“I’ll Always Be in Love With You” (1938) Bunny Berigan

“I’ll Always Be in Love With You”

Composed by Sam H. Stept; arranged by Fletcher Henderson.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Thesaurus Transcription Service on June 27, 1938 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky and Ray Conniff, trombones; Mike Doty first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clyde Rounds and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

The story:

The Berigan band forged on through a series of one-nighters in Pennsylvania and Ohio in mid-June 1938. They played at Moonlight Gardens, Meyer’s Lake Park, Canton, Ohio (shown at left), on Thursday, June 16. Billboard reported on this engagement in its June 25, 1938, issue: “With Glen Gray the attraction less than twenty miles away at Summit Beach, Akron, Ohio, Bunny Berigan drew almost 1,000 dancers here last Thurs­day at Moonlight Gardens in Meyer’s Lake Park. Harry Sinclair, Moonlight Gardens manager, was pleased with the $460 take.” (Multiply by 15 to get the value in today’s money.) [i]

The next night, Bunny’s band was broadcast over WABC–New York, probably from somewhere in Pennsylvania. Bunny’s drummer at the time, Johnny Blowers, kept a diary of places he played with the Berigan band, but sometimes did not place a date with the location. Here are some of the venues the band played for the period June 17 to June 25: Tyrone, Pennsylvania (west of State College); Hershey, Pennsylvania, at Starlight Ballroom, Hershey Park, (15 miles east of Harrisburg); Shamokin, Pennsylvania, at Edgewood Park; on June 23, at the Crystal Ballroom, Cumberland, Maryland; Ithaca, New York, at Cornell University; Middletown State Armory, Kingston, New York, on Saturday, June 25; Greenwich, Connecticut. At some point in this eight-day span, a mix-up occurred involving a date at Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Blowers recalled this venue in his biography Back Beats and Rim Shots—The Johnny Blowers Story: “Wherever we played the crowd loved the band, and there were hundreds of dancers, but we had a peculiar tendency to be in the wrong place, or in the right place at the wrong time. Even sometimes the wrong day. Once we went to Old Orchard Beach a day ahead of schedule, so we spent it enjoying rides and games. We played the following night. I really believe that band could have been very successful if more care had gone into planning and management.” [ii]

Berigan and his personal manager Arthur Michaud -1937.

The fact is that in the summer of 1938, the Berigan band was very successful. Its management (MCA, Bunny’s booking agent, and Arthur Michaud, his personal manager) however were by then fo­cusing most of their attention elsewhere, primarily on the development of Gene Krupa’s new band. Engagements that otherwise might have gone to Berigan now were going to Krupa. As a result, there seemed to be no real plan as to how to achieve maximum financial return for the Berigan band on the road.

Berigan and Gene Krupa at an impromptu photo shoot – spring 1938.

Also, logistical slip-ups started to occur. These snafus have long been attributed to Bunny’s lackadaisical attitude about business matters. However, he was paying others very well to attend to these important issues, as other bandleaders did, and had every reason to expect that they would be handled properly. Increasingly, they were not being handled properly, and Bunny’s normally sanguine attitude sometimes turned edgy. He, not MCA or Michaud, had to pay the band while they enjoyed an unplanned off day, rode amusement rides, and played games at Old Orchard Beach.

On June 27, the Berigan band again visited the RCA Victor studios on East 24th Street in Manhattan, but this time he and his musicians were scheduled to make recordings for RCA’s The­saurus radio transcription service. The sixteen inch 33 1/3 rpm discs on which Thesaurus marketed these recordings were leased or sold to radio stations under the generic name “Rhythm Makers Orchestra” or “The Rhythm Makers.” No actual identification of the many bands that made Thesaurus transcriptions was ever done.

