“Change Partners” (1938) Bunny Berigan


“Change Partners”

Composed by Irving Berlin; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Thesaurus Transcription Service on August 8-9, 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 and bass clarinet; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clyde Rounds and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Bernard “Buddy” Rich, drums.

The story: The Thesaurus recording session that took place through the night of August 8-9, 1938 was the first recording session that drummer Buddy Rich participated in as a member of the Bunny Berigan band. Bunny’s tenor saxophone soloist then, Georgie Auld, related how Rich got into the Berigan band:

Buddy Rich.

“Y’know I met Buddy when I was 14 and he was 16, which means we knew each other for 54 years. I got him in Bunny Berigan’s band and I got him in Artie Shaw’s band. He and I both lived in Brooklyn. Bunny was looking for a drum­mer, he was upgrading the band at the time, and I said ‘there’s a buddy of mine that’s a genius behind the drums but he can’t read a note of music.’ Bunny said ‘well, that’s no good.’ In those days we played theaters and we usually had 5 acts of vaudeville. He said, ‘What’s gonna happen when we play a theater and we get a dance act or something and he can’t read music?’ I said, ‘He’ll do more without reading than any 30 drummers you get that can read.’ Then Bunny said, ‘All right let him sit in for a tune.’ The exact same thing happened a bit later with Artie Shaw.” (1)

Buddy Rich with clarinetist Joe Marsala – at the Randall’s Island swing concert – May 29, 1938, about five weeks before he joined Bunny Berigan’s band.

Rich joined the Berigan band on July 5, 1938 at Manhattan Beach in New York City. Guitarist/vocalist Dick Wharton remembered the gig, and Rich’s impact on the Berigan band: “Man­hattan Beach was an amusement park with an open-air bandstand next to Coney Island. Johnny Blowers had just left and Georgie Auld was Bunny’s contact for enticing the young Buddy Rich away from Joe Marsala and persuading him it was a great opportunity for him. Buddy was loud from the very start and Bunny would have to insist on him cutting down the volume. But Bunny apparently liked the rhythmic ‘figures’ Rich played and had Buddy’s ‘licks’ worked into some of the arrangements.” (2) The Berigan band, with their new drummer, played at Manhattan Beach for one week, closing there on July 11. Buddy Rich began to slowly settle in.

After the Manhattan Beach stand, the Berigan band played a couple of one-nighters west to Michi­gan, including one at the Queen’s Ball for the National Cherry Festival at Tra­verse City, Michigan on July 13.(3)  They opened on Friday July 15 at the Fox Theater in Detroit (4) for a one-week engagement. Here is the review of the show that the Berigan band was a part of at the Fox:

“Berigan blows into the Fox with his trumpet and band to keep the jitterbugs happy and it’s a lively package of talent that Berigan has with him in the stage show. Bunny’s band is plenty smooth and keeping up the festivities are the Fra­zee Sisters, song stars of Billy Rose’s Casa Mañana, returning by popular de­mand, three sophisticated ladies whose knockabout antics get plenty of laughs. Sharpe and Armstrong do a very clever satire on ballroom dancing, and Ruth Gaylor and Dick Wharton sing several popular lyrics. It is sixty minutes of lively stage fare to accompany the movie, ‘We’re Going to Be Rich,’ starring Gracie Fields, Victor McLaglen and Brian Donlevy.” (5) (The exterior of Fox Theater in Detroit is shown above left on a vintage postcard.)

