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Swing Shift

In the mood for swing music? The Glenn Miller Orchestra is on its way to Modesto, with a crew of 16 musicians and two singers.

The big band will perform at First Baptist Church on Monday as part of the Modesto Community Concert Association series.

Though Miller is long dead (his small plane disappeared over the English Channel in 1944), the orchestra preserves the trombone player's legacy by performing his original arrangements.

Not surprisingly, senior citizens make up the biggest part of the orchestra's fan base, said musical director Larry O'Brien, 73.

"They're reminiscing when they hear this music," he said. "They're thinking of the first date they had, or when they proposed to their wife, or when they had their first child."

Hal Kinser, the 80-year-old operations manager of the Modesto concert series, is excited about the show because he saw Miller's orchestra as a youngster growing up in Iowa and loved listening to his recordings.

But Miller's appeal isn't limited to the older set, O'Brien said. Young people often come to the concerts because they are curious and want to find out why the tunes were so special to their grandparents.

Born in 1904 in Iowa, Miller recorded with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey's bands before forming his own group in 1937. His orchestra was the most popular dance band of its time and was known for its distinctive use of a clarinet lead over four saxophones. Its hits included "In the Mood," "Moonlight Serenade," "Perfidia," "Jukebox Saturday Night" and "Little Brown Jug."

In 1942, Miller shocked the music world by disbanding the group at the height of its success and enlisting in the Army. He formed a 42-piece Army Air Force Band, which entertained troops and performed on radio broadcasts.

Miller was last seen in December 1944 when he took off from England during bad weather on a small plane bound for Paris. A year later, the Army officially declared him dead.

Interest in the trombone player's music was revived a decade later when Hollywood released the movie "The Glenn Miller Story," starring Jimmy Stewart.

"The movie was one of the highest-grossing films for 20th Century Fox at that year," O'Brien said.

A new Glenn Miller Orchestra started a few years afterward and has performed around the country and abroad ever since. Today, the group tours 300 days a year.

Band members' average age is around 23, about the same as the musicians in Miller's original group.

O'Brien said he selects musicians based on recommendations from other players, then trains them in Miller's distinctive style.

The band has continued to thrive because of the early founders' commitment to excellence, O'Brien said.

"Ray McKinley and all the leaders that succeeded (Miller) did it right," he said. "They play the tunes the fans come to hear. They play them with tenacity and a lot of enthusiasm. They kept it fresh for the people. We try to do that, too."

WHAT: Glenn Miller Orchestra

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

WHERE: First Baptist Church,808 Needham St., Modesto

TICKETS: $20 adults, $10 children through 18

CALL: 549-0214