Composed by Raymond Edward Lopez and Alcide Nunez.
Arranged by Joe Lippman.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on September 13, 1938 in New York.
Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky, first trombone; Ray Conniff, trombone; George “Gigi” Bohn, first alto saxophone; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, B-flat clarinet; Clyde Rounds and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
Bunny Berigan and his band were on tour through the summer of 1938. This tour had started at the end of May, after the Berigan band had battled Chick Webb’s band (and pleased the dancers) at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Through June and early July they played many one-nighters throughout the east and into the Midwest. They returned to Manhattan for a Victor recording session on June 8, an important broadcast on the NBC/RCA Magic Key radio show on June 26, and for a Thesaurus radio transcription recording session on June 27.
After grinding it out on the one-nighters during that six weeks period, Music Corporation (MCA), Bunny’s booking agency, threw them a plum – a lucrative one-week theater engagement. This would be at the Fox Theater in Detroit, one of the major theaters in the nation, starting on July 15. That engagement, which was successful, undoubtedly put a lot of money into the coffers of the band, and a lot of commissions into the coffers of MCA.
Following the Fox Theater gig, the Berigan band returned to the east coast, and rehearsed in a big show room in Manhattan called the Casa Manana. This rehearsal was fraught for a number of reasons that basically had to do with the fact that this gig really wasn’t one where the Berigan band could be itself musically. Seemingly, their job would be to function as a featured act, with Bunny leading the band on a couple of his tunes, then a show conductor would come on to lead the Berigan band as musical accompaniment for what amounted to a vaudeville revue. This is what the Berigan (and other bands) did in major theaters, where they would play one-hour shows multiple times a day, as the audiences in the theater changed between shows. Bands were not thrilled with theater work, because it was confining, repetitive and exhausting, sometimes requiring them to perform up to six shows daily. But the money they earned from this hard labor was so good that they accepted the unpleasantness. In any event, after the Casa Manana rehearsal on July 22, they went to what ended-up as a two-day engagement at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 23. Then they returned to Manhattan and the Casa Manana, where they played until July 30, when the show closed. After that, they played one-night dance dates until the evening/night August 8-9, when they entered Victor’s Manhattan studio to record fifteen tunes for the Thesaurus Transcription service.
The Berigan band then returned to the Midwest. They played one-nighters from August 10-14, and then opened an engagement at Moonlight Gardens, Coney Island, just outside Cincinnati on August 15, which ran until the 20th. On August 21, they played two days at the Warner Theater in Youngstown, Ohio, and then two days at the Palace Theater in nearby Akron.
On Thursday, August 25, 1938, they opened a one-week engagement at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, another major theater, and the site of their successful run in the autumn of 1937. Here are the details:
“The Stanley stage show headed by Bunny Berigan and his trumpet and his orchestra is aimed at the jitterbug. For less sturdy mortals, it has little to offer. Maestro Berigan, who seems to be on the upbeat these days, presents a slightly wild program in which he himself plays no small part. The Andrews Sisters, three gals well versed in the dizzy doings of swing, add their talented voices in quiet contrast to the Berigan brass. Dancing interludes are provided by Ruth and Billy Ambrose and Frank Cowell and Sally Dale. The film being presented was Mother Carey’s Chickens, with Annie Shirley and Ruby Keeler.”(1)
It is interesting that trombonist Walter Burleson, who had worked with Bunny in early 1937, recalled that Donna was with Bunny during this engagement: “That was my last meeting with Bunny and Donna.” (2) I should note that Donna was also with Bunny when he played at the Fox Theater in Detroit. Their marriage was under considerable strain at this time for a number of reasons, and they had been estranged for a couple of months in the spring of 1938. But Bunny asked Donna to join him in Detroit, and then she remained with him at least through the Stanley Theater engagement. I should also note that by this time, Donna had developed her own drinking problem, and one of the things she and Bunny would do together is to have a few. It is safe to say that where drinking was concerned, by this time Donna was not a good influence on Bunny. In fact, the opposite was probably true, not that he needed any encouragement from Donna or anyone else to take a sip.
