“Let’s Do It”
Composed by Cole Porter; probably arranged by Julian “Matty” Matlock.
Recorded on February 17, 1937 by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Brunswick in New York.
Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Harry Greenwald and Harry Brown, trumpets; Ford Leary, trombone; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Julian “Matty” Matlock, alto saxophone and clarinet; Art Drelinger, tenor saxophone; Les Burness, piano; Tommy Morgan, guitar; Arnold Fishkind, bass; Manny Berger, drums.
This post will trace the early days of Bunny Berigan’s first big band. What is clear from the historical record that appears below is that Berigan wanted very badly to lead his own band. He had worked without letup through 1936, literally doing as much trumpet playing as was possible in all kinds of work settings to earn as much money as he could to finance the lengthy start-up process that all successful bands went through. Indeed, through January and February of 1937, Berigan continued to work at a feverish pace organizing, rehearsing and beginning to perform with his own band, while continuing his high-profile work as the featured trumpeter on the successful CBS radio show Saturday Night Swing Club, and also working as a sideman with Tommy Dorsey on Tommy’s radio show, making commercial records, and on a few gigs with TD as well. These facts are distinctly at odds with the anecdotal stories of Bunny’s alleged irresponsibility.
The new Berigan band followed Tommy Dorsey into the Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, opening there on Wednesday, February 3, 1937. It was a gala event: “Bunny’s Meadowbrook opening was attended by many of his friends and many trade representatives. Congratulatory wires were received from many notables in the music business, including Martin Block, Ray Block, Joe Higgins, Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, Jerry and Flo Colonna, Dave Harris, Johnny and Esther Williams, Edythe Wright, Cork O’Keefe and many others.”(1) The appearance of the name Cork O’Keefe in this list is significant. It indicates that by this time, Bunny’s band was being booked by Rockwell-O’Keefe.
Carl Swift, who played lead alto saxophone in Bunny’s band for a spell in early 1937, later recalled the early days of the Berigan big band, including the Meadowbrook opening. His memory was not in synch with the actual facts in several particulars as one will see when reading through this post: “There were a lot of important people there and, of course, the ever-present song pluggers. Bunny didn’t know how to deal with them, so he just had another drink and didn’t! I recall seeing Artie Shaw at the opening. Although I later played pretty good clarinet and fair tenor, with Bunny I played strictly alto sax and I was very unhappy with my lead sax playing on the band’s first record date, particularly on ‘Blue Lou.’ So I insisted that Bunny get someone else for the next recording date. Hymie Shertzer played on that date, but didn’t work with the band at the Meadowbrook, where I continued to play lead alto. (Note: I have listened to this recording of “Blue Lou” very critically, and can find no fault with the playing of Carl Swift on it. A link to that recording can be found at the bottom of this post.) I don’t remember whether we used a guitar on the recording dates. The band sounded pretty bad and the press reviews reflected that, but there were changes in the brass section almost every night and that sure didn’t help! I’d first come to New York from Boston in 1932 and played with Red Nichols and Jerry Blaine prior to joining Bunny. After the job at the Meadowbrook the band more or less fell apart. There was little or no work and Bunny didn’t seem to have the necessary backing to keep the band together. While we played the Meadowbrook, Bunny and I used to go to the local pool hall nearby. He was an extra-fine pool player.”(2)
The band did broadcast from the Meadowbrook over WOR–New York on Friday, February 5, from 10:00 to 10:30 p.m. The next day, Bunny rehearsed for and played on the Saturday Night Swing Club broadcast from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m., then rushed from CBS’s Studio One on Madison Avenue across Manhattan and the Hudson River to join his band at the Meadowbrook. They were again on the air over WOR from 11:00 to 11:30 that night. He repeated this sequence on Saturday, February 13. Throughout the Meadowbrook engagement, the Berigan band broadcast frequently. Unfortunately, no airchecks from those broadcasts are known to exist. Their two-week stand there ended on February 16 or 17.
