Berigan at the Paradise Restaurant -“How’d You Like to Love Me?” (1938)

“How’d You Like to Love Me?”

Composed by Burton Lane (music) and Frank Loesser (lyric); arranged by Joe Lippman.

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;  (all saxophonists double on B-flat clarinet); Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

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

The story: 

Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra opened at the Paradise Restaurant on March 20, 1938. That engagement was extended several times, eventually running seven weeks.  They closed at the Paradise on May 6. Berigan’s sidemen greatly enjoyed their stand at the Paradise because they were able to stay for a period of time in the band’s home, New York City. Although Bunny himself also enjoyed playing at this high-level nightclub, he was well aware of the fact that what he was being paid by the Paradise did not completely cover his weekly “nut,” that is, the overall expenses of running his band. His ability to earn some money making records for Victor while he was at the Paradise (on April 21), helped a little. But overall, Bunny’s stay at the Paradise cost him quite a bit of money. (*)

Variety reported the basic information concerning the new Paradise “review” in its March 16 issue. (Note the Depression era prices): “Bunny Berigan orchestra heads the show opening Sunday, March 20.  Acts include Lionel Rand and his boys (rhumba band), Barbara Parks, Liberto and Owens, Alan Carney, McNally Sisters, Four Grand Quartet and Johnny Coy.” A dinner menu dated Saturday April 16, 1938, lists three shows nightly—“7:30 p.m., midnight, and 2 a.m. ‘Never a cover charge’ but there was a minimum ‘spending charge’ per person for dinner of $1.50. Saturday and Holidays: $2.00, Ringside: $2.50.”

Shortly after the show opened, Variety published this review: “A light and spring-like show, fittingly costumed and carrying special music, opened here Sunday (20th) night under a new policy to frequently change orchestras. Changes will be made probably every two weeks. Rudy Vallee is due in next. Management is making a pull for the dancing public. Figured that any deficits can be made up if the Paradise gets the younger generation. Bands will be booked with that in mind. The new floor show doesn’t include any name acts, but the Berigan band is being depended on for box office. However it’s an agreeably entertaining production with capable talent. Well rounded and moving along at a good clip, show is effectively emceed by Alan Carney. Special music is by Dave Oppenheim and Henry Tobias. Singers include Barbara Parks, Four Grand Quartet, while the McNally Sisters sing and dance. Johnny Coy also sings and tap dances.” [1]

The personnel of the Berigan band had remained unchanged through the early weeks of 1938, except that Joe Lippman returned on piano because Graham Forbes, his temporary replacement, did not have a Local 802 union card. (**)  Much later, there were reports by Berigan sidemen that during the first part of 1938, they auditioned for a number of sponsored radio shows, but did not get hired for any of them. One of these, for which the band auditioned while they were at the Paradise Restaurant, was for Griffin shoe polish. Hal Kemp got that gig. There had also been rumors in the trade papers for several months (planted by MCA no doubt), that the Berigan band would soon be heading for California to work on radio with Bob Hope.[2] This had not (and would not) come to pass either. Some of the veteran sidemen, most notably Sonny Lee, sensed that these strikeouts indicated that the Berigan band had perhaps topped out in terms of its commercial appeal. Lee received an excellent offer from Jimmy Dorsey while he was with Berigan at the Paradise. He discussed the offer with Bunny, who was in no position to equal it. Bunny told Lee to take the JD offer, and they parted on friendly terms. (Lee would remain with Jimmy Dorsey for the next seven years.) But Bunny now had to look for a top-notch trombonist who could play both lead and jazz.

As fate would have it, at the very same time as Bunny was dealing with Sonny Lee’s situation, a dispute erupted between him and his other trombonist, journeyman Al George. As a result, George  was on his two-week notice. Lee departed a few days before George. Bunny replaced Lee with Nat Lobovsky, an excellent lead trombonist, who really didn’t play jazz.

A very young Ray Conniff.

The trombone openings in the Berigan band had set the Manhattan musicians’ grapevine into  high gear.  The young trombonist Ray Conniff  later recalled:  “I ran into Joe Dixon one day at the Forrest Hotel in New York and he told me that Al George had just had a run-in with Bunny and as a result, he was working out his notice. Bunny was auditioning trombone players at the Paradise Restaurant, so I went down and was lucky enough to get the job. The trombone parts had been written for Sonny Lee, who had not only played lead, but took all the jazz solos as well. Nat Lobovsky had inherited that situation although he didn’t consider himself a jazz player, and was quite content to confine himself to playing lead parts after I joined. I took all the jazz solos after that.