It is extremely fortui­tous that this opportunity existed for the Berigan band, because this Thesaurus recording session, and one which would take place in the not too distant future, like the airchecks of the band made from the Paradise Restaurant in the spring of 1938, and elsewhere, allow us to have a much more complete understanding of the Berigan band’s capabili­ties. The difference between the band that made these transcriptions and the one Bunny had led on his pre­vious Thesaurus session almost two years earlier is immense. The earlier band sounded very much like what it actually was—a part-time band with no identity. This Berigan band had now reached the place where it was imbued with its leader’s passionate musical persona: it was powerful, exciting, and sometimes a bit unpredictable, even reckless.

They recorded twenty tunes that day, and as always was the case on tran­scriptions, only one take on each tune was made. There is no indication of when the session started or ended. Indeed, there is some question as to whether this session took place in New York, or at RCA’s Camden, New Jersey “church stu­dio.” I think that this session was recorded in New York because I know that other Thesaurus recording sessions with many other bands, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Les Brown, Joe Haymes, Charlie Barnet, and Chick Webb, took place in New York. Although Berigan’s clarinet soloist Joe Dixon on at least one occasion recalled recording these transcriptions in Camden, every other source I have ever checked indicates that all Thesaurus sessions took place in RCA’s Twenty-fourth Street studios in Manhattan. (The outside of the building that housed Victor’s Manhattan recording studio is shown at left.)

The Berigan band recorded for Thesaurus many of the same tunes they had recorded for Victor. Sometimes on the Thesaurus recordings the vocal chorus was omitted, sometimes not. (The vocalists were identified on the disks using pseudonyms.) It is always interesting to listen to versions of the pop tunes Berigan recorded with the vocal chorus excised. Very often, removal of the vocal improves the performance. Why Bunny would not have allowed an instrumentalist to play a solo in lieu of the vocal on these The­saurus recordings (as opposed to simlply cutting the vocal chorus out) is not known. That would have improved these per­formances even more because the jazz soloists in Berigan’s band, in addition to him, were quite capable.

Of equal or greater interest however are the tunes Berigan recorded for Thesaurus but did not record for Victor. “I’ll Always Be in Love With You” is one such tune. The arrangement the Berigan band used on it was written by Fletcher Henderson, and is the same arrangement he recorded for Victor with his own band on April 9, 1936. Solos in this Berigan version are by Georgie Auld on tenor saxophone, Joe Dixon on clarinet, an ultrawarm Berigan on trumpet, Joe Bushkin on piano, and Ray Conniff on trombone.

This same arrangement was also recorded for Victor by Benny Goodman on December 15, 1938. BG by then evidently had enough power at Victor to record this tune for that label even though the Henderson disk may still have been on the market. One wonders why Bunny didn’t record this tune for Victor. He was obviously playing it months before the Goodman recording was made, and his band’s performance of it here is excellent. Victor’s executives may well have nixed any such idea in deference to the Henderson disk, but then allowed Goodman to record it probably because he sold more records than either Henderson or Berigan.

Drummer Johnny Blowers – 1938.

Drummer Johnny Blowers related an incident that occurred in the wake of this Thesaurus recording date that is indicative of the way Arthur Michaud han­dled the Berigan band’s business, and probably led directly to Blowers leaving the Berigan band. After not being paid extra for the Thesaurus recording ses­sion, Blowers went to Michaud and asked where his money was for the tran­scription date. “‘What transcription date?’ he said, trying to look innocent. ‘My contract states that I’m to get paid extra for recording. That transcription date was supposed to pay over $400. (Probably for the whole band.)  I want my money or I’m going to report you to the union.’ The threat worked, and every­body in the band was paid for the date.” [iii]

The Music:         Berigan’s use of the pentatonic scale.  

One of the many benefits accruing to people who host blogs is that wonderfully informative communications sometimes arrive at the blog or by email quite unexpectedly. I have benefited from many of these relationships. One of them, with San Francisco trumpeter Michael Beal, has been particularly rewarding because Michael not only understands trumpet technique, he has a deep understanding of music itself. I have learned much from Michael.

The following are excerpts from Michael’s recent emails to me about Bunny Berigan’s Thesaurus recording of “I’ll Always Be in Love With You.”

