Buddy Rich at 100: “Moten Swing” (1938) Bunny Berigan

“Moten Swing”

Composed by Bennie and Buster Moten; arranged by Ray Conniff.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra live from a broadcast over WABC-New York from Roseland Ballroom in New York City in October of 1938.

Bunny Berigan, first trumpet, directing: Johnny Napton and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Ray Conniff and Andy Russo, trombones; Milton Schatz, lead alto saxophone; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone; Clyde Rounds, tenor and baritone saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland. bass; Bernard “Buddy” Rich, drums. Solos: Bunny Berigan, trumpet; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone; Gus Bivona, clarinet; Ray Conniff, trombone.

This is the first of three posts that will appear at the sister blog of bunnyberiganmrtrumet.com    swingandbeyond.com celebrating the centenary of drum legend Buddy Rich’s birth. This first post will focus on Rich’s first big-time jazz gig: his six months as the drummer in trumpeter Bunny Berigan’s band. NOTE: This post is a bit more detailed than the one that is posted at swingandbeyond.com covering Rich’s time with Berigan.

The story: Bernard “Buddy” Rich, perhaps the most technically astonishing drummer in the history of jazz, was born on September 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were vaudeville performers, and almost from infancy Buddy was onstage performing with them. His prodigious drumming talent manifested itself when Buddy was only eighteen months old. This led to a very successful vaude­ville career for Rich, which lasted through his childhood years. By 1937, he be­gan his career as a jazz drummer, first with Joe Marsala, then in 1938 with Bunny Berigan. Berigan’s swinging band provided Rich with an excellent laboratory to experiment with techniques of driving a big band that he later perfected. Rich’s big break came when he joined Artie Shaw’s band at the beginning of 1939, just as Shaw was ascending to a place of national prominence with his band. With Shaw, Rich’s stunning drumming technique was first put on display before a national radio and movie audience.

A unique though unfortunately blurry snapshot taken of Berigan sidemen in Traverse City, Michigan on July 13, 1938. L-R: Bassist Hank Wayland; guitarist/vocalist Dick Wharton; drummer Buddy Rich; tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld;  trumpeter Irving Goodman. Note the smiles on Wayland’s and Auld’s faces. The Berigan band, despite a number of tragicomic problems on the road, was a happy band. Bunny liked it that way.

From Shaw he went, in late 1939, to Tommy Dorsey, who featured him as a soloist almost as much as Gene Krupa was featured in his own band. His tenure with Dorsey lasted until 1945, although he did serve in the Marine Corps during World War II. After World War II he led his own big bands with modest success in the late 1940s. He worked for many bandleaders in the 1950s and into the 1960s, including Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, and most notably, Harry James. He also worked exten­sively with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, and on his own with small groups. In 1966, Rich formed a big band, which he led with considerable success, until his death. Rich was helped immeasurably in this endeavor by tele­vision personality Johnny Carson, who was an amateur drummer, a personal friend, and  an idolator. Rich appeared on Carson’s Tonight Show dozens of times from the 1960s to the 1980s. In addition to his virtuoso drumming, Rich would easily trade witticisms with Carson. Rich also had an explosive temper and the sidemen in his last bands took delight in surreptitiously recording his rages to band members within the confines of the band bus. Buddy Rich died on April 2, 1987, in Los Angeles, California.

Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld recommended Rich to both Bunny Berigan and Artie Shaw.

Berigan’s tenor sax star Georgie Auld related how Rich got into the Berigan band:

“Y’know I met Buddy when I was 14 and he was 16, which means we knew each other for 54 years. I got him in Bunny Berigan’s band and I got him in Artie Shaw’s band. He and I both lived in Brooklyn. Bunny was looking for a drum­mer, he was upgrading the band at the time, and I said ‘there’s a buddy of mine that’s a genius behind the drums but he can’t read a note of music.’ Bunny said ‘well, that’s no good.’ In those days we played theaters and we usually had 5 acts of vaudeville. He said, ‘What’s gonna happen when we play a theater and we get a dance act or something and he can’t read music?’ I said, ‘He’ll do more without reading than any 30 drummers you get that can read.’ Then Bunny said, ‘All right let him sit in for a tune.’ The exact same thing happened with Artie Shaw.” [i]

The inimitable Buddy Rich in a drum ad – 1938.

