“Basin Street Blues”
Composed by Spencer Williams; arranged by Glenn Miller.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra from a live broadcast from the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California on August 22, 1935.
Benny Godman, clarinet, directing: Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet; Ralph Muzzillo and Nate Kazebier, trumpets; Jack Lacey and Red Ballard, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Bill DePew, alto saxophone; Dick Clark and Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Allan Reuss; guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums.
Bunny Berigan joined the Benny Goodman band which was beginning a summer western tour at Ocean Beach Pier, Clark Lake, near Jackson, Michigan, for a one-night stand there on July 16, 1935. Also joining the Goodman band there was pianist Jess Stacy. It was understood by all concerned that Berigan’s stay with the Goodman band would be temporary, lasting only until its tour ended, which would be when its engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles was over. Previously, the Goodman band had played a one-week engagement at the Stanley Theater(1) in Pittsburgh (July 5–11), then returned to New York, where Benny and his drummer, Gene Krupa, joined with pianist Teddy Wilson to make the first Benny Goodman Trio recordings at Victor on July 13. (Note: Teddy Wilson would not actually join Benny Goodman as a member of the Goodman Trio until early 1936.)
The itinerary for the remainder of the Goodman band tour is as follows: July 17, Toledo, Ohio;(2) then Olentangy Park, Columbus, Ohio (July 18); Luna Pier, Lakeside, Michigan (July 19); the Mile-a-Way Ballroom, Grand Rapids, Michigan (July 20); and two nights (July 21–22), at the Modernistic Ballroom, 81st and Greenfield, in Milwaukee. It was at this venue that the perceptive (and lovely) Helen Oakley, later the wife of jazz writer Stanley Dance, heard the Goodman band and was bowled over by the playing of Bunny Berigan. (See below.) From there, the Goodman band, in a caravan of automobiles, made the big jump to Denver, where they opened at Elitch’s Trocadero Ballroom on July 26. This engagement lasted until August 15. On August 16, they played at Grand Junction, Colorado, the next night, August 17, at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. August 18 was a travel day. (They needed it because the next stop on the tour was almost 600 miles away.) They then played a one-nighter at McFadden’s Ballroom, Oakland, California, on August 19. On August 20, they appeared at Pismo Pavilion, Pismo Beach, California. The next day, they opened at the Palomar Ballroom, on Vermont Avenue between Second and Third, in Los Angeles, for what was originally scheduled as a three-week engagement.
The many stories about Bunny Berigan that originated on this tour have been told often, so I will not repeat them here. Instead, I am including at this point a few bits of information that will perhaps make the picture of the Palomar engagement a bit more vivid and accurate: Tenor saxophonist Dick Clark, who was a member of the Goodman band then, recalled: “Pismo Beach was a beach-type booking and a pretty poor one. After we finished the job, we drove to Los Angeles in fog, arriving there the next morning just as the sun was rising. We had a rehearsal for the Palomar opening and quite a number of local musicians showed up to listen.” (3)
MCA (Music Corporation of America, Goodman’s booking agency) made sure that Benny’s opening at the Palomar Ballroom was well publicized. The following are a series of items that appeared in one Los Angeles newspaper:
“Benny Goodman and his hot clarinet make their debut over western airlanes tonight at 11.00 p.m., KHJ, when Goodman begins an engagement at the Palomar, his first in California. Goodman’s sensational rise this year in the affections of both musicians and laymen speaks well for the merits of his music. Supplying vocal chores is Helen Ward, torch singer par excellence, whose work on ‘Dixieland Band’ won her a place among the nation’s finest jazz singers.” (4)
“Last night, Benny Goodman’s famous band was welcomed to Los Angeles at a colorful premiere at the Palomar ballroom, Vermont and Second. Scores of notables were numbered among those who turned out to greet the world’s greatest clarinet player and his all-star organization in their initial west coast appearance. A novel entertainment spectacle was presented with the new orchestra, starring several Orpheum circuit acts and the dazzling Hudson Metzger girls.” (5)
Tuesday August 27, 1935: Benny Goodman Orchestra, KHJ, 8:00 to 8:30 p.m.; Benny Goodman Orchestra, KHJ, 11:00 to 11:30 p.m.; Goodman Orchestra, WABC, 12:00 midnight to 12:30 a.m. (New York time). This was the first of four broadcasts by the Goodman band heard in the east and probably coast-to-coast on CBS network. The 8:00 p.m. starting time was probably correct for Los Angeles as not all of the country was on Daylight Saving Time. Kenneth Frogley, super announcer for Benny Goodman’s aggregation of musicians, broadcasting nightly on a Pacific coast network, will have the thrill of knowing that his voice will be heard throughout the nation for the first time tonight at 8.00 p.m., when his musical program goes country-wide.(6)