Critical reaction to the new Berigan band was almost unanimously negative. Here is a survey of reviews of the Berigan band’s engagement at the Meadowbrook: From Down Beat, March 1937:
“(Headline) Shaw’s Ork Follows Bunny Berigan’s Outfit: ‘When Artie Shaw moved into the Meadowbrook the other night, he supplanted Bunny Berigan and his newly-formed organization. This proved to be a real break, not only because Artie Shaw’s music is both good and unusual (too seldom do those adjectives come together) but also because listening to Berigan’s band proved almost embarrassing. Bunny is probably the greatest white trumpeter in the business today, but when he gathers about him a group of musicians who are so utterly incapable of even approaching their leader’s ability, something should be done about it. Matty Matlock, the fine clarinetist formerly with Bob Crosby’s band, played with Bunny’s band during their engagement at the New Jersey roadhouse, but the task of swinging the rest of the men was a little too gigantic for even these two stars to undertake.” (3)
From Tempo, March 1937: “Bunny Berigan made his debut as a full-fledged batoneer this past month by playing a two weeks engagement at the Meadowbrook. His band was composed (we use the past tense because, at this writing, an almost complete change is taking place in the orchestra) of twelve unknown instrumentalists and distinguished itself only by its leader’s contributions plus Matty Matlock’s clarinet work. Matlock joined as a favor and since has returned to the Bob Crosby unit. The band, however, did make one recording session, which should give you an idea of how things were running. Artie Shaw followed Berigan into the Meadowbrook for a fortnight of syncopation.
The review that appeared in American Music Lover ‘Swing Notes,’ March, 1937 was perhaps more balanced and accurate: “In addition to his activities with the Saturday Night Swing Club, Bunny Berigan has found time to assemble an orchestra of his own. On February 3rd he and his new band opened at the Meadowbrook, Cedar Grove, New Jersey and the band proved to be an instant success. It followed Tommy Dorsey and it filled the spot excellently. A band of ten players with a vocalist their playing was surprisingly homogeneous for a group that had played together less than two weeks. Of course there were rough spots here and there on opening night which could have been attributed to poor acoustics, lack of rehearsals, conflicting styles of playing, etc., but these were, on the whole, minor defects. The band played with a terrific swing and the crowd which turned out to greet the band enjoyed the music.” (4)
From George T. Simon in Metronome, March 1937: “Roasts and Toasts: Possibly he’s been spoiling us by his consistently great trumpeting and so when he takes on his own band, we expect something on as high a plane. Whatever it is, it’s quite obvious that the band Bunny Berigan aired recently from the Meadowbrook is not really a fine outfit. For some reason, neither the brass nor the reed sections get together at all. The subsequent pushing and pulling make everything sound mighty rough. The really saving graces, though, were Bunny’s playing and Matty Matlock’s clarineting. The rest can be tossed into a corner.”(5) (It appears that Simon’s review was based on his listening to the Berigan band on radio.)
There is some confusion about when the Berigan band closed at the Meadowbrook. I think it was on Tuesday, February 16. Other sources have it on Wednesday, the 17th. To sort this out a bit, we must isolate the facts we are sure of: (1) The Berigan band recorded on the 17th for ARC; (2) Hymie Shertzer, then playing first alto saxophone for Benny Goodman, was on that record date with the Berigan band; (3) The Goodman band was then playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York in the evening. They broadcast that evening over WABC–New York; (4) Bunny also was present at Tommy Dorsey’s Victor recording session on the 17th, and that session took place from 9:00 to 12:30 (We don’t know if this was in the morning or the evening.); and (5) Tommy Dorsey’s band was working at the Commodore Hotel in New York in the evening. In light of what we know actually happened on Wednesday, February 17, I have concluded that the Berigan band’s last night at the Meadowbrook was Tuesday, February 16. From February 3rd to the 16th encompassed exactly two weeks. I think it would have been physically impossible, (even for Bunny) to have (1) worked with Tommy Dorsey’s band on a Victor recording session from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; then (2) led his own band through a four-tune recording session at ARC in the afternoon of that same day; and then (3) traveled with his band to the Meadowbrook in New Jersey, and played a four-hour gig that evening. Since the Dorsey band was working at the Commodore Hotel in the evening, I must conclude that they recorded in the morning of February 17. Since Bunny’s band probably did not have an engagement on the evening of the 17th, it is likely that he rested a bit in the afternoon, then started recording with his own band later in the day of the 17th. Bunny likely paid Benny Goodman to release Hymie Shertzer for the evening, and get a sub in the Goodman sax section, because Benny’s band was then working at the Pennsylvania Hotel. I do think that Goodman may have done this favor for Bunny under the circumstances. It is days like this that truly give one a deeper understanding of why Bunny Berigan drank.
