Inside one of the Capital District’s oldest music venues, the Glenn Miller Orchestra brought back the RCA Records sound of the 1930s and 40s amid the pastel pink, green and white interior of Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. While there are no original members, an observation bandleader Nick Hilscher made, eliciting a ripple of laughter from the crowd, they are workhorses, performing 48 weeks a year on tour with typically five shows each week. Honed and polished, the band was the sound of perfection in their extensive catalog of hits from the Big Band era of American music.
With conductor/singer Hilscher, who was classy and decked out in a suit, the 16-piece band played a brief “Moonlight Serenade” to open the show, establishing the most notable Glenn Miller song’s smooth jazz as the theme of the evening. “Caribbean Clipper” and “Tuxedo Junction” followed, with intermittent applause after each orchestra member’s solo. Derbys, plungers, wah-wah and solo-tone mutes were used at various times by the four trombonists – George Reinert, John Tyler, Joe Zeigenfus and Jason Bennett – altering the sound to that of big bands from the pre-World War II era. Following “Serenade in Blue” from the 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade, featured singer Natalie Angst came out to sing “String of Pearls” and “Church on Time”, a golden voice that sounded like it had lept from the movie musicals from the same era.
Glenn Miller, having enlisted in the war effort, he formed a band in the Army Air Force, from which the classic “Begin the Beguine” originated. Alternating brass and woodwinds were featured on “The White Cliffs of Dover”, particularly by Christopher Hearld and Kevin Sheehan whose clarinet was a soothing presence.
Recalling the Modernaires, a vocal group who performed with Glenn Miller in the 30s and 40s, today’s Glenn Miller Orchestra has the Moonlight Serenaders, including Natalie Angst and band members Joe Zeigenfus, Kevin Sheehan and Ian O’Beirne, along with Nick Hilscher. Singing “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, (the first ever gold record with 1.2 million sales), the audience was moved to sway and sing along with the American classic. A unique comedy/parody tune, “Conchita Marquita Lolita Pepita Rosita Juanita Lopez” from the movie Priorities on Parade, fit the Moonlight Serenaders perfectly. The first set ended with “The American Patrol”, dedicated to the veterans in the audience, who stood up at Hilscher’s request, making up roughly 10% of the men in the audience.
After a short break, the band returned to continue the night with a “Pennsylvania 6-5000”, “Pennies from Heaven” and “The Lady is a Tramp”. These three familiar numbers put the Music Hall’s incredible acoustics front and center, which have been experienced by thousands since opening in 1875. With big bands having played the room since over the past 140 years, the Glenn Miller Orchestra was well aware of the fabled legends that had preceded them. Closing with “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”, “In the Mood” and a full version of “Moonlight Serenade”, as well as an encore of Eddie Durham’s “The Tiger Rag”, a speedy club jazz number, featuring piano from James Navan, the current incarnation of the Glenn Miller Orchestra brought a sound from the 20th century and reintroduced it into the American music catalog of the 21st century.