke. 

Song of the Volga Boatmen (January 17, 1941) got the following review in the March 1940 issue of Metronome : "The influence of Billy May becomes more apparent in the Miller band, record for record. It gets its best beat on Song of the Volga Boatmen an interesting arrangement on which the band really kicks. May plays some fine muted trumpet and Ernie Caceres gets off a helluva good alto passage. It'd be an interesting thing for somebody to explain exactly why this band's jazz started perking up when May joined it." I agree with the review. I should. I wrote it.

The Anvil Chorus (December 13, 1940) is a telescoped version of parts one and two that comprised the original Bluebird record. Soloists In order: Beneke's tenor, Hurley's trumpet, Chummy MacGreggor's piano fill-ins Moe Purtill's drums and recently-arrived Caceres' clarinet passage that shows the influence of Pee Wee Russell with whom he had been playing. 

Moonlight Serenade (April 4, 1939) offers the perfect sample of the band's distinctive clarinet lead reed sound. It's beautifully played here, with a sectional blend that no Miller imitator has ever been able to match. 

St. Louis Blues March (July 1943) is played by the Miller AAF Band. This particular version was recorded in RCA Victor's studios especially for V Discs. [Ed. "V Discs" were special recordings made for the benefit of U.S. military personnel.] The big band made a special trip down from New Haven for this session and used a larger brass and reed section than the civilian band employed. Ray McKinley was the leader of the drum section. The alto sax solo is by Hank Freeman. 

Londonderry Air (February 5, 1940) was one of the band's early stage show features, with the reeds and brass sections set in dramatic pin spot lighting. Interesting sidelight: On the band's first stage show, the lighting man became confused and kept lighting the section that wasn't playing. Glenn still managed to get out his trombone solo, however. This number was originally recorded under the title of Danny Boy. 

String of Pearls (November 3, 1941) features an alto sax chorus by Caceres and then two-bar alto sax exchanges between Caceres and Beneke in that order, followed by another challenge on tenors between Klink and Babe Russin, who recorded with the band for one date only. (Procedural verification by Klink, himself.) Beneke was also playing lead alto, returning to tenor when Skip Martin joined the band shortly thereafter. The pretty trumpet is blown by Bobby Hackett. 

Tuxedo Junction (February 5, 1940) spots Hurley on the open jazz solo and Dale McMickle on the daintier, muted passage. There's a Moe Purtill drum solo in place of the bass passage heard on the McKinley version. 

Little Brown Jug (April 10 1939) was, despite anything you may have seen and heard in the movie of Miller's life, the band's first Jazz hit. Bill Finegan, of later Sauter-Finegan fame, wrote the arrangement which features solos by Beneke and Hurley and a swinging passage by Glenn himself. 


So, Glenn Miller was a trombonist, but he's rarely heard playing with his own band. Since Mr. Simon has kindly pointed out that Little Brown Jug is an exception, I thought it would be fun to extract Miller's solo for your listening pleasure. Here 'tis:

Breaking the Bank for Fun and No Profit
January 17, 2019 2:33 PM | Posted in:

It's been almost eighteen months since we moved into our retirement home, and "we" still have about a dozen boxes in the garage that haven't been unpacked. And by "we" I mean MLB.

The boxes contain items that were in her parents' possession and are difficult to dispose of, for understandable sentimental reasons. Many of those items date back to when she and her sister were very young. The term "antique" doesn't quite apply, but "vintage" certainly does. 

She's now slowly and methodically going through some of those boxes, and is uncovering some interesting stuff: baby clothes, crocheted handwork, recipes, children's books, etc. Among those items was this:

Photo - Piggy bank shaped like a book

Decades before there was such a thing 529 college savings plans, this was apparently the way parents ensured that their children would be financially prepared. It's a piggy (storky?) bank shaped like a book. And this one had contents that made an intriguing jangling sound when shaken.

It was also a very secure.

Photo - Piggy bank lock

Judging by the scratches around the lock, someone had made multiple efforts to abscond with the contents of this mini-safe, but without success. (Or, perhaps, it was just old and scratched up. I prefer the more exciting possibility.)

I have scores of old keys, large and small, without an inkling of what they open, and I was sure that one of them could spring this mechanism. As it turns out, I'm a lousy lock picker, because I couldn't budge it. However, there's more than one way to skin a safe:

Photo - Using a Dremel tool to crack open the bank

My trusty Dremel tool made short work of the locked door hinge (after acquiring MLB's permission, of course), and it was with great anticipation that I pried the little door open. What would we find? Real silver dollars? Truly antique coins? Gold doubloons? The key to Jimmy Hoffa's coffin?


Photo - No one's going to college on these contents

Unless that smooth stone is actually an uncut diamond and those safety pins were originally on Noah's ark, MLB's parents apparently weren't too serious about sending their kids to college.

I'll admit to being a little disappointing. But on the upside, any day where you get to use a Dremel tool to break into something is a good day.

Adventures in Light Bulb Changing
January 12, 2019 12:32 PM | Posted in:

How many Aggies does it take to change a light bulb?

Two. One to climb the ladder and one to dial 9-1-1.
OK, let's get something out of the way first. No one had to call 9-1-1, but rest assured that MLB had her dialing finger at the ready.

A bulb in one of the recessed lighting fixtures in our living room burned out over the weekend. No big deal, right? After all, it's only FOURTEEN FEET OFF THE FLOOR. Fortunately, I have one of those extendable light bulb unscrewer thingies and it easily reached and removed the floodlight. Well, it removed most of it.

You may have encountered this situation before. You start unscrewing a light bulb, feel a light snap, and the glass portion of the bulb comes out while the base remains firmly attached to the fixture. This can occur for any number of logical reasons. The bulb may have been screwed in too tightly, or some slight oxidation over time caused it to bond with the fixture, or the universe despises you and seeks every opportunity to demonstrate it.

Rather than attempt to extricate the frozen base immediately, I chose to take a couple of days to strategize. I did mention FOURTEEN FEET, right? Of all the phobias I don't have, acrophobia isn't one of them. I needed time to decide whether living in the dark was really such a bad option.

A couple of days later, I resigned myself to doing what needed to be done, and that didn't include selling the house and buying one with newer light bulbs and lower ceilings. I was fully prepared to bring in the extension ladder and clamber up there to remove the stuck bulb base and put in a new bulb.

But first...why not use the aforementioned light bulb unscrewer thingie's rubberized broken bulb socket remover attachment (it's genius, really; genius!). Granted, it hardly ever works, but when it does, it's magic. So I attached it to the pole -- it vaguely resembles an invasive medical apparatus -- and inserted it in the light fixture. Miraculously, the stuck base began to loosen until it was finally freed and ... came loose and laid trapped inside the fixture.

So, naturally, I began to attempt to fish the bulb base loose with the pole, because I couldn't install a new bulb until it was removed. I eventually succeeded in knocking it out of the fixture, where it fell to the floor, sending tiny shards of glass everywhere. 

At this point, it might be helpful to describe the basic layout of a typical recessed light fixture, in case you've never had the pleasure of inspecting one up close and personal. The fixture consists of two parts, one functional and the other decorative. The functional part attaches to a beam above the ceiling and is what the bulb is screwed into. The decorative part, also known as the trim, consists of the baffle (the smooth backing behind the bulb) and the trim ring (the circular piece that rests flush against the ceiling and covers up the edges of the hole where the fixture is mounted). The trim ring may or may not be permanently attached to the baffle. This is a seemingly trivial detail, but it's actually quite important for this story, because...

As I knocked the loose base of the bulb from the ceiling, the trim ring came down with it, exposing an ugly hole. I might as well have aimed a 12-gauge shotgun at the bulb and fixture.

After all of that effort, I was still going to have to get on the ladder to see if and how I could repair the fixture. I've replaced a recessed fixture baffle before and it's not a huge deal, unless you're FOURTEEN FEET OFF THE FLOOR. Also, I'd have to make the twenty mile round trip to Home Depot to get another baffle.

