Composed by Charles Kenny, Nick Kenny and Norman Ellis; probably arranged by Joe Lippman.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra on April 1, 1937 for Victor in New York.
Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Cliff Natalie, trumpets; Ford Leary and Frank D’Annolfo, trombones; Frank Langone and Hank Freeman, alto saxophones; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Arnold Fishkind, bass; George Wettling, drums; Carol MacKay, vocal.
On April 1, 1937, Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra gathered at Victor’s East 24th Street recording studio 2 at 2:30 p.m. It was their first recording session there. It would be supervised by Victor’s much-liked A and R man (producer) Leonard Joy, and last for four hours. Four masters were made that day and they reveal a well-prepared band. The arrangements were on a par with most of what Tommy Dorsey’s band was then playing in terms of quality. They were not stylized to any great degree, but were well written with numerous changes of instrumental color. As one would expect, at the center of the music was Bunny Berigan’s trumpet.
Bunny was in fine form. His impassioned high register playing on “Carelessly” is superb. (For whatever reason, the people at Victor did not issue this recording until twenty-three years later, when it appeared in an LP of Berigan’s Victor work entitled Bunny, RCA Camden CAL-550 (1960). Vocalist Carol MacKay sang well on two sides: “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight” and “Carelessly.” Bunny sang the lighthearted lyric to “‘Cause My Baby Says It’s So.”
The new Berigan band had been organized in January and February of 1937. The business side of the band was directed by Arthur Michaud, Bunny’s personal manager. Bunny himself was completely involved in every aspect of the band’s operation, especially the music. He knew what he wanted to hear, and got it out of his musicians using suggestions, not demands. The band hit the road for a bit of seasoning in late March and early April.
There may well have been a problem at this time that began the process of moving Bunny’s booking agent representation from Rockwell-O’Keefe (later GAC/General Artists Corporation)to Music Corporation of America (MCA). It seems that Rockwell could not place the Berigan band on Victor Records (they had a tie-in with Decca), and this clearly was an essential part of the plan devised by Bunny’s management team of Michaud and John Gluskin (the man who evidently put up some money to help Bunny launch his band), with additional input (and possibly some money) from Tommy Dorsey. After Bunny’s management team secured a Victor Records contract for him without Rockwell, the move from Rockwell-O’Keefe to MCA was clearly under way. CBS Artists booked the few one-night stands the Berigan band was able to play during this interim period (1)
Bunny played a series of dates in New England in early April, including back-to-back battles of music at Boston’s Roseland State Ballroom. On April 9, they battled the even-newer Art Shaw New Music band, which was simply a band with conventional swing band instrumentation, as opposed to Shaw’s earlier string quartet band. The consensus opinion is that Bunny and his boys overwhelmed Artie’s band that night, in spite of a heroic effort by Shaw himself. The next night, they battled Andy Kirk’s crew, and again did very well. The following night, they once again bested the Shaw band, this time at Reade’s Casino in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Vocalist Carol MacKay recalled that event: “My folks came out to listen to the band that night. They lived only 50 miles away and everybody agreed that we outplayed Shaw’s crew. We all went out to dinner to celebrate and though Bunny was having car trouble, he was in a very benevolent mood and said that beating Shaw was a step in the right direction for the band. Bunny would never allow me to sit on the bandstand like most vocalists, because he felt it cheapened the singer and took away the element of surprise when he would announce, ‘And now, the lovely Carol MacKay!’ He also said he didn’t want guys talking to the singer during the gig, trying to get a dance or a date.”(2)
Bunny’s band was featured at a dance for employees of Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey, at around this same time. The purpose of this activity was to generate some goodwill among the folks at Victor, who, working constantly with recording bands, were probably pretty good judges of dance music.
On Sunday April 18, the band debuted on the Admiracion Shampoo radio show, which had been named Fun in Swingtime. The half-hour show aired at 6:30 p.m., emanating from WOR–New York over the Mutual network. Landing this show for the Berigan band was something of a coup for Arthur Michaud and Bunny. It was almost unheard of for a new band to appear weekly on a sponsored network radio show, and Bunny’s band was barely three months old. Here is some trade press buzz about that show:
Sunday, 6:30–7 p.m. (EDST) Style—comedy and music. Sponsor—National Oil Products Co. Agency—Charles Dallas Reach Inc. Station—WOR (MBS network): Tim Ryan and Irene Noblette still haven’t hit the comedy heights that have been expected of them for some time. When they first came east from the coast, the team showed definitely it had the stuff. Since then, though on sustaining and commercial programs, the expected socks have failed to materialize. Even Miss Noblette’s delivery is bound to bring Gracie Allen comparisons, though that still is no barrier to the pair being funny. The only barrier to that is the same old cry: material. Proving again that comedians, for radio, must have funny stuff to say or they ain’t funny. Then too, there’s another factor on this show that’s important. It’s that Sunday night is the big comedy night of the radio week, with all but one or two of the air’s top comics on some time during the day or evening. The musical end is well held up by Bunny Berrigan (sic), his top trumpet and his band. It’s Berrigan’s first real radio break and he doesn’t let matters get by. The commercials are satisfactorily managed.(3)
Del Sharbutt, the announcer on the show, recalled other details:
“I was the announcer on the Tim and Irene radio shows that featured the Bunny Berigan band. We used to rehearse on the day of the show. The band would arrive a couple of hours before the others and run through their numbers. Then the rest of the cast would arrive for a run-through, followed by a dress rehearsal to get the timings right. Then we’d get a break until airtime. The band would usually get two or three tunes and the rest would be comedy dialogue with Tim and Irene singing one number. Bunny had an occasional speaking part, but it wasn’t really his scene and he was not very good and neither were the scripts. Tim and Irene wrote most of their material and it was pretty sad. Neither they nor the sponsors had any money to splash out on writers like those on the Fred Allen or Jack Benny or Bob Hope shows. Tim had once gone to Fred Allen in desperation to get some ideas for the show, but Allen spent the entire afternoon telling him many stories about his family, but nary a gag to be heard. But as he was leaving, Allen gave Tim a packet of stuff he’d written for the show! After the broadcast, the whole cast had to return three hours later and do it all over again for transmission to the West coast, because of the different time zones. This was common practice for all coast-to-coast broadcasts as everything was done live.”