Rich joined the Berigan band on July 5, 1938 at Manhattan Beach in New York City. Dick Wharton, Berigan’s guitarist, remembered the gig, and Rich’s impact on the Berigan band: “Man­hattan Beach was an amusement park with an open-air bandstand next to Coney Island. Johnny Blowers had just left and Georgie Auld was Bunny’s contact for enticing the young Buddy Rich away from Joe Marsala and persuading him it was a great opportunity for him. Buddy was loud from the very start and Bunny would have to insist on him cutting down the volume. But Bunny apparently liked the rhythmic ‘figures’ Rich played, and had Buddy’s ‘licks’ worked into some of the arrangements.”[ii] The Berigan band, with their new drummer, played at Manhattan Beach for a week, closing there on July 11. Buddy Rich began to slowly settle in.

After the Manhattan Beach stand, they played one-nighters west to Michi­gan, including one at the Queen’s Ball for the National Cherry Festival at Tra­verse City, Michigan on July 13.[iii] They opened on Friday July 15, at the Fox Theater in Detroit,[iv] for a one-week engagement. Here is the review of the show that the Berigan band was a part of:

“Berigan blows into the Fox with his trumpet and band to keep the jitterbugs happy and it’s a lively package of talent that Berigan has with him in the stage show. Bunny’s band is plenty smooth and keeping up the festivities are the Fra­zee Sisters, song stars of Billy Rose’s Casa Manana, returning by popular de­mand, three sophisticated ladies whose knockabout antics get plenty of laughs. Sharpe and Armstrong do a very clever satire on ballroom dancing, and Ruth Gaylor and Dick Wharton sing several popular lyrics. It is sixty minutes of lively stage fare to accompany the movie, We’re Going to Be Rich, starring Gracie Fields, Victor McLaglen and Brian Donlevy.” [v]

[i] Don Manning interview, cited in the White materials: July 5, 1938.

[ii] White materials: July 5, 1938.

[iii] Traverse City Record Eagle: Wednesday, June 29, 1938. Information provided by Carl A. Hallstrom.

[iv] The Fox Theater, located at 2211 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, was built in 1928 by Hollywood film pioneer William Fox. Its seating capacity of 5,048 makes it the second largest theater in the United States. (Only Radio City Music Hall in New York is larger.) Its twin is the Fox Theater in St. Louis, which has 500 fewer seats. The Fox Theater has remained a vital entertainment venue since its opening.

[v] Detroit Free Press: July 16, 1938, cited in the White materials: July 15, 1938.

Berigan band members pose outside of the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, August 25-31, 1938. L-R: Hank Wayland, Clyde Rounds, Ray Conniff, Nat Lobovsky, Joe Dixon, Buddy Rich.

The Berigan Mystique: 

Here is some first-hand information from a young Berigan fan (my father), that will give you an inkling of what the Berigan band was all about in the summer and fall of 1938. He saw Berigan and company at the Capitol Theater in Steubenville, Ohio (for two shows) on Sunday August 28, 1938.

Steubenville, Ohio, is located on the Ohio River about twenty-five miles due west of Pittsburgh. One of its most notable sons, Dino Crocetti, later to achieve fame as Dean Martin, who in the late 1930s was dealing blackjack and poker in one of the city’s many illegal gambling casinos, described it as: “a rough and tumble Ohio River town full of steel mills, speakeasies, and whorehouses.”[i] The Capi­tol Theater there had an agreement with the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, then one of the major stops on the big band and vaudeville circuit, that allowed the Stanley’s current attractions to play at the Capitol on Sundays when they could not perform in Pennsylvania because of that commonwealth’s “blue laws.” Al­most every performer who played at the Stanley Theater, therefore, also played at the Capitol Theater. Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra opened at the Stanley Theater on Thursday, August 25, 1938, for a one-week stand.[ii]

