Berigan at the Paradise Restaurant (1938) “Louisiana”

“Louisiana”

Music composed by J.C. Johnson; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded live from a broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra from the Paradise Restaurant in New York City on March 27, 1938.

Bunny Berigan, lead and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins, Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sonny Lee, Al George, trombones; Mike Doty, alto saxophone/B flat clarinet; Joe Dixon, lead and solo B flat clarinet; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone and B flat clarinet; Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophone and B flat clarinet; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

Berigan solos at the Paradise Restaurant – spring 1938: L-R – bassist Hank Wayland, Berigan, tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld, trumpeter Steve Lipkins.

This is the fifth installment in the series of great recordings made by Bunny Berigan and his band while they were at the Paradise Restaurant in Manhattan in the spring of 1938. For the others in this series, check out the links at the bottom of this post.

The story: Between the time of the Berigan band’s engagement at Pennsylvania Hotel in the spring of 1937, and the spring of 1938 when they played a lengthy engagement at Manhattan’s Paradise Restaurant, both they and the swing era had picked up a lot of momentum.  In this interim, Bunny and his band made several successful tours of the eastern U.S., played many major theaters, including a three-week engagement at Manhattan’s Paramount Theater, and made many records for Victor. One of the most fortuitous (for Berigan fans and people who like great swing music) developments to have occurred while the Berigan band played at the Paradise Restaurant was the recording off-the-air of many of its sustaining broadcasts emanating from that location. They reveal much more clearly the capabilities of the mature Berigan band, and the true breadth of its repertoire, balancing in large measure the distorted and limited picture that one gets by listening only to their Victor recordings from 1937 and the first few months of 1938. The Berigan band on these live recordings had an ensemble assurance and élan that bordered on swagger.

Trombonist par excellence: Sonny Lee – 1938.

During the first year of his band’s existence, Bunny built a very strong ensemble whose personnel remained stable from the summer of 1937 through much of 1938. Notable new performers then included Thomas Ball “Sonny” Lee, a veteran trombonist who was a first-rate lead player and jazz soloist; Robert “Mike” Doty, an experienced and very strong lead alto saxophonist; much respected bassist Frederick “Hank” Wayland; and the young and exciting jazz clarinetist/alto saxophonist Joe Dixon.

Joining the Berigan band just a few days before they opened at the Paradise on Sunday March 20, 1938, was drummer Johnny Blowers (pronounced like flowers), who replaced the fabulous Dave Tough, who had replaced George Wettling. Berigan had a thing for drummers: he liked great ones. (Buddy Rich would follow Blowers into the Berigan band. Later, Jack Sperling drummed for Bunny.) Blowers, though less well-known than Bunny’s other great drummers (largely because he spent the vast majority of his long career in the studios), was nevertheless a splendid, colorful drummer, as these Paradise Restaurant airchecks show.

Berigan broadcast very frequently over the Mutual radio network while he was at the Paradise. He and his band were a great hit there. Their engagement was extended several times with it eventually running seven weeks.

Clarinetist Joe Dixon.

The Music: “Louisiana,” in a bracing arrangement by Joe Lippman, displays the unity and verve of the Berigan band. Bunny’s melody exposition is played with a straight mute in the bell of his trumpet, and a rasp added here and there. Sonny Lee’s open trombone solo is evidence of his maturity as a jazzman with his own sound and ideas. Lee, now largely forgotten, was one of the best all-around trombonists of the swing era. He is followed by Joe Dixon on clarinet, and Georgie Auld on tenor saxophone, both of whom play well.

Then it’s the band’s turn to shine, with clarinets and open brass in exuberant interplay. Berigan provides some parting thoughts on his open trumpet. Drummer Johnny Blowers drives the band with rolls played on his snare drum that suggest a parade in old New Orleans.

The melody of the tune “Louisiana” was composed by J.C. Johnson in 1927, and the first notable recording of it was made by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, featuring the Rhythm Boys, Bing Crosby, Al Rinker and Harry Barris. J.C. Johnson (not to be confused with early jazz pianist James P. Johnson), often worked with Fats Waller. He composed “The Joint is Jumpin'” for Waller. He also composed both the words and music for the moody song “Trav’lin All Alone,” which was first recorded by Ethel Waters, and then more memorably by Billie Holiday.

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

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  1. “Louisiana” has always been one of my favorite live Berigan recordings! Everything about it, from the song itself to Joe Lippman’s clever arrangement to Bunny’s earthy opening and closing statements to the sidemen’s snazzy solos to the rhythm section’s grooving support, is perfect. Sonny Lee — my favorite as well as, in my opinion, the best Berigan band trombonist — in particular, is marvelous. The always instantly recognizable Joe Dixon, too, is in fine form, and I love that descending line that Hank Wayland plays behind him; I don’t hear it elsewhere in the performance, and it’s a nice touch. Johnny Blowers seems to have favored using rolls behind Georgie; I’ve noticed that to the point that it seems almost a cliché devlce as applied to Mr. Auld, although it’s effective here, contrasting beautifully with the hi-hat backing he gives Sonny and Joe, and turning up the heat for the final ensemble passage. Bunny’s brief four bars as the pastoral tour draws to its conclusion provide a classic illustration of his uncanny knack for making a pithy parting shot that just puts a bow on the performance and leaves nothing left to say. It’s a shame that the band didn’t have greater freedom in the studio to record this sort of venerable jazz material, but at least we have these precious live documents, and without time constraints. Too, as it is, this great aggregation’s ability in many instances to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear of commercial dross speaks volumes about its overall talent and its leader’s high demands and artistic sense under conditions of some adversity!

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