“Since my teen years, I’ve always been drawn to Bunny’s playing, however my exposure to his music back then was extremely limited. In exploring Berigan’s music in fits and starts over many years, I recently stumbled across his recording of ‘I’ll Always Be in Love With You.’ I did not know any of the details about the recording, but I did hear the music, particularly Berigan’s solo, and for some reason, the music absolutely spoke to me, so much so that I transcribed it. It wasn’t until after I transcribed it that I realized the true genius within, which initially and completely escaped me – even afterwards for many days.

At first glance the transcription of Berigan’s solo appears to be fairly ordinary in terms of format.  Unlike ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ ‘Until Today,’ and many other of his recorded performances which feature Bunny playing longer solos, on this tune, Bunny played solo for only half a chorus (16 bars), coming in at the 8 bar bridge. There’s no ‘high wire’ act here, as there was in ‘Ebb Tide,’ or any number of Bunny’s other solo gems. Still, he effortlessly and tastefully utilizes a lip-trill, a couple of half-valve glisses, bending of notes and seamless phrasing.That said, Bunny’s playing on this solo is lyrical and expertly constructed. I didn’t realize how expertly this solo was constructed until I carefully reviewed my transcription of it.”

“As one can see from this transcription, Bunny’s sixteen bar solo isn’t technically challenging, compared to many of his others. But analysis reveals the following:

—The solo consists a total of 59 notes

Of the 59 notes Berigan played, 51 of those notes are exclusively from the 5 note E Major pentatonic scale! (That’s 86.44 % for us stat geeks!)”

Other observations/insights by Mr. Beal:

“—This tune, using a classic 32-bar AABA format, was written as a waltz.  Here it’s been updated to a 4/4 swing.

—If we assume the chord changes for this melody (as composed) are identical to those in the Fletcher Henderson arrangement, which almost assuredly they are not, we see Bunny only deviated from the chord changes twice, when he played a minor third over a dominant 7 chord – in bars 8 and 9.  From an improvisational viewpoint the minor 3rd on a dominant scale is frequently done in all eras of jazz.  It’s usually a ‘bluesy’ sounding note, but in these instances, Bunny utilizes them merely as passing tones.

—There are many challenges to jazz improvisation and one of them is playing within the chord changes. The trumpet key of E, the key in which this arrangement is written, from my playing experience, is an uncommon key. You might see it more if you were trying to accommodate a vocalist, but that’s not the case here, where Bunny struts his mastery of this key.” (Indeed, Berigan could play in any key, and could transpose music from one key to another at sight. MZ)

“—Berigan’s approach to this particular solo is seemingly simplistic, yet it reveals his musical genius. His ability to limit his note selection, spanning the 8 bar bridge and final eight bar ‘A’ section, to a simple 5 note scale (covering less than 2 octaves) is remarkable.

But it’s his melodic structuring and phrasing of these notes that’s astonishing – especially given the context of the this recording, which was a one-take performance for a radio transcription done under somewhat hurried circumstances.If you listen to jazz soloists, even today, depending on a variety of factors, very often master soloists play in 2, 4 or 8 bar phrases. These phrase usually correspond to the structure of the tune. In this case the song has the classic AABA, 32-bar format. Listen to the clarinetist Joe Dixon’s solo. He’s playing in two and four bar phrases. It’s a fine solo, but it’s also an illustration of phrasing in the conventional manner. The same type of phrasing is used by the other soloists on this recording.”

The Berigan band in action – fall 1937 L-R: trombonist Sonny Lee: tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld; Berigan; drummer George Wettling; trumpeter Irving Goodman; lead alto saxophonist Mike Doty; lead trumpeter Steve Lipkins.

“Berigan’s solo begins at the 8-bar bridge. Now listen (at bar 6) to the ‘turn-around’ line Bunny plays transitioning from the bridge (beginning on the 4th beat of bar 6 of his solo, continuing through bar 9) to the beginning of the final 8 bars (the A part of the tune) of his solo. Here Berigan utilizes the final three measures of the bridge to logically segue into the final eight bars, which end his solo lyrically.

