“Flat Foot Floogie”
Composed by Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, Leroy “Slam” Stewart, and Bud Green. Probably arranged by Andy Phillips.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for the Thesaurus Radio Transcription Service on June 27, 1938 in New York City.
Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky, first trombone; Ray Conniff, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone; Clyde Rounds, tenor and baritone saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums. Vocal by Bernie Mackey with chanting by the band members.
The story and the music: On Monday June 27, 1938 Bunny Berigan and his bandsmen entered the RCA Victor studios in Manhattan. This time they were scheduled to make recordings for RCA’s Thesaurus Transcription Service. (*) The sixteen inch 33 1/3 rpm disks on which the Thesaurus transcription music was marketed were leased or sold to radio stations under the generic name “Rhythm Makers” or “The Rhythm Makers.” No identification of the many bands that made Thesaurus transcriptions was ever done. Radio stations simply played whatever music was on the disks they acquired (tunes were identified), and announced the performance as by “The Rhythm Makers Orchestra.” Few swing aficionados were fooled however. They usually knew who was playing after hearing only a few bars of the music, especially when the performer was Bunny Berigan, one of the most individual of all trumpet soloists.
It is extremely fortuitous that this opportunity existed for the Berigan band, because this Thesaurus recording session, and one which would take place in the not too distant future, like the airchecks of the band from the Paradise Restaurant and elsewhere (and unlike many of their Victor records), allow us to have a much more complete understanding of the Berigan band’s capabilities. Also, the difference between this band and the one Bunny had led on his previous Thesaurus session almost two years earlier is immense. The earlier band sounded very much like what it actually was—a part-time band with no identity. This Berigan band, after about a year and a half of performing, had reached the place where it was imbued with its leader’s passionate musical persona: it was powerful, exciting, and sometimes a bit unpredictable, even reckless.
They recorded twenty tunes that day, and as always was the case with transcriptions, only one take on each tune was made. There is no indication of when the session started or ended. Indeed, there is some question as to whether this session took place in New York, or at Victor’s Camden, New Jersey “church studio.” I think that this session was recorded in New York because I know that other Thesaurus recording sessions with many other bands, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Les Brown, Joe Haymes, Charlie Barnet, and Chick Webb, all took place in New York. Although Joe Dixon, Bunny’s clarinet soloist, on at least one occasion recalled recording these transcriptions in Camden, every other source I have ever checked indicates that all Thesaurus sessions took place in Victor’s Twenty-fourth Street studios in Manhattan.
The Berigan band obviously recorded many of the same tunes for Thesaurus they had recorded for Victor. Bandleaders would often use these transcription sessions to record a snap-shot of the repertiore they were presenting to dancing audiences at the time. Sometimes the vocal chorus of the previously recorded arrangement was omitted, sometimes not. It is always interesting to listen to versions of the pop tunes Berigan recorded for Thesaurus with the vocal chorus excised. Very often, removal of the vocal results in a better overall performance. Why Bunny would not have allowed an instrumentalist to play a jazz solo in lieu of the vocal on The Thesaurus recordings where the vocals are omitted is not known. That would have improved these performances even more. (Note: Given the powerful influence music publishers exerted on all recording artists during the swing era, there was undoubtedly pressure on bandleaders to record as many of any given publisher’s tunes as possible, even without a vocal chorus. Publishers were paid when their tunes were played on radio. Presence or absence of a vocal chorus was irrelevant to that.)
Of much more interest however, are the titles that Bunny recorded for Thesaurus that he did not record for Victor. One of those was “Flat Foot Floogie,” which was a zany then-current pop tune composed by the often hilarious pianist/guitarist Slim Gaillard, the fine bassist Slam Stewart (then performing together as “Slim and Slam”), and Bud Green. (Bunny was aced out at Victor on this tune by Benny Goodman, who made a good cover recording of it on May 31, 1938.) In this Berigan/Thesaurus version, Bernard N. “Bernie” Mackey, is the singer. Mackey, who had subbed for an ailing Robert “Little Gate” Walker as the Berigan band’s equipment manager/truck driver earlier in the year, remained as Little Gate’s assistant when he returned. He was tapped by Bunny to sing the jivey lyric, probably because Bunny thought, correctly, that Mackey could provide a vocal interpretation that was most consonant with the original Slim and Slam recording. Although this seems rather improbable, Mackey was then studying guitar, and later (1944) joined the Ink Spots vocal group [i] playing guitar and singing. So he apparently had some singing experience. He clearly enjoys singing the nonsense lyric, as do the band members who chant enthusiastically about the floy floy and floy doy.
