“Marie” (1937) with Tommy Dorsey – evolution of a masterpiece

“Marie”

Composed by Irving Berlin; arranged(*) by Freddie Stulce.

Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra for Victor on January 29, 1937 in New York.

Tommy Dorsey, trombone, directing: Bob Cusumano, first trumpet; Jimmy Welch and Joe Bauer, trumpets; Les Jenkins and E.W. “Red” Bone, trombones; Freddie Stulce, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone; Clyde Rounds and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophones; Dick Jones, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Gene Traxler, bass; Dave Tough, drums; Jack Leonard and band members, vocal; Bunny Berigan, solo trumpet only.

(*) See the explanation below in “the music” part of this post about how this arrangement evolved into its final form.

The story: One of the most remarkable solos of Bunny Berigan’s career was his full chorus improvisation on Tommy Dorsey’s Victor recording of “Marie.” It is a masterpiece. That solo has been admired, studied and played (more often attempted) by hundreds if not thousands of trumpeters since that Victor record was released in early 1937. Like most landmark improvisations, it did not happen in a vacuum, disconnected from contemporaneous events. In fact, Bunny Berigan had been contemplating how he wanted to play that solo for several weeks before he committed the classic solo we all know to posterity on January 29, 1937.

Tommy Dorsey and his band at the Commodore Hotel in New York, February 1937. L-R: Berigan (in the background), Les Jenkins, TD, Joe Dixon, Gene Traxler and Freddie Stulce.

One of the “facts” that has been handed down over the last eighty-plus years is that Bunny Berigan was a regular member of Tommy Dorsey’s band in late 1936 and into 1937. A careful review of all relevant information in the White materials and elsewhere indicates that this was not really true. He undoubtedly appeared with TD’s band on a number of its weekly NBC Raleigh-Kool radio programs which aired on Monday nights, and he most certainly made some records with Tommy’s band in January and February of 1937. He even appeared with Tommy and his band, at least for a few nights, at its gig at the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan in February of 1937.

Berigan solos at CBS on a Saturday Night Swing Club broadcast – late 1936.

But at the same time, Bunny continued to appear weekly on the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club radio show, and was stepping up his commitment to his own big band, which was rehearsing and making its first records. He was still working a great deal to make as much money as possible so he could assist in financing the big band he was organizing. Behind the scenes, Berigan’s management team was making moves that would allow him very soon to be the full-time leader of his own band.

As if all of this were not enough, Bunny, who was welcome in any jazz setting, subbed for an unknown time, several nights perhaps, with Frank Trumbauer’s little band (The Three Ts) at the Hickory House on Fifty-second Street, probably as a favor to Trumbauer, after Jack and Charlie Teagarden, who had been the other two “Ts,” had to depart with Paul Whiteman’s band to tour. Frank Trumbauer recalled: “Jack and Charlie Teagarden left on January 15, 1937. I was lost without those two. A lot of the boys around town came over to help out. First, Johnny ‘Scat’ Davis, from Fred Waring’s band played a week, and then Bunny Berigan finished the month.” [1] Aircheck recordings from a night while Bunny was present with Trumbauer’s band do exist and were issued some years ago on Sterling CD 1-15-07. The discographical information with that CD indicates that in fact Johnny Davis sat in for the January 8 broadcast, and Bunny for the January 15 broadcast. On the broadcast where Bunny plays, the announcer does not identify him, but repeatedly mentions the tag “The Three Ts.” I’m sure Jack and Charlie were there in spirit!                                                                                                                            

A print ad for the Raleigh-Kool radio show that featured Tommy Dorsey’s band: at the beginning of this series,Jack Pearl, not Tommy Dorsey, was the star. That changed rather quickly.

The first documented appearance by Bunny Berigan with Tommy Dorsey’s band occurred on Monday, December 28, 1936, on the NBC Raleigh-Kool show. (*) The exact personnel of the TD band on that date, or on the January 4, 1937, show, is not known. Bunny’s presence is obvious however from the trumpet solos on those two shows. But when the Dorsey band recorded on January 7, 1937 for Victor, the personnel was known, and it included three trumpet players, in addition to Berigan. Those three were Bob Cusumano (lead), Steve Lipkins, and Joe Bauer. My conclusion from this, and from listening to the recordings made that day, and indeed for the remaining TD-BB 1937 Victors, is that Bunny was present only to record solos. He certainly did not play first trumpet on any of the four sides recorded on January 7. His distinctive presence as a lead player in any trumpet section is easily identified, and I do not hear anything in the ensemble playing of this trumpet section that would allow the conclusion that he played lead with them. All available information indicates that Bob Cusumano, a New York studio trumpet player that TD used on occasion, played first trumpet on this recording session.

