The story: The interlude from early March until late August 1940, when Bunny Berigan was with Tommy Dorsey’s band as its featured trumpet soloist, was a critical time for Berigan for a number of reasons. In late 1939 and into 1940, Bunny was hospitalized because the effects of cirrhosis on his liver and on his general health had caused him to suffer a physical collapse. Berigan had known at least since 1938 that his continuing consumption of alcohol was causing irreparable damage to his liver. He was shocked by this discovery, as one might expect. Nevertheless, his method of dealing with this dire chronic condition was to attempt to reduce his drinking. Being an alcoholic, this attempt at dealing with his cirrhosis was doomed to failure because Bunny had to have alcohol every day simply to function. After many months of him trying episodically to reduce his drinking, Berigan, feeling strong and well, concluded that he was “healthy.” So he continued living the life of a virtuoso trumpeter leading a a band that was almost constantly on tour, and drinking more or less as he always had. Then he collapsed around Christmas of 1939.
Berigan was leading a working, touring band when this health crisis occurred. His hospitalization required him to be away from his band for about two weeks. MCA (Music Corporation of America), the agency that booked the Berigan band, kept the band together and working while Bunny was away, usually by placing some “name” musician in front of it while it fulfilled committed play dates. Among the musicians who fronted the Berigan band in Bunny’s absence were trombonist Jack Teagarden and trumpeter Wingy Manone. When Berigan returned, still noticeably swollen and walking unsteadily on a cane, his musicians were unsure of how long his health would allow him to lead his band on tour while playing any number of demanding trumpet solos each night. Remarkably, the band continued to work with Berigan as its leader, and with very few personnel changes.
But as is so often the case, money factors, not human factors, brought about the end of this Berigan band. Due to a strange financial arrangement Bunny had become ensnared in in the summer of 1939, which involved MCA, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM – the musicians’ union), and Berigan, it was decided that Bunny owed more that $5,000.00 to MCA and AFM. Various agreements were put in place that would allow Bunny to continue leading a band (which he very much wanted), while a part of the Berigan’s earnings from the operation of the band would go to MCA and AFM to reduce the debt. MCA was the sole decider of where the Berigan band played and how much it would be paid. The agency booked the band to work steadily, but seemingly for less and less money. In the weeks after Bunny returned from his illness, there wasn’t enough money coming in to pay MCA and keep the band going. At that point, MCA pulled the plug on the Berigan band.
Enter Tommy Dorsey (who was having his own financial problems in early 1940). After some negotiation between MCA, TD and Bunny, it was agreed that Bunny would join the Dorsey band for a period of time, be paid an excellent salary (probably a base of $250 weekly, plus extra for recordings and sponsored radio shows – at a time when the average sideman in a big band was making between $60-$100 a week), and allow his creditors to be paid directly by Dorsey out of his weekly earnings. This strategem resulted in large chunks being taken out of Berigan’s debt, but Bunny himself being left with very little money each week. Still, Berigan went along with this plan because he saw it as a way of enabling him to resume leading his own band. It also took him off the road for awhile, allowing his exhausted body to recuperate, insofar as that was possible.
What it didn’t do was to address his underlying alcoholism. Even those around him, most certainly including Tommy Dorsey, told him he would have to stop drinking in order to continue his career in music, Bunny, being so strongly addicted to alcohol, did what he had done in the past: he tried to drink less. This plan of treatment was doomed to failure. Indeed, it ultimately resulted in Berigan’s death in June of 1942.
Against this background, I will set out the narrative of what went on in the summer of 1940, after Berigan had functioned rather well as the featured trumpet soloist in Tommy Dorsey’s band for the previous four months.
