“Stompin’ at the Savoy”/Bunny Speaks (1937) – Norge Transcription

Composed by Edgar Sampson; arranger unknown.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra on or about March 7, 1937 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: (probable personnel) Harry Brown, Harry Greenwald, trumpets; Larry Altpeter and Ford Leary, trombones; Frank Langone, Art Drellinger, Georgie Auld, Don “Slats” Long; saxophones; Les Burness, piano; Arnold Fishkind, bass; Manny Berger, drums.

The Story: Right after they closed at the Meadowbrook on February 16, 1937, the Berigan band, which had existed for only a few weeks, auditioned for a sponsored network radio program. Billboard carried this item in its February 27, 1937, issue: “Admiracion Shampoo auditioned Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, and Tim (Ryan) and Irene(Noblette) for a coast-to-coast Mutual set-up last week.”(1)  Berigan was selected to appear on this show. This was a plumb engagement which paid well, ultimately lasted 26 weeks, and allowed Bunny to begin to upgrade his new band in a serious way.

At about this same time, Rockwell-O’Keefe,which was Bunny’s booking agent then, was angling to get his band a job making transcriptions for a series of shows to be sponsored by the Norge appliance company. Here is some of the trade paper buzz about that project:  

Norge print ad – 1937.

“Norge Refrigerators is readying a series of transcriptions to be used this spring and summer for an extensive spot campaign. Bands and guest stars are being used for each 15 minute recording, with each recording using a different aggregation. The deal is being set through the Cramer-Kraselt Co., Milwaukee.” (Variety: February 19,1937.)

“The Cramer-Kraselt Company, Milwaukee, has started cutting the 39 quarter-hour discs for Norge Refrigerators. The campaign will run 39 weeks, starting April 1st. Talent is booked for the series through the Rockwell-O’Keefe agency and includes Ray Noble, Annette Hanshaw, Barry McKinney, The Mills Brothers, ‘Aunt Jemima,’ Louis Armstrong, Victor Young, Connie Boswell, Josephine Tumminia, Cliff Edwards and Tim and Irene.” (Billboard: February 24, 1937.)

The young bandleader – early 1937.

“Norge Sets Wax Name Campaign:  The biggest name splash by the transcription route in a long time by an advertiser is the series just closed for the Norge refrigerator company. The ad agency is Cramer-Kraselt, with Rockwell O’Keefe setting the talent. Included among the names to do spots are Annette Hanshaw, Barry McKinney, Ray Noble and his Orchestra, Victor Young and his Orchestra, ‘Aunt Jemima’ (Tess Gardella), Louis Armstrong, Cliff Edwards, The Mills Brothers, Josephine Tumminia, Connie Boswell, Tim Ryan and Irene Noblette. Decca is grinding the platters which will run for 39 weeks, quarter hours weekly.” (Variety: February  27, 1937) (2)

It would appear from the above that the Bunny Berigan band, Frances Faye and the comedy duo of Howard and Shelton were probably added to the parade of talent for the Norge transcription series after the above items went to press. Two of the very few Norge program recordings to have been discovered feature the Berigan band. It is likely that other recordings from the series may be extant in view of the number of shows recorded.

Berigan solos in front of his new band – early 1937.

Immediately after a February 17 recording session for Brunswick/ARC, the Berigan band began to play a few one-night dance jobs in New England. This kept Bunny away from New York for the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club broadcast of February 20. He returned to Manhattan however for the Swing Club show that aired on February 27. This was his last appearance on the Swing Club as a regular. His commitment to the Swing Club, and to CBS as a staff musician were now at an end. From this time on, except for several months in 1940, Bunny Berigan would be a full-time bandleader.

In a radio studio – 1937.

Shortly thereafter, Bunny learned that his band had been chosen for both the Admiracion Shampoo radio show (3) and the Norge transcription series. He was scheduled to record his first and possibly second of the Norge shows almost immediately. The first session Bunny recorded for Norge (program #5) was probably done on March 7, as an entry in trombonist (an NYC free-lance and old friend of Berigan’s) Larry Altpeter’s diary indicates that he worked with Berigan on that date “from 12:30 to 2:30.”(4) Unlike the Fun in Swingtime radio show, the Norge gig was basically a one-shot deal. But it paid well, and provided Berigan with some very good national promotion. He needed all the positive public relations he could get to help him launch his new band.