Against this background, here is what happened to Bunny during the Stanley Theater engagement:
“… (H)e came on stage to lead his band, playing his theme, ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ and staggered right off the stage and fell into the orchestra pit. Luckily, a canvas covering broke his fall, and though shaken up, he was unhurt. ‘You’d feel so sorry for him,’ said a friend, ‘Here was a wonderful guy, a fantastic talent and he was just killing himself. When he fell off the stage, he got all tangled up in the canvas, flailing around. The ushers had to extricate him. What a mess! The band played that set without him.'”(3)
It seems that just as the Berigan band had arrived at its peak as a performing unit, Bunny’s drinking and his marital woes began to take a heavier toll on him. Now, in addition to his being occasionally unable to deliver flawless performances on his trumpet, he was reacting to the stresses and strains of being a bandleader in negative ways. If any one event can be described as the tipping point in Bunny Berigan’s career as a bandleader, his fall into the orchestra pit at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh might be it. After that incident, it seems that Berigan was essentially banished by MCA from working in big theaters for most of a year. Without the substantial revenue those theater engagements provided, the income of the Berigan band would be reduced substantially. Nevertheless, his band’s overhead continued to accrue, unabated. Storm clouds began to gather.
Many commentators have suggested that by 1938, Bunny Berigan was past his prime musically and was on an irreversible course headed down. Subsequent events have all too often provided the basis for this assertion. In fact, in the summer of 1938, he was still capable of playing marvelously, and his band was still one of the best in the country. With the benefit of much hindsight, we are now able to see that in the summer of 1938, several things happened, in addition to what happened at the Stanley Theater, that severely damaged the business side of the Berigan band, and definitely undermined Berigan’s success as a bandleader. But at that time these events were occurring, this was not at all apparent. Yes, Bunny’s drinking had now approached a critical stage, and those who worked with him on a daily basis knew the toll that it was taking on him. But most audiences then saw Berigan as someone who often resembled a kind of mythic god. He was not yet thirty years old. He was tall, well built, strikingly handsome, and always dressed immaculately when he appeared onstage. (MCA insisted on this, but Bunny had to pay the salary of the valet who prepared his clothing for each appearance.) When he was “on” the musical experience could be overwhelming, as you will hear when you listen to the live recording presented below. In addition, there was a mystique about him, and this has been lost to history, except in the recollections of those who actually saw and heard him at his peak.
Encomia praising the trumpet artistry of Bunny Berigan began to pour forth from those fortunate enough to have heard him play in person almost from the beginning of his professional career. In fact, the adjectives used to describe Bunny’s playing are almost always the same—whether spoken by fellow musicians or awestruck fans: tremendous; amazing, fiery, magnificent, impassioned. One of the first reviews to mention and attempt to describe the trumpet playing of Bunny Berigan was written by a young and perceptive Helen Oakley (4) in the summer of 1935, when Bunny was featured with Benny Goodman’s band. Ms. Oakley had heard the band during its two-night stand at the Modernistic Ballroom in Milwaukee, which had taken place on July 21-22, 1935. The following is excerpted from her full review of the band that appeared in the August 1935 issue of Down Beat:
“Bunny Berigan was a revelation to me. Never having heard him in-person before, even though well acquainted with his work on recordings, I was unprepared for such a tremendous thrill. The man is a master…he plays so well and at the same time I doubt if I ever heard a more forceful trumpet…unending ideas and possessed of that quality peculiar to both Teagarden and Armstrong, that of swinging the band as a whole at the outset and carrying it solidly along with him without letup until the finish of his chorus. Bunny is, I believe, the only trumpeter today comparable to Louis. So much must be left unsaid; one feels stupid in attempting to evaluate Bunny’s work on paper.”(5)
George T. Simon, who began his long affiliation with Metronome magazine in 1935, was one of many whose first exposure to Berigan’s trumpeting also came while Bunny was in Benny Goodman’s band. Although during the years Bunny fronted a big band Simon was perhaps his most consistently harsh critic (often unfairly so), eventually, he too got the message: “He was for many of us the ultimate jazz trumpeter, a fiery player with a tremendous range and one of the fattest upper register sounds ever to emanate from anyone’s horn.” (6)
But in addition to the bravura, there was a touch of Irish melancholy in Berigan’s playing, and it was expressed sensitively and subtly in many of his ballad performances.