Also, if Bunny was playing any other chair in the trumpet section, then why would Tommy have had three other trumpet players on this record date? The Dorsey band then had only three trumpets because the arrangements were written for three trumpets. If Berigan was to have played in the section, TD would certainly have told one of the three other trumpeters to stay home. They all showed up, I think, to play the regular three trumpet parts in Tommy’s arrangements. Bunny showed up to play solos. Guitarist Carmen Mastren, who was with the Dorsey band for several years in the late 1930s, and who helped out with arranging, was a member of Tommy’s band when these recordings were made. He told Herb Sanford, who wrote a book about the Dorsey brothers in the early 1970s: “The only thing Bunny did on that date (January 29, 1937) was play choruses on ‘Marie’ and ‘Song of India.’” [2]  (Note: Steve Lipkins left the Dorsey band immediately after the January 19 recording session and was replaced by Jimmy Welch. After the January 29 Victor session, Andy Ferretti replaced Bob Cusumano on first trumpet. Ferretti was a much respected first trumpet man who would be in and out of TD’s band many times over the next three years.)

“Marie”

Recorded live from a broadcast of the NBC Raleigh-Kool/Jack Pearl radio show on January 11, 1937 in New York.

Personnel as above, except that trumpeter Steve Lipkins is present instead of Jimmy Welch.

On January 11, the Dorsey band played Irving Berlin’s song “Marie” on the Raleigh-Kool program for the first time. Bunny’s solo on it, though excellent, was less impressive than the one he would record a few weeks later on TD’s Victor recording.

Bunny Berigan with Tommy Dorsey – early 1937.

On January 15, Tommy’s band opened an engagement at the Meadowbrook, a ballroom on the Newark-Pompton Turnpike, in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, about fifteen miles outside of New York, which would last until January 30. I doubt that Bunny would have played many/any nights of that engagement. [3] At that stage of his career, what would he have gained from playing another dance engagement away from Manhattan with somebody else’s band? [4] However, he was with the Dorsey band on their radio show on the 18th, and played another very good solo on “Marie.” He also appeared on the Raleigh-Kool show on January 25, taking a solo on “Limehouse Blues.” And he did appear on the other Raleigh-Kool shows with the Dorsey band during this time, and at their January 19 and January 29 Victor recording sessions. These appearances made sense: Berigan was a radio/recording musician, and a jazz soloist. Tommy used him in precisely that fashion. Others took care of the routine work in the trumpet section.

The music: 

Original 1928 sheet music for “Marie.”

Some time before, the Dorsey band played what Carmen Mastren, termed “half and half shows” at Nixon’s Grand Theatre in  Philadelphia. “Half and half” refers to the fact that one band on the  bill was black, the other white. The black band was called Doc Wheeler and his Sunset Royal Serenaders. They were a swinging, exciting band, and one of their specialty numbers was an Irving Berlin tune written in 1928 as a waltz entitled “Marie.” As they performed it, it was in 4/4 time, and began instrumentally. Later in the arrangement, the whole band sang the lyric. The Dorsey brain trust (see below) took note of this, and somehow Tommy acquired the Wheeler chart. After input from Tommy, his arrangers Axel Stordahl and  Paul Weston, TD saxophonist-sometime arranger Freddie Stulce cobbled the pieces together. The initial TD version, which was presented on both the January 11 and January 18, 1937 Raleigh-Kool radio shows, emerged with Tommy playing the melody on his open trombone, Jack Leonard singing with the band chanting hip phrases and song titles behind him, and a chorus long jazz solo from Bunny Berigan. It is clear to me that the idea of featuring Berigan for an entire chorus was Tommy Dorsey’s.

“Marie”

Recorded live from a broadcast of the NBC Raleigh-Kool/Jack Pearl radio show on January 18, 1937 in New York.

Personnel as above for January 11.

Comedian Jack Pearl was the star of the NBC Raleigh-Kool radio show in 1936 and into1937.