The interesting thing about the Berigan band’s recording session of February 17 is that it gives us the opportunity to judge for ourselves how good or bad they sounded at the Meadowbrook. Since no recordings of those broadcasts are known to exist, I cannot express an opinion as to how the band actually sounded at the Meadowbrook. (6) I have however listened carefully to all of the sides Bunny’s band recorded on February 17, and I have concluded that the Berigan band that played at the Meadowbrook was probably pretty good. On the February 17 recording session, they played the arrangements with accuracy, unity, and spirit. Bunny’s playing was excellent, indeed inspired. The recordings are certainly acceptable. The arrangements, though competently written, are not in any way distinctive, (with the exception of “Dixieland Shuffle”) (7 and 8), but the band cannot be faulted for that. The band’s solo strength, aside from Bunny of course, and clarinetist Matty Matlock, was not what it should have been, therefore there was not enough variety in its presentation. But, it was a brand-new band that was trying to evolve some sort of group identity. Unfortunately (and quite unrealistically) the critics expected Bunny to start with a fully mature, distinctive band, and unfairly criticized him for not presenting such a band at the Meadowbrook. Still, there are valid criticisms to be made. They are: (1) that whoever was booking the Berigan band (probably Rockwell-O’Keefe) should have taken it out of the greater New York area for at least a couple of weeks to break-in. Then the band could have had a little time to play together in front of relatively less critical audiences, accumulate at least a couple dozen good arrangements, and gain some esprit de corps. (2) There should have been at least a couple of other musicians in the band capable of playing jazz solos to lessen the load on Bunny in that area. (3) More effort should have been exerted to have several special arrangements in the band’s book that not only provided Bunny a showcase, but that also allowed the band to shine a bit. To have dealt with each of these criticisms would have cost someone some money, and I’m sure that is why these things were not done. Plus, Bunny apparently was still tied to the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club, and that factor alone would have made much travel impossible.
Despite the generally poor critical reaction to the Berigan band at the Meadowbrook, Bunny’s management team was still behind him, pushing hard. Right after they closed at the Meadowbrook, the Berigan band auditioned for a sponsored radio program. Billboard carried this item in its February 27, 1937, issue: “Admiracion Shampoo auditioned Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, and Tim (Ryan) and Irene (Noblette) for a coast-to-coast Mutual set-up last week.”(9) At about this same time, Rockwell-O’Keefe, which was definitely Bunny’s booking agent by then, was angling to get his band a job making transcriptions for a series of shows to be sponsored by the Norge appliance company. Here is some of the trade paper buzz about that project:
“Norge Refrigerators is readying a series of transcriptions to be used this spring and summer for an extensive spot campaign. Bands and guest stars are being used for each 15 minute recording, with each recording using a different aggregation. The deal is being set through the Cramer-Kraselt Co., Milwaukee.” (Variety: February 19, 1937.)
“The Cramer-Kraselt Company, Milwaukee, has started cutting the 39 quarter-hour discs for Norge Refrigerators. The campaign will run 39 weeks, starting April 1st. Talent is booked for the series through the Rockwell-O’Keefe agency and includes Ray Noble, Annette Hanshaw, Barry McKinney, The Mills Brothers, ‘Aunt Jemima,’ Louis Armstrong, Victor Young, Connie Boswell, Josephine Tumminia, Cliff Edwards and Tim and Irene.” (Billboard: February 24, 1937.)
