“Rockin’ Rollers’ Jubilee” (1938)

Composed by Joe Davis; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on October 14, 1938 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet; directing: Johnny Napton, first trumpet, and Irving Goodman, trumpet; Ray Conniff and Andy Russo, trombones; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, first alto saxophone; Milton Schatz, alto saxophone; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone; Clyde Rounds, tenor and baritone saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Bernard “Buddy” Rich, drums. Vocal by Jayne Dover.

The story:  Variety carried this blurb in its October 5, 1938 issue: Headline: Hazards Of Touring—Bunny Berigan back on his feet.  The Bunny Berigan orchestra picks up where it left off after being blown out of a two weeks date at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston, by the recent hurricane. It starts four successive Wednesday eve one-nighters at the Roseland Ballroom, New York tonight (5th). In between, the band plays some one-nighters in New England, a society job and cuts records. The crew will have a CBS wire at the Roseland. Berigan capped a string of hard-luck deals, which included the loss of the Boston date, smacking up his own car in an auto crack-up, a ditto fate with his instrument truck plus a sprained ankle, Sunday (2nd), making it necessary for him to stay off his feet until the last minute prior to going into the Roseland.(1)

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.

The band finally got back on radio from the Roseland on October 5, broadcasting from 11:30 p.m. to midnight over WABC/CBS. The tunes they played on the air that night were: “Gangbusters’ Holiday,” “There’s Something about an Old Love,” “Royal Garden Blues,” “Small Fry,” “The Wearin’ of the Green,” “Now It Can Be Told,” “Wacky Dust,” and “The Prisoner’s Song.”(2) (This is the first evidence that Ray Conniff now was submitting arrangements to Bunny: the Basie-influenced “Gangbusters’ Holiday” was his original composition and arrangement. See link below.)  This little snapshot proves that the band on this broadcast was Bunny Berigan’s; it could have been no one else’s.

In spite of the damage done by the hurricane to many venues in New England, there were some that had escaped the devastation wrought by the storm. MCA made sure to keep the ones that had not been damaged operating with MCA bands providing the music. Bunny and his boys returned to New England on Friday, October 7, to play a dance at the State Armory in North Adams, Massachusetts. They followed this up with other non-consecutive one-nighters in New England and New York until they returned to Roseland the following Wednesday, October 12. They again broadcast from Roseland, and here is the lineup of tunes they played:  “Black Bottom,” “Change Partners,” “Sugar Foot Stomp,” “Livery Stable Blues,” “One O’Clock Jump,” “So Help Me,” “Wacky Dust,” “Anything Goes,” and their closing theme. It was at about this time that veteran trombonist Andy Russo subbed for Wes Hein, who was ill.

Bunny’s broken ankle was slowing him down considerably. Gus Bivona had vivid memories of this situation: 

Berigan playing while seated to accommodate his broken ankle – fall 1938. To his right, Gus Bivona and Charlie DiMaggio.

“Bunny had his leg in a plaster cast for five or six weeks. He used a cane to get around and a chair or a stool to rest his foot while he was playing. He claimed he’d broken his ankle at home while playing with his daughters, but I don’t know how many of the guys believed that. Sometime later, while riding in the band bus, he had his foot propped up on the heater and when the bus went over a big bump in the road, it knocked his foot down on to the floor, cracked the plaster and broke the bone again!” (3)

Dick Wharton reported that: “Bunny had to have the broken leg (sic) re-broken and reset. It became very painful and he went back to NYC to have it taken care of.” (4)

Berigan’s streak of bad luck continued.

The episode where Bunny had fallen off the stage while his band was playing at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh had engendered much insidious gossip in the band business. The result of this was that MCA was now finding it very hard to sell the Berigan band to the operators of major theaters. It seems that Bunny’s drinking had now reached the point where he was always under the influence, to some degree. The only variable was how he was able to handle it from day to day. Trumpeter Johnny Napton remembered:  “He could talk to you at the end of the evening, and you’d have no idea that he’d knocked off a whole bottle of scotch. He could drive, he could play, and you’d never be able to tell a thing.” (5) Gus Bivona had a slightly different take on this situation: “Don’t get me wrong. Bunny was playing good— he always played good, even when he drank. He was the best trumpet player ever!  But there were times when he was sloppy, when it just wasn’t up to what he could do.” (6) Ray Conniff agreed: “There was definitely some deterioration. He was drinking too much, and he missed an awful lot. But when he wasn’t drinking—well, he was the best. Really great! Inimitable! And don’t forget, things may have been getting worse, but we were having one continuous good time, like a non-stop party. And that counted for a lot.” (7)

In the 1930s, people who drank a lot were often regarded as being colorful and entertaining “characters.” When pianist/arranger Claude Thornhill (later the leader of one of the most exquisite bands of the swing era), who was an alcoholic, went to Hollywood to work as an arranger with the Skinnay Ennis band on the Bob Hope radio show, he quickly established a reputation for eccentric behavior. Carmine Calhoun Ennis, Skinnay’s wife, recalled how Thornhill would, on occasion, enter the posh Victor Hugo restaurant, where the Ennis band often worked: “He used to come into the Hugo, laugh hysterically, and crawl around on the floor, barking at people. Being drunk in those days was looked on differently—drinking wasn’t looked on as the disease of alcoholism. If a celebrity like Claude did crazy things, it was passed off as a joke.” (8) Although Bunny had numerous embarrassing experiences while drunk, he never did anything quite like this. 