At the start of the final eight bar ‘A’ section of his solo, we see/hear Bunny simply, yet melodically phrase/play a one octave E pentatonic scale (utilizing primarily syncopated notes) before concluding this phrase in a beautifully sincere way.

Beginning in bars 13, 14 and the first two beats of bar 15, Bunny again utilizes this same E major pentatonic scale, by inverting it. Instead of starting on the root (E) of the scale, he starts on the 4th (B natural) – then works his way up an octave and back down again. He then concludes his solo playing an E pentatonic ‘chord’ of sorts.

Berigan’s subtle utilization of this singular, simple scale may be beyond comparison, context of era not withstanding. This solo, which is very musical, has a logical beginning, middle and ending.I suspect if you had 100 people listen to this solo and comment on it, no one say, ‘well, he mostly played the same 5 notes over and over.’

I knew for years that Bunny utilized the D pentatonic scale in his opening cadenza of ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ but also knew that I’d never heard a soloist before him do so.

I thought for sure that someone, somewhere, long before me would have mentioned Bunny Berigan’s strikingly creative use of this 5 note scale in the 80 years this recording has been out there. If anyone has, I’m not aware of it.

Bunny’s long departed soul still lives in his music. Whatever demons tormented him to an early end, certainly didn’t encroach on this example of his genius. Here, he simply is making a subtle mockery of how easy it was for him to improvise!”

Michael and I discussed where or how Berigan might have learned about the pentatonic scale. My informed speculation is that he learned about it in either the Paul Whiteman orchestra, or while playing at CBS. In both instances, Bunny was working with many conservatory trained musicians who would have known about the pentatonic scale. I will also suggest that after Berigan came to understand the pentatonic scale, he simply stored away that knowledge in his subconscious musical mind. It came out in his improvisations from time to time, and I am fairly certain that he did not consciously calculate beforehand how he could use that knowledge in a given solo. It just would come out at seemingly appropriate times in strikingly creative ways.

One final observation: In addition to the solo Berigan played in this performance, he also played the first trumpet part. It is clear to me from the sound of his solo trumpet relative to the rest of the instruments in his band that he was playing that solo from the trumpet section, not into a microphone in front of the band. This makes sense because of his need to play the lead trumpet part while sitting next to the other two trumpeters, so they could hear him and follow his lead.

[i] Cited in the White materials: June 16, 1938.

[ii] Back Beats and Rim Shots …the Johnny Blowers Story, by Warren W. Vache’ (1997) 40.

[iii] Blowers, ibid.

I thank Loren Schoenberg for recently unearthing the montage of Bunny Berigan presented in this post. This montage was part of a feature story about Berigan and Benny Goodman that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on July 11, 1937. At that time, MCA was providing Berigan with considerable valuable promotion in the mainstream press.

The recording used in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

2 thoughts on ““I’ll Always Be in Love With You” (1938) Bunny Berigan

Add yours

  1. It’s really wonderful to find you shining the spotlight on this batch of Bunny’s Thesaurus transcriptions and, in particular, this track, which is among the best of the session. I’ve always found the Berigan band’s treatment of Fletcher’s knockout chart to be superior to those of both the Henderson and Goodman orchestras, which, too, are very fine; I prefer the brass’ phrasing and the relaxed tempo and groove, which inspire some punchy, pithy statements from all the soloists. Bunny sure knew how to make an entrance, as this performance attests: No one’s playing could match his nonchalant passion, as incongruous as that description sounds; he seems always to have had the ability just to toss off the most arresting lines, beautifully — and yet, for the most part, spontaneously — constructed.

    With the Berigan band at its artistic and cohesive pinnacle, 1938 should have been Bunny’s year. What a terrible shame.

  2. you are a big band era angel,gate!!!!! did I tell you I donated my casa loma archive to northeastern?
    thank you for your time and effort,
    as always,keeping the faith
    bill cahill

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