“Norge Sets Wax Name Campaign: ‘ The biggest name splash by the transcription route in a long time by an advertiser is the series just closed for the Norge refrigerator company. The ad agency is Cramer-Kraselt, with Rockwell O’Keefe setting the talent. Included among the names to do spots are Annette Hanshaw, Barry McKinney, Ray Noble and his Orchestra, Victor Young and his Orchestra, ‘Aunt Jemima’ (Tess Gardella), Louis Armstrong, Cliff Edwards, The Mills Brothers, Josephine Tumminia, Connie Boswell, Tim Ryan and Irene Noblette. Decca is grinding the platters which will run for 39 weeks, quarter hours weekly.” (Variety: February 27, 1937)(10)
It would appear from the above that the Bunny Berigan band, Frances Faye and the comedy duo of Howard and Shelton were probably added to the parade of talent for the Norge transcription series after the above items went to press. Two of the very few extant Norge programs that have been discovered feature the Berigan band. It is likely that others from the series may also exist somewhere, in view of the number of shows recorded.
Immediately after the February 17 Brunswick recording session, the Berigan band began to play a few one-night dance jobs and at least one theater in New England, and this kept Bunny away from New York for the Saturday Night Swing Club broadcast of February 20. He returned to Manhattan however for the Swing Club show that aired on February 27. This was his last appearance on the Swing Club as a regular.
Shortly thereafter, Bunny learned that his band had been chosen for both the Admiracion Shampoo radio show, and the Norge transcription series. The landing of the sponsored radio show was a huge break for Berigan. The money he would earn from that show each week would more than offset his expenses in operating his new band. Almost immediately, Bunny began the lengthy process of strengthening his band by hiring better musicians. This process went on for about four months.
Berigan’s first order of business was to record his first and possibly second Norge shows. The first session (program #5) was probably done on March 7, as an entry in trombonist Larry Altpeter’s diary indicates that he worked with Berigan on that date “from 12:30 to 2:30.”(11) On this fifteen minute program, Bunny was introduced with a few bars of his theme song. Alice Faye, who by then had already become a film star, was also on the program. (She had started her rise to stardom by singing with Rudy Vallee’s band on The Fleischmann Hour from 1932–1934, so she was definitely an experienced singer.) She belted out three songs, and the Berigan band played two instrumentals: “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “There’s a Small Hotel.” The band performs acceptably at a brisk tempo on “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” though the sometimes busy arrangement was far from distinguished (or swinging) and the drummer, presumably Manny Berger, sounds rather stiff at times. In this arrangement are several bars of fairly complicated writing for the saxophone section which I’m sure took some time to rehearse. The chart also includes brief solos by a clarinetist, either Frank Langone or Don “Slats” Long, and a tenor saxophonist who sounds very much like young Georgie Auld.(12) Bunny’s open trumpet solo is sweepingly authoritative. Incidentally, Berigan handles the inane patter with the announcer immediately after “Stompin’ at the Savoy” very well. “There’s a Small Hotel” was taken at a slower tempo. It contains a solo clarinet in the opening bars with Bunny playing an eight-bar melodic solo later on using a straight mute. The arrangement is again off-the-shelf middle-1930s dance music, except for another quite involved passage for the four saxophones. (A link to the post on this blog about Berigan’s recording of “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is at the bottom of this post.)
The second appearance Berigan made in this series of transcriptions was identified as “program # 37.” As noted above, there were a total of thirty-nine programs in the series. Although it is unclear when this program was recorded, it is likely that it was at the same time as the one described above. The ambient sound on both shows is identical, and the band itself sounds the same. Once again, Bunny was introduced with a few bars of his theme song, and then the announcer comments that Berigan is “modestly referred to by musicians as the greatest living trumpet player.” Appearing with the Berigan band on this program were comedians Howard and Shelton who did a skit that resembled Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First? (Since this was early March of 1937, I don’t know who borrowed from whom.) The band sounds a little more relaxed on “Organ Grinder’s Swing.” The solos are by Berigan, Georgie Auld, and probably Joe Lippman on piano. One can detect traces in this arrangement, which I would say was written by Joe Lippman, of the ensemble sound of the Berigan band that would soon develop. Vocalist Carol McKay sang “You Turned the Tables on Me,” and generally did a good job of it despite the rather fast tempo. Bunny’s trumpet lead is quite noticeable in this performance. He emerges from the ensemble only briefly with some high note bursts. There is no conversation on this show between Bunny and the show’s announcers.