Like most bandleaders, Berigan was pursued by women, especially when he was on the road. The photo above was taken at Jacobs Beach, CT. Notice the gaggle of female admirers partially shown at left. The fender and headlight at the right were a part of the Berigan band equipment truck, which had been wrecked numerous times by Berigan’s equipment manager Robert “Little Gate” Walker. Life on the road for Berigan was often chaotic and exhausting.

Bunny’s wife Donna’s separation from him, which had started while the band was at the Paramount Theater in New York the previous May, had been intermittent. Since that time, she had traveled with him on a number of occasions, especially when the band had been able to stay in one place for a week or so. Even though Berigan’s almost continuous touring since that time had caused him to be away from Lee Wiley, their relationship was still not over. Bunny also had had a good many casual sexual encounters since he had begun leading his band, but the cumulative effects of alcohol and exhaustion were now sometimes beginning to reduce his ability to perform sexually. Voyeurism was something he experimented with, at least on occasion: “We’d check into a hotel, Gus Bivona recalled, and the first thing we’d do was to ask the porter to send up a hooker. We were just growing up then, you know. And Bunny—well, he liked to watch. I never saw him with a hooker, but he seemed to get a kick out of watching guys who were brave enough to perform in front of him.”(9) 

Between Bunny’s ever-escalating drinking, the wildness of his band members, the endless touring, the series of misfortunes that had befallen him in the past several months, and the deepening debt he was experiencing, one wonders how the quality of the band’s performances could have remained high. Despite of all of these distractions however, their performances were still at a remarkably high musical level, as the four recordings they made on October 14 show. One of them was “Rockin’ Rollers’ Jubilee.”

The music:

“(Shango, Shango, Shangoree) the Rockin’ Rollers’ Jubilee” is a happy, straight-ahead swing arrangement by Joe Lippman on a light-weight pop tune that features spirited playing by everyone, and an effective vocal by Jayne Dover. Berigan solos on open trumpet on the bridge, and then takes the last eight bars of the first chorus before the vocal, and Georgie Auld and Joe Bushkin solo after it. The reeds after the vocal are a little more sonorous due to the use of the baritone sax in the ensemble, ably played by Clyde Rounds. Bunny obviously liked the deeper sonority derived from this deployment of the four saxes, and would return to it often in the future. Berigan leads the brass in the torrid finale. Note the drumming of Buddy Rich throughout.

This recording session lasted only from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and the haste is evident in the somewhat rough though spirited performances the band gave to each of the four then-current pop tunes they recorded that day.

The story continues:

Immediately after this recording session, the Berigan band got on the bus that was waiting for them on East 24th Street, outside the Victor recording studio. It carried them to Johnson City, New York, near Binghamton, a jump of 200 miles, where they played a one-night dance job at the George F. Pavilion that evening.

Jayne Dover.

The life of a group of young men on the road in the late 1930s as members of a big band, with one woman thrown in amongst them, is difficult for us to understand now for many reasons, not the least of which is that over eight decades have passed, and so many things have changed so much since then. But some things never change, as this little vignette recalled by Georgie Auld demonstrates: 

“Bunny Berigan—now that was about the wildest band that was ever organized – or unorganized. I was in Bunny’s sax section when I was eighteen. Things were so rough that the chick with the band reached the point where she just couldn’t take it any more. Jayne Dover, that was her name. One night there was only one seat left on the bus, and that was next to her. Johnny Napton, the trumpet player, wanted to take it, but she wouldn’t let him, so he started cursing her out. She ran out of the bus and told Bunny, ‘I can’t take this any more! All this rotten language, this foul-mouthed talk, I’m through!’  Bunny, who has had one more for the road, and then some, gets back on the bus with her, and all the guys are seated in their chairs. (He’d broken his ankle and was using a cane.) He grabs the post beside the driver, starts banging on it with his cane and just about breaks the cane in half. He’s furious. ‘I’ve had it! All this language, and the girl singer wants to quit the band, and you’re hanging me up in the middle of a stack of one-nighters without a girl singer. Now I want you to get one thing straight!’ (The girl is sitting there while he’s saying all this.) The first m—– f—– that curses on this bus is automatically through!’ Everybody on the bus starts to laugh, so he catches himself and says, ‘Well, I didn’t mean to put it that way, but I’m serious!  I don’t want to hear another foul word out of you as long as Jayne is sitting in this bus!’ 