This initial arrangement was ideal for the radio show as it clocked in at about 2:30. (Longer musical arrangements were discouraged then on network radio shows because they took too much air time from the show’s “star,” Jack Pearl. We must remember that the TD band, at first, was merely a supporting act for Pearl.) When it came time to record the tune for Victor, Tommy needed to lengthen his performance to at least reach the three-minute mark, the ideal length for any arrangement to be recorded on a ten-inch shellac 78 rpm disk. He did this by taking a 16-bar improvised cup-muted trombone solo after Berigan, and then assigning tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman sixteen bars to fill after that with a jazz improvisation. The Victor version of “Marie” times out art 3:18.

A more spectacular change is the dramatic entry fashioned by Berigan into his trumpet solo: an F to high F octave jump that was beyond the ability of most trumpeters in 1937. This vaulting start led him “into his top register and instantly changes key, mood, intensity level, depth and rhythm. …Berigan’s solo here, pursued at a remarkably consistent level of inventiveness and execution, is more than just a piece of jazz improvisation. With its daring reaches into the topmost range of the horn, its imaginitive, bold figures (like the triplets in bars 13-16 that plunge more than an octave down and straight up again), its heraldic Armstrong-inspired bel canto statements (such as the last eight bars, beginning on high concert E-flat), it is a composition…” (5) 

The results of all of this are readily apparent on the Victor recording, and they immediately became codified as the preferred way to play this tune.

Tommy Dorsey’s Victor recording of “Marie” quickly became so popular that he had to perform it at almost every public appearance of his band for the next twenty years. It produced many progeny over years, like “Who?,” “Yearning,” “Sweet Sue,” “Blue Moon,” and “East of the Sun,”  to name only the most obvious ones. Most of the “Marie” knock-offs were arranged by Paul Weston. Berigan’s solo on “Marie” was later (after Bunny’s death in 1942), transcribed and voiced for four trumpets and  played in that fashion by TD’s trumpet section as an ongoing tribute to Berigan.

Berigan’s influence on trumpet players in the late 1930s (and long after) was huge. People who know something about the history of jazz are well aware of Louis Armstrong’s admiration for Berigan’s playing. Cornetist Rex Stewart, long one of Duke Ellington’s featured soloists, called Bunny Berigan “one of the inde­structibles.” (6)  He also included Berigan among his favorite trumpeters, along with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Bobby Stark, Charlie Shavers, Bix Beider­becke, Russell Smith, Bobby Hackett, Alvin Alcorn, and Joe Smith. (7)

Trumpet virtuoso and swing era giant Harry James referred to Berigan more than once as “the greatest…”

George “Pee Wee” Erwin was another marvelous swing era trumpeter who stood in awe of Berigan’s trumpet artistry. In early 1937, it was Erwin who followed Bunny into Tommy Dorsey’s band as its featured jazz soloist. He later recalled one of his first challenges in that role:

 Tommy and Eli Oberstein, RCA’s recording supervisor, wanted another tune done to the same formula as ‘Marie’. So we went into the studio and recorded ‘Who’ the same way, with me taking a full-chorus solo out of Jack Leonard’s vocal. When we got there, I asked Freddy, the recording engineer, where Bunny had stood when he played that chorus into a standard RCA 44-ribbon mike. He showed me a point approximately thirty feet away from the microphone. Thirty feet!  Well, when we recorded ‘Who,’ I stood about fifteen feet away—and I was known in those days for a big tone! You could never fully appreciate the tone Bunny had, and the power, unless you stood in front of his horn and heard it. He hit a note and it was just like a cannon. I’m not talking about volume, but his sheer body of sound. He used a Bach #7 mouthpiece, which is relatively deep. In other words, he was one helluva strong man.” (8)

(*) The first half hour Jack Pearl Raleigh-Kool radio show in the series aired over the NBC Blue network on November 11, 1936 at 9:30 p.m. The broadcasts emanated from legendary studio 8-H in what was then the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center, New York City. (Now it is known simply as 30 Rock.)

[1] White materials: January 14, 1937, citing the Trumbauer biography Tram, by Philip R. Evans and Larry F. Kinder, wth William Trumbauer, Scarecrow Press (1994).

[2] Tommy and Jimmy: The Dorsey Years, by Herb Sanford, Arlington House (1972), 63. Herb Sanford was the director-producer of the Raleigh-Kool radio show on NBC radio, on which Tommy Dorsey’s band was featured in 1937–1939.