The business activity surrounding Bunny Berigan and his new band reached a crescendo in March of 1937. During that month, Berigan left Rockwell-O’Keefe and signed a contract with Music Corporation of America (MCA), the largest and most powerful booking agency in the U.S. Shortly after that, he signed a one-year contract with Victor Records, the world leader in producing recorded music. And he began the Admiracion Shampoo sponsored radio show called Fun in Swingtime on April 4, 1937. That show was presented on Sunday evenings over the full Mutual radio network. Very soon, he and his band would follow Benny Goodman into the Madhattan Room of Hotel Pennsylvania, from where they would be broadcast frequently by CBS. By April of 1937, Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra were well and truly launched.
The first observation I will make about this recording is that the band Bunny used to make it was not really a “big band” as that term was defined in 1937. Generally, a big band by 1937 had three trumpets, at least two trombones, four saxophones, and a four person rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums. Here, Bunny used three trumpets including himself, one trombone, three saxophones and a full rhythm complement. The overall sonority of this band is less than the norm, simply because there were less instruments playing at any given time.
In terms of the unity and spirit of this band on this recording, I find little to criticize. The brass, led by Bunny in his inimitable fashion, bristle. The three saxophones, played by experienced and talented musicians, achieve a buoyant, swinging blend. There has been a good bit of critical comment about Bunny borrowing Hymie Shertzer from Benny Goodman to lead the reeds at this recording session. Hymie’s presence clearly made a positive difference. In light of the overburdened schedules both Bunny and Hymie had at the time this recording was made, I doubt that there was much time for Hymie to rehearse with this band. I would speculate that he just came to the session, looked over his parts, played through the arrangement with the band a couple times as a warm-up as the sound technicians set their balances, and nailed his part when the master was recorded. Talent, musicianship, and professionalism were watchwords for many of the musicians who worked with the bands of the swing era.
After a brief introduction, the band plays through the first sixteen bars largely as an ensemble, with the reeds and brass peeping out here and there. The saxophones glide through the bridge, and then the ensemble returns for the last eight bars of the first chorus.
After a brief, colorful transitional passage, the saxophones return for a well-played and swinging sixteen bar passage where the arranger, probably Matty Matlock, has abstracted the main melody of “Let’s Do It.” Trombonist Ford Leary, who clearly had control of his instrument, plays the eight-bar bridge in bouncing-ball fashion. This was not cutting-edge jazz in 1937, but it was nevertheless an acceptable, professional solo. The saxophones return to finish the chous.
The next transition leads to a modulation and Berigan’s entrance on open trumpet. He plays a full chorus, and it is all joyous, romping jazz. The writer Richard M. Sudhalter, who was a jazz cornetist himself, had these observations about Bunny’s solo: “Beginning with his declarative opening phrase, he in effect recomposes the melody, streamlining the chord sequence as he goes. His long, legato phrases in the bridge, for example, make it all but inevitable that he’ll ignore the concert Eb7 chord in bar seven as an inconsequential detail–which, at this tempo and in this context, it is.” (13) This is a marvelous solo that was indeed top-grade jazz in 1937, and would be today, especially if it was played with the swinging authority and massive, ringing trumpet tone that we hear on this recording.
After this solo, there is another short transition, which has the effect of taking the music from the summit of a mountain, down to a lower altitude, at least dynamically. Rhythmically, there is still swing going on in the exchanges between the reeds (now playing their clarinets), and the brass. Matty Matlock pops out of this riffing sequence playing happily on the bridge, and then the riffing continues at yet a lower dynamic level for a satisfying finale.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) Tom Cullen, one of Bozy White’s early collaborators, gathered this information, which is cited in the White materials: February 3, 1937.
(2) White materials: February 3, 1937.
(3) Cited in the White materials: February 17, 1937.
(6) Teen-ages swing enthusiast Bob Inman listened to a couple of the broadcasts the Berigan band did from the Meadowbrook, and his notes concerning the band’s performances are certainly not negatively critical. (See pages 116–117, Swing Era Scrapbook.) Inman had no compunction about judging something he heard as being “lousy.” This stinging appraisal was applied by him to the performances of many bands. It should also be noted that some great bands made many less than exciting broadcasts during the swing era.