I soon got to know all the stories that were told about Bunny. Of course, he was a marvelous musician, who could outplay all of us, a very warm-hearted guy, but the world’s worst businessman! Although I got my salary, which was $60 a week, I didn’t get paid for any of my arrangements! I did a couple of originals, ‘Little Gate’s Special’ and ‘Gangbusters’ Holiday’ and I was told I would receive $35 per score. Well, I waited for what I thought was a reasonable time, and when I heard nothing I reminded Bunny that I hadn’t been paid. ‘How much was I going to pay you?’ he asked. ‘$35 was it?  Well make it $40.’ And each time I asked him for payment, he’d raise the offer, but I never did get any money for those charts!

I recall Andy Phillips with the band when I joined at the Paradise in April ‘38 and about a week before Joe Bushkin I think; he replaced Joe Lippman; Lobovsky was still the other trombone. [i]

It should be noted at this juncture that even though Bunny Berigan never paid Ray Conniff for the arrangements he did on “Little Gate’s Special”[i] and “Gangbusters’ Holiday” (a story Conniff told for sixty-plus years), he did record them. This, coupled with the fact that Bunny did not put his name on these Conniff originals as a co-composer, allowed Conniff to receive all of the composer royalties on the sale of these recordings for many, many years. (Indeed, under the current copyright law, they are still accruing to his heirs.) Most bandleaders in the 1930s and 1940s routinely insisted that before they would record an original composition by members of their bands or arrangers they did business with, they be given co-composer credit. The result for the actual composer was that his composer royalty was suddenly and forever reduced from 100 percent to 50 percent. The reasoning was that this was payment to the bandleader for the great promotional push any original composition received as a result of it being recorded, especially by a popular band. In terms of abstract justice therefore, I think by Ray Conniff receiving 100 percent of the composer royalty instead of 50 percent, he was very well paid by Bunny for these two arrangements. Indeed, this could be regarded as yet another example of Berigan’s deficiencies as a businessman. He certainly could have used the 50 percent composer royalty revenue.

[i] Ray Conniff recycled many of the original composition/arrangements he wrote for Bunny Berigan’s band. “Little Gate’s Special,” with some small modifications, was later sold to Teddy Powell, whose band recorded it on May 20, 1940, as “Feather Merchant’s Ball.” The same basic arrangement of “Little Gate’s Special” played by Berigan was later played by Artie Shaw’s band, when Conniff played trombone and arranged for Shaw. Conniff’s original compositions/arrangements of “Savoy Jump” and “Familiar Moe” were later retooled by Conniff and recorded by Shaw as “Just Kiddin’ Around” and “Prelude in C Sharp Major.”

Berigan and his saxophone section. L-R: back – Georgie Auld and Joe Dixon; front – Clyde Rounds and Mike Doty.

Years later, Ray Conniff (1916–2002), as the leader of and arranger for the Ray Conniff Singers, went on to become the most financially successful ex-Berigan sideman by far. From the mid-1950s until his retirement around the year 2000, he made over ninety albums, won a Grammy, two Golden Globe awards, had two platinum albums, and at least ten gold albums. But his big-time musical career started with his association with Bunny Berigan.

Ray’s daughter Tamara, who has worked in the music industry for many years, once asked him about his early years and recorded his recollections. Among them were his memories of joining the Berigan band:

“I was sitting at the Forrest Hotel Bar with Joe Dixon, a friend of mine from back in New England. He told me that Bunny Berigan had just had a run-in with one of his trombone players, so there was a spot open, and asked me if I would like to give it a shot. Would I! The next night I went to the Paradise Restaurant and sat in. The band started playing ‘It’s Wonderful.’ So Bunny came over to me and asked, ‘Do you know this song, kid?’ Of course I did because I was making the rehearsal band scene, so instead of giving the girl singer the chorus, I played it solo on trombone. I knew it note for note in any key, so I could watch the band as I played. Bunny looked over at Georgie Auld for approval, and Georgie gave him the code—the old index finger to the eye trick—meaning ‘get a load of this!’ I knew that I was in. Touring with Bunny was my first big-time gig, and it was one of the highlights of my life.” [ii]

[i] White materials: April 30, 1938.

[ii] This quote was taken from the Ray Conniff website called: “my web pages.comcast.net Ray Conniff,” January 2008.