By the time my father actually saw Bunny Berigan in person he had known about him for probably three years, had pur­chased many of his Victor recordings, and had heard him many times on the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club radio show. The band that Berigan led that night at the Capitol Theater consisted of the following: Steve Lipkins (lead), Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky (lead), Ray Conniff, trombones; George Bohn (lead), Joe Dixon, Georgie Auld, and Clyde Rounds, reeds; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar/vocals; Hank Wayland, bass; Buddy Rich, drums; and Ruth Gaylor, vocals. My father remembered the Andrews Sisters, who did appear at the Capitol with Berigan, only as “a corny vocal group,” and didn’t recall the dancers at all. He stated that there was no movie, but that the band played two one-hour shows, with the theater being cleared between them. His sole reason for going to the Capitol Theater that night was to see and hear Bunny Berigan. His expectations were high, and he was not disappointed.

“Bunny was really a free spirit, man!” –Buddy Rich

The day had been “roasting hot, with stifling humidity.” The 2,000-seat Ca­pitol “was filled to the rafters with a very wild audience.” My dad was seated somewhere in the first few rows, and was able to see Bunny and the band very clearly. Those there wanted hot music, and Berigan and his musicians made no apologies about swinging hard, and playing loud.

“As the curtain rose, Bunny was standing in front of the band; they came on playing his theme, ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ for a few bars, then segued quickly into a loud up-tempo swinger, which lasted for about five minutes. The audience responded with a roar of approval, and the show proceeded in like fashion for the next hour, with lit­tle letup. Berigan himself was a big guy, probably six feet one, with powerfully built arms and shoulders (the result no doubt of lifting a trumpet to his lips for any­where from three to seven hours a day for the past ten years). He had magnificent reddish-blonde hair, and arresting blue-gray eyes. He was wearing an immaculate light colored suit, with blue necktie and kerchief in his breast pocket. He was a very good-looking guy. He looked like a movie star. He said very little to the audience between numbers and seldom flashed his teeth, like many other bandleaders, be­cause his teeth looked crooked. His trumpet seemed to be extra long, and he would hold it so it was straight out and level when he played. But when he would play a high note, he would point the trumpet up, at about 45 degrees.”

My father recalled one or two vocals by the girl singer in each show, “to allow the band members to catch their breath between romping swingers. Bunny and all of the other soloists played much longer solos, completely different from those on the records, with the arrangements being extended by Bunny setting up spontaneous riffs in the various sections behind the soloists.” This was rarely done in white bands then, and not done too frequently even in black bands (with the exception of Basie’s). The Berigan band played both shows without any music stands or written music.

Bunny’s trumpet sound was awe inspiring: He had a huge sound. It was full and rich and ringing, but always very warm. He was not a blaster, like Ziggy Elman, or a screecher, like Cat Anderson and Maynard Ferguson, who came later. “His sound was just enormous, in all registers of the horn. I have no idea how he did it, but when he played,  and that trumpet was pointed at you, my God, it was like being enveloped by that gor­geous sound. It completely filled the theater; it was like the walls were bulging. And his ideas were fantastic: he could play an entire improvised chorus without even the hint of repetition or cliché. The music just flowed out of his trumpet. He was clearly inspired when he was onstage in front of his band playing, and that was very contagious, to his musicians and to his audience. He put a lot into his playing, both physically and emotion­ally. I had never seen mist come out of the bell of a trumpet before. That night, I saw it frequently. It seemed that when Bunny played a solo he was able to communicate with his audience in a very immediate, powerful, magical way. His band gave him everything they had every second they were playing. That was one swinging band!”

As a result, the audience was stirred to frenzy, and remained at fever pitch throughout the evening.

“At the end of the first show, he let his drummer play, and he was fantastic. His arms were flying around the drum set and cymbals, and he was swinging. We had no idea who he or any of the others in the band were because Bunny didn’t introduce anybody. He just let them play.”