While appearing at the Fox Theater (this engagement was very successful and balanced the losses Berigan had sustained recently), Bunny invited his mother and father to Detroit from Fox Lake, Wisconsin, their home, as well as his brother Donald, who had only recently married, and Don’s new wife, Loretta. He also insisted that Donna, his wife, who had been living separately from him in Syracuse, New York, join this gathering. Loretta Berigan recalled this family reunion to Berigan biographer Robert Dupuis:

“At first Donna was not going to be there. Then she decided to come, apparently to put up a united front and welcome me as a new family member. This seemed very important for Bunny. At first it was very strained; Don and I both sensed it. Then things began to loosen up. Bunny and Donna had a few drinks and he started teasing and joking with her. She couldn’t keep from laughing. It ended up that we all had a good time. I remem­ber wondering at the time if there was ever any down-to-earth conversation be­tween them. It was all fun and games.” (6)

Bunny gave Don and Loretta $50 as a wedding present, which in the value of money today would be about $750. It was a generous gift, but certainly not extravagant. In the summer of 1938, Bunny was making a lot of money.

While Berigan was in Detroit, he also apparently “…visited and dined with Dr. Cliff Benson, with whom he had worked in Madison, Wisconsin in the late 1920s. Ben­son was a practicing medical doctor and said ‘Bunny visited my office. He very briefly discussed his problem. I never was his medical advisor.’ Dr. Benson told Bunny that he should know the cause of his ‘shakes’ and advised him to cut down on his drinking. Dr. Benson never saw Bunny again.” (7)

Bunny’s clarinet soloist in the summer of 1938, Joe Dixon, recalled what it was like traveling with him: “Bunny’s doctor, Dr. Goldberg, was telling him he had cirrhosis of the liver and if he didn’t stop drinking he wouldn’t last long. I drove his big Chrysler Imperial on the road once in a while, with him in the back seat, and sometimes he’d wake from a dead sleep all pers­pired and hysterical, and I’d have to head for the nearest bar or liquor store and get some brandy. He’d have to swallow at least a half a pint before he’d calm down.” (8)

Berigan’s alcoholism was by this time beginning to become an ever-present counterweight in his life, pressing against his constant efforts to play as well as he could, and make his band as strong musically as possible. But even more dire was the insidious organic process beginning inside of Bunny’s body, as his liver began to be ravaged by cirrhosis. He was fully aware of his health situation by mid-1938, but felt strongly that he had to continue doing what he had been doing for the past decade to advance his career. Now, finally, after endless hard work, he had built his band into a formidable performance machine. And he himself was playing as brilliantly as he ever had. But Bunny’s alcoholism continued unabated. He did not drink because he enjoyed drinking: he drank because his alcohol-addicted body had to have it. Although he was a very high functioning alcoholic, the truly tragic result because of the onset of cirrhosis, was that each drink he took moved him a step closer to death. But the denial that is such a pernicious factor in the psychological makeup of alcoholics, plus the fact that Berigan still felt good and strong, lulled him into a false sense that everything would be OK.

After the Fox Theater engagement, which ended on July 21, the band headed east, and probably played a one-nighter in Syracuse, New York, on Friday July 22. It is likely that Donna traveled with Bunny from Detroit to Syracuse, where he may have briefly visited their two young daughters.  It is unclear how much longer Donna and the girls lived in Syracuse (Donna’s home town). They had moved there in May of 1938 after an incident between Bunny and Donna. But by the fall of 1938, it appears that the Berigan family was once again living in the home Bunny owned in Rego Park, Queens, New York.

Dick Wharton recalled a very strange rehearsal of the Berigan band that occurred the next day: “We drove back to New York City from Syracuse, arriving about 4 a.m. Later that day we had to rehearse for our forthcoming engagement at the Casa Mañana, and it was a rough one, because they had a very tough, tricky floor show with lots of cues and changes and neither Buddy Rich nor Joey Bushkin could read music. And Bunny wasn’t really experienced in leading for stage shows of that type, so it was all rather a mess with everybody getting sore at everybody else.” (9) Imme­diately after that rehearsal, the Berigan bandsmen drove to Atlantic City, where that night (Saturday July 23) they opened what was supposed to be another lucrative one-week engagement, at the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier, one of the best dance venues in the East.

Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier – Atlantic City, New Jersey – 1930s.