Many years after Berigan’s death, two of the stalwart sidemen from his 1937–1938 big band reflected on the Berigan mystique. Clarinetist/alto saxophonist Joe Dixon: “You can talk about one thing and another—beautiful, clear, big tone, range, power—and sure that’s part of it—but only part of it. Bunny hit a note, and it had pulse, that certain ingredient that makes it vibrate right away, and—well, inside you. It just did something to you, that’s all. It’s hard to describe, but his sound seemed to, well, soar. He’d play lead and the whole band would soar with him, with or without the rhythm section. There was drama in what he did—he had that ability, like Louis, to make any tune his own. But in the end all that says nothing. You had to hear him, that’s all.” (7) Steve Lipkins played lead trumpet in that band whenever Bunny didn’t. His impressions were: “He was the first jazz player I’d heard at that time who played the trumpet well from bottom to top, very evenly and strongly throughout. Besides that, he had something special in the magic department, and you had to hear that to understand it.” (8)
No one was more favorably impressed by Berigan’s trumpet artistry than fellow trumpeter Irving Goodman, who worked with the Berigan band in 1937-1939:
“Steve (Lipkins) and I would sit there in the back row, night after night, set after set and watch and listen to Bunny and be totally amazed at what he could and would do. I think most jazz musicians could appreciate Bunny’s improvisations and many of the things he did, but I think you have to be another trumpet player to really, totally, understand and appreciate what Bunny was able to do on the trumpet. Oh, Bunny had his off nights and on occasion he was less than inspired, but even then his playing was far above many of us. Steve was a fine lead player; I was a less than average soloist. But night after night Steve and I would look at each other often with a nod or a raised eyebrow, etc. in acknowledgment of what we’d just heard Bunny do. Playing the trumpet is damn hard work and Bunny would often make it seem so easy! But Steve and I knew how hard it was. Bunny, being able to drink as he did and still play, was even more amazing to us. Sonny Lee in our band had played with many of the greats including Bix. He told Steve and me on a number of occasions how great Bunny really was. I know Muggsy (Spanier) told Ralph Muzzillo, another very fine lead trumpet player, how much he admired Bunny’s playing. We all did'” (8A)
Berigan’s relationship with Benny Goodman could be best described as “strained,” and this certainly was not always BG’s fault. Anyone familiar with Benny knows that he was not one to pass out compliments, especially about other musicians. He well understood that Berigan’s abuse of alcohol could make him unpredictable as a person, and inconsistent as a performer. Nevertheless, even he was not immune to Berigan’s musical sorcery. He described Bunny’s effect on his band this way: “It was like a bolt of electricity running through the whole band. He just lifted the whole thing. You can explain it in terms of his tone, his range, musicianship, great ideas, whatever you want. It’s all of that—and none of it. It’s a God-given thing.”(9) Shortly before Benny Goodman’s death in 1986, Loren Schoenberg (10), a young tenor saxophonist and pianist who was then working with BG in a number of capacities, showed Goodman a video of Berigan singing and playing in the film short that he made with Fred Rich’s band in 1936. Schoenberg recalled: “Although not usually given to any form of nostalgia, he asked me several times to rewind the tape to where Bunny started; it was one of the few times I saw Benny so moved.”(11)