“Bunny was a hell of a musician, like a very talented child, but he wasn’t a strong bandleader, not really cut out for it. His drinking was starting to get really bad—not that he was drunk on the job—he just had to have it to function at all. The sign of a true alcoholic I guess. The regular (Berigan) band played on the show. There was no augmenting with studio musicians as they were working on a very tight budget. There were very few guest artists as far as I remember. I suppose Tim and Irene were being promoted as competition for Burns and Allen, but they were not nearly good enough.”(4)
In fact, the Tim and Irene show was heard on the West coast at 3:30 p.m. which was a direct feed of the New York 6:30 p.m. broadcast, and heard in Chicago at 5:30 p.m. (Del Sharbutt was probably thinking of another show on which he was MC. He did many.) The writer for Fun in Swingtime was Hal Kanter and the program was broadcast from the New Amsterdam Roof in New York City, which WOR used as a studio. Tim and Irene had been working in comedy for several years, having broadcast as early as January 1935 (fifteen minute spots over WJZ). Later they appeared in a program sponsored by Goodrich Tires with the B.A. Rolfe Orchestra. Much later, in the 1960s, Irene gained far more fame as Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies TV series.”(5)
The music: Berigan’s performance of “Carelessly” unfolds with a brief, descending introduction played by the clarinets. The first chorus begins with the two trombones, Ford Leary and Frankie D’Annolfo, setting forth the main melody atop a cushion of reeds. Berigan comes in on the secondary melody playing in his upper register with a straight mute. The trombones and reeds play the primary melody for another eight bars and the Bunny returns to play the “B” sequence, this time with an unmuted trumpet. His playing here is so high that it sounds like he is playing a Baroque trumpet, which of course he isn’t. Listen to how he releases the final note in this solo.
Vocalist Carole MacKay (pictured above left in the Fun in Swingtime photo spread) does a good, relaxed job on the vocal chorus. She had a rather sensuous contralto voice, and uses it here by adding a bit of emotion in the right places. Pianist Joe Lippman accompanies her in the busy style then being used by Jess Stacy in Benny Goodman’s band to back vocalists. The horns in this vocal chorus, which include the open brass, add a bit of rhythm.
(Carol MacKay, born Caroline Mackey, left the Berigan band and indeed show business soon after this recording was made, and married Benny Goodman’s brother Freddy Goodman.)
The final chorus has the reeds and brass intensifying as a prelude to Berigan’s super high register other-worldly open trumpet solo. Lippman’s descending ensemble writing just before Berigan enters is a most effective set-up for what follows. The way Bunny phrases this solo is quintessential. Listen for his upward glissando into the room-shaking final note.
The main strain of the melody of “Carelessly” has always reminded me of the melody composed in 1953 called “From Here to Eternity.”
Why Victor never released this recording in 1937 is not known. There are a few minor imperfections in the performance, but overall, it is very good, and Berigan’s passionate high register trumpet playing is superb.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) There is evidence that the few engagements the new Berigan band had in late march and early April 1937 were booked by CBS Artists. An ad announcing the Bunny’s appearance on Tuesday April 6 1937 in Lowell, Massachusetts, stated that he was then being booked by CBS Artists. This information is from the April 3, 1937, Lowell Sun, provided by Carl A. Hallstrom.
(2) White materials: April 9–11, 1937.
(3) Billboard: May 15, 1937, cited in the White materials.
(4) Comments of Del Sharbutt and other information about the Fun in Swingtime show are from the White materials: April 18, 1937. I must point out that Sharbutt’s opinion that Berigan “wasn’t a strong bandleader…” was very much a minority opinion. The men and women who actually worked in Bunny’s bands invariably had praise for him as a leader who had strong opinions about how he wanted the music his bands played to sound, and that he was able to get the performances he wanted from his musicians without being overbearing or obnoxious.