On June 25, the Dorsey band began their thirteen week stint as Bob Hope’s summer replacement on the NBC Pepsodent radio show, entitled Summer Pastime during the thirteen weeks of its run. Variety reviewed the first broadcast: “Tommy Dorsey presides at a thoroughly enjoyable variety session, which should make listeners Pepsodent conscious. The spot is nicely paced with other talent, including vocalists Frank Sinatra and Connie Haines, who get a single each in which to show off their nice pipes. Tommy makes an amiable emcee and is allowed a good script. Guest is Jerry Lester, a fine comedian on a night club floor, who is handicapped by poor material and bad timing from the stooges. The show is over 62 NBC stations. If proof were needed, this half-hour reveals Dorsey as a showman capable of spreading his canvas over a full-sized radio lot.” [i]
One of those “stooges” may have been Bunny Berigan. Bunny never excelled at public speaking, and apparently muffed some scripted lines on the first Pepsodent show, causing TD to become enraged. Soon thereafter, probably on the very next Pepsodent show, an untoward incident involving Berigan occurred.
Sometime during the run of the Pepsodent show, for which the Dorsey band was required to leave the Hotel Astor Roof Garden on Times Square and go by taxi to the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center for the 10:00–10:30 p.m. broadcast, the following tableau unfolded. There are numerous variations to this story, but the basic outline is as follows: “One night, Bunny told Bobby Burns (TD’s manager) that his wife, Donna, was coming into the Astor Roof for dinner, and he asked if it would be alright to sign the check. Bobby said that it was OK. Bunny sat at the table with Mrs. Berigan between sets. At the end of the dinner session, Bobby okayed Bunny’s dinner check which came to about $21.00. The band went to NBC to do the Pepsodent radio show. ‘Marie’ was on the program. When Bunny stood for his solo, he fell off the stand. ‘When we got back to the Astor Roof’ said Burns, ‘Tommy asked me to dig out Bunny’s dinner check and see what he (and Donna) had for dinner. On close scrutiny it showed a tab for twelve scotch and sodas and one ham sandwich.’” [ii]
Ray Linn, who sat next to Berigan in TD’s trumpet section that night, picks up the narrative: “Bunny got quite a few lines of dialogue on the Pepsodent show, which also starred comedian Jerry Lester who did a lot of clowning around, including blowing a trombone. The pairing of the world’s greatest trombonist along with the planet’s very worst must have seemed like a natural to the masterminds at the agency that put the show together! That night, Bunny completely fell apart on, of all things ‘Marie,’ the opening number on the broadcast! He was the drunkest I’d ever seen him. How he was able to stand, let alone try to play, was a testimony to his rugged constitution. Attempting his F to high F glissando entrance to his 32 bar solo, nothing but a series of funny noises came out and it got worse! We were on the air, coast to coast on the NBC network, some 200 (sic) or more stations. Bunny stayed on his feet for about 8 bars, trying to fight it through, as he had done so many times before, but this time the booze was the winner. He literally could no longer play and putting down his horn, he fell heavily toward his chair, which he missed and dropped about four feet from the section-riser to the floor! Had he been sober, he would have undoubtedly broken several bones, but in his benumbed state he was unhurt and clambered back up on the bandstand with Jimmy Blake’s assistance. He didn’t attempt to play another note during the remaining 25 minutes or so of the program. He just sat it out and luckily there was nothing more for him to do on the show. This created a lot of disturbance during the broadcast, because all the mikes were wide open. Tenorman Don Lodice was the one who alertly jumped up when Bunny collapsed and blew the remaining 24 bars of Bunny’s chorus. Don really saved the day, because Clyde Hurley and Blake and I were dumbstruck by all this! After the show, Tommy came back of the bandstand and said to his manager Bobby Burns, ‘Get rid of him now, Burns, pay him off. I don’t want to see him back at the Astor!’ I was standing about six feet away, putting my horn in its case and overheard the whole thing. So Bunny was given a check for two week’s salary, fired on the spot and told never to come back!” [iii] But as we shall see, Berigan did return, a bit later, to the Astor.