Berigan’s impact on other trumpet players was enormous. As has been noted in the comments of Berigan band members, trumpeters Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, both of whom had the pleasure of hearing a large amount of Bunny’s playing while he was at the peak of his powers, he could and did do remarkable things very frequently. Other trumpeters who heard less of his playing were also impressed. Jimmy Maxwell began his career as a member of Gil Evans’s band in southern California in the mid-1930s. He was a stalwart member of Benny Goodman’s trumpet section from 1939–1942, and then commenced a long and distinguished career as a New York freelance and teacher. Maxwell was at home in any musical situation, including performing with symphony orchestras, which he did. Here are his thoughts on Berigan as a trumpet virtuoso:
“I’d never heard anyone play so lyrically. It was a good deal like Louis, but it was looser. Armstrong at that point was inclining toward a more rigid, angular style. Bunny would play those beautiful, liquid solos. So fluid. By 1934, he had started to have an enormous influence on trumpet players, particularly white trumpet players. Here was somebody who played with a different feeling, but wasn’t black. I felt Bunny was one of the first bridges, taking the race out of music and playing music. He had the most gorgeous sound, and that beautiful vibrato. And everything he played had a line. It was like a melody, even if it had a lot of notes in it.”(12)
Although Berigan’s influence on white trumpet players was huge, black trumpet players also heard something special. Cornetist Rex Stewart, long one of Duke Ellington’s featured soloists, called Bunny Berigan “one of the indestructibles.”(13) He also included Berigan among his favorite trumpeters, along with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Bobby Stark, Charlie Shavers, Bix Beiderbecke, Russell Smith, Bobby Hackett, Alvin Alcorn, and Joe Smith.(14)
The Original Dixieland Jass Band was a group of white musicians from New Orleans. They had gained popularity playing at Schiller’s Cafe’ in Chicago and Reisenweber’s Restaurant in New York City, and became largely responsible for making the New Orleans style popular on a national level. “Livery Stable Blues” was composed by Alcide Nunez, who had been clarinetist with the ODJB, and trumpeter Ray Lopez, who had worked with most of the ODJB musicians in New Orleans, especially in the bands of Papa Jack Laine. The tune was recorded by the ODJB in 1917 and caused a sensation. “Livery Stable Blues” is a twelve-bar blues. The ODJB recording starts with a four-bar introduction, followed by three distinct themes played in succession, each repeated twice. The third theme consists of the trombone, clarinet and cornet, imitating various barnyard animals: the clarinet a rooster, the cornet a horse, and the trombone a cow. The three themes are then repeated, and the tune ends with a one-bar tag. (15)
I have commented before on this blog (as have others), that Berigan played and recorded a rather large proportion of “classic” jazz tunes, meaning those that were composed before the swing era, and were played by bands before the swing era. Bunny’s treatment of them however was uniformly in the swing idiom.
Pianist Joe Bushkin and drummer Buddy Rich, clicking away on his snare drum rims, start Berigan’s Victor recording of “Livery Stable Blues.”
This performance is unusual however in that it has no jazz solo by Berigan. He plays the melody in the first chorus, and leads the brass throughout, except for second half of the introduction, where Stevie Lipkins blasts out a few nice fat high notes.
Bunny’s melody statement has him using a mute that sounds like an older style (pre-aluminum) Harmon mute, but was not. (Trumpet experts: what kind of mute is it?) Whatever it was, it imparted a raspy sound to Bunny’s trumpet solo. The saxophones provide a background for this solo, at times evoking moans. The second twelve bar chorus has the Berigan-led ensemble delivering the melody in apparent unison (with Gus Bivona now on clarinet), but with lead trombonist Nat Lobovsky playing a bit of harmony, and then lobbing out fat pedal notes as a counterline.