Even though Berigan was drinking no more (or less) than he had previously, and the band while it played at the Paradise was in fine shape musically, for whatever reason(s) they were unable to land a sponsored radio show, the gold-standard of success for any band during the swing era.  The reason given as to why they were not getting these jobs were that: 1) Berigan was unreliable because of his drinking. That was not totally accurate. (***)  And 2) that he could not engage in the jovial repartee that was so much a part of network radio then, without stumbling, which was more accurate. (As an aside, no one was more awkward than Benny Goodman when he first began speaking on radio broadcasts featuring his band. On one notable occasion during the Christmas holidays, Benny was required to introduce the tune “Jingle Bells” to a national radio audience. He did so as follows: “And now, in honor of the season, ‘Jingle Balls.’” His MCA handlers quickly arranged for him to take elocution lessons, after which his radio voice was a cross between the south side of Chicago and Park Avenue. Benny wanted success very badly, and would do what it took to move his band ahead.)  Bunny wanted success very badly too, but there were certain things he would not/could not/did not do to move his band ahead. He never took elocution lessons; never got his dead front tooth fixed; and of course, never stopped drinking, at least not for long.

In spite of all of this, as the summer of 1938 approached, he was still a spectacular musician, and his band was  one of the hottest swing bands in the country.

[1] Variety: March 30, 1938, cited in the White materials: March 20, 1938.

[2] Leslie Townes “Bob” Hope was born in Eltham, London, England on May 29, 1903. Hope emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, with his family in 1908, and became a U.S. citizen in 1920. He spent most of the 1920s as a touring vaudeville performer, dabbling in song and dance, and developing a comedy routine that became increasingly successful. By the middle 1930s, Hope began to appear in comedy/musical short-subject films for Warner Brothers/Vitaphone. He was signed by Paramount Pictures in 1938, and it was there that he met Bing Crosby, then fast becoming one of Paramount’s biggest stars. Their pairing in many films over the next dozen years proved to be very successful. Hope initiated his own network radio program in 1937 on NBC, first sponsored by Woodbury Soap. A year later, he began an association with Pepsodent which lasted for fifteen years. By the early 1950s, Hope had made the transition from radio to television, and achieved much success in that medium which continued into the 1970s. Hope was also very well known for entertaining U.S. military personnel around the world from the 1940s until the 1970s. Bob Hope died at age one hundred on July 27, 2003, in Toluca Lake, California.

Gail Reese – 1938.

The music:

“Howdja Like to Love Me?” (*) is a delightful rhythm tune written by Burton Lane (music), and Frank Loesser (lyric) in 1938 for the Paramount film College Swing, in which it was sung by Bob Hope.

Joe Lippman’s arrangement is given an exuberant performance here by Bunny and the band. Vocalist Gail Reese, whose often listless singing weighs down many of Berigan’s late 1937-early 1938 Victor records, here demonstrates that she could be a very effervescent and saucy singer. The four clarinet transition after her vocal, juxtaposed with Sonny Lee’s muted trombone, is a particularly inspired Lippman touch. Berigan’s madcap entrance after the vocal suggests a skydiver who is frantically groping for his ripcord as he hurtles toward earth. Clarinetist Joe Dixon has a few bars of happy clarinet, and then the band takes it out.

This is another example of the true character of the 1938 Berigan band, which unfortunately was so seldom presented on its Victor recordings.

(*) Bunny was also hustling a few bucks by appearing as a guest with his former employer Paul Whiteman on a radio broadcast on April 1, and by appearing as a guest on the NBC Steine Bottle Boy Swing Club radio show on April 14.

(**) There were also changes in drummers. The great Dave Tough powered the Berigan band from mid-January through mid-March.  Then, as a result of the instability in the rhythm section of Benny Goodman’s band resulting from Gene Krupa’s departure, Benny, was casting about for a new drummer. BG, who had a network radio show as a financial base, offered Tough more money than Bunny could pay, so he left reluctantly. He was replaced by the exuberant and swinging Johnny Blowers, whose work with the Berigan band was consistently excellent.

(***) Despite Berigan’s drinking, with very rare exceptions, he was always where he was scheduled to perform on time, and was ready to play. Indeed, two days before his death, he was where he was supposed to be on time and was ready to play. Unfortunately, the bus carrying his band had gone in the wrong direction when traveling to the engagement. When they finally arrived, the venue where approximately 2,000 people had shown up to dance to their music, was closed, dark, and locked.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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