Wilbur (Willie) Schwartz, whose clarinet Glenn Miller pitched above his saxophone section to give that legendary band its distinctive sound, has died of cancer.
The veteran reed player, who continued in demand at recording sessions and on television until recently, was 72 when he died Friday at Valley Presbyterian Hospital.
Schwartz came to Miller's band in March, 1938, about the time Miller had reformed the group after the departure of several of his original musicians. With the addition of new faces, Miller decided to add a new sound and used Schwartz's clarinet as a showpiece.
Schwartz had been playing with the Julie Wintz band in his home state of New Jersey when he joined Miller. With Wintz he found himself backing up a young comic and master of ceremonies named Jackie Gleason in clubs throughout New Jersey.
Schwartz and Gleason were reunited several years later when both men came to Hollywood to make "Orchestra Wives," a widely praised musical film featuring the Miller band.
Billy May, the veteran arranger and band leader who joined Miller in 1940, remembered Schwartz for his versatility.
"He was constantly in demand for records and studio work because of his ability on clarinet, saxophone and flute," May said Sunday.
Schwartz served in the Merchant Marine during World War II and later joined Jerry Gray's new band, formed of many Miller alumni.
Over the years Schwartz recorded with the Nelson Riddle orchestras that backed up Frank Sinatra's Capitol recordings and worked with May and other band leaders on various TV shows.
Most recently he, May and the few other survivors of the Miller band toured as a Glenn Miller Reunion Band, playing in Australia and England.
Survivors include Schwartz's wife, Peggy, two daughters and a son, a brother, sister and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Church of the Hills, Forest Lawn Mortuary, Hollywood Hills.