The music:

On this fifteen minute program, Bunny was introduced with a few bars of his theme song. Singer Frances Faye was also on the program. She belted out three songs, and the Berigan band played two instrumentals: “Stompin’ at the Savoy”and “There’s a Small Hotel.” The Berigan band performs acceptably at a brisk tempo on “Stompin’at the Savoy,” though the sometimes busy arrangement was far from distinguished (or swinging) and the drummer, presumably Mannie Berger, sounds rather stiff at times. In this arrangement are several bars of fairly complicated writing for the saxophone section which I’m sure took some time to rehearse. Nevertheless, Berigan had his band well-prepared to play this music, and they deliver a performance that is on a par with those one heard each week on CBS’s Saturday Night Swing Club.

Early 1937 publicity photo.

The chart also includes brief solos by a clarinetist, probably Don “Slats” Long, and a tenor saxophone solo by seventeen year old Georgie Auld, whom Berigan had recently discovered and added to his band. (5)

We must remember that at the time this recording was made, Berigan was really in his early weeks as a bandleader. His band comprised a variety of musicians at different stages of their careers. After he secured a spot on the Mutual network Admiracion Shampoo radio show (Fun in Swingtime), he began the slow process of strengthening his band.

Berigan’s plays two open trumpet solos. Both are sweepingly authoritative. The first is a brilliant full-bore sixteen bar jazz solo, the second is a high-note finale. His dramatic lip-trills are quintessential, as is his vault into the high register of his trumpet.

Incidentally, Berigan handles the inane patter with the announcer immediately after “Stompin’ at the Savoy” very well. Such things were required of musicians/bandleaders who hoped to secure and maintain mainstream i.e. network radio employment and exposure.

(1) White materials: February 15–19, 1937.

(2) The Mutual network Admiracion radio show, called Fun in Swingtime would feature the Berigan band for six months in 1937. A number of recordings from those shows exist as a part of the Savory Recordings now owned by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. I have heard these recordings, and there is a lot of very tasty Berigan trumpeting on them.

(3) All citations regarding the Norge transcriptions are in the White materials: February 27, 1937.

(4) White materials: March 7, 1937.

(5) Saxophonist Georgie Auld (pictured at left – 1937) was born John Altwerger on May 19, 1919, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He began playing alto sax as a child in Toronto. He moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, in 1929, won a scholarship to study with the saxophone virtuoso Rudy Wiedhoeft in 1931, and acquired many characteristics of Wiedhoeft’s playing style during the nine months he studied with him. By the mid-1930s, Auld had switched to the tenor sax, and began gigging as a jazz musician working on occasion at Nick’s in Greenwich Village. It was there that he was discovered by Bunny Berigan. Auld played in 1937–1938 with Berigan; 1939 with Artie Shaw (also leading the remnants of Shaw’s band into 1940); then most notably with Benny Goodman later in 1940 and into 1941. Auld returned as Shaw’s featured tenor sax soloist in August 1941, remaining until early 1942. Thereafter he began to lead bands of various sizes for the next eight years. In 1949 he left music to work as an actor on Broadway in a play called The Rat Race. He returned to jazz working briefly with Count Basie’s small band in 1950. Illness forced him to leave music again, but by late 1951 he was working again in Los Angeles in a variety of settings. Auld returned to New York briefly in the late 1950s,but then moved to Las Vegas. Starting in the 1960s, Auld took various sized groups to Japan and acquired a substantial following there. In 1977, he appeared as an actor in the feature film New York, New York, playing a bandleader. Georgie Auld died in Palm Springs,California, on January 8, 1990.

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

3 thoughts on ““Stompin’ at the Savoy”/Bunny Speaks (1937) – Norge Transcription

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  1. Wow … what a thrill to hear this! The arrangement is undeniably fussy; it seems to me that many writers of this period, when Swing, by name, was newly anointed as the music of the day’s youth, tried to cram as much into their charts as possible (often with disappointing, very un-swinging results) … and yet despite this handicap, the band does manage to sound overall Berigan. Slats Long is a little too garrulous, but Bunny delivers his patented sound with complete assurance and young Georgie contributes some unmistakable pet figures. A real treasure to hear! … I had to laugh about the ‘refreshments.”

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