I was recently in Manhattan. New York during the holiday season is always particularly exciting, especially along Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center, where the many retail retail stores go all-out to try to top each other with their holiday decorations. Year-after-year, it seems that the folks at Saks Fifth Avenue, whose flagship store is directly across Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center, impress me most with the incredible illuminated decorations on the exterior of their eight story building, and the life-like and animated displays in the many display windows at sidewalk level. This year, Saks partnered with Disney to create many window displays and a magnificent light display that celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length totally animated Hollywood feature film.
I was there there on Thanksgiving night with those who are near and dear to me. The sea of humanity surrounding Saks, and across Fifth Avenue on the Promenade and around the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink, was so dense that it was almost impossible to walk. But it was a delightful experience because it was a brisk evening, everyone was excited by the many illuminated holiday displays, and the by generally stimulating Gotham atmosphere.
The Saks displays reminded me of a delightful recording made by Bunny Berigan of one of the most memorable songs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “Heigh-Ho, The Dwarfs’ Marching Song.” Here is that classic swing take on Disney:
“Heigh-Ho (The Dwarfs’ Marching Song)”
Composed by Frank Churchill (music) and Larry Morey (words); arrangement probably by Joe Lippman.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on January 26, 1938 in New York.
Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Thomas B. “Sonny” Lee and Al George, trombones; Mike Doty and Joe Dixon, alto saxophones; Clyde Rounds and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Fulton McGrath, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass, Dave Tough, drums; Gail Reese, vocal.
The story: The Berigan band did some one-nighters within a 150 mile radius of the New York area for a few days before they opened for a week at the Brunswick Hotel in Boston on Tuesday, January 18, 1938. That job ended on the 24th. They then returned to New York for a Victor recording session on the 26th. Bunny’s band was used by Victor to promote four current pop tunes with Gail Reese vocals. The most notable of these was “Heigh-Ho, (The Dwarfs’ Marching Song),” which was a part of the musical score for Walt Disney’s film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
By this time Joe Lippman, who had spent the previous eleven months touring with Berigan, as well as playing piano in the Berigan band, was remaining in New York to write arrangements for Bunny. He probably fashioned the joyously romping arrangement we hear on “Heigh-Ho.” His place in the band had been taken on an interim basis by pianist Fulton “Fidgey” McGrath.
On this recording, the Berigan band and Bunny himself were obviously energized by Dave Tough’s electric presence on drums. After being fired by Tommy Dorsey for drunkenness, Tough was hired by Berigan, probably around January 15. Tough was not a super-technician on the drums, nevertheless he had the uncanny ability to impart enormous swing in any band he played with and at any tempo. Bunny and his sidemen were elated. Berigan’s stalwart saxophonist Clyde Rounds recalled the diminutive Mr. Tough:
“Davey, as we all called him, was a man of many parts. Of Scottish descent, he could be as dour as any true member of the kilt set, or convulse us with his outrageously wild sense of humor. Also highly intelligent and imaginative, he could have been a successful writer, poet or composer. He was the best and most solid drummer I ever worked with, who despised the idea of a drummer being a flashy soloist in the Krupa tradition, and played very few solos himself. Like Bunny and his predecessor George Wettling, Davey had a strong affinity for hard liquor, and also like Bunny, he couldn’t stay on the wagon for long. Rollo Laylan (an interim drummer with Berigan) couldn’t swing the band, and the difference with Davey Tough in the driving seat was obvious to musicians and listeners alike. Bunny had auditioned several drummers, but none of them had what he was looking for. When he heard that Tough was available, he went all out to get him, and dispensed with an audition.”[i]
[i] White materials: January 26, 1938. In addition to having a chronic problem with alcohol, Dave Tough was epileptic. These two demons were difficult for him to control, and he suffered periodic collapses. Nevertheless, during the periods he was well, he provided nonpareil rhythmic support for many of the best bands of the swing era.
The music: “Heigh-Ho” is given a romping up-tempo treatment in 2/4 time. This is a happy-sounding performance that I’m sure the band didn’t take too seriously. But that doesn’t mean they did not invest the music with great spirit. There has been speculation about the source of the arrangement on “Heigh-Ho”; Deane Kincaide has been mentioned as the possible writer. I cannot say definitively who wrote this chart, but it certainly does not sound like anything Kincaide was writing then for the Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, or Tommy Dorsey bands. Nevertheless, Kincaide himself recalled “doing a Disney tune for a Berigan record date,” so on that basis, it is certainly possible that this arrangement is his. My educated guess however is that Joe Lippman wrote this chart. He was, after all, Bunny’s chief arranger, and go-to man for any arrangements that would showcase Berigan’s dynamic trumpet playing.
After the fanfare-like marching intro, Bunny states the melody with great swing, using a buzzing straight mute. After the band plays a bit, Gail Reese sings the hardly poetic lyric well, projecting a happy feeling. (She is shown above rehearsing with the Berigan band in early 1938.) Then the maestro returns with a few bars of torrid open horn trumpeting. Note how Tough provides a solid swinging beat behind Berigan on his high-hat cymbals, fairly levitating him. Ms. Reese returns for more hi-hoing, followed by an upward modulation by the band into Georgie Auld’s brief tenor sax solo. The entire ensemble romps on into the joyous finale, led by Berigan’s trumpet on top and drummer Tough’s back-beats and bass drum on the bottom. Heigh-Ho indeed!
The recording presented here was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.