Gary Meggs (right) performing with jazz legend Lou Marini, former director of the “Saturday Night Live Band.”

The architect of the nationally-renowned jazz program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello is taking a summer break to tour with a pair of legendary big bands that had their starts in the 1930s.

Gary Meggs, director of UAM’s Jazz Band I, is touring with the Harry James Orchestra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra this summer. Meggs will be playing lead alto saxophone with the Harry James Orchestra aboard the American Queen Riverboat for five days in June. The Harry James Orchestra is directed by lead trumpet player Fred Radke, who is following in the footsteps of the band’s original leader, trumpet legend Harry James. 

Meggs will join the Glenn Miller Orchestra on July 20 at the Fox Theatre in Newton, Kan., for a three-week schedule of performances at Lake Anna Park in Barberton, Ohio, Mt. Zion Fine Arts Center in Oakwood Village, Ohio, Prouty Plaza in Troy, Ohio, Waterfront Park in Ludington, Mich., and the Seaside Pavilion in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Meggs spent all of 2009 on sabbatical performing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and has performed with the group for five consecutive years.

Harry James formed his own band in 1939 with a gifted but little-known vocalist, Frank Sinatra. The Harry James Orchestra became one of the most popular of the big band era of the 1940s. The original Glenn Miller Orchestra was formed by jazz trombonist Glenn Miller in 1937 and became one of the iconic big bands of the 1940s with hits like “Moonlight Serenade,” “Tuxedo Junction,” and “In The Mood.” Miller died in a place crash in 1943. The current Glenn Miller Orchestra was formed in 1956 and has been touring for more than 50 years.