The drummer in question was Buddy Rich. Anyone who knows anything about Buddy Rich knows that he was not one to engage in exercises in nostalgia. He was, nevertheless, a very emotional man who was very proud of having played with many of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz, including Bunny Berigan. When he formed his big band in the 1960s, one of the first things he did was to commission from arranger Dave Bloomberg a lovely, evocative arrangement of “I Can’t Get Started.” I personally witnessed Rich and his band play this arrangement more than once. Buddy never made a big issue about dedicating it to Berigan, but he did clearly announce that this tune was “the theme song of Bunny Berigan.” When Rich decided to record this arrangement, his tenor saxophonist Jay Corre had a solo. Here is what Corre remembered: “I had begun playing my solo when I happened to glance over at Buddy. He was playing brushes and leaning over the snare drum crying his eyes out; teardrops were running down his face and falling on the snare. I knew right then that he was probably thinking about Bunny Berigan and the times they had spent together. I got caught up in Buddy’s emotions and it affected my playing as well. It’s a moment that I will always remember.”[iii]

The Capitol Theater in Steubenville, Ohio was not air-conditioned.

“I had never seen a human being sweat like Bunny, and I had worked with guys in kilns in the brickyard. He perspired so heavily that by the end of the first show, he was completely soaked, with sweat coming through the lapels, arms, and back of his suit jacket, and indeed, the crotch of his trousers. During the show, he had a towel hidden inside the lid of the piano, and he would go over there while someone else was playing, and wipe his face.”[iv]

After the first show, the theater was cleared, and within about a half hour, the second show began. My dad and his friends, including some Steubenville “relatives,” had paid little kids to stand on the ticket line for them for the second show. (“We gave them a dime when we went in for the first show, and then another dime when we came out. They knew if they took off with that first dime, we would go looking for them.”)  It was, if anything, more swinging and exciting than the first show. Berigan, who had changed suits (and probably everything else) during the intermission, “strode out from behind the curtain playing ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ but this time he played it all the way through, exactly as he had recorded it. The audience was quiet for the first and only time that night. At the climax of the performance, as Bunny went into the high register, his trumpet pointed skyward, a clap of thunder shook the building, and wild cheering erupted.” Once again, Berigan had immediately stirred the audience, and he then proceeded to play a completely different program of tunes, most of them up-tempo swingers, for the second show. “By the end of the second show, Bunny was again drenched. So were we. That theater smelled like a horse barn by then!” The audience departed and was able to cool off in a hurry as they walked out into a full-scale thunderstorm.

[i] Dean and Me, by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan, Broadway Books, (2005), 16.

[ii] White materials: August 25, 1938.

[iii] Quote from Jay Corre is in the liner notes to Buddy Rich’s Pacific Jazz CDP-7243-4-94507-2-1 (1998) entitled The New One!

[iv] In order to deal with so much perspiration, Berigan used great quantities of talcum powder.

Being an incomparable artist on trumpet did not ensure that Berigan got his name spelled correctly in promotional materials for his band.

Within a few weeks of playing at the Capitol Theater in Steubenville, Ohio, the Berigan band, badly shaken by the great hurricane of 1938, which blew them out of a prime two-week engagement at the Roof Garden of the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Boston, was scrambling for work. They secured a series of Wednesday night appearances at the Roseland Ballroom, 51st and Broadway in Manhattan beginning on October 5. There were at least two Wednesday appearances at Roseland by Berigan, the one on October 5, and one a week later, on October 12. (Note: Broadcasts from those dates were recorded and exist somewhere. If they were to be released to the public, they would showcase the best band Berigan ever led, romping away on some 15 different selections, all with Buddy Rich on drums. If anyone knows anything about these recordings PLEASE contact me.) It is my opinion that this recording was made on either of those dates (possibly as a part of a broadcast on those same dates other than the ones referred to above), or was possibly recorded on October 19.

Trombonist/arranger Ray Conniff.  Berigan’s encouragement of Conniff as an arranger opened the door to a major career in music for Conniff.