The date of this incident has usually been given as August 20, 1940, which appears to be the date Berigan and Dorsey finally parted company. I think it happened earlier than that, probably on July 2, because the NBC radio logs housed at the Library of Congress for the Pepsodent show indicate that “Marie” was the first tune played on that broadcast,[iv] and after that date, Berigan’s presence with the Dorsey band was sporadic. The Dorsey band began its appearance on the Pepsodent show on June 25. Trumpeter Clyde Hurley had left Glenn Miller’s band on May 31,[v] and joined TD’s band shortly thereafter. “I joined Tommy Dorsey in mid-June at the Astor Roof and I was given some solos right away. I figured Tommy wanted everybody to know that he’d hired me away from Glenn Miller! Bunny was still around, of course, but he was being featured less and less. (Trumpeters) Ray Linn and Jimmy Blake were both playing some lead parts and Bunny was still playing pretty good jazz horn, but he could only get up and blow for one chorus, after that he hadn’t much left. He no longer had the stamina to play long solos, his wind and his lip were both going. He was drinking heavily and was deep in debt, always trying to borrow from everybody. Tommy was holding back part of his wages each week, but Bunny didn’t gripe about it. Playing in the Dorsey band was a ball compared with the rigid inflexibility of the Glenn Miller band.” [vi]
There is evidence that Berigan was present and quite active in the Dorsey band through mid-June. After the June 19 broadcast from the Astor Roof, there was another broadcast, on June 22, which featured Berigan playing a solo on “Dark Eyes.” Another such broadcast, from June 26, had him playing on “East of the Sun” and “Symphony in Riffs.” The White materials indicate that his solo on “East of the Sun” is not up to par.[vii] On June 27, the Dorsey band recorded five tunes for Victor, all featuring vocals.[viii] There is no aural evidence that would indicate the presence of Berigan at this session. A photo of the Dorsey band from this period does not include Berigan.[ix] But as we know, he was present for the Pepsodent broadcast on July 2. The Dorsey band checked into the Victor recording studios again on July 17, when they recorded seven titles, including the romping Buddy Rich drum feature “Quiet Please!” with Clyde Hurley taking the trumpet solo. Berigan was not at that recording session. There is a paucity of aircheck recordings of the TD band from June 26 to July 20, so we do not know if Bunny was in the Dorsey band during that time. One source indicates that during this period “Dorsey sent Berigan away for rehabilitation.”[x] This is far from an established fact, however, as I have seen only one other reference to Bunny going away for rehabilitation.[xi] Nevertheless, it is possible that at this juncture (through almost all of July) Berigan sought treatment for his alcoholism.
The July 20 broadcast from the Astor Roof includes numerous tunes with trumpet solos on them. The White materials indicate that Bunny may have been present, but did not play all of these trumpet solos. The titles on which he appears to solo are “Whispering,” “The Lonesome Road,” and “East of the Sun.” I have not heard these airchecks so I cannot comment on them. Likewise, I have not heard any of the recordings from the July 24 broadcast, but the White materials indicate that Bunny played a solo on “Swing High” on that date. I have heard “Old Gray Bonnet” from the July 27 broadcast, and can say with certainty that the trumpet solo on that tune was played by Clyde Hurley. And then there is the aircheck of “I Found a New Baby,” which appears to have been recorded from the August 3 broadcast, which definitely contains an excellent trumpet solo by Bunny Berigan. No diminution of his powers is noticeable in this performance.
Recently, due to the great work being done by Dennis M. Spragg at the Glenn Miller Archive at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the full Tommy Dorsey broadcast from July 27, 1940 has been made available. I have heard the entire broadcast and can say that with the exception of “Old Gray Bonnet,” referred to above, Berigan was present and playing wonderfully both in the trumpet section (sometimes on lead trumpet), and as an inspired soloist.
