“Back in Your Own Back Yard”
Composed by Dave Dreyer, Billy Rose and Al Jolson; arranged by Joe Lippman.
Recorded live at the Paradise Restaurant in New York City on March 27, 1938 from a broadcast over the Mutual Radio Network.
Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sonny Lee and Al George, trombones; Mike Doty, Joe Dixon, Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.
The Story and Music:
During the first year of his band’s existence, Bunny Berigan built a very strong ensemble whose personnel remained stable from the summer of 1937 through most of 1938. Notable performers who joined Bunny in the early summer of 1937 included Thomas Ball “Sonny” Lee, a veteran trombonist who was a first-rate lead player and jazz soloist; Robert “Mike” Doty, an experienced and very strong lead alto saxophonist; much respected bassist Frederick “Hank” Wayland; and the young and exciting jazz clarinetist/alto saxophonist Joe Dixon (real name: Giuseppe Ischia). Joining the Berigan band just days before they opened at the Paradise on Sunday March 20, 1938, was drummer Johnny Blowers (pronounced like flowers), who replaced the fabulous Dave Tough, who had replaced George Wettling. Berigan had a thing for drummers: he liked great ones. (Buddy Rich would follow Blowers into the Berigan band. Later, Jack Sperling drummed for Bunny.) Blowers, though less well-known than Bunny’s other great drummers (largely because he spent the vast majority of his long career in the studios), was nevertheless a splendid, colorful drummer, as these Paradise Restaurant airchecks show.
Berigan broadcast very frequently over the Mutual Radio Network while he was at the Paradise Restaurant, which was on the second floor of the Brill Building, on Broadway and 49th in New York City. He and his band were a great hit there. Their engagement was extended several times, with it eventually running seven weeks. It ended on May 6. That was the good news. The bad news was that the radio broadcasts emanating from the Paradise Restaurant were sustaining, meaning non-sponsored. So the band made no money from the radio broadcasts. Their pay for working at the Paradise Restaurant was not enough for Bunny to balance the band’s weekly payroll and other expenses. But Bunny, like other bandleaders, willingly accepted this out-of-balance financial set-up in order to get the substantial promotional benefits from appearing frequently on network radio. He could recoup his financial losses by playing in big theaters and ballrooms on the road later.
This aircheck, which includes the sign-on theme, and then a romping version of “Back in Your Own Back Yard,” is from the March 27, 1938 broadcast the Berigan band made which aired from 11:30 p.m. to midnight, and originated through the facilities of New York superstation WOR over the Mutual Radio Network. The Mutual/WOR announcer was Sidney Walton.
“Back in Your Own Back Yard,” is a pop tune that was written in 1928. Officially the credits show it as written by Al Jolson, Dave Dreyer and Billy Rose. Rose was exclusively a lyricist. Dreyer was a composer. Al Jolson was a singer who was often given composer/lyricist credits so he could earn more money from royalties. So the actual apportionment of the credits would likely be: music by Dreyer, lyrics by Rose. Jolson’s share of the royalties likely came in exchange for him recording and promoting the song.
The Berigan band used the melody of “Back in Your Own Back Yard” as a starting point for what can accurately be described as a joyous, swinging romp. Bunny comes on in spirited fashion, paraphrasing the melody in his first solo, partially muting his trumpet with a plunger. Georgie Auld then plays a long and rhythmically intense solo on his tenor sax, supported at various places by drummer Johnny Blowers’s strong back beats. Berigan then reappears with an open trumpet, playing some soaring (and searing) jazz, spelled twice by Sonny Lee’s muted trombone, which provides a nice contrast. Notice how Bunny exuberantly jumps back into his instrumental conversation with Lee after Sonny plays. These guys were having fun! This lean arrangement, which allows the jazz soloists plenty of unobstructed blowing room, was probably written by Bunny’s chief arranger in the 1937-1938 period, Joe Lippman.
Soon after the Berigan band closed at the Paradise Restaurant, they returned to New York’s Paramount Theater, on Times Square, where they had had a successful three-week run at the end of 1937. The proven formula for successfully managing a big band in the swing era was to present the band on radio frequently for a period of time, and then capitalize on the radio build-up by immediately placing the band in a big theater as a part of a vaudeville stage show. There was serious money in theater work for big bands. (See below.) But in order to make that money, the band would often work four or five shows a day in the theater. That was very demanding and exhausting, but bands willingly did it to earn the good money that went with it.
When the Berigan band returned to the Paramount Theater, it was again a part of a vaudeville review. Here are the relevant details, provided by Dick Wharton, Bunny’s then-new guitarist and vocalist: “The movie was ‘Stolen Heaven.’ Gene Raymond, Cass Daley, and the dance team of Nichols and Roberts were on stage with the band. But I wasn’t allowed to play the date because Gene Raymond, the big star, objected to any other male singer being on the same stage as him. Bunny, as part of the stage show did a bit using a hat, with Cass Daley called ‘Hot Pertater.’”[i]
Variety, as usual, had a reporter in the audience on opening night. Here is his report made with Variety’s unique argot: “Bunny Berigan’s orch; 40 minutes; band setting, Paramount, NY. Berigan’s hot trumpet originally came to attention through the swing sessions conducted by CBS. During the forepart of last year he was on the Admiracion Shampoo session over Mutual network (a sponsored network radio show-MZ) with Tim and Irene. Aggregation which made its bow at the Paramount with him consisted of a crack brass four-some, a like number of reeds, a pianist, a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist. From this combination plus a number of fetching arrangements Berigan draws a jitter brew that’s up to the minute in tang and flavor. For stage purposes his layout’s in the groove. The items are so varied as to keep the interest on the upbeat. It’s straight music from start to finish, with no imitation of top-blowing or any other outbreak of nut behavior by some member of the band. Berigan blends a keen sense of musicianship with a hard grasp of the current trends in dansapation, and the outlook for him should be a bright one. Gene Raymond—Songs-patter 10 minutes, Paramount, NY. Date is Raymond’s first on Broadway since he quit the legit for films. While he’s no great shakes as a crooner, Raymond carries a tune easily enough…with the uke accompaniment filling in nicely with limitations and style. Between vocal numbers Raymond had several of the musicians out of the Bunny Berigan contingent join him and his uke in a jam session. The incident went big with the jitterbugs in the assembly.”[ii]
Bunny did well once again at the Paramount. Here’s how his gross for the week compared with two bands that were MCA’s biggest box office draws: Kay Kyser, the week prior: $35,000; Hal Kemp, the week after: $47,000; Bunny Berigan: $32,000.[iii]
[i] White materials: May 11, 1938.
[ii] Variety: May 18, 1938, cited in the White materials: May 11, 1938.
[iii] International Musician: June 1938, cited in the White materials: May 17, 1938.
This recording was digitally remastered with considerable audio restoration by Mike Zirpolo. It is the second in a series of live broadcast recordings by Bunny Berigan from the Paradise Restaurant.