The band plays on…

It only seemed that young Don Pierre had been waiting forever for that Friday evening to arrive. In actual fact, the wait had only been several weeks. It just felt longer. Much longer.

His anticipation began soon after Christmas, 1941, when ads in various local newspapers told readers that Glenn Miller and his Orchestra would be performing at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena on January 23, 1942. It’s not stretching it to say the legendary Glenn Miller was Pierre’s idol, and now he’d be able to hear, and see, the man in person.

Faded news reports of the event reveal that when word got out Miller would perform only one concert in Toronto (the band had done six concerts in just one day in Detroit) the rush for tickets was incredible. And, since the old Arena could only hold 6,000, it wasn’t long before every ticket was snapped up. So scarce were they, in fact, that city police began warning fans to be on the lookout for fake tickets. There was another concern: Scalpers were selling $1.50 tickets for a whopping $5. None of this mattered to Pierre. He already had his ticket, and to prove he was there, he’d take along his camera and get a photo of the man.

Sadly, less than threeears after his one and only Toronto visit, Miller vanished when the Canadian-built Norseman aircraft in which he was a passenger failed to complete its flight from England to Paris, France. The man was gone; the legend would live on.

Don Pierre was born in Oshawa, Ont., in 1931. He’d come by his love of music honestly, having been introduced to the clarinet during his junior years at Unionville Public School. Graduating from the Markham High School, the young man soon obtained employment in the advertising office of Walker Stores, a once-popular chain of Toronto dry goods and ladies wear emporiums that many readers will recall. A few years later he became a buyer for Fairweathers. To earn a few extra dollars, Pierre decided to put the clarinet lessons he took as a kid to some practical use and accepted part-time work with a couple of well-known local dance bands. Pierre would eventually spend a total of 15 years with Art Hallman, a favourite with the Casa Loma crowd, and another two years with Ellis McLintock, best known as the house band at the late, lamented Palace Pier.

In the mid-1960s, Don established his own 12-piece musical group which was soon much in demand at the Jubilee Pavilion, a popular dance hall in his hometown of Oshawa. Contacts in the fashion industry also resulted in the Don Pierre Band being featured at many of the fashion shows held at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre. But he wasn’t satisfied with leading just another band.

There’s no doubt the unique sound of Glenn Miller’s music had remained with him. In the late 1980s, following discussions with fellow musicians Gordie Evans and Marty Loomer, Pierre decided he would develop the best sounding Glenn Miller Band since Miller himself waved the baton. Thus it was that in January, 1990, exactly 48 years after that unforgettable visit to the Arena on Mutual Street, a group of Toronto’s finest musicians — several of whom had played with the various Miller bands that sprung up after the musician’s disappearance — got together, with Don Pierre as musical director. Playing from charts arranged note for note from old 78 rpm records, slowly but surely the authentic Miller sound was reborn.

At first, the group called themselves the Canadian All Stars: A Tribute to Glenn Miller, but that moniker was soon streamlined to the present Canadian Tribute to Glenn Miller. Today, these 17 musicians — along with singers John McNab and the Fabulous Moonbeams — easily rekindle musical memories of days gone by.

In fact, listening to them is just like revisiting the old Mutual Arena that cold January night nearly a half-century ago.