The music: Presented here are two off-the-air recordings made from that NBC broadcast of the Tommy Dorsey band from the Hotel Astor in Manhattan on July 27, 1940, “Swingtime Up in Harlem,” and “March of the Toys.” It opens with a bit of TD’s theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” followed by NBC announcer Lyle Van introducing Tommy, and then talking with him about an amateur songwriter contest TD was running for a number of reasons having to do with his music publishing companies. Tommy then sets-up the new swinging rhythm tune, “Swingtime Up in Harlem,” composed by Joe Thomas who was the featured tenor sax soloist in the Jimmie Lunceford band. This version was arranged by Sy Oliver, formerly of the Jimmie Lunceford band, but by 1940 TD’s chief arranger.
“Swingtime Up in Harlem”
Composed by Joe Thomas; arranged by Sy Oliver.
Recorded from an NBC broadcast by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra at Hotel Astor Roof Garden in New York City on July 27, 1940.
Tommy Dorsey, trombone, directing: Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet; Ray Linn, Clyde Hurley, Jimmy Blake, trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins, Lowell Martin, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Johnny Mince, alto saxophone; Don Lodice and Paul Mason, tenor saxophones; Freddie Stulce, baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano, Clark Yocum, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums; Connie Haines, vocal.
In this happy performance, the Dorsey band is tight and swinging. Tenor sax soloist Don Lodice plays a piquant solo, as does pianist Joe Bushkin, who rated an introduction from TD. Connie Haines swings the lyric quite effectively. Noteworthy for Berigan fans is the fact that Bunny is playing first trumpet throughout this performance, and then lights-up the last chorus with some spine-tingling high-register solo trumpeting. Despite comments mentioned above that Berigan’s playing was not up to his usual standard at this time, I sense no deterioration in his trumpeting skills. Indeed, Bunny’s high-register playing here is spectacular, and quite beyond the ability of most trumpeters in 1940.
“March of the Toys”
Composed by Victor Herbert; arranged by Deane Kincaide.
This arrangement was very popular in the 1939-1940 time period, and it represented something of a watershed for arranger Deane Kincaide (1911-1992). After working his way through a number of bands in the mid and late 1930s, he landed in Tommy Dorsey’s band in early 1939, playing whatever saxophone needed covered in the section. The TD-Kincaide relationship predated that by about two years, however. Tommy first began buying arrangements from Kincaide in 1937. “Beale Street Blues” was one of the first Kincaide arrangements Dorsey recorded. It had a semi-Dixieland/semi-swing feeling to it that typified the music made by the Bob Crosby band (for whom Kincaide was a staff arranger), in the mid and late 1930s. Other similar Kincaide arrangements made their way into the TD library and onto record through 1938 and into 1939, including: “Washboard Blues,” “Panama,” “Tin Roof Blues,” “Copenhagen,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Down Home Rag,” “Davenport Blues,” and “Milenberg Joys.” All of these had an old-timey feel, yet at the same time were “modern” enough to be enjoyed by Tommy Dorsey’s mainstream swing-oriented audience. TD began to urge Kincaide to broaden his scope in 1938. The first two results of this were Kincaide’s arrangements of “Boogie Woogie,” and “Hawaiian War Chant,” both of which were very successful as TD Victor recordings and with the folks who came out to hear the Dorsey band in person. Kincaide’s first major success with a song from the classic American songbook was Victor Herbert’s “March of the Toys,” from Babes in Toyland. After his success with “March of the Toys” (recorded by TD on August 10, 1939 for Victor), Kincaide continued arranging classic pop tunes for TD until he moved on to other employment. Post-TD, Kincaide sold many arrangements to many other bandleaders throughout the 1940s, and then was a successful arranger in television through the 1950s and beyond.
