Out of the shadow of Glenn Miller

The World Famous, Glenn Miller Orchestra, is the most popular and sought after big band in the world today for both concert and swing dance engagements. (Wikipedia)

Leading the legendary Glenn Miller Orchestra into the 21st century was no small task for music director Larry O'Brien. The accomplished classical and jazz trombonist, a native New Yorker and a big-band mainstay with the Dunes Hotel's Casino de Paris Orchestra in Las Vegas, has been playing in the shadow of music icon Glenn Miller since 1981. Now, the 77-year-old band leader says, it's time to step down as the orchestra's music director.

At the end of the 2010 music season, O'Brien will retire to the island of Hawaii with his lovely wife Judy. But he's not bowing out without sharing a few memories about a fabulous life playing the great Glenn Miller songbook.

In the beginning, before Elvis, before the Beatles, before Michael Jackson, before Madonna-there was Glenn Miller.

For the younger generation not in tune with the Greatest Generation, Glenn Miller was the 1930s-40s equivalent of an international "rock star". But at the height of his career, while wearing a U.S. Army uniform during World War II, he perished in a tragic December 1944 airplane mishap over the English Channel. At the time, the musician was the enlisted music director of the U.S. Army Air Force Band.

On a foggy December night, Miller left a British airfield enroute to a USO show in France when-according to a recent theory-high-flying allied bombers jettisoned active dam-buster bombs to save fuel. The jettisoned bombs are believed, at least by the theory's proponents, to have hit Miller's plane causing the crash. For others, Miller's death is still a mystery, not unlike the disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart.

Regarding Glenn Miller's artistic legacy, O'Brien says he's honored to keep the maestro's World War II-era music alive. The orchestra still plays original arrangements of "In the Mood", "Pennsylvania 6-5000", "Girl from Kalamazoo", "Moonlight Serenade", Tuxedo Junction", "String of Pearls", "Little Brown Jug", and dozens of other 1930s-40s jukebox hits.

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