Glenn Miller Orchestra Still ‘White|Bread & Milk,’ Ex-Leader Claims

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A trombonist who led the Glenn Miller Orchestra claims in court that management fired him for hiring black and Latino musicians instead of keeping the band’s image “white bread and milk.”
     Click here to read Courthouse News’ Entertainment Law Digest.
     Gary Tole sued Glenn Miller Productions Inc. in Federal Court.
     Glenn Miller, a trombonist, headed one of the most popular big bands of the Swing Era. He disappeared in 1944 on a flight over the English Channel, on the way to entertain U.S. troops.
     Miller, who was known for his “sweet sound,” had his biggest hit with “In the Mood.”
     In 1956, Miller’s attorney David Mackay Sr. formed Glenn Miller Productions, in New York City, to manage the orchestra.
     Miller’s son, David Mackay Jr., took over the enterprise in 1980, according to Tole’s complaint.
     In 2010, the top brass of Glenn Miller Productions – CEO Mackay Jr.; his wife, Connie Mackay, the company director; and its president Charles Destefano – set out to find a new leader and musical director of the orchestra, according to Tole’s complaint.
     The production company the only defendant. The executives are identified in the complaint, but not as defendants.
     Tole, who is white, says he met with the three executives at the Midtown restaurant Le Perigord on July 18, 2010, and the executives agreed that he was “a good fit for the position.”
     They met again the next day, and at the of that meeting, “Mackay told Tole, ‘Welcome to the Glenn Miller family,’ and introduced him to an acquaintance as ‘the new leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra,'” according to the complaint.
     Tole said his contract stipulated that he would be paid $1,700 a week, and that after the first 90 days he could be fired only “for good cause.” He says he started working for the orchestra on Jan. 12, 2011.
     But Tole says he soon noticed that the Glenn Miller “family” did not reflect the demographics of U.S. jazz musicians.
     “On information and belief, the pool of professional musicians specializing in jazz and big band music in the United States is as racially diverse, if not more so, than the population at large,” the complaint states. “In particular, a substantial percentage of such musicians are African-American and Hispanic.”
     “In June 2011, Tole hired two African-American musicians, Holbrook Riles and Cameron Brown, to join the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
     “Shortly thereafter, Destefano learned that the new musicians were African-American.
     “Destefano called Tole and questioned the hiring of Riles and Brown, stating, ‘[T]his is the Glenn Miller Orchestra, not the Count Basie Orchestra,’ or words to that effect.
     “Tole objected, communicating to Destefano that he was offended by this comment and intended to continue hiring the best musicians without regard to their race.”
     Destefano denied the allegations as “untrue” in a telephone interview with Courthouse News.
     “The lawsuit filed by Mr. Tole against us is totally without merit, and the company will vigorously defend itself against the allegations,” Destefano said.
     In his complaint, Tole claims that in July 2011, he promoted Damien Sanchez, “who is Cuban-American, to assistant road manager, over the protest’s of the Orchestra’s front office.”
     Tole claims management demoted Sanchez to side man in September 2011, and called an Oct. 8, 2011 meeting to discuss Sanchez’s future with the band.
     “In the course of this meeting, Connie Mackay expressed her continued objection to Sanchez having a role and future with GMP [Glenn Miller Productions], expressing her displeasure that someone named Sanchez would be ‘calling on behalf of the Glenn Miller Orchestra,'” the complaint states. “She also stated that the Glenn Miller orchestra was ‘white bread and milk’ and that it ‘would not be good for our name.'”
     Tole says he objected to the comments, and said he was “offended” by them.
     The band toured Japan in November and December 2011, Tole says.
     On Dec. 1, 2011, he says, he and other members of the orchestra visited the Trombone Club in Fukuoka.
     “Over the course of the evening, seven of the Orchestra musicians, who were visibly inebriated, joined non-Orchestra musicians on [the] jazz club’s stage, where they played poorly, cursed loudly and acted in an obnoxious manner. Tole witnessed over an hour of this performance before leaving,” according to the complaint.
     “In Tole’s best judgment as a professional musician, music director and band leader, the musicians’ poor performance and public profanity reflected poorly on GMP and the Orchestra and was detrimental to their best interests, especially in light of the fact that the Orchestra was scheduled to perform at the Fukuoka Concert Hall the next day.”
     Tole says he scolded those seven members at a private meeting at a private corner of the hotel lobby the next day.
     “Shortly thereafter, these members of the Orchestra wrote a letter to Mackay, in which they expressed their disagreement with Tole’s criticism and threatened to quit,” the complaint states.
     Tole says that that none of them actually planned to quit, but management used their letter as a pretext to fire him for bringing diversity to the band.
     Tole claims Mackay fired him in a faxed letter that accused him of “being named in a complaint filed against [GMP] with the EEOC, the resignation of a competent road manager, objections to your performance by our Japanese promoter, the unauthorized disclosure of confidential corporate information to others and your unfounded public criticism of half the band members for their participation in a music performance at a Japanese jazz club.” (Brackets in complaint.)
     But Tole claims Mackay concocted “baseless reasons” to fire him as a “pretext for racial discrimination.”
     He seeks $500,000 in punitive damages for breach of contract and discrimination.
     He is represented by Amos Blackman, with Bantle & Levy.

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