MCA knew well that radio was an essential tool for promotion of a band. That is why they made sure that the Goodman band was often broadcast while it was at the Palomar Ballroom, and why they placed so many blurbs in the print media announcing and reinforcing the idea that the band could be heard on radio from there: “Benny Goodman band to be on CBS from Los Angeles.” (7)
There appear in the White materials and elsewhere several recollections from Goodman band members of the drinking Bunny did while at the Palomar. Art Rollini said: “The crowds at the Palomar grew nightly, and after the two weeks the floor was jammed. Soon there was no room to dance, and people just listened. Bunny Berigan was drinking heavily. He would play great until about 11 p.m., and after that he was impossible. Bunny was such a sweet man, it was a terrible shame. He had a pleasant personality, but was a loner. He preferred to drink and eat by himself while he was with the Goodman band.” (8) Benny Goodman remembered “We were supposed to be at the Palomar only a month, but the engagement was extended, and we were doing radio broadcasts at night. They came and asked me ‘What time do you want to be on the radio? Do you want an eleven-thirty slot, or twelve-thirty?’ I told them I thought eleven-thirty would be good. The earlier the better—largely because if it were any later, Bunny would usually be wiped out.” (9)
Only one broadcast of the Goodman band from the Palomar was recorded, the one that occurred on August 22. That broadcast aired on the Don Lee Network, which evidently was a West Coast consortium of radio stations owned by Don Lee, and fed live to all of the CBS radio network via KHJ Los Angeles. I have heard this entire broadcast, and it is quite good overall. Curiously, Benny opened it with “Goodbye,” his closing theme song. BG had Bunny playing lead trumpet most of the time; however Berigan also had a few solos. He has some inspired moments on “Star Dust” (not the classic Fletcher Henderson arrangement BG would later record for Victor, but a rather ordinary score by Spud Murphy), and a stirring chorus on “Basin Street Blues,” in the same arrangement that Goodman would record later in 1935. This arrangement is actually the basic blueprint devised by Glenn Miller for the 1931 Benny Goodman-Jack Teagarden recording of “Basin Street Blues,” which had been simply filled-out for the larger instrumentation of the 1935 Goodman band by Fletcher Henderson. The closing “Goodbye” is played while announcer Ken Frogley, who identifies that station by employing the quintessential 1930s pronunciation of Los Angeles, using a long—o and hard—g, before sending the broadcast back to the KHJ announcer.
MCA took note of the Goodman band’s ever-increasing momentum at the Palomar, and set up a series of Saturday afternoon concerts for them to play at football rallies at nearby universities.(10) This promotion added to the excitement that was already being generated by the band’s nightly appearances at the Palomar. As a result, the Goodman band’s engagement there was extended until October 1.
Bunny evidently was celebrating his freedom from the various confinements of his life in New York City, including his employment at CBS, and his outside work in the recording studios and with commercial dance bands. He was also away from his wife and daughter, not that they were confining him to any appreciable degree in New York. (11) It was probably while Bunny was on this tour that Donna informed him that she was pregnant again, for the third time. At some point during the Goodman tour, Donna and little Patricia, now three years old, went to Fox Lake, to stay with Cap and Mayme Berigan, Bunny’s parents, again. There they would wait for Bunny until he came off the Goodman tour in early October.
At the same time, chanteuse Lee Wiley was in Los Angeles. Her affair with composer Victor Young had just come to a sudden end as Young had married another woman. She and Berigan had met and worked together previously, but nothing else had happened between them. That was about to change.
The Benny Goodman band made one Victor recording session in Los Angeles while they were resident at the Palomar Ballroom, on September 27. Three tunes were recorded: “Santa Claus Came in the Spring”; “Goodbye” (printed as “Good-Bye”on the label of Victor 25215-A);and “Madhouse.” “Santa Claus Came in the Spring” is a pop tune that was arranged by Spud Murphy, featuring a vocal by Joe Harris,(12) and a tasty sixteen-bar solo by Berigan, using a tightly fitted cup mute. Bunny also played first trumpet throughout most of this performance.