[3] We know for sure that he was broadcasting with Frank Trumbauer from the Hickory House on January 15. (See text.)

[4] Moreover, the next name band scheduled to appear at the Meadowbrook was Bunny Berigan’s. I am quite sure that the Arthur Michaud/Rockwell-O’Keefe management team would not have allowed Bunny to have appeared at the Meadowbrook as a sideman with Tommy Dorsey immediately before he appeared there as the leader of his own band. That would have undercut his value in that venue as the leader of his own band.

[5] Giants of Jazz, Bunny Berigan, Time-Life Books (1982) 42. Notes on the music by Richard M. Sudhalter.

[6] Boy Meets Horn, by Rex Stewart, University of Michigan Press (1991), 166.

[7] Jazz Masters of the ‘30s, by Rex Stewart, Macmillan Company (1972), 223.

[8] Liner notes—The Complete Bunny Berigan, Vol. 2, RCA Bluebird (1986), interview of Pee Wee Erwin by Richard M. Sudhalter.

I must thank trumpeter and Berigan fan Michael Beal for urging me to dig the Raleigh-Kool “warm-up” performances of “Marie” out of my archive. That gave me the idea to present them here along with the iconic TD/Berigan Victor recording.

The recordings used in this post were digitally transferred and remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

4 thoughts on ““Marie” (1937) with Tommy Dorsey – evolution of a masterpiece

Add yours

  1. Mike, I want to thank you again for your work toward keeping Bunny’s music and legend alive. I faithfully read all your posts, but have commented only once here, having opted instead to do so, as Trombonology Erstwhile, at your youtube channel. Now that I know that you prefer that we comment here, I will. As an ardent Berigan enthusiast — he’s my favorite musician — and a lover of details, I find it a joy to read the background stories on all of these precious recordings, which are so familiar to me after countless listenings. Your writings here and in the biography have done so much to illumine the nature of the extremely enigmatic “Miracle Man.”

  2. Thanks Elizabeth for posting your comment here. I have been very favorably impressed by the thoughtful, well-informed comments you have been making about my You Tube posts, which are then republished here at bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com and at swingandbeyond.com. It is extremely gratifying for me when people leave thoughtful comments about my posts. Those comments almost always enhance and enrich the posts, and of course become a part of the permanent record. As I have said so often, we all learn from each other!!!

  3. Hello Michael,

    First: I really want to thank you for your book, your CD Swingin’ & Jumpin’, your 2 blogs with highly interesting text, and the music you make available to fans all over, including myself.

    Yesterday and today are like Christmas for me.

    Yesterday, I read your text ““Marie” (1937) with Tommy Dorsey – evolution of a masterpiece” and I saved “Marie” from the Jack Pearl Shows January 11 and 18, 1937, which were totally new to me. I read Trombonology Erstwhile’s very interesting comments on YouTube.

    Today, after waking up, I continued to look for additional information. I found a similar analysis in “Bunny Berigan: Elusive Legend of Jazz” (page 141) (on Google Books). I also managed to find and save the “Jack Pearl Shows” for the dates which you have identified: Dec 28, 1936, Jan 4, 11, 18 and 25, 1937, on Old Time Radio Researchers’ website.

    I have today listened many times to the Jan 11, 18, and 29 versions of Marie.

    Why?

    I have listened to Bunny Berigan’s music and solos for more than 50 years. Bunny is my number 1 trumpet player.

    I bought your book 2013 and the CD Swingin’ & Jumpin’.

    I started to make digital versions of music I love around 2005, but it was not until 2010 when it became possible to collect recordings from broadcast, and it is much easier now, 2018.

    Nowadays, as I have listened to so many studio recordings, my focus is on broadcast and on rare studio recordings.

    Hope it will be possible for me to expand my collection of air checks with Bunny’s own band, or other bands where he plays his formidable solos.

    With kind regards,

    Goran Axelsson
    Ekvagen 5
    18741 Taby, Sweden
    goran.fe.axelsson@telia.com

  4. Goran, thanks for your comments. Rest assured that I will be posting many more Berigan recordings here in the future, including some rare ones. My objective is to get Bunny’s music out there for people to listen to, read about and enjoy.Thanks also for your kind comments regarding my biography of Berigan, and the “Swingin’ and Jumpin” Hep CD.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: