Big Bands Ruled The Music Scene

Glenn Miller Band

Glenn Miller Band

Once upon a time, the big bands played at Ocean Beach. They played music for dancing, but hundreds would stand and just listen. Today’s music is so different than the music of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Count Basie.

This morning’s picture was taken of Glenn Miller’s Band at Ocean Beach in the late 1940s. Tex Beneke led the post-war band, whose music haunts the memories of older generations. The sound of a solitary clarinet buried in the saxophone section produces the Miller sound.

In today’s photo, you note, the band also had violins. Today’s senior citizens remember, as teenagers, traveling to New London and to Hartford’s State Theater for the sounds of the big bands. The drive to Hartford took us over the notorious 10 curves.

The State Theater had four shows on Saturdays and Sundays, and that huge theater would be packed with lines waiting as long as two hours for the next show. The screams of the girls and the wild applause were more well-behaved than today’s rock concerts. The music then, to me, seemed more civilized with lyrics more romantic and meaningful.

Swing and Jazz Greats

It was mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, when there were not so many automobiles, and young people would double date — sometimes six or eight people to a car. There would be exciting shows with the likes of Louie Prima and Keeley Smith. Today, when I hear a Louie Prima record, it brings me back to the State Theater and high school double dates.

In the 1920s, the jazz age had the likes of Fats Waller, Louie Armstrong and Jackie Teagarden, but in the 1930s and 1940s, great big band made its entrance: Count Basie, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. They played a music that reflected the era. Their music was often called swing, and jitterbugging was the dance that went with the swing bands. There were great jazz bands: Lionel Hampton, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Ted Heath from England. There were also smaller groups: Coleman Hawkins, The King Cole Trio, and soloists like George Schering, Dave Brubeck, Les Paul and Mary Ford.

It was a fun time. Though the 1930s were the hard suffering years of the depression, and the 1940s witnessed the horrible war in Europe and the Pacific, the music was great. There were war songs that could tear your heart out, but the big bands also went to war, and troops would march instead of dance to the music of Glenn Miller.

Beyond the myriad of the big bands were commercial bands like Johnny Long, whose entire band would sing the lyrics together; the most famous singers all started singing with big bands.

Benny Goodman brought swing to Carnegie Hall in 1938, and many from this area traveled to that concert. Goodman not only had a big band, but he had a sextet made up of Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo, Slam Stewart, and I can’t remember the sixth member. Can you? The Goodman Trio was himself, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa. What music they made.

Dating was so much fun. It gave couples privacy if they could get the family car and double date. It took less than a dollar’s worth of gas to get to Hartford. When I got my first license, gas, on sale, would be seven gallons for a dollar, and heating oil, for that matter, was nine cents a gallon.

Finding Music at Home

Al and Winfred Gaffney and Arnold Baker had record stores that were a gathering place after school. Records were called disks, and they were supposedly made of wax. They sold for 78 cents apiece, and there were two sides to every release. Many of us played our records on windup Victrolas, and we used cactus needles so we wouldn’t wear out the record.

The jukebox was the big feature in every soda shop, and selections cost 5 cents a piece; six for a quarter. Throughout Norwich and New London — and, for that matter, Jewett City —  there were so many soda shops where kids would gather around a booth, listen to music, and enjoy a vanilla Coke for a dime. It was a time when the high schools had fraternities and sororities, and in the summer, we would pick up our dates at the sorority beach cottages and drive to Hartford or to Ocean Beach.

In days gone by, when were young, we laughed at the old people who enjoyed Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Tommy Tucker and Sammy Kaye. Now we are old timers, and the kids laugh at us we enjoy the music of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett. We old fogies think our music was the best, and as I listen to the new songs, with guitars and drums and screaming kids, I wonder what sentimental songs today’s generation will have to remember when they, too, will be old and living on their memories.

Comments are closed.