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Tribute Bands

Four groups honor famous music acts — and develop a following of their own.

Tribute Bands

Julia Rich and the Glenn Miller Orchestra performing at the Holland Performing Arts Center in 2008. — Glenn Miller Orchestra Productions Inc.

Glenn Miller Orchestra: The Legend Continues

No matter how old you are, the opening moments of Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" — the mellow saxophones, the muted trumpets — will conjure up indelible images: Maybe you remember embracing someone in a melancholy dance as a World War raged outside, or catching a glimpse of your parents getting misty-eyed to the tune over an evening cocktail, or pushing aside your Rolling Stones albums, setting that old Victor disc on the record player, and rediscovering the glorious sound of 20 or so musicians, brass instruments ablaze, playing as one.

We're cheating a bit by including the Glenn Miller Orchestra as a tribute band — it's owned by Glenn Miller Productions, and many of its original members back in the 1950s were Glenn Miller veterans. The present incarnation began touring about 12 years after Miller was lost over the English Channel in 1944, and a generation or two of Big Band boys and girls have been at it ever since, playing hundreds of gigs a year nationwide. Musical director Larry O’Brien pulls most of his arrangements right from the Glenn Miller archives in Florida, a direct link to the man who became an early 1940s superstar with numbers like “A String of Pearls," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "In the Mood."

On this particular night at the Carlyle Club of Alexandria, Virginia, the audience is a wondrous mix of 80-ish couples shuffling dreamily on the dance floor to "A Handful of Stars," 70-somethings finding the legs to bounce along to "Little Brown Jug," Boomers singing along as they dance to "Elmer's Tune," and kids in their 20s hurling each other around to "Pennsylvania 6-5000."

And presiding above them, resplendent in his white jacket, stands O'Brien, coaxing from his musicians a sound as mind-blowing as any electric guitar solo or arena rock anthem.

"We use lips and lungs instead of electricity," says O'Brien. He's about to retire after nearly a quarter century as the band's director, but the Glenn Miller legacy continues to unfold. "It's amazing how much material there is in that library," he says. "We're still finding things that have never been played."

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