“Shanghai Shuffle” (1938)

 “Shanghai Shuffle”

Composed by Larry Conley and Gene Rodemich; arranged by Fletcher Henderson.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra live from the Paradise Restaurant in New York City on April 10, 1938.

Bunny Berigan first and solo trumpet; directing: Steve Lipkins, Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sonny Lee, first trombone; Al George, trombone; Mike Doty first alto saxophone, Joe Dixon, alto saxophone; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

This is the third in a series of broadcast recordings by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra from the Paradise Restaurant in the spring of 1938.

Paradise Restaurant sign on the Brill Building, 49th Street and Broadway, New York – 1938; looking north on the west side of Broadway.

“Shanghai Shuffle, ” like another pseudo-Chinese composition from the mid-1920s, “Limehouse Blues,” reflects the cultural mixing that occurred when jazz musicians played in Chinese restaurants, which they seemed to do quite often in the U.S. in the 1920s. It is one of many Fletcher Henderson arrangements in the Berigan band’s book. (*) It is also associated with Louis Armstrong, who played it in his days as a Henderson sideman, recording it on October 13, 1924. Louis’s solo on that record was a paean to his mentor, Joe Oliver. Undoubtedly, that record was in young Bunny’s collection when he was growing up. “Shanghai Shuffle” evolved over the years in the Henderson band, and the arrangement the Berigan band plays here is the one Fletcher recorded on September 11, 1934, for Decca.

On the first performance of “Shanghai Shuffle” presented in this post, from April 10, 1938, Bunny sets a perfect dance tempo, and his band digs into this chart with gusto: hear the precise, but swinging interplay between the brass(led by Berigan) and reeds (led by Mike Doty) throughout. Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld plays solo first, energetic as always.  As Louis had paid tribute to King Oliver, Bunny pays tribute to Louis in his solo, which is molten-hot. The swinging back-beat platform on which this performance rests was fashioned by drummer Johnny Blowers. The brief alto solo toward the end is by Joe Dixon. The overall feeling of this performance is one of intensity, but that in no way diminishes the romping swing of the Berigan ensemble.

The second performance, from April 24, 1938, demonstrates how different the same arrangement played by essentially the same band (**) only a few days later could sound. The key to that is in tempo: Bunny set the tempo of this performance a little slower than the previous performance.

Johnny Blowers.

For whatever reason, drummer Johnny Blowers and bassist Hank Wayland fall into a deeply swinging groove about midway through the first chorus, and they carry the band along with their relaxed yet driving rhythm throughout the rest of the piece. Blowers’s use of a 4/4 rhythm played on his top cymbal (later called the “ride” cymbals when they were larger in diameter), to drive the band was somewhat avant-garde for the spring of 1938, and the essence of hipness. Later in 1938, drummers such as Cliff Leeman (with Artie Shaw), and Buddy Schutz (with Benny Goodman), also flirted with this technique of driving a big band lightly but strongly. Others (Kenny Clarke was one who also embraced this technique in the late 1930s), began using it as a means of driving small jazz groups that were experimenting with the rhythms that eventually led to bop. By the late 1940s, this method of drumming was de rigeur in both big bands and small groups, with offbeats being played on the snare drum and bass drum. (The bass drum offbeats were called “dropping bombs.”) Use of the high-hat cymbals as the major driver of the rhythm, which was standard during the swing era, greatly diminished in jazz after World War II.

Georgie Auld.

Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld was not quite 19 years old when this recording was made. From his first days with Berigan he was a wonderful technician and a good reader. Bunny taught him how to be a jazz musician. In this performance, he has a bit of trouble finding his footing in the first few bars of his solo, but he quickly and creatively recovers to produce some good jazz.

Berigan enters his solo in the lowest register of the trumpet (he was renowned for his artistic use of this difficult trumpet technique), (***) and he really works down there. Then he vaults way up high, on the way to creating a passionate improvisation. Bunny does hit a few clams (missed notes) in his solo, and also hits one in the finale. I must point out however that at this time, Berigan was playing at least 50% of the first trumpet in his band, in addition to all of the trumpet solos. That was an incredibly demanding and taxing thing to do well night after night. How he managed to do it as well as he did is a testament to his great stamina and trumpet technique. We must also remember that Berigan was all about jazz: he loved nothing more that trying to create a new improvisation each time he played a solo. That, of course, had its risks, which Berigan accepted happily as a price to pay for creative improvisation. Starting in early 1939, Bunny carried three trumpets instead of two, and he used one or more of them to play the first trumpet book most of the time. He would chime in on lead parts when he thought the top voice in the ensemble needed a little extra zing. This was most effective in preserving his lip, and creating excitement when it was called for.

Berigan at the Paradise Restaurant, early April, 1938: – L-R: drummer Johnny Blowers (smiling), trumpeter Irving Goodman (Benny’s brother), Berigan, Georgie Auld, Joe Dixon, trombonist Al George.

(*) This is one famous Fletcher Henderson arrangement that Benny Goodman did not play.

(**) By April 24, 1938 the Berigan’s trombones were: Nat Lobovsky, first trombone; Ray Conniff jazz trombone.

(***) I have a recording in my library of the great trumpet technician Charlie Shavers playing in the very low register, I think it was recorded at a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in the late 1940s. Oddly, Shavers chose to use the low register in that performance to create comic flatulent sounds. Berigan never succumbed to that temptation, at least not when being recorded.

These recordings were sonically restored and digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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