“Caravan” (1937)

“Caravan”

Composed by Juan Tizol; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra on August 18, 1937 for Victor in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet; Irving Goodman, trumpet; Sonny Lee, first trombone; Al George, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones and clarinets; (Rounds also plays baritone saxophone in one sequence.); Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; George Wettling, drums. Arrangement by Joe Lippman.

The story:

On August 18, 1937, Bunny Berigan and his band checked in at Victor’s 24th Street recording studio in New York City to make some records. The recording session ran from 1:30 to 6:45 p.m., after which they rushed from Manhattan to the Pavilion Royal, a ballroom at Valley Stream, Long Island that featured an inside/outside dance floor, and a radio wire for remote band broadcasts.They were in the middle of a long engagement there which would last through most of the rest of August. In September, the band began touring, but only on a limited basis. They had to stay near enough to Manhattan to return there on Sundays for their Mutual network radio show Fun in Swingtime. After their commitment to that show ended in mid-October, they began touring in earnest. Berigan would spend most of the succeeding two years on the road with his various bands.

The Berigan band recorded three tunes for Victor that day: the then current pop “Why Talk about Love?” with a Gail Reese vocal; and two good instrumentals, “Caravan” and “A Study in Brown.” “Caravan” was a new tune then, composed by Duke Ellington’s valve trombonist Juan Tizol. The Berigan version, in a great arrangement by Joe Lippman, showcases Bunny using a pixie straight mute in his trumpet, and a plunger over its bell to achieve an insinuating growling effect.

Berigan’s recording of “Caravan” was well received at the time of its issue by the more cultivated swing commentators, albeit with some rather overheated adjectives: “‘Caravan’ is an eerie, satanic interpretation in slow tempo of Juan Tizol’s noteworthy melody. It testifies to the steady improvement in Berigan’s group, and is far and away the finest of its recordings (to-date).

L-R rear: Georgie Auld, Joe Dixon, Berigan; seated Clyde Rounds and Mike Doty.

The significance of the disc lies in the fact that it presents an exceptional and imaginative arrangement, which never for a moment hesitates to utilize the most colorful harmonies and techniques at the command of the modern jazz orchestra. Against a coherent and deftly articulated background of clarinet choir, strongly accented percussion led by bass saxophone (sic, see below), and subtone clarinet and delicate pianissimo brass figures, Berigan introduces the theme on solo trumpet. It’s sensuous and feverish and played with tremendous feeling; its phrasing and intonation complete the bizarre atmosphere conjured up by the background counter-themes. Except in the finale, which returns to the opening motif, the source is ensemble. Unity of design, however, is so well maintained that the concerted unison chorus with the crescendos, diminuendos and modulations creates a powerful climax in keeping with the original mood. Wettling’s drumming considerably strengthens the driving rhythmic background. All in all, this is a fit companion piece for the Ellington and Ambrose versions.” This review was by Paul Eduard Miller, and it appeared in the November 1937 issue of Down Beat, and is cited in the Bozy White Berigan bio-discography at August 18, 1937.

(Note: There is no bass saxophone on Bunny Berigan’s recording of “Caravan.” There is, however, a bass clarinet, which was played expertly by Mike Doty. Likewise, there is no subtone (quiet, low-register) clarinet playing in this performance. This commentator was obviously not familiar with the tonal characteristics of a bass clarinet.)

Berigan at left, and drummer George Wettling on the sidewalks of New York, 1937.

The music:

This performance of “Caravan,” wherein Bunny and the band bring Joe Lippman’s brilliant kaleidoscopic chart vividly to life, executing the many crescendos, diminuendos, and brass oo-ahs perfectly, is one of many bits of recorded evidence that refute the hoary canard that the Berigan band was little more that a ragtag group of undisciplined musicians. Here are some specifics: In addition to playing trumpet superbly, Berigan set an absolutely perfect tempo for this performance. Drummer George Wettling provides a sonic cushion for the band playing his drums and cymbals with both imagination and taste. Mike Doty’s bass clarinet work is an outstanding feature throughout this performance. Lead trombonist Sonny Lee emerges briefly from the ensemble for a melodic solo. Also, catch Berigan’s last trumpet phrase just before the finale. It is executed in one long breath, with a marvelous, soulful downward glissando along the way.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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