(7) “Dixieland Shuffle” is precisely the kind of music that would have appealed to Bunny, and brought out the best in his playing. He undoubtedly had heard King Oliver’s record of the tune it was based on, “Riverside Blues,” featuring Louis Armstrong, as a boy. Sudhalter attributed the arrangement Berigan played to Matty Matlock, and this might seem to be reasonable since Matlock, who was a very capable arranger, was then in Bunny’s band. However, this tune, which is ascribed to Gil Rodin and Bob Haggart, in almost the same arrangement, had been recorded by Bob Crosby’s band on April 13, 1936. Brian Rust’s discography attributes the arrangement used for that recording to Bob Haggart. Since Haggart excelled at reorchestrating recordings that had been made previously (often by Louis Armstrong) for the Crosby band, I am of the opinion that he did indeed write this arrangement. Regardless of who wrote it, it was a good piece of music, and the band plays it well. There were two takes made. Upon issuance of the record in May, it received a positive review in Down Beat. See liner notes for Mosaic Berigan set: 18. A post on “Dixieland Shuffle” will appear here at bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com in the future.
(8) Jazz and Ragtime Records (1897–1942), by Brian Rust, Mainspring Press (2002), 401. The arrangement of “Dixieland Shuffle”that was recorded by the Bob Crosby band was also attributed to Bob Haggart by John Chilton in his excellent book Stomp Off, Let’s Go—The Story of Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats and Big Band; Jazz Book Service (1983), 31. Bassist/composer/arrganger Bob Haggart (Robert Sherwood Haggart) was born on March 13, 1914, in New York City. One of the most popular members of the Bob Crosby band that existed from 1935–1942, he arranged many numbers in that band’s repertiore. He was also a composer of note, writing “What’s New?” “South Rampart Street Parade,” “My Inspiration,” and “Big Noise from Winnetka,” which was an unusual duet for bass and drums. Beginning in 1942, Haggart entered the radio and recording studios of New York, remaining there for the next twenty-five years as a freelance musician. In the late 1960s he began co-leading (and arranging for) a nine-piece band that was called the World’s Greatest Jazzband with trumpeter Yank Lawson, with whom he had worked in the Crosby band. This band found success playing music much in the manner of the original Bob Crosby band, with a few more modern sounding arrangements sprinkled in. From approximately 1980, Haggart performed as a freelance, traveling widely. Bob Haggart died on December 2, 1998, in Venice, Florida.
(9) White materials: February 15–19, 1937.
(10) All citations regarding the Norge transcriptions are in the White materials: February 27, 1937.
(11) White materials: March 7, 1937.
(12) Saxophonist Georgie Auld was born John Altwerger on May 19, 1919, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He began playing alto sax as a child in Toronto. He moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, in 1929, won a scholarship to study with the saxophone virtuoso Rudy Wiedhoeft in 1931, and acquired many characteristics of Wiedhoeft’s playing style during the nine months he studied with him. By the mid-1930s, Auld had switched to the tenor sax, and began gigging as a jazz musician working on occasion at Nick’s in Greenwich Village. It was there that he was discovered by Bunny Berigan. Auld played in 1937–1938 with Berigan; 1939 with Artie Shaw (also leading the remnants of Shaw’s band into 1940); then most notably with Benny Goodman later in 1940 and into 1941. Auld returned as Shaw’s featured tenor sax soloist in August 1941, remaining until early 1942. Thereafter he began to lead bands of various sizes for the next eight years. In 1949 he left music to work as an actor on Broadway in a play called The Rat Race. He returned to jazz working briefly with Count Basie’s small band in 1950. Illness forced him to leave music again, but by late 1951 he was working again in Los Angeles in a variety of settings. Auld returned to New York briefly in the late 1950s, but then moved to Las Vegas. Starting in the 1960s, Auld took various sized groups to Japan and acquired a substantial following there. In 1977, he appeared as an actor in the feature film New York, New York, playing a bandleader. Georgie Auld died in Palm Springs, California, on January 8, 1990.
(13) Liner notes for The Complete Brunswick, Parlophne and Vocalion Bunny Berigan Sessions, by Richard M. Sudhalter, Mosaic (2003), 18
Here is a link to Bunny Berigan’s 1937 recording of “Blue Lou.”