In this performance we once again hear the beautifully rehearsed Tommy Dorsey band doing what it did do well for so long, …keeping the customers satisfied. By the time of this performance, Tommy and his band had played this arrangement literally dozens of times. On all extant recordings, the solos played by Johnny Mince on clarinet and Tommy Dorsey on trombone are virtually identical with earlier versions. Although Bunny Berigan had also played this arrangement many times in his previous five months as a Dorsey sideman, he never played the same solo twice. And what he does here is even more risky and challenging than anything he had ever done before in delivering this solo. He takes the Harmon mute he had been using with the other trumpeters in the preceding ensemble passage, removes it from the bell of his trumpet, and uses it in mysterious ways by manipulating it in front of the bell of his trumpet and creates an other-worldly sound. Also, check out his extreme change of registers. Whenever Berigan played a solo, listeners were sure to be treated to the sound of surprise.
Note: I have received feedback from trumpeters whose expertise I respect that the mute Berigan used on his solo on “March of the Toys: was a Buzz-Wow mute.
[i] Variety: July 3, 1940, cited in the White materials.
[ii] Tommy and Jimmy—The Dorsey Years, by Herb Sanford, Arlington House (1972), 193. When it came to drinking, Bunny’s wife Donna was not a positive influence on him. In fact, she was a bad influence, not that he abstained when he was away from her.
[iii] White materials: August 20, 1940.
[iv] The NBC radio logs housed at the NBC Archive, Library of Congress, indicate that “Marie” was the first tune played on the Pepsodent Summer Pastime show that aired from 10:00–10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2, 1940. Information provided by Carl A. Hallstrom.
[v] Moonlight Serenade—A Bio-discography of the Glenn Miller Civilian Band, by John Flower, Arlington House (1972), 178.
[vi] White materials: June 14, 1940.
[vii] White materials: June 26, 1940.
[viii] One of the tunes recorded that day was “Only Forever.” After Frank Sinatra recorded “The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else),” he angrily walked out of the ongoing recording session because of a disagreement with TD over Tommy having Frank record cover versions of Bing Crosby tunes, one of which was “Trade Winds.” One more Sinatra vocal remained to be recorded on that date, “Only Forever.” TD tapped Clark Yocum from the Pied Pipers to sing the tune for the recording. When the Victor record came out, it identified the vocalist on “Only Forever” as “Allan Storr.” To compound this, MCA then began circulating promotional photos of TD and his singers, with Clark Yocum being identified as “Allan Storr.” To complicate this further, an autograph book containing the signatures of many of the members of Tommy Dorsey’s band in early 1938 contains the signature of Allan Storr. Clark Yocum, who was also one of the singing Pied Pipers, did not join the TD band until 1939.
[ix] White materials: June 22, 1940.
[x] Livin’ in a Great Big Way: 131. This biography of Tommy Dorsey is worthwhile, but is not particularly scrupulous in terms of scholarship, and contains numerous factual errors. The definitive biography of Tommy Dorsey is yet to be written.
[xi] Berigan band vocalist Danny Richards told one of the White researchers that Bunny attempted some sort of assisted rehabilitation on one or two occasions. If this ever occurred, it seems that the period from early July, 1940 into August, 1940, when Berigan appeared with Tommy Dorsey’s band only sporadically, was when it could have happened.
The unique recordings posted here are provided courtesy of Dennis M. Spragg of the Glenn Miller Archive of the University of Colorado-Boulder. The digital transfers from the original 16″ acetate disks on which these recordings were made were done by Mr. Spragg. I must also acknowledge Sony Legacy which archives these historical recordings. Digital remastering of these recordings by Mike Zirpolo.
Episode One of the Bunny Berigan – Tommy Dorsey story can be found here:
At his best, Berigan could lift you right out of your seat. Probably the most thrilling trumpet player of the era, as his early recordings with Goodman and Dorsey (Part 1) bear witness. He was still formidable during the early Dorsey Part 2 period. What he did to himself was a shame. I liken him to Mickey Mantle: An incredible talent who, despite his alcoholism, was still great – Hall-of-Fame greatness. But what feats he could have performed – and for how long – if he had stopped drinking, we’ll never know.