Big band comes to Bama

Jamie Lyons

The Bama Theatre is about to become a time machine taking Tuscaloosa back to a musical period when bands were big and one orchestra led by Glenn Miller was the biggest of all.

“The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra” will be playing at the Bama Theatre Friday at 7:30 p.m. The orchestra found fame in 1939, under the direction of its namesake Glenn Miller. Now touring nationally, the orchestra, under the musical direction of trombonist Larry O’Brien, is a sought after “big band” performing group.

Kevin Ledgewood, publicist for the Arts Council of Tuscaloosa, said the Glenn Miller Orchestra has played at the Bama Theatre multiple times before.

“We strive to serve the cultural needs of the local community,” Ledgewood said, “and [booking the Glenn Miller Orchestra] paid off. Citizens from that era — the ’30s and ’40s — appreciated the tour, and it was also popular with the younger age group.”

The “big band” sound of the group appeals to a broad range of audience members, Ledgewood said. He added that the Arts Council is always open to suggestions from community members about who they would like to see perform.

The 19-member ensemble is comprised of musicians from all over the country. The orchestra tours nationally and performs 300 or more shows each year.

Amanda Penick, piano professor in the music department, said she remembers the legacy of Glenn Miller and his original orchestra. Penick said a movie titled “The Glenn Miller Story” depicts the life and work of the man, and has led to the continued interest in his work. The 1954 movie, directed by Anthony Mann of “Spartacus” fame, stars Jimmy Stewart as Miller.

Penick said the Glenn Miller Orchestra, like many bands of that era, had a distinct sound that was easily identifiable.

“There are people that are old enough to remember the original orchestra,” Penick said, “and they are still playing the songs that made them famous, so it is quite interesting to see older people really enjoy this music. They live in the past with their memories and their music.”

Penick said the reason the orchestra appeals to wide range of ages in the audience is that the best music and the best musicians have universal appeal.

“A well-schooled and well-rehearsed band that does a good job with their playing, that appeals to everyone,” Penick said. “[The Glenn Miller Orchestra] was a birthing ground for a lot of young player and singers, who then left and had careers of their own.”

Tickets for the concert are available on the website of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, at Tickets range from $21-$26.