1904 - 1944
Glenn Miller's influence on the history of jazz represents a contradiction. Though many jazz enthusiasts disapproved of his disciplined, unorthodox approach, Miller's music experienced undeniable popularity and success with 1940s audiences, and still charms listeners today. "Some of the critics," said Miller in 1940, "point their fingers at us and charge us with forsaking real jazz." He then concluded, "It's all in what you define as 'real jazz.'" Regardless of criticism he encountered, Miller devoted his life to crafting enjoyable music, aiming not to appease his critics, but to entertain his listeners.
Miller's Early Years
Glenn Miller was born Alton Glenn Miller on March 1, 1904, in Clarinda, Iowa. His parents, Elmer and Mattie Lou Miller, soon moved their family from Iowa first to Nebraska, then to Missouri, and eventually, to Fort Morgan, Colorado. In each of these new cities, Miller's musical development took a new step. During his family's stay in Nebraska, Miller's father brought him a mandolin, which the boy soon traded for an old horn. While in Missouri, he first started playing the trombone as a member of a town band. When his family moved to Fort Morgan in 1918, Miller nourished his musical talents by joining his high school band.
Struggle to the Top
Immediately after graduating high school in 1921, Glenn Miller entered the Boyd Senter band, the first of a series of musical groups he would join. He later quit this group to attend the University of Colorado in 1923, but soon abandoned his college career to pursue his love of music. Over the next years, he moved to Los Angeles and became a member of Ben Pollack's band, then came to New York City in 1928, working as a trombonist and musical arranger. At this time, Miller married Helen Burger, his college sweetheart. Miller then worked for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, organized an orchestra for Ray Noble, and studied music theory and composition with Joseph Schillinger.
Miller first recorded under his own name in 1934, while still working with the Noble orchestra. Then, in 1937, he tried to form his own band, which gained little popularity. After disbanding and then reorganizing his group, Miller finally found success in 1938, when Glenn Miller and his Orchestra got an engagement at the Glen Island Casino.