The Glenn Miller Orchestra was founded some 84 years ago — and its namesake, legendary trombonist and bandleader Glenn Miller, vanished into thin air over the English Channel almost 78 years ago — but its current leader is only 30 years old.
Music director Eric Stabnau may not have been alive for most of the orchestra’s existence, but his appreciation for the band—and the music it makes—runs deep. He joined the big band in 2017 as a tenor saxophonist and became its leader during the pandemic.
Next Wednesday, the Rochester, New York native will lead the 17-piece ensemble when he brings his inimitable swing sound to the Palace Theatre.
In a recent phone interview with The Dispatch, Stabnau talked about how he joined the orchestra, Glenn Miller’s signature sound and his observations of how audiences dressed to get into the right 1940s-era mood .
Outdoor Music:Jason Aldean, Imagine Dragons, are still coming to Ohio’s outdoor music venues in August
Q: The Glenn Miller Orchestra is an ensemble with a storied history and a namesake born more than a century ago. What made you join the band?
stabs: I’ve always liked big band music and jazz music in general. I played the saxophone in middle school and high school and I really loved that genre, that period in music. I went on to college as well, at the University of Rochester (in New York), so that’s always been a big interest of mine.
Of course, I knew that the Glenn Miller Orchestra was still touring, but I couldn’t see myself playing with the band until I graduated. I had a good friend who was playing with the band at the time and he told me about a position opening up for tenor sax. Sure enough, I auditioned and a few weeks later I was on the road with the band.
Q: Has the Glenn Miller Orchestra played continuously since Miller’s death?
stabs: Technically, we say that this group was officially revived in 1956. However, after Glenn’s disappearance in 1944, there was a period of time between his disappearance and the technical reformation in 1956 in which the Glenn Miller Orchestra did exist for periods , run by various people who were associated with Glenn.
Q: Musical tastes have changed since Glenn Miller’s time. How do you retain and grow your fan base?
stabs: There are many different musical eras that we’ve gone through. If you listen to the Glenn Miller Orchestra over time, decade after decade, there’s a slightly different sound. The band from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, everything sounds a little different. But I think the band’s goal has always been to play as authentically as possible to the way the original band sounds. People come to the shows and expect to hear what they hear on the records, and I think for the most part we do a great job of recreating that, reproducing that.
Ohio State Fair:Ohio State Fair 2022: What you need to know before you go — and what not to miss
Q: How would you characterize Miller’s sound?
stabs: Specifically, what is recognizable about Glenn Miller’s band and his sound is the sound of the reed section. He pioneered a very specific sound where there are four saxophones led by a clarinet on top – five reeds together – and you hear that sound in all his music, especially the ballads. The best example would be “Moonlight Serenade”. This is your classic Glenn Miller sound.
More generally, for people who come to one of our shows, they can expect to hear quite a variety. Of course, Glenn had a lot of big instrumental hits that everyone knows – “Moonlight Serenade”, “In the Mood”, things like that – but there are also a lot of great vocal numbers.
Q: Do you feel like you’re traveling back in time when you perform?
stabs: It really does. Many people come to our shows dressed in either formal or even vintage clothing. It definitely feels like stepping back in time, no doubt about it.
Question: There are recordings of Glenn Miller’s band. Why is it important for an orchestra to stay on the road performing their music live?
stabs: There really is nothing like seeing this band perform live. There’s a lot of different music, but also, it’s a stage show and there’s choreography and storytelling and all that kind of stuff. . . . For people who may not be as familiar with big band music or the Glenn Miller Orchestra, I think if you come to a live concert, you won’t be disappointed.
With a glance
The Glenn Miller Orchestra will play at 7pm on August 10 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $63 to $85. For more information, visit www.capa.com.