Mike, it’s difficult to express the enjoyment I get from reading and listening to your monthly letter. Many thanks, Frank
Frank, thanks for your interest and kind words. It is very gratifying for me to know that what I post brings a bit of joy into your day. Keep visiting bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com, and keep commenting. We all learn from each other!
Though Porter’s title, “Let’s Do It,” with its carefree air, might suggest that Bunny embarked upon his bandleading career impetuously and lightheartedly, we know better. It was clearly a long-cherished dream of Bunny’s to have a band of his own that reflected his personal musical vision, and he applied himself with a blazing intensity — working hard, the only way he knew, to realize his ambition.
I’ve always found “Let’s Do It” to be an interesting choice for a number on a date that also includes two pop tunes — “I’m Gonna Kiss Myself Goodbye,” “Big Boy Blue” — as we would expect, as well as “Dixieland Shuffle,” one of the warhorses that Bunny so obviously loved. Dating to ’28, though far from a jazz warhorse, “Let’s Do It,” from perhaps the Great American Songbook’s most sophisticated composer, Porter, just strikes me as a fascinating selection for a fledgling swing band in early ’37. We could almost view the song’s presence on this session as being in anticipation of Bunny’s pivotal involvement in Lee Wiley’s Porter sides for Liberty Music Shop.. Perhaps Lee suggested the song? — or Bunny’s musical taste was wider ranging than might be assumed from listening to the band’s airchecks, on which we find the requisite pop tunes being supplemented by the ’20’s Armstrongian jazz instrumentals that were a prominent part of Bunny’s formative years.
I’ve always felt, albeit going strictly from the band’s first two commercial sessions and, more recently, the “Stompin’ at the Savoy” transcription, that the critics were unduly harsh toward this brand new outfit. Though this small “big band” lacks the distinction and character, both instrumentally and in terms of arranging, of later, more mature editions of the Berigan aggregation, it performs with spirit as well as precision, and it’s difficult for me to imagine that the crew on stage, with a personnel change here or there, sounded a bad as many reviews suggest. It’s almost as if the critics were holding Bunny to a higher standard, on the basis of his sterling solo and section work in other, well-established bands — which hardly seems fair. It could be noted, though, that Metronome’s George T. Simon was similarly — and presumably unjustifiably — caustic in his assessment of the early Basie band on location.
It seems to me that Matty Matlock’s musical involvement in getting Bunny’s band off the ground as well as Goodman’s willingness to lend the great Hymie Shertzer for this session must be seen as sincere gestures of goodwill and good wishes from guys who wanted a brilliant musician to succeed in his new venture. Matty had, of course, been present on the historic 5/13/35 Gene Gifford orch. session that produced such incredible music, and I’m sure he saw on that date every instrumental indication that Bunny could be a sensation out front. Matty’s chart here seems a little busy for what I call a high-information composition, but the band ably pulls off the intricacies at a brisk tempo. The ensemble trumpets in the transition leading to the modulation for Bunny’s solo play a figure that reminds me a bit of what we hear from the Berigan-led Goodman trumpets right after Helen Ward’s vocal on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” The now familiar components of swing writing were appearing by this time, and many figures surely had become earworms for the arrangers who kept themselves so busy in turning out charts in this idiom. Matty’s own playing — and a tone that we have to associate so strongly with the Crosby band — is suitably joyous. Though no Sonny Lee, Ford Leary manages just fine — I’m sure that Cole, one of the many composers who were not happy to encounter jazz/swing tinkering with their written melodies, would have been pleased to find him playing an essentially straight bridge. Though Bunny’s chorus is characteristically, and appropriately, nonchalant, we hear some motivic development in a repeated figure that I find faintly reminiscent of a phrase he employs in the Dorsey Brothers’ “Mood Hollywood.” In “Let’s Do It,” he launches the phrase, in bar nine, as the second A begins, from what can be read as a “My Sweetie Went Away” quote and repeats the brief figure in the last A. As always, he utilizes his unparalleled talent for making a statement that comes across as both spontaneous and beautifully constructed.
Despite Porter’s amusing double entendre title, so typical of the wittily risque quality we love in the composer’s work, the nascent Berigan orch’s “Let’s Do It” has that youthful innocence that I find so endearing in much of the music of the recently launched Swing Era.