“Goodbye,”(13) a lovely ballad, was composed and arranged by Gordon Jenkins, then working in the Isham Jones band. (Jenkins was friendly with Goodman during the time BG was forming his band, and recommended that Benny hire the marvelous, but almost never featured trombonist Sterling “Red” Ballard, who had been working with Jenkins in the Jones band. Ballard remained with Benny until 1940.) This recording of “Goodbye” is magnificent, indeed one of the most memorable of the swing era. The performance is superb, and the fidelity excellent. The Jenkins arrangement has Goodman playing the somber melody, with Berigan behind him, playing a recurring three-note phrase on his straight-muted trumpet. Bunny’s playing here is purely straight, but strangely evocative. The trumpeters in the Goodman band quickly dubbed these three notes the “go-to-hell” notes, and joked among themselves about who was going to play the “go-to-hell” notes behind the boss in the closing theme. The brief trombone solo is played by Jack Lacey, and the big-toned first trumpet part by Ralph Muzzillo.
As the Goodman band’s engagement at the Palomar came to an end on October 1, BG began inviting various trumpeters from the Los Angeles area to audition for Berigan’s soon-to-be vacant chair. The musician who eventually filled that chair was Harry Geller: “I had auditioned for Goodman a day or so earlier, when I got a message to take my horn over to the Palomar Ballroom. When I arrived, I saw Bunny, standing in front of the bandstand, drunk as a skunk and carrying his trumpet in a bag under his arm. I got the idea he was going to mail it back to New York. I moved into the third chair, as Nate Kazebier took over Bunny’s chair.” Drummer Johnny Williams, a friend of Berigan’s at CBS in New York, remembered: “Bunny sent his trumpet to me C.O.D., in New York. The case was unlocked and it came by ordinary mail. Bunny came to claim it a few days later.” (14)
Immediately after the Goodman band closed at the Palomar, Berigan left the band. He departed Los Angeles by air, flying from the Burbank airport. Family members picked him up at the Chicago airport, and took him to Fox Lake. There he joined Donna, Patricia, and his parents, probably on October 3. He stayed in Fox Lake until leaving for Manhattan on October 16. Bunny Berigan was just shy of his twenty-seventh birthday.
It is fascinating to compare this performance with the earlier studio version Benny Goodman made in 1931 with a pick-up band including Jack Teagarden, who sang and played trombone.. The major differences are that the band is larger and more muscular, being particularly amped-up by Bunny Berigan’s first and solo trumpet playing, and that Jack Teagarden’s vocal is taken here by Joe Harris. Harris was a Teagarden acolyte on trombone who was working at this time only as Benny’s boy vocalist. (He would move into the trombone section after Jack Lacey left the Goodman band at the end of the Palomar engagement.)
In addition to Berigan’s commanding first trumpet sound, listen to how he adds upward rips to the brass blasts that are scattered through the arrangement. His jazz solo is excellent, on a par with what Goodman played. Both men were clearly inspired in this performance before an appreciative audience of dancers.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) The Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh was one of the prime venues for swing era vaudeville shows featuring name bands. This theater, located at 719 Liberty Avenue, was opened on February 27, 1928. Like all big theaters in major cities, it had its glory days in the period from the 1920s to about 1950, when the advent of television and increasing suburbanization caused entertainment-hungry people to stay at home rather than go to a downtown theater. The Stanley was restored in the 1980s by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and renamed the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, after Claude Worthington Benedum, whose trust made the largest contribution to the $43 million restoration cost. A wide variety of entertainment is presented there now.
(2) The White materials of July 14, 1935, indicate that the Goodman band played at Olentangy Park in Toledo, Ohio. I think that this is a slightly confused reference to the place the Goodman band played in Columbus, Ohio, on July 18, 1935.
(3) White materials: August 21, 1935.
(4) Los Angeles Evening Herald-Express: August 21, 1935, cited in the White materials.
(5) Ibid.: August 22, 1935, cited in the White materials.
(6) Ibid.: August 27, 1935, cited in the White materials.
(7) Variety: August 28, 1935, cited in the White materials.
(8) Rollini: 46.
(9) American Heritage, October–November, 1981, cited in the White materials: August 1935.
(10) Firestone: 150.
(11) On August 25, 1935, with an orchestra led by Victor Young, Lee Wiley recorded Noel Coward’s torchy “Mad About the Boy.” Very soon after that recording, her liaison with Young ended. It can be safely assumed that she was in the audience at the Palomar Ballroom on a number of occasions to hear the Goodman band during its stand there from August 21 to October 1, 1935.
