A couple of years ago, I began my journey into a place that many had gone before and many have gone since: to the world of collecting vinyl records. In the beginning of my collecting, I wasn’t especially discerning in my purchases. The records I bought typically cost under a dollar and I was taken in by things that “looked old,” or had great album art—the reason why I have not one, but two Meatloaf albums. There was something about hearing these old albums from decades gone by, in the same way that many would be hearing it when they were released; there is an element of time travel to vintage records that you don’t find in mp3s or even re-releases of old albums on vinyl.
One of the more interesting things that I found, I bought on a whim—a book containing three 12-inch records, bound together with the story of their significance in music history. It was a collection called For the Very First Time, 50 Never Before Released Original Performances by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. The collection includes live recordings from the early 1940s, and I picked it up, for 60 cents, and brought it home. I had no real sense of what I had picked up but I got home and listened to what I would describe as big-band-swing-jazz, though I’m really not a person who knows a ton about music, or how to write about it. What I knew was that it was something very special; the records are everything that I wanted a recording from the ‘40s to be: warm, crackling, and strangely familiar.
Fast forward a few years—A few more Glenn Miller records in my collection, and a reaffirmed love for jazz, swing, and orchestral music. I heard, through the wonderful e-mails I get from promoters here at the Nav, that The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra would be right here in Nanaimo. I virtually leapt at the opportunity, and a few nights later I sat, dead centre, in the Port Theatre, waiting for the show to start. Admittedly, I was among the youngest people in the audience, but this was to be expected. I also did not share the immediate title recognition that many of the older audience members seemed to, but I certainly matched their enthusiasm.
This orchestra has been touring and performing since the Glenn Miller Orchestra was reformed in the 1950s, and are the official carriers of the Glenn Miller namesake. According to band leader Nick Hilscher, the band had been touring and playing shows five nights a week, 48 weeks per year since the ‘50s.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that, as far as the musicianship on display, the orchestra was absolutely fantastic. According to one of the older gentlemen sitting behind me, who seemed less pleased than I was about the show, the songs had been shortened, and there was more of a “swing” sensibility than the jazz he had hoped for, but I’m not sure I could have enjoyed the show any more unless it had been a black-tie affair.
Nick Hilscher absolutely oozed charisma from the moment he strutted on stage; he felt like someone that had been plucked out of the 1940s and plopped down on the stage. Really, the whole orchestra had an authentic feeling about them, and seeing them in a theatre like The Port really made the experience all the more interesting. Adding to the 1940s feel was vocalist Jenny Swoish, who literally sparkled on stage, and held a smile so big that it looked like it may have caused physical pain, but she too (much like Hilscher) appeared like she had been pulled straight out of the past.
I really can’t say enough about this show. It’s something that I feel grateful to have been able to see—a piece of musical history performed live on stage. It served only to further cement my love of Glenn Miller, and recordings from the ‘40s and ‘50s, and will likely cause a spike in records of that kind being added to my collection. An astonishing show, and one you should absolutely go and see, if the opportunity arises; however, if you’re not going to be in Ottawa or Montréal this summer I don’t know when that opportunity will come up again.