I put the ladder in place and asked MLB to brace it. I slowly and sweatily crept up the ladder and managed to unhook the baffle and remove it. As I inspected it, a happy realization began to dawn on my nervous mind: the trim ring had not broken off the baffle. It simply slipped over the top of the baffle, meaning that I wouldn't have to install a new one after all. Perhaps the universe didn't hate me after all; perhaps I was just unlikeable.

Installing a baffle is a (theoretically simple) matter of attaching two spring-loaded hooks into microscopically small slits in the side of the fixture, using only harsh vocabulary as a tool, and without the benefit of sight and while FOURTEEN FEET IN THE AIR. But I eventually succeeded, and the installation of a new bulb was an inconsequential afterthought.

I would feel much better about all of this if I didn't know that there are six other similarly-situated bulbs of the same approximate vintage, shining down malevolently at me.

Oh, and did I mention that two of them are SEVENTEEN FEET OFF THE FLOOR?!

Death from above
One of my VIRPs (Very Important Retirement Projects) is digitizing my vinyl LPs. I don't have room in our media cabinet for a turntable and there's no point in storing albums that will never be listened to in their original format, so I'm converting them to AIFF files and importing them to iTunes. They still may not get listened to -- I made some questionable musical decisions back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s -- but at least they'll be accessible.

I've almost finished ripping my collection of about 150 records (I didn't deem all of them worth keeping, and some I had already downloaded in digital format, so the actual number is much less), and I've turned my attention to some albums that my parents owned.

My dad had a fairly extensive collection of classical music. I'm not sure why, as I don't recall that he listened to them very much. It could be that he joined one of those "record of the month" clubs and it took a while to get out of it. I confess that other than some Beethoven symphonies and some Mozart emo synthopop (I kid, I kid...but, who knows? maybe for his time, that's what it was), I'm not keeping any of them. Dvořák's music is boring to me, plus I hate having to copy his name from a Google search in order to get all the weird characters right.

My parents' record collection also included many old gospel albums, including Gospel Music's Top Ten for 1971 and an undated live concert recording by Cynthia Clawson at the First Baptist Church of Conroe, Texas (in which she managed to "Christianize" Paul McCartney's Let It Be). I'll digitize some of these albums and put them in my mom's iTunes collection next time I'm home.

They had a lot of other recordings which I'll charitably refer to as "unique," including one I really want to spotlight here. It's a special release ("PREMIUM RECORD PROMOTIONAL COPY ONLY!") by the Columbia Special Products division of Columbia Records, and it's entitled Famous Football Songs of the Southwest Conference

Album cover Back of album sleeve

You remember the Southwest Conference, right? It existed for 82 years, until 1996 when it morphed into the Big 12 Conference and out of the national span of attention. Insert favorite "SEC SEC SEC" chant here.

Thirteen different universities were members of the SWC at one time or another, although most of us who remember the conference remember the eight "core members": the universities of Arkansas, Baylor, Rice, Southern Methodist, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, and Texas Tech.

The aforementioned record contains the school songs and the fight songs of each of the core eight, as played by each university band. Each band is given a paragraph of glowing praise on the album jacket (feel free to click on the small images above to see embiggened versions that you may or may not be able to read). If you're an alumnus of any of these institutions, you may find the descriptions interesting, either from what they do or don't mention (e.g. the Rice University Band is not described as the MOB, which stands for both "Marching Owl Band" and their gameday behavior on and off the field...or so I've been told), or for the dated information (e.g. the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band -- an outfit with which I have some personal familiarity -- now has more than 300 members).

The record is undated, but it must have been issued prior to 1972, because the University of Houston is not represented and that's the year it joined the SWC.

One last interesting tidbit. The record label carries this mention: "Specially prepared for Humble Oil & Refining Company and your neighborhood Enco dealer." I seem to recall that Enco was a broadcast sponsor for SWC football games; those of you with intact minds and memories should feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken.

So, enough of the chitchat. Here's what you've been waiting for. Here's an 8-second snippet of each university's fight song, brought to you in lovely Fire Ant Lo-Fi. If you can't pick out your alma mater's song, it's probably because your pretentious band director went for a fancy-schmancy cymbals-and-flourish intro longer than eight seconds. 