The music:   This arrangement of “Moten Swing” was one of the first charts 22 year old Ray Conniff wrote for the Berigan band. Conniff had joined the band as a trombonist in the spring of 1938, but almost immediately he and Berigan began discussing ways that the Berigan band might alter its musical orientation slightly, to reflect the bracing swing then emanating from the Count Basie band, then beginning its ascent to national prominence. Conniff was a great admirer of the Basie method of swing. At some point that summer (probably after Berigan halted a rehearsal that was not proceeding well and told his musicians to go listen to the Basie band, then appearing at the Famous Door on 52nd Street in New York), Berigan asked Conniff to write an arrangement that was in the Basie mode. Conniff wrote two: “One O’Clock Jump,” (Basie’s theme song), and a retooling of “King Porter Stomp” called “Gangbusters Holiday.” Bunny liked both of them, and he and his band played them. The apparent third Conniff arrangement to come into the Berigan band book was “Moten Swing,” which had been associated with Basie since the early 1930s (and indeed was associated with him for the next 45 years).

Alto saxophonist/clarinetist Gus Bivona with Berigan. Both had well-developed senses of humor.

This performance starts with no introduction. From the downbeat, the band is in a deeply swinging groove. Listen for Rich’s clever use of his tom-tom, and his bass drum offbeats. His exuberant shouts are also present, even at this early date. Berigan solos first. At the beginning, he plays his trumpet open for a few bars, then he grabs the kazoo he sometimes used as a mute, and holds it inside the bell of his trumpet loosely. The resulting sound is quite growly…it reminds me of some sort of large predatory jungle cat roaming about a jungle. Rich supports Berigan’s improvisation with rock-solid back beats and bass drum offbeats. Auld follows, with a robust solo that shows him developing in the direction of fellow jazz tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans, then being featured with Count Basie (along with Lester Young). A few bars into Auld’s solo, we hear a voice shouting Yes! That was none other than Bunny Berigan himself, greatly enjoying leading this terrific band. Following Auld, clarinetist Gus Bivona has a bright, happy solo. Ray Conniff starts his trombone solo by quoting from the 1938 cutting-edge Basie swing opus “Every Tub.”

About this unique historical recording.

The recording used in this post was taken from Bunny Berigan’s personal collection of in-performance recordings.  Those recordings are now housed in the Bunny Berigan archive at the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Berigan caused those recordings to be made while he was a bandleader so he could check how his band was performing when they were broadcast over radio. I use the words “caused to be made” because earlier in his years as a bandleader, Berigan contracted with professional transcription services to  make recordings of many of his radio broadcasts. But when this recording was made, I suspect that he had his wife Donna (or possibly vocalist Lee Wiley), make it on a home recording device. Those devices were quite sophisticated in the late 1930s, though rather expensive. So the average music fan would have found the cost of such a device prohibitive.

This recording, and many others like it (it was on a non-commercial ten-inch acetate disk that had no information on its label), lay unplayed and hidden away from 1938 until I discovered it in 2012. I had it and many others like it digitally transferred. A number of those recordings were then remastered by audio engineer supreme Doug Pomeroy, and issued on the Scottish label Hep (CD-96). This performance of “Moten Swing,” regrettably, was not among the ones on the Hep disk because of the gap in it. (See below for an explanation.)

The particular acetate (plastic) disk that contains this recording could hold approximately four minutes and thirty seconds of music on each side. As you will hear, this performance, which is far longer than four minutes, was captured by the amateur recordist in two pieces: the first part, which is four minutes and thirty seconds, and then after the break in the recording, the second part, which is thirty-one seconds. This recording ends with a fade out indicating this tune was probably used by Berigan to wrap-up the broadcast. Unfortunately the person recording this broadcast had to turn the disk over right in the middle of trombonist Ray Conniff’s trombone solo because side one had run out of space.

The digital transfer of this recording from the original acetate disk was done by Doug Pomeroy. The digital remastering and audio restoration was done by Mike Zirpolo.

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