That same night, the band participated in a transatlantic radio broad­cast: “Remote from Marine Ballroom of Steel Pier, Atlantic City, relayed through CBS station W2XE (19.64M), received by BBC England, on a Murphy A40C, direct on a Philo A847 (sic). 10:30–11:00 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (which would mean mid-afternoon in New Jersey.) ‘I Can’t Get Started’ (theme-partial); ‘Shanghai Shuffle;’ ‘Somewhere With Somebody Else’ (vocal); ‘My Melancholy Baby;’ ‘Flat Foot Floogie,’ (BB vocal?); ‘Wacky Dust;’ ‘Devil’s Holiday;’ ‘I Can’t Get Started’ (theme-partial).” (10)

The Berigan band continued its engagement at the Steel Pier the following night, Sunday, July 24. Then, abruptly, they were removed from the Steel Pier job the next day by Bunny’s booking agent, MCA, and replaced by Little Jack Little’s band. Why this happened gives some indication as to how MCA handled its talent. The following is a comment from the White materials about what went on, as well as the recollections of a number of performers who were on the scene then. “Possibly the Berigan band opened at the Steel Pier for a week’s stand, but when Vincent Lopez was transferred by MCA to a more important (?? MZ) engagement at Pip­ing Rock, Bunny was pulled out of the Pier job and moved into the Casa Mañana in New York, as he was already scheduled there. Then when Bunny and Billy Rose got into a big hassle, the band was given notice almost before they had opened. The Casa Mañana show was due to close at the end of the month in any case.” (11)

Bunny’s saxophonist Clyde Rounds recalled: “That engagement lifted the band back to something like its earlier status among its contemporaries. The artists featured at the club included Jimmy ‘Schonzzle’ Durante, John Steel, a singing favorite of the time, Benay Venuta, and the relatively unknown Danny Kaye. The show girls were so beautiful and so distracting for the musicians! Often the boys had their eyes glued on the girls ra­ther than the music. Needless to say, the crowds packed the place every night and we got good notices. We really thought we were set for a nice long season with everyone near home in Manhattan, but it wasn’t to be.” (12)

A snapshot of the Berigan band in action at an outdoor concert in Michigan, summer 1938. L-R: Bassist Hank Wayland; guitarist/vocalist Dick Wharton; drummer Buddy Rich; tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld; trumpeter Irving Goodman.

Dick Wharton: “Bunny would play us on (at Casa Mañana) with his theme, ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ followed by the opening number. Then four experienced show-type musicians would replace Bunny, Joey Bushkin, Buddy Rich, and me, while the band would accompany the various vaudeville acts. The floor show lasted for about an hour, after which we’d rejoin the band to play for the dancing session. Louis Prima led the interval band and I remember there was a minor hassle as to whose theme song should introduce the show. And soon after that was settled, Bunny got into a major row with Billy Rose, who owned the club, and the band was out!  It was a very abrupt ending to what had promised to be a most successful date.” (13)

Benay Ve­nuta: “I was in that show at the Casa Mañana. Jimmy Durante and I were the headliners. Danny Kaye was on hand but had only a small part. I recall the ‘changes’ in the Berigan band yes, while it played the show, which was a tough one for sure. I think I worked someplace about this time with Bunny’s wife’s brother named ‘McArthur’ who had a dance act.” (14)

What is curious about the recollections of Clyde Rounds and Dick Wharton is that the show that they joined on July 25 in mid-run at the Casa Mañana was scheduled to close on July 30, and did close on July 30, with an entirely new cast opening with a new show the following night. The Berigan band played that show every night from July 25 to July 30, when it closed. The net result of the moves made by MCA was that it removed the Vincent Lopez band from the Casa Mañana show in the middle of its run, removed Bunny’s band from a plum booking at the Steel Pier to replace Lopez with little or no notice, then threw the Berigan band into the middle of the ongoing Casa Mañana show with little or no rehearsal.

A group of Berigan sidemen outside of the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, August 1938. L-R: Hank Wayland, Clyde Rounds, Ray Conniff, Nat Lobovsky, Joe Dixon and Buddy Rich.

It is possible however, that the Berigan band was supposed to have been the featured band in the next Casa Mañana show, but lost that gig because of Bunny’s disagreement with Billy Rose. This is only speculation on my part however. No direct evidence that this was the case is to be found in the White materials or elsewhere. Whatever actually happened, the Berigan band was now in a situation where they had no work in the immediate future. MCA had to scramble to find them gigs immediately. I can understand why Bunny was a bit edgy at and right after the Casa Mañana engagement. (15)

Tommy Dorsey, unlike Berigan, liked business maneuvering.

Meanwhile, Gene Krupa’s band was then in the middle of a successful run at New York’s Paramount Theater, and Tommy Dorsey’s was on the West Coast. But Tommy was having some challenges, and was not happy:

What was the motivating force in the recent split between Tommy Dorsey and his manager Arthur Michaud? No official statement has been issued as to the cause of the split, though it has been conjectured that a slip-up on the provision of a stand-by band during Dorsey’s commercial in Chicago a few weeks ago, on which Tommy took over $1,000 loss (multiply by fifteen to get the value of today’s dollar), was the direct cause. Be that as it may, the cause is secondary to the fireworks that are likely to ensue in the near future. For Arthur Michaud, through with one trombone player, is now preparing to launch a rival in the person of none other than Jack Teagarden. True, Mr. T is still with Paul Whiteman, but from well-informed circles comes the story that Jackson may be released from contractual obligations very shortly. As soon as that comes to pass, Michaud will commence an intensive campaign to put Jack Teagarden on top. On top of what? Well, one thing is certain and that is he’ll try to put him on top of Tommy Dorsey and, if possible, on top of the entire field of dance orches­tras. Meanwhile, out on the west coast in the Palomar, Tommy Dorsey is doing extremely well for himself.” (16)

It seems that the second victim of Arthur Michaud’s inattention and conflict of interest was Tommy Dorsey. With a weekly sponsored network radio show as a base, and several hit records going for him, Tommy was able to sustain this loss. But TD correctly saw that Michaud’s negligence had cost him dearly once, and he decided that it would not happen a second time. He quickly lowered the boom on Michaud, and terminated their relationship. Bunny Berigan, who was now also experiencing costly managerial setbacks involving Michaud, took note of  these developments.

There is little documentation as to the Berigan band’s whereabouts after their Casa Mañana engagement, but it is likely that they played a number of hastily booked one-night dance engagements during this time, including one on August 5 at Budd Lake, New Jersey. On August 8, they were once again in the Victor stu­dios in New York to record another batch of transcriptions for Thesaurus.

The music:  The great popular song Change Partnerswas written by Irving Berlin  for the 1938 RKO film Carefree, where it was introduced by Fred Astaire. The first recording of it was made by Ray Noble’s Los Angeles-based band, with Fred Astaire singing, on March 24, 1938. Hit records of it in 1938 included those by Astaire/Noble, Ozzie Nelson, Jimmy Dorsey with Bob Eberly, and Lawrence Welk. It was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Original Song in a film, but lost out to “Thanks for the Memory.”

The Berigan band had a great arrangement on “Change Partners,” written by Bunny’s chief arranger Joe Lippman. Unfortunately, probably because of deteriorating relations between Bunny and his personal manager Arthur Michaud through the second half of 1938, Berigan did not have a strong advocate for his band at Victor Records at a time when he very much needed one. Consequently, this arrangement was not recorded by Bunny for Victor. Fortunately for posterity, Berigan decided to record it as a part of a sixteen tune marathon recording session for Thesaurus radio transcriptions through the night of August 8-9, 1938.

Arranger/pianist Joe Lippman – 1938.

Lippman’s arrangement begins with a four-bar Bolero-like rhythmic motif played by the two trombones and Clyde Round’s on tenor saxophone. This is answered by the three other reeds, with Georgie Auld playing the lead on tenor saxophone along with Joe Dixon on B-flat clarinet, and Mike Doty on bass clarinet. The Berigan-led brass then state Berlin’s great melody. The Auld-led trio of instruments takes the lead on the tune’s bridge. This cycle continues with the second statement of the tune’s main melody. The second bridge has the two trombones playing the melody atop harmonized reed voicings. Then, the conventional four saxophone grouping of two altos (Doty and Dixon, with Doty playing lead), and two tenors (Rounds and Auld), play the next melodic sequence, with the brass coming in to heighten the dynamic level. This leads to a creative bell tone modulation into the place where the vocal chorus began in Lippman’s original chart. (There is no vocal in this performance. It was excised presumably to shorten this arrangement to less than three minutes to facilitate radio play, the raison d’être for Thesaurus transcriptions.) Berigan’s open trumpet is employed here to provide a golden-toned melodic passage. The entire band then plays a brief climactic sequence as the finale.

This arrangement was later performed with the vocal chorus sung by Danny Richards, Bunny’s best boy vocalist, after he joined the Berigan band in early 1939. Richards’s singing of this tune was very well received by audiences who were listening to the Berigan band in 1939. But for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with Richards, Berigan or the Berigan band, this arrangement was never recorded by Bunny for Victor with (or without) the vocal chorus.

At a time when the Berigan band was as strong musically as it ever would be, various problems began to occur on the business side of the band’s operation. These and other factors would combine, and eventually, in late 1939, would lead to a shocking decline in Berigan’s health, and his financial insolvency.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo. A good bit of audio restoration was also required.

(1) Don Manning interview, cited in the White materials: July 5, 1938.

(2) White materials: July 5, 1938.

(3) Traverse City Record Eagle: Wednesday, June 29, 1938. Information provided by Carl A. Hallstrom.

(4) The Fox Theater, located at 2211 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, was built in 1928 by Hollywood film pioneer William Fox. Its seating capacity of 5,048 makes it the second largest theater in the United States. (Only Radio City Music Hall in New York is larger.) Its twin is the Fox Theater in St. Louis, which has 500 fewer seats. The Fox Theater has remained a vital entertainment venue since its opening.

(5) Detroit Free Press: July 16, 1938, cited in the White materials: July 15, 1938.

(6) Bunny Berigan …Elusive Legend of Jazz, (1993) by Robert Dupuis: 161.

(7) White materials: July 15, 1938.

(8) Liner notes—The Complete Bunny Berigan, Vol. 2; interview of Joe Dixon by Richard M. Sudhalter. Hereafter: The Complete Bunny Berigan, Vol. 2.

(9) White materials: July 22, 1938.

(10) Melody Maker: July 30, 1938, cited in the White materials.

(11) Ibid.

(12) White materials: July 25, 1938.

(13) Ibid.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Ibid.  While Bunny Berigan was in the midst of the Casa Manana imbroglio, Artie Shaw was busy cutting his first records for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label. The titles he recorded on July 24, 1938, included “Begin the Beguine,” “Indian Love Call ”,“Any Old Time” (with Billie Holiday), and “Back Bay Shuffle.”

(16) Metronome: July 1938.

2 thoughts on ““Change Partners” (1938) Bunny Berigan

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  1. The “Change Partners” arrangement, though attractive, seems much more indicative of Joe Lippman’s versatility as an arranger than of the style we might associate most closely with Bunny’s band; still, though, the performance provides further evidence of that talented group’s range within the pop realm — they really could take anything on and do it justice. Bunny’s beautiful lead is, of course, unmistakable, and his brief solo statement contains that trademark gravitas that makes his ballad work so compelling. … I were a believer in the concept of luck, I’d say that Bunny got some of the lousiest breaks imaginable. Perhaps good fortune would not have altered his personal course, in which alcohol played the most prominent role, but it would — presumably, at least — have made the downward slope less rocky.

  2. As always, many thanks to Mike Zirpolo for his excellent research and reporting on the history and life of a significant swing trumpet player and Wisconsin native. I look forward to each installment of his postings. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Mike and his family.

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