(12) Trombonist Joe Harris (1908–1952) was a splendid instrumentalist and fine jazz player, as his solos on Benny Goodman’s Victor records of “Basin Street Blues”and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” plainly show. However, he did not play trombone in the Goodman band during its 1935 cross-country tour. He was used only as a “boy vocalist.” The jazz trombone solos then were handled by Jack Lacey, also an excellent trombonist. Harris moved into the trombone section only after Lacey left the Goodman band, which was immediately after they closed at the Palomar Ballroom.
(13) “Goodbye,”according to D. Russell Connor, was at first entitled “Blue Serenade.”See The Record of a Legend—Benny Goodman, by D. Russell Connor, Let’s Dance Corp. (1984), 58. I suspect that Gordon Jenkins or his publisher changed the title to avoid confusion with a then very popular song entitled “A Blues Serenade.”
(14) White materials: September 29, 1935.
Here are links to posts here at bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com for “Goodbye,” “Jingle Bells,” “Blue Skies” and “Dear Old Southland.” All were recorded by Benny Goodman when Berigan worked with his band in the summer of 1935:
Here is a link to the most famous recording Benny Goodman and Bunny Berigan ever made together. It is posted at swingandbeyond.com:
As this historic 8/22/35 Palomar performance attests, blues was as intrinsic to Bunny’s approach as it was to Louis’, Prez’, Bird’s or Big T’s. 1935 was, in fact, a year in which blues, whether in strict 12-bar I-IV-V form, or more loosely interpreted, was very prominent in Bunny’s discography, constituting some of his best work: His own “Blues,” from his first session under his own name, for Decca; Mildred Bailey and Her Alley Cats’ “Down-Hearted Blues” and “Willow Tree,” for Decca; Gene Gifford’s “Squareface,” for Victor. Even if limited, by the context of material, to inflection, the blues was at the heart of all Bunny’s playing.
Though perhaps superficially innocuous and prosaic, Art Rollini’s recollection of Bunny during the Palomar gig seems, when viewed in the context of the trajectory of Bunny’s entire brief life, extremely telling: By Art’s — as well as seemingly everyone else’s — account, Bunny was “sweet” and “pleasant” — and yet, as Art further describes, a “loner,” who “preferred to drink and eat by himself.” Though there are certainly plenty of loners out there who are not alcoholics, the characterization and memory that Art offers leads one to believe that there was a whole lot more to Bunny emotionally than his driving artistic ambition and childlike/childish sense of humor. We may conclude, based on what we know, that his susceptibility to alcoholism had genetic origins, but there was also obviously something in his emotional makeup that made him vulnerable to the lure of booze, as Art’s brief sketch of his friend seem to suggest.
Reading the commonly encountered story about Goodman’s choosing an earlier time-slot for the Palomar broadcasts in an attempt to ensure that Bunny would still be functioning at least near optimally brings to mind my thoughts on how Benny and Tommy Dorsey, each at times a Berigan employer as well as colleague, saw Bunny in the ’30’s: I suspect that they both viewed him with a mixture of awe and disgust — awe for that special, visceral something he possessed beyond even the technical virtuosity he had in common with the two; disgust at his inability to control his drinking. Benny and Tommy, the latter even well known to have had occasional lapses in sobriety, were driven not just to master their respective instruments and lead an artistically successful band, as Bunny himself was, but to achieve the trappings of fame and success in the widest sense. I’m sure that after Bunny’s death, their feelings softened considerably from the impatience each felt as his employer. … I have always much preferred Bunny classic, straight “go to hell” notes on the Victor recording to Harry James’ schmaltzy phrasing, with the little inflective ruffles, on later airchecks.
The Palomar “Basin Street Blues” makes me wish that Bunny, my favorite musician, and the talented, charismatic but somewhat shadowy Joe Harris had worked together more extensively and that there were sonic documentation. Mr. Harris, indeed obviously a Teagarden “acolyte,” was a very fine trombonist, who possessed a pleasing vocal tone. It would have been interesting if he and Bunny had done some small group recording together, similar to the Krupa Chicagoans session, on which Harris is present and in top form. As it is, “Santa Claus Came in the Spring” is a favorite recording of mine from Bunny’s work with Goodman. The song — though a mere trifle, despite its Mercer pedigree — becomes something very wonderful through Spud Murphy’s merry arrangement, the leader’s cheery clarinet, Joe’s warm baritone and, most of all, Bunny’s inspired, and inspiring, trumpet.