“Troubled” (1934)

Composed by Lorenzo Countee and Frank Trumbauer; probably arranged by Frank Trumbauer.

Recorded by Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra for Victor on November 20, 1934.

Frank Trumbauer, C-Melody saxophone, directing: Bunny Berigan and Anthony “Nat” Natoli, trumpets; Glenn Miller, trombone; Art Shaw, alto saxophone and clarinet; Jack Shore, alto saxophone; Larry Binyon, tenor saxophone; Roy Bargy, piano; Lionel “Larry” Hall, guitar; Arthur Bernstein, bass; Johnny Williams, drums.

The Story:

As the summer of 1934 segued into autumn, Bunny Berigan was busier than ever at CBS in New York. Singer Bonnie Lake, who composed the Dorsey Brothers’ theme song “Sandman” (which in my opinion received its best recorded treatment by Benny Goodman on November 22, 1935; arrangement by Fletcher Henderson), as well as the later “The Man with a Horn,” had memories of Berigan that were similar to those of many others: “I am the sister of Harriet Lake (Ann Sothern) who worked with Bunny in the Broadway show in 1931. I often saw Bunny at CBS, 485 Madison Avenue; I was doing office work there then. I recall Bunny’s eyes most of all—it was the first thing you’d notice about him, those eyes![1] 

Berigan – 1933.

By September 1934, Bunny’s good friend from the Whiteman band, trumpeter Nat Natoli, who decided to settle in New York, had also been hired by CBS. According to drummer Johnny Williams, “Bunny helped to get Nat Natoli into the first trumpet chair at CBS, replacing Vincent Gentile. When he heard that Nat was leaving Whiteman, Bunny told me how Nat had helped him with some problems when they were both with Whiteman. Apparently Nat had shown him how to play for very long periods without his lip getting tired, so Bunny now wanted to do something in return. I advised him to talk to Mark Warnow, who had a great deal of influence at CBS.”[2] Nat and his wife were already good friends of Bunny and his wife Donna, and the two couples would frequently socialize.

At about the same time, singer Kate Smith, who had recently been signed to a long-term contract by CBS, started her various CBS network radio programs. Berigan played on those programs at various times. Also at this time, Mark Warnow’s brother Harry, known professionally as Raymond Scott, began to create his unique if somewhat eccentric brand of music by using musicians from the CBS morning band, including Bunny Berigan. Some recordings made on September 18, 1934, that are housed in the Scott archives include Bunny on trumpet.[3] 

Generally, business was booming at CBS. The network by now needed more space for its many programs, and it began buying legitimate Broadway theaters, whose business had been hard hit by the Depression, to house some of its studios. CBS Radio Theater No. 2 was located at 251 West 45th, just east of Hotel Lincoln. CBS Radio Theater No. 3 was on the northwest corner of 53rd and Broadway. These theaters were used to broadcast musical programs that were produced with a live audience. Some of the best music of the swing era would originate in these theaters, via CBS network shows like The Camel Caravan (first with Casa Loma, and later, Benny Goodman, then Bob Crosby); Old Gold’s Melody and Madness series (with Artie Shaw); and one of the most successful of all, Chesterfield’s Moonlight Serenade, with Glenn Miller.

The success of Kate Smith’s one-hour afternoon show prompted CBS to launch four more of the same length, one going on at 9.00 a.m. “The CBS Playhouse (probably No. 2) is being used for these shows with invited guests. The a.m. show is called Morning Minstrels with Leith Stevens’ orchestra to be used. Harry Von Zell is the announcer and a total of thirty-five persons are to be involved in its production.”[4] One of those was Bunny Berigan.

CBS didn’t always know how best to musically utilize its ever-growing corps of top-flight musicians, however. Trumpeter Harry Gluck recalled: 

I was auditioning for CBS in the Leith Stevens orchestra, which was loaded with top class musicians and overloaded with about sixteen fiddles and cellos, not to mention a full legitimate woodwind section and a separate complement of saxes, all getting in each other’s way! The tune was ‘Poor Butterfly,’ in a semi-classical, symphonic arrangement up to a point where Bunny soloed with a pickup to a rhythm chorus. He stood up and played with such brilliance and power that he carried that enormous weight of orchestra, making it really swing or, more accurately, float on the broad tone and solid beat of Bunny Berigan.[5]

After an inordinately long hiatus for him, Berigan returned to the recording studios on November 20, 1934. The session that produced “Troubled” was done at Victor’s Twenty-fourth Street facility in Studio Two, and it began at 9:30 p.m. and ended on November 21 at 12:30 a.m. Frank Trumbauer (*) was the leader of this ad hoc group of musicians. Berigan had met and worked with Trumbauer in Paul Whiteman’s orchestra from late 1932 through late 1933.[6] Bunny first had recorded in this studio, rather unremarkably, with Whiteman in late 1932 and several times thereafter. That had certainly not been his fault, because as other recordings he made during the time he was with Whiteman show, he was quite capable of delivering remarkable performances, if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given the opportunity very often with Whiteman, at least not often on records. Later, after the door of the swing era had opened, Berigan would make some of the most memorable recordings of that epoch in this studio with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, the Metronome All-Stars, and his own band. But this session, like so many before it, had no advance planning as far as he was concerned. He simply showed up at the designated time and place, looked around the studio to see with whom he would be working, unpacked his horn, and took care of business.

Frank Trumbauer.