The third chorus has the band moving up in register (hear Berigan’s vibrato in this sequence, it is soulful). This is followed by an absolutely lovely chorus of Joe Bushkin’s piano, accompanied seemingly by only Buddy Rich, with his brushes fluttering across his snare drum.
The next chorus has the ensemble returning, but now with the brass quieter and muted, accompanied by Rich, who continues with his brush work as before. In the last few bars, bassist Hank Wayland plays a few choice arco (bowed) notes on his bass that underline the hushed ensemble.
This recording presents the powerful 1938 Berigan band in what is often a restrained, quiet mode. Their performance of Joe Lippman’s arrangement is admirable for its spirit and swing. As so often was the case during the swing era however, the arrangement as initially submitted to a band and then recorded was only a point of departure. Changes were made as the bands played the arrangement many times on the road. Sometimes, as here, this process of evolution was remarkable.
“Livery Stable Blues”
Original Joe Lippman arrangement as modified in performance by Bunny Berigan and his band.
Recorded in performance by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra at the Panther Room of Hotel Sherman in Chicago in the period from July 1 to August 11, 1939
Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Johnny Napton, first trumpet; Jake Koven and Joe Bauer, trumpets; Jimmy Emmert and Ralph Copsey, trombones; Gus Bivona, first alto saxophone and B-flat clarinet; Charlie DiMaggio, alto saxophone; Don Lodice and Larry Walsh, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Tommy Moore, guitar; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Paul Collins, drums.
NOTE: I have conducted an internal debate with myself for a long time as to whether to post this recording. The reason for my hesitation has been that the source recording I have for this performance is a transfer from a unique acetate disk that was done rather haphazardly some forty or more years ago. I will not reveal who the guilty transferor was, but will say that when the transfer was done, nothing like the digital tools we now have at our disposal existed, so to some degree the poor quality of this transfer was unavoidable. In addition, for a long time, the digital tools I had in my studio could only marginally remove the huge amount of surface noise from that transfer. Recently however, I have acquired some new digital tools that have enabled me to remove a bit more of the noise, and now the sound quality of this recording, though far below normal, is good enough so that this truly great performance can be shared.
A bit more story:
The ten months that separate these performances mark the time the Berigan band went from being one of the top bands in the country to being a panic band. The panic in the band was caused by partial pays, always softened by Bunny himself telling his band that more prosperous days were right around the corner. Nevertheless, by the time the Berigan band opened at the Panther Room, Bunny owed his band members as a group over $3,000.00. (Multiply by 15 to get the value in today’s dollars.) Also, Berigan and his personal manager Arthur Michaud came to an acrimonious parting of the ways in early 1939. In addition to not having Michaud’s management, which Bunny very much needed, he had improvidently (without the assistance of an attorney) negotiated some sort of a buy-out of the time remaining on his management contract with Michaud. This obligation sucked money out of the band at the same time that Bunny’s contract to record with Victor Records lapsed and was not renewed. That sucked more money out of the band. In desperation, Bunny had his father act as his personal and business manager, two important jobs that Cap Berigan was totally unqualified for.
In addition, presumably to save money, Bunny had Cap act as the band’s road manager. Cap had a friendly personality, and all of the guys in the band liked him. But he simply did not understand how the band business worked. As a result, when Bunny played one-nighters, which he was doing more of in the wake of the Stanley Theater fiasco, Cap was seemingly unable to take whatever actions were necessary for Bunny to receive an accurate accounting of the money taken in at the box office. The result of this was that the Berigan band was working ever harder, and since the band was in good shape musically, playing very well, but netting less than they should have from their percentage of gate receipts. That sucked even more money out of the band. By the spring of 1939, Bunny could not keep ahead of his band’s expenses.
