The night Glen Miller played the Springs

Posted on August 3, 2011 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Jeff Gilbert | Special to The Sun

Back in the big band era, a hot venue for live music was the Boyes Hot Springs Mineral Baths dance pavilion. Known as “The Plunge,” it was a popular spot during the summer months where local orchestras and up-and-coming bands enjoyed big crowds. On one of those nights, in July of 1937 the audience witnessed history.

 Trombonist Glenn Miller in early 1937 had saved up enough money to start up his own big band. Glenn had struggled through the 1920’s playing in theater orchestras and finding studio recording work where he could.  Ben Pollack, the famous drummer and bandleader, hired Glenn to play trombone. Working with Pollack was a great experience, not only playing in the band but also arranging most of the band’s tunes. By 1933 Glenn was well known for his arranging skills. 

The famous Dorsey Brothers, known for their studio work, decided to put a band together that would tour the U.S. Glenn was hired as musical director and arranger and to play trombone. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra was a success and, in 1934, Brunswick Records recorded a novelty tune Glenn called “Annie’s Cousin Fanny. It caught on, and soon it was the most requested number in the band’s book. 
Glenn left the Brothers Dorsey in 1935. The famous English composer and bandleader Ray Noble announced he was coming to America, thus marking the first musical British invasion. Ray hired Glenn as player and arranger, and he helped recruit the musicians, some of whom became household names: Claude Thornhill, Will Bradley, Bud Freeman and George Van Epps among them. The band was well received, but just did not have the success it had when in England. Glenn grew restless and left Noble in late 1936. 

It was time to start his own orchestra. The first band would be known later as “The Band That Failed.” Always trying new things, Glenn had not yet found the sound that would later define his breakthrough orchestra. With the help of agent Cy Shribman, the band was booked on a string of one-nighters. The itinerary included a stop in the Sonoma Valley.

On that Saturday night in July of 1937, Glenn Miller and his first orchestra found themselves playing the Boyes Hot Springs Mineral Baths. Tourists from around the world and summering Bay Area residents would flock to Sonoma for vacation activities, and “The Plunge” in the Springs was always number one on the list of places to go for a swim during the day and music at night. 

On this evening, the audience didn’t realize it was witnessing musical history. 

It was a good band with good musicians. They recorded some sides for Brunswick and Decca, proving the band could swing, but something was missing. Sadly, the musicians was given notice on New Year’s Eve.  Glenn’s paycheck for the year 1937 was $48. Never discouraged, he would try again. In early 1938 a new band was re-formed and Glenn finally found “The Sound” that would make him a household name. 
“The Band That Hits Built,” by late 1939, was the number one orchestra in the country.  Dozens of hit records followed and, two years later, Glenn was presented with the very first Gold Record for his recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

In 1942, at the height of his popularity, Glenn gave up his orchestra and enlisted in the Army Air Force where he also made musical history directing the Army Air Force Band.  In December of 1944 he left from an airfield at Twinwood Farm in England to fly over the English Channel and make his way to Paris to set up accommodations for the AAF Band that would follow in three days. Glenn was never heard from again. 
That was 67 years ago and since that time the Glenn Miller orchestra has never been silenced; it has been led by Tex Beneke, Ray McKinley, Buddy de Franco and currently under the direction of Gary Tole. The music and the memories will live on for those who danced that night in July of 1937 in Boyes Hot springs to the first Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Jeff Gilbert hosts “Jeff’s Joynt” on SUN 91.3 FM weekdays from 3 to 4 p.m.

6 thoughts on “The night Glen Miller played the Springs

  1. Jeff-I’m in awe of your knowledge. As you know, I have a deep interest in the history of Boyes Hot Springs. I have been collecting material about entertainment in the Springs for some time. I’d love to talk to you about it.


  2. I played lead alto with the Tex Beneke Orchestra after the War. Excellent leader. Learned a lot. The “book” was all Miller stuff. See Chapter 9 ,”Saturday Night in Texas” (in my music memoir, CHASING THE MUSE,) about a one-nighter stop in a Texas town that turned into a riot.
    Available at Amazon, Barnes& Noble etc, print and ebook.

  3. Nice story — BUT NOT TRUE. Glenn Miller never played at the Boyes Hot Springs Mineral Baths dance pavilion, nor did he ever play in Sonoma.

    The entire month of July 1937 Glenn Miller and his band were at the Blue Room, The Hotel Rossevelt, New Orleans, Louisiana.

    1. Back in the 1980’s I met David Chandler who was a retired band booker who worked the Los Angeles area and managed the Glendale Civic Auditiorium. While on vacation in Boyes Hot Springs in the summer of 1937 he swore he saw Glenn’s first band at The Plunge. Also a Native Sonomaman has also relayed this story as well, who is still living…Maybe the memories fade with time and the dates and the people are blurred into fiction. Dallas or New Orleans or Boyes Hot Springs the band was working.

      All we can do is to keep the stories of that wonderful era of music alive with the stories of those who were there or maybe not there?

      My romance with The Glenn Miller Orchestra has been a long one. I have met many of the members over the years, Johnny Best, Zeke Zarchey, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly,Sr. ,Willie Schwartz, Bullets Durgom, Billy May, Ray Anthony, Trigger Albert, Paul Tanner and others. I’ve been a member of “The Big Band Academy of America” since 1988 , Milt Bernhart was our president and Founder his son David is now our president and Van Alexander is Vice President. Once a year a “meeting” “re-union” as it came to be known was held at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City,California. It was unreal, Mel Torme in the bar singing with the original Mel-tones, Lighting Cigs for Paula Kelly,Sr. , Steve Allen and Gus Bivona listening to Page Cavanaugh at the Piano and Ginny Sims and Harry Babbitt laughing together. I sang “Sweet and Lovely”while the comporser Harry Tobias gave me his ok. Helen Forrest and Helen O’Connell and Bea Wain and Doris Day swaping stories of nites on the road long ago. Ronnie Kemper and Dick Jurgens talking with Benny Carter. Cyd Charrisse and Tony Martin joking with Kitty Kallen and Henry Mancini when Milton Berle came over and broke everybody up with Morey Amsterdam.
      The membership has gone down over the years and many of the members have passed on. Please support David Bernhart and the BBAA . I still can’t belive all My childhood hero’s all in one room at one time. It was just “Too Marv for Words”. We will never see the likes of these Great Entertainers again.

      A phone call came in today and I was told Glenn Miller was in Maine in July of 1937 ?

      One thing we all know. Glenn’s Memory and music will live on……Goodnight Mr. Miller wherever You are ????????????

      Thanks for all Your comments !!!!!

  4. Jeff – Great story! However, there is no documentation in the Miller personal files that shows GM played anywhere in California during 1937. He was actually in Dallas during the time frame you mention. Cy Shribman was from Lynn, Masschusetts, and essentially was a band booker for only the New England area . . . not California. I’d be most interested in your source of this reported event at “The Plunge” in Sonoma Valley. Othewise, this is a most interesting story of the early Glenn Miller. Best, Dave

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>