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Thursday, January 02, 2020

Johnny Desmond

(By Lance)

Reading Russell's preview of Ray McVay's Glenn Miller tribute at Sage Gateshead prompted me to reflect upon the late iconic bandleader. It seems to me that, possibly because of the enduring popularity of the music, the legend continues to grow. I doubt if Goodman, Shaw, Dorsey or even Ellington and Basie tribute bands could pull the punters like Miller - 75 years after his presumed death.

I've heard all the jokes "Better if Miller had lived and the music died" being one of the favourites and, it has to be admitted, the music could be a little schmaltzy at times. However, moving away from the civilian orchestra to the Army Air Force Band he fronted in Bedford, UK, we find ourselves in a different ball game.

This band swung - how could it not with Ray McKinley on drums, Peanuts Hucko blowing sax and clarinet, Bobby Nichols and Zeke Zarchey on trumpets, Mel Powell on piano and vocals by Johnny Desmond...

...Johnny Desmond! If Desmond had had a 'punctured eardrum' and escaped the draft the history of American popular song could have been a whole lot different.

This came to mind as I listened to a couple of postwar albums he made back in civvy street. Once Upon a Time is a fine orchestral album that shows off Desmond's perfectly pitched interpretations of standards but it is Blue Smoke that elevates him into the upper echelons of crooners.
Accompanied by Tony Mottola on guitar and Bob Haggart on bass, this is an album that can stand comfortably alongside the Sinatra's, Ella's and all the other vocal legends. Listen to I'm Thru With Love and you may get an idea where I'm coming from.
Lance

2 comments :

Steve T said...

It's always treacherous to second-guess the future, but I suspect people will be listening to Duke Ellington when the popularity of Miller - alongside other dead popstars - is restricted to discussion in academia.

Lance said...

Absolutely! Totally agree with you. The point I'm making is that Miller captured the imagination of so many people (mainly, these days, non jazz fans) of a certain age who probably remember the film - and, for all its inaccuracies, it was a good film - and the circumstances of his disappearance. The myths and misinformation that followed all added to the mystique.

My theory is that Ray McVay is actually the real Glenn Miller. He looks to be about the same age (114)...

Seriously Steve, you and I know that Ellington's music, like that of Bach and Beethoven will last forever but, who's not to say that Miller's music, like that of Gilbert and Sullivan, Bill Haley and Billy Cotton will not only also survive.

Howver, I digress, my whole point was to draw attention to what a fine crooner Johnny Desmond was...

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