Paul Tanner Dies At 95; Trombonist With Glenn Miller Orchestra

Paul Tanner, a trombonist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra who became a prominent jazz educator at UCLA and created an unusual electronic musical instrument heard on the Beach Boys' classic 1966 hit “Good Vibrations," has died. He was 95.

Tanner died of pneumonia Tuesday at an assisted-living facility near his home in Carlsbad, Calif., said his wife, Jan.

Tanner was a member of the Miller Orchestra, one of the best-known swing bands of the 1930s and '40s, for most of the orchestra's existence of less than a decade. Over the course of his tenure with Miller, Tanner recorded some of the orchestra's best- known hit recordings — “String of Pearls" and “In the Mood" among them. He left the orchestra in 1942, when Miller broke up his civilian band to form a service swing band. Tanner joined the Army himself in 1942 but did not play in Miller's service ensemble.

He continued to play in big bands after the war — occasionally with Tex Beneke, a tenor saxophonist/singer with Miller who was leading a Miller-like band. But other interests soon began to attract his attention.

Tanner's involvement with electronic musical instruments began in the '50s, when he was drawn to the sound of the theremin, with its eerie, sliding notes. (It was notably present in the film scores for “The Lost Weekend" and “Spellbound.")

Fond of its unique tonal qualities, he was bothered by the theremin's playing technique, which required the performer to control it by waving one's hands. Working with inventor Bob Whitsell, Tanner designed an instrument that initially he called the electro-theremin. Eventually, it also received the name Tannerin, although Tanner preferred the title Paul's Box. Unlike the theremin, its method of playing was closer to that of traditional keyboard instruments.

It was prominently heard on the 1958 LP “Music for Heavenly Bodies" as well as the TV series “My Favorite Martian" and another LP, “Music From Outer Space." But the best known performance by the electro-theremin/Tannerin was on the Beach Boys' “Good Vibrations," where it is played by Tanner.

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