Pianist Joe Bushkin, who had only recently joined the Berigan band when this recording was made, starts things off in a swinging, funky manner. Bushkin brought a strongly personal jazz piano style to the Berigan band. Bunny then contributes an exuberant trumpet solo which covers much of his instrument’s range. Also recently arrived in the Berigan band was trombonist Ray Conniff, who plays a nice eight-bar bridge in Bunny’s solo chorus. (Very soon, Berigan would discover that Conniff, in addition to playing very good jazz trombone, could also arrange. That would cause some stylistic changes in the music Bunny’s band played.) Tenor saxist Georgie Auld, and clarinetist Joe Dixon also play happy solos. Clocking in at 3:48, this performance of “Flat Foot Floogie” hints at what the Berigan band would do in front of audiences, by extending arrangements to allow for more (and sometimes longer) jazz solos.
There is no indication anywhere as to who wrote this chart, though I suspect it was one of Andy Phillips’s first arrangements for the Berigan band. If one listens to the Slim and Slam original recording of “Flat Foot Floogie” (presented below), it is clear that Phillips listened carefully to the rhythms in that performance, and then incorporated them into his arrangement for the Berigan band.
Drummer Johnny Blowers, whose always swinging rhythms are present if this performance, related an incident that occurred in the wake of this Thesaurus recording date that is indicative of the way Arthur Michaud, Bunny’s much-disliked (by Berigan band members) personal manager, handled the Berigan band’s business. After not being paid extra for the Thesaurus recording sessions (as required by musicians’ union regulations and Blowers’s contract with Berigan), Blowers went to Michaud and asked where his money was for the transcription date. “‘What transcription date?’ Michaud said, trying to look innocent. ‘My contract states that I’m to get paid extra for recording. That transcription date was supposed to pay over $400.’ (Probably for the whole band. This was happening in 1938, and the Great Depression was still very much a reality then.) ‘I want my money or I’m going to report you to the union.’ The threat worked, and everybody in the band was paid for the date.”[ii]
This incident led directly to Johnny Blowers leaving the Berigan band, despite the facts that he greatly enjoyed playing in that band, and liked Bunny personally. Berigan, on the recommendation of his tenor sax star Georgie Auld, then hired a twenty-year old drummer from Brooklyn, New York who had grown up there with Auld: Buddy Rich.
(*) In an effort to explain the corporate relationships that existed at the time this recording was made: Radio Corporation of America (RCA), owned Victor Records. RCA also owned the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and the Thesaurus Radio Transcription Service. Thesaurus radio transcriptions were often used on-air by NBC radio network affiliate stations.
[i] The Ink Spots were a very popular black vocal group from the 1930s–1940s that found acceptance among white as well as black audiences. Their vocal stylings led to later developments like rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and doo-wop.
[ii] Back Beats and Rim Shots…The Johnny Blowers Story, by Warren W Vache’ (1997) Scarecrow Press, page 40.
As a bonus, I am also posting the original recording of “Flat Foot Floogie” made by its composers Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart. This is a very humorous recording which Slim and Sam originally entitled Flat Fleet Floogie. A large cross-current of humor, often ironic, flowed through the music (and hip jargon) of the swing era.
Take note of Slam Stewart’s bass playing, both pizzicato (plucked strings), and arco (bowed strings), and Stewart’s melodic humming along with his arco playing.
“Flat Fleet Floogie”
Composed by Slim Gaillard, Slam Stewart and Bud Green.
Recorded on February 17, 1938 by Slim and Slam for Vocalion in New York City.
Slim and Slam, including: Slim Gaillard, guitar, vibraphone and vocal; Slam Stewart, bass, vocal and vocalizing; Sam Allen, piano; Pompey “Guts” Dobson, drums.
The recordings presented in this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo. Some sonic restoration was also required on the Slim and Slam recording.