"Bird Box" and Me: A Cautionary Tale
January 3, 2019 10:41 AM | Posted in: ,

By now, unless you live in a non-wifi-enabled cave or have the good sense not to own a TV or computer, you've heard about Bird Box, the Netflix movie starring an up-and-coming starlet named Sondra Bullard, or something like that.

MLB and I streamed it a couple of days ago and found it to be, in a word, meh. [Ed. That's a highly technical film review term that calls for judicious usage.] The plot (uh, spoilage lies ahead, or, perhaps, spoiled lying) can be summarized thusly: unknown entities that are extremely powerful but can't work doorknobs make you go ice-cream-deprived-level insane unless you wear a blindfold so that you can't see their hideous visages although we're just guessing at that since we never see said visages, and a bad-tempered lady recreates scenes from The River Wild to save her birds. Which are in a box. Which should go without saying.

However, in humanity's desperate quest to validate Darwin, the upshot of all of this is that many of us are now wearing blindfolds, presumably in order to avoid soul-stealing demons, but probably just to keep from watching CNN or Fox. Regardless, Netflix itself has -- at the behest of its legal team of soul-stealing demons -- tweeted a timely and heart-felt call for sanity:

This warning has, of course, yielded its desired results, immediately tripling the number of people who are undertaking the so-called Bird Box Challenge (and, only coincidentally, watching the movie).

You can guess what's coming next, right?

I'm not going to do anything as crazy as driving a car while wearing a blindfold, or juggling chainsaws while wearing a blindfold, or putting on my socks while wearing a blindfold, but what I AM willing to try is blogging while wearing a blindfold.

Here I am at my computer, getting ready to undertake this Important Sociological Experiment:

Me, Bird Boxing

The remainers of  withisposst wilkll be donne blidflolded sthaat yoou ca  can see ithat theefres's wreallhy no dnsdanger in tryihtngng this so go aheed and ghet in yhour carr...

Long Range Planning for Dessert
January 1, 2019 11:39 AM | Posted in:

Well, prospero año nuevo, y'all! If you're up and reading this before noon on the first day of 2019, you need to improve your social life.

Just kidding; your social life is exactly what it needs to be, especially if it includes reading the Gazette. Anyway, my cool cousin Pat, whose typewriter ribbon I'm not fit to change, has challenged me via Facebook to post something on New Year's Day. I think it's highly unfair of her to expect me to actually live up to my stated intention of blogging more regularly in 2019. After all, I said that literally days ago. So, Pat...this one's for you. Be careful what you wish for.

How about those crazy squirrels, huh?

We have a bunch of plants in pots on our back patio, and we're constantly sweeping up after the squirrels who tirelessly dig in them, either burying some treasure, or digging it up, or simply amusing themselves as they sit in the trees watching us sweep. Eh, that's life around a bunch of trees, which is a new experience for us former desert-dwellers.

So, we brought a few of those potted plants into the house when the weather turned cold, to protect the contents from freezing. We were surprised a couple of weeks later to see some unusual new occupants sprouting in one of the pots.

They grew quickly, apparently quite happy with the indoor climate, and within a few more days we could make a definitive identification: they are pecan trees. Exhibit A:

Two little pecan trees growing inside our house

It's pretty obvious that the aforementioned squirrels, doing their Johnny Appleseed impersonations, impregnated this pot with a couple of pecans from our back yard trees, and those pecans have hatched [Ed. You're not a botanist, are you?]

Our first impulse was to pull them up; the other occupant of the pot might not be happy sharing its little condo with strangers. But I got to thinking: what is a pecan tree after all but nature's way of making pecan pie?

Taking the long view of things, my plan is to transplant these pecan kidlings on the bank of the creek that runs behind our house, once the weather warms up, and then let things take their course. If my plan works -- and, really, it's as flawless as all my other ones -- I'll be enjoying a tasty pecan pie on New Year's Day 2025.

Well, assuming the squirrels don't get to the pie seeds first.

[I really need to brush up on my botany.]