Joe Bushkin.

Well, we go about 250 miles, and not a sound out of anyone. The cats were even lighting their cigarettes real quiet because we knew that Bunny was flipping. Along about daybreak, Joey Bushkin, our pianist, is in the back of the bus, and just as everybody’s starting to open their squinty eyes, he runs up the aisle of the bus and he stops by the driver and turns around facing everybody, Bunny included, and yells: ‘I can’t stand this any longer! f—!f—!f—!f—!’, and every other word he can think of.

That was about the most frantic bunch of kids that were ever together.”(10)

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


(1) Cited in the White materials: October 1, 1938.

(2) White materials: October 5, 1938.

(3) White materials: October 12, 1938.

(4) Ibid.

(5) The Complete Bunny Berigan Vol. III, Bluebird 2LP set 9953-1-RB (1989).

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Gil Evans—Out of the Cool; His Life and Music, by Stephanie Stein Crease, A Cappella Books, (2002) 66.

(9) Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz – 1915-1945, (1999), by Richard M. Sudhalter, 513.

(10) Laughter from the Hip—The Lighter Side of Jazz, by Leonard Feather and Jack Tracy, Horizon Press, (1963) 72–73.


2 thoughts on ““Rockin’ Rollers’ Jubilee” (1938)

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  1. Well, Christmas is over and I finally received a welcome gift in the form of “Mr. Trumpet” ! This blog by Mr. Zirpolo is one I eagerly anticipate each month and I enjoy the recordings Mike includes to enhance the story. Mike has accomplished a masterful work in his book about one of jazz’s most significant figures regardless of instrument or stylistic era. (One may wonder how Bunny would have fared in the world of Bebop had he lived. Given Bunny’s musical sensibility, talent, and incessant creativity I suspect he would have thrived) I appreciate immensely Mike’s consummate attention to detail in his book, which fleshes out the times and personalities of the architects of the Swing Era. He brings facts to life in a lively “can’t put it down” style which will appeal to fans of the Swing Era, jazz musicians, trumpet players, and all who are simply fans of Bunny. I was astonished to learn that Bunny was born a scant 6 miles from the community I taught in and have been fortunate to be able to visit his grave enroute to gigs in Madison. I have been called upon to recreate his “I Can’t get Started” solo many times, and once at the Fox Lake Berigan Festival. A heightened awareness and deeper appreciation for Bunny and his music have resulted for me, as this solo is not as easy as Bunny makes it sound! Every recording I hear of Bunny’s makes me stop and think, “Where did THAT idea come from??!” Mr. Zirpolo has done the jazz and music history world a tremendous service by his remastering of Bunny’s solos along with this fantastic book. Mike brings a wonderful understanding of the mechanics of the music of the times and he writes as if he were a musician himself. Mike also respectfully utilizes material from Bozy White and Robert Dupuis generously to bring the reader a fuller understanding of the facts of Bunny’s life. By the way, this comment is totally unsolicited, and only reflects my genuine appreciation for a work very well done. In the education world this book is doctorate material.
    Wisconsin has produced some very remarkable personalities, both Bunny and Frank Lloyd Wright come to mind among many, many others. Thanks, Mike! Back to reading Mr. Trumpet!

  2. I don’t believe there was another white band of the Swing Era to play so well in such tremendous adversity (albeit some arguably of the leader’s own creation). I specify white, because we all know that all black bands had constantly to contend with extremely trying, even dangerous, conditions, simply because of the color of their skin: bigotry, difficulty in finding decent accommodations on the road, inequality regarding pay. … As a decades-long student of the the “Long Island Express,” the great New England hurricane of 1938, I have always found it interesting that this event was still another bit of bad luck to befall the beleaguered Berigan crew. … I think “Rockin’ Rollers’ Jubilee” is one of the band’s strongest vocal sides. I’ve always believed that the only area of musical weakness for Bunny’s orchestra was its female vocalists. If he had had someone of the ability of, say, Jo Stafford or Helen Forrest, that band would have been flawless. Maybe Victor would have given him better tunes, too, if he’d had someone who could do them justice. Having said this, I think Jayne Dover, regardless of her discomfort in being on the road with a bus full of rowdy young guys, was one of the best (along with Kathleen Lane and the stylish Sue Mitchell) of the several that recorded with the band. “When A Prince Of A Fella Meets A Cinderella,” which, for my money, includes some of the orchestra’s strongest ensemble playing, with lovely use of dynamics, is my favorite among her performances. Instrumentally, in addition to Bunny’s brief but pithily impressive statement, RRJ sports a strong, swaggering spot from Georgie and plenty of sparkle from Joe. Buddy’s drumming is stellar; he kicks this one up a few notches.

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