This recording session was in most ways the same as dozens of sessions Bunny had made previously, and yet was just a little bit different. Musically, it looked backward in many ways, but where Berigan’s playing was concerned, it looked ahead into the swing era. The singer on this session was Dick Robertson, one of a number of pleasant, if fungible, performers whose job it was to sell the song. He sang two titles in conventional fashion: Rodgers and Hart’s timeless “Blue Moon,” and a Tin Pan Alley special, “Down t’Uncle Bill’s.” The assembled musicians did their jobs well. Those recordings were made and that was that. Of slightly more interest, however, were the two instrumentals recorded: “Plantation Moods,” and especially “Troubled,” which received a remarkable performance. Trumbauer had a hand in composing both of these tunes.

The music:

Although there are moments of interest in “Plantation Moods,” it is the performance of last tune recorded, “Troubled,” that ignited the assembled musicians and brought forth a full measure of the Berigan magic. The perceptive and poetic jazz commentator, Richard M. Sudhalter, himself a jazz trumpeter, described it this way:

After a quiet reed passage, Nat Natoli’s cup-muted trumpet sets out a minor-key melody, a prelude to the entrance of Berigan, playing on open horn with a tone so huge that for a moment it sounds like a trombone. The effect is startling… Berigan—unfettered, rhythmically free, totally commanding—makes Trumbauer and the arrangement sound outdated. …Then, gloriously, it is Berigan slamming out his high C sharp to begin a 16-bar solo that is like a giant searchlight beam piercing a night sky. Working against an unvarying harmonic background that is little more than an extended D minor chord, he builds his first eight bars on a series of descending cascades. He drops far down, then climbs back up for a longer, more sweeping descent highlighted by an original device: a chromatic drop that concentrates actively on the second and fourth beats of the bar. Again and again he hammers away at a high B natural, a slight rasp edging his normally heraldic tone, generating to the end a tremendous intensity and momentum.[7]

Art Shaw – 1934.

It is obvious from this recording that jazz was in a period of transition in late 1934. The cross-pollination of black and white influences had begun some time earlier, but now the message of Louis Armstrong, that is swing, was moving to the center of the jazz stage. The soloists on “Troubled”were each at different stages of their rhythmic development. Berigan, being under the influence of Armstrong for almost as long as he had been playing the trumpet, had completely embraced Louis’s rhythmic vocabulary, which was the essence of swing. Frank Trumbauer, bouncing along on the beat, and sounding rhythmically stilted as a result, clearly had not. Art (not yet Artie) Shaw, whose playing was then in transition, was somewhere in between. His playing would not fully develop rhythmically until the later 1930s. Nevertheless, he plays some jazz, especially on clarinet, with considerable intensity.

The sequence of solos is: Nat Natoli on cup-muted trumpet; Berigan on open trumpet; Larry Binyon, tenor saxophone; Art Shaw alto saxophone; Trumbauer, C-Melody saxophone; Shaw again, this time on clarinet; Berigan again on open trumpet. Drummer Johnny Williams, an associate of Berigan’s from CBS (and father of movie composer legend John Williams), rattles around on his cow bell and small crash cymbal behind Shaw’s last eight bars, and then in the transition into Berigan’s climactic solo.

Note how Bunny’s trumpet sounds “off mike” somewhat. That is because the engineer who ran this recording session placed him somewhere between fifteen and thirty feet away from the nearest microphone. The enormity of Berigan’s sound was such that he had to be placed that far away lest he overload the microphone.

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

[1] White materials: July 11, 1934.

[2] White materials: September 11, 1934.

[3] White materials: September 18, 1934.

[4] White materials: October 12, 1934.

[5] White materials: ibid.

[6] The Manhattan studios used by RCA Victor in the 1930s (and for many years after) were located at 155 East Twenty-fourth Street, just east of Lexington Avenue. Today the place where those studios stood is occupied by Baruch College, which is a part of City University of New York.

[7] Liner notes—Giants of Jazz—Bunny Berigan, by Richard M. Sudhalter Time-Life Records, (1982), 30–31.

(*) Frank Trumbauer, born on May 30, 1901, in Carbondale, Illinois, was one of the earliest exponents of jazz saxophone. Trumbauer played the C-melody saxophone, which is between an alto and a tenor, and has a uniquely melancholy sound, but which fell out of favor with jazz performers before 1930. Trumbauer worked with Bix Beiderbecke in the 1920s on a number of settings, the most notable of which was the recording, on Okeh Records in 1927 of “Singin’ the Blues.” This recording was hugely influential at the time, especially for young saxophonists. Although Trumbauer’s rhythmic approach to jazz was rather stilted, his cool, delicate style and minimal vibrato caught the attention of many, including tazz tenor saxophone legend Lester Young, who incorporated these elements into his playing. In the late 1930s, Trumbauer worked in a variety of bands, often as a leader, yet he never achieved much success. After World War II, his activities as a musician were minimal. He died on June 11, 1956, in Kansas City, Missouri.

2 thoughts on ““Troubled” (1934)

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  1. Very interesting jazz history Mike. I believe I have Nat Natolion some documents from when dad was managing Mr. Berigan.

  2. This session — and, in particular, this side — is an interesting one to study for, among other things, that transitional quality that you discuss. Tram, of whom I became aware via my delvings into the influences of Lester Young, my favorite tenor player, became one of my all-around favorites, but there’s no denying the fact that here, he, the nominal leader, represents the past, while Bunny, more than anybody else, represents the future. Even with the slightly younger Artie doing double-duty and hinting at great work to come, it is Bunny who dominates the record in terms of power, virtuosity and passion. And, yes, when he makes his entrance, it does initially sound as if he’s playing trombone! How I wish I had heard that horn in person! … I’ve always been extremely curious about Bunny’s musical association with Raymond Scott. Though I will concede Scott’s cleverness and singular vision, I think the Quintette would have been unimaginable for Bunny. … Finally, I just want to mention that I couldn’t agree more on the Goodman version of “Sandman” — always one of my favorite Fletcher arrangements and BG records.

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