“Sometimes I’m Happy”
Composed by Vincent Youmans; arranged by Fletcher Henderson.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor in New York on July 1, 1935.
Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet; Ralph Muzzillo and Nate Kazebier, trumpets; Jack Lacey, first trombone; Sterling “Red” Ballard, trombone; Nuncio “Toots” Mondello, first alto saxophone; Hymie Shertzer, alto saxophone; Arthur Rollini and Dick Clark, tenor saxophones; Frank Froeba, piano; George Van Eps, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums.
The story of Bunny Berigan’s various associations with Benny Goodman in the period 1934-1935 is told in a number of other posts here bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com. In addition, there is a detailed post as swingandbeyond.com, the sister blog of bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com, on the Benny Goodman recording of “Sometimes I’m Happy.” Please go the the links at the bottom of this post to access those stories and music.
“Some great show tunes have (had) an uncommonly hard time ever getting to Broadway. (The) Gershwins’ ‘The Man I Love” was put in four shows, and stayed in none of them. ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ Had to make two false starts before coming into its own. Vincent Youmans wrote it in 1923 for a musical called Mary Jane McCane. It was initially called Come ON and Pet Me, and had a lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II and William Clay Duncan. It was cut before the show reached Broadway. With a new lyric by Irving Caesar and Clifford Grey, and a new title, ‘Sometimes I’m Happy,’ it went into a new show called A Night Out, which opened and then closed there. Youmans finally anchored the song in the 1927 Broadway show Hit The Deck.
“Fletcher Henderson had made a simple, artful arrangement of ‘Sometines I’m Happy’ for his own band, but when he began writing arrangements for Benny Goodman in 1935, he wrote an entirely new one for Benny. ‘We made one of the most important discoveries of all’ Goodman wrote (in 1939) in his autobiography, The Kingdom of Swing, that Fletcher Henderson, in addition to writing big (swinging) arrangements, could also do a wonderful job on such melodic tunes as ‘Blue Skies,’ and ‘Sometimes I’m Happy.’ Up to that time, the only kind of arrangements that the public had paid much attention to were elaborate ones, like some Ferde Grofe’ wrote for Paul Whiteman. But the art of making an arrangement a band can play with swing, one that really helps a solo player to get off and gives him the right background to work against–that’s something that very few musicians can do. The whole idea is that the ensemble passages have to be written in more or less that same style that a soloist would use if he were improvising. What Fletcher could do so wonderfully well was to take a tune like ‘Sometimes I’m Happy,’ and really improvise on it himself, with the exception of certain parts which would be marked solo trumpet or tenor or clarinet. Even here the background for the rest of the band would be in the same consistent vein so the whole thing really hung together snd sounded unified. In all these respects, Fletcher’s ideas were far ahead of anybody else’s at that time.” (1)
Although Fletcher Henderson wrote many arrangements for Benny Goodman (and quite a few that ended up in the repertoire of Bunny Berigan’s band), this one is surely one of his finest.
Links and notes:
(1) The Swing Era – 1930-1936, (1971), notes on the music by Joseph Kastner, 56.
Here are the links to the stories that detail the relationship between Bunny Berigan and Benny Goodman in the years 1934-1935:
We might assume that Goodman, at least initially, wasn’t aware of Horace Henderson’s input on Fletcher’s arrangement of “Sometimes I’m Happy,” which I reference at the similar Swing & Beyond post.
As we have learned, though Goodman in his later years mellowed to the point that he could be lavish at times in his praise of certain musicians with whom he had worked, in earlier days, he was known to display jealousy towards some of these same sidemen when he felt they attracted attention away from their leader — Krupa being a prime example. At the same time, as a virtuoso who was constantly in pursuit of perfection as well as a discerning critic, he was able to recognize a musician whose playing had a quality that his either lacked or didn’t possess to the same degree. I believe that Bunny and Lester Young were two artists that Benny particularly respected for their ability to “tell a story” (in the now hackneyed phrase) in their solos, in a coherent and compelling manner. Though as the the ’30s wore on, he acquired the ability to be expressive as well as technically flawless, I don’t feel that Benny ever became as consistently cogent as either Bunny or Pres, whose solos always had a narrative, with a discrete beginning, middle, and end. Bunny’s monumental work on “Sometimes I’m Happy” has everything, in terms of both technical excellence and emotional impact, that I think Benny wanted to attain.
Bunny Berigan’s solo IS this recording. It’s a nice arrangement taken at a below average tempo. Bunny is obviously relaxed and very much on top of the chord changes, as we’ve come to know and expect. One of my favorite Bunny solo’s that, even with the recognition it receives, is way undervalued.