A long-time resident of Leaside, I have been in the Toronto music industry as a drummer/percussionist since 1960, beginning with the dance bands of the day (Frank Evans, Benny Louis, Chicho Valle).
My interest in the music of Glenn Miller began with the movie, The Glenn Miller Story (James Stewart), and I later saw that orchestra at Dunn’s Pavilion in Bala, Ontario in 1962
In 1966 I joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra, touring throughout the U.S., Canada and Japan, and came back to Toronto in 1967.
Sometime in 2014 it occurred to me that it would be nice to play with the Miller orchestra one more time, so I contacted them, and they agreed.
On March 13 of this year, I met them at Roy Thomson Hall, did a short rehearsal, and then watched the show from the wings.
The leader, singer Nick Hilscher, was very welcoming, as were the band members.
The show ended with Moonlight Serenade, by which time the audience was standing and applauding.
Nick said, “Would you like to hear one more?”, which brought more cheers, and then he said, “We are fortunate tonight to have with us a member of that 1966 orchestra, a native of Toronto, Bruce Philp.”
So I came on stage, complete with follow spot, and the audience went nuts! We played the St. Louis Blues march, a drum feature.
This was like right out of the movies, and I’ll never forget it.
I’ve never had a response like that before.
I don’t think anyone has ever rejoined an orchestra 49 years later!
Bruce Philp, of Bayview Ave., returned to Toronto after his Glenn Miller days, despite the gratification of being asked for his autograph and mobbed at performances, because he found life on the road, especially eating and sleeping on buses, taxing.
“It’s OK for young guys,” he says, “but the older you get the more you need a home base.”
He found lots of work here, including spending 12 years at the Royal York Hotel’s Imperial Room where he accompanied some of the world’s greatest performers, including Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.
He sometimes had 300 gigs a year with the then-popular dance bands that travelled from hotel to hotel across the country.
It was gratifying to be asked for his autograph and mobbed at performances, Philp says.
“Those were thrilling days. I used to love the glamour of it all, particularly having to dress elegantly in a tie and suit.
“I noticed, though, that as the years passed, dress codes became more and more relaxed and I couldn’t help thinking that that took a lot of the magic out of the experience. Gradually ties were no longer required, nor jackets and pretty soon people showed up in just about anything.”
Today, Philp, 75, looks back with fondness on his years as a drummer,
“I miss the excitement, there’s no question,” he says.
But not the travelling. And watching the Glenn Miller band pile into a bus bound for Mississauga at the end of their stint at Roy Thomson Hall, Philp felt happy that he merely needed to hop on the TTC to be home in minutes. – Patricia Phenix