At a certain point, probably as the summer of 1939 began, Berigan, who had been very concerned, though not directly involved in the business operation of his band, simply turned-off what little concern he still had about the business operation. Joe Bushkin later recalled how that came to a head, while the band was playing at Hotel Sherman in Chicago: “We didn’t get paid for five weeks. I was sending home for money, and a lot of the guys were borrowing from a saloonkeeper across the street. We finally met in Bunny’s room (at Hotel Sherman) one night. You never saw him without a cigarette burning in the right side of his mouth and you never saw him without his whiskey and his cool. He was lying on his bed smoking, his glass of whiskey on the bedside table. He said, ‘Go see Petrillo at the union and tell him you haven’t been paid in five weeks. It’s the only way you’re going to get any money.’”(16)
The most obvious change that occurred in “Livery Stable Blues” is that the live version is longer: The Victor recording, performed at a leisurely tempo, clocks-in at 3:21; the live version, at a slightly faster tempo, at 4:40. Then there are the jazz solos. The Victor version has one twelve-bar chorus by pianist Joe Bushkin. The live version has jazz solos by tenor saxophonist Don Lodice, clarinetist Gus Bivona (one chorus each), and Berigan’s swaggering solo on trumpet, which covers two choruses. Listen for the boogie style accompaniment Bushkin provides behind Bivona. Bushkin continues in a boogie vein in his jazz solo following Berigan.
Berigan’s solo on “Livery Stable Blues” is magnificent. The first twelve bars have him playing in his middle and low registers, setting up what is to come. The second twelve bars, including room-shaking high notes, demonstrate a supreme level of virtuoso instrumental command and a musical imagination of almost frightening intensity. Despite Bunny’s general excellence as a jazz soloist on many records, relatively few recordings in the Berigan canon contain the kind of exuberant, celebratory, open-souled playing heard in this performance. Given the content of Bunny’s ouevre, that is saying something.
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
(1) Pittsburgh Post Gazette: August 27, 1938, cited in the White materials, August 25, 1938.
(2) White materials: August 25, 1938.
(3) This is a quote from Don Wilson, one of the White researchers, cited in the White materials: January 1, 1938.
(4) Helen Margaret Oakley was born into a wealthy family in Toronto, Ontario, on February 15, 1913. She became enthralled by jazz as a young woman and began working in various roles in the music business in the 1930s. Among those were as a writer and publicist. She became associated with Irving Mills’s various enterprises in the later 1930s, and actually produced a number of Duke Ellington small group recordings for Mills at that time. Later, she married the English jazz writer Stanley Dance. They both remained lifelong friends of Ellington, with Dance publishing a number of articles and books about Duke. She was also a longtime crusader for racial integration and civil rights. She died in Escondido, California, on May 27, 2001.
(5) White materials: August, 1935.
(6) Liner notes—Benny Goodman—The Birth of Swing (1935–1936) (1991),RCA/BMG Bluebird 61038-2, page 17, by George T. Simon.
(7) Liner notes—The Complete Bunny Berigan, Vol. 2.
(8A) White materials: June 18, 1937.
(9) Liner notes—Bunny Berigan—The Pied Piper (1934–1940) (1995), RCA/BMG Blue-bird 66615-2, interview of Benny Goodman by Richard M. Sudhalter.
(10) Loren Schoenberg, born July 23, 1958, in Fairlawn, New Jersey, is a talented tenor saxophonist and pianist who in addition to having a career as a jazz musician, has written extensively on jazz, and since 2002 has been a guiding force in the founding and operation of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
(11) Liner notes—Benny Goodman—The Birth of Swing (1935–1936), 27–28.
(12) The Complete Bunny Berigan, Vol. 2, interview of Jimmy Maxwell by Richard M. Sudhalter.
(13) Boy Meets Horn, by Rex Stewart, University of Michigan Press (1991), 166.
(14) Jazz Masters of the ‘30s, by Rex Stewart, Macmillan Company (1972), 223.
(15) The information on the origination of “Livery Stable Blues” and its early history come from the Wikipedia post on it.
(16) The New Yorker, February 21, 1983; interview of Joe Bushkin by Whitney Balliett.