“Livery Stable Blues” (1938) and live (1939)

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.

The story:

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.

The interior of the palatial and enormous (5,000+ seats) Fox Theater in Detroit.

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.

The Berigan band at rehearsal in early 1938, probably in the rehearsal area of MCA’s New York office. In front of the band L-R are: probably someone from MCA, Berigan and Arthur Michaud., Bunny’s personal manager. The musicians visible are L-R front: Georgie Auld, Joe Dixon, Mike Doty; middle: Irving Goodman, Steve Lipkins, Tom Morgan; at the rear is drummer Dave Tough. Bunny and Mike Doty seem to be in conversation.

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)

The front facade and marquee of the 3,800 seat Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. It was in this theater that Berigan took a tumble that would have dire consequences for his career as a bandleader.

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)

Something special in the magic department.

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 music:

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.

Trombonists Ray Conniff (left) and Nat Lobovsky, while with the Berigan band – 1938.

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.

Buddy Rich -1938.

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.

The Berigan band in rehearsal at the Panther Room of Hotel Sherman in the summer of 1939. L-R front: bassist Morty Stulmaker; Larry Walsh, Gus Bivona, Charlie DiMaggio, Don Lodice; middle Tommy Moore, Jimmy Emmert, Ralph Copsey; back: Paul Collins, Jake Koven, Johnny Napton, Joe Bauer. Pianist Joe Bushkin and Berigan are not visible.

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.

May 1939 – Cap and Bunny Berigan. Bunny turned to his father in desperation as he saw his band’s business heading for trouble. It was not a good move.

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 music:

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.

(8) Ibid.

(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.

9 thoughts on ““Livery Stable Blues” (1938) and live (1939)

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  1. The studio “Livery Stable Blues” is, of course, one of the great sides from a period in which things were coming apart at the seams for the band, despite its being in terrific shape musically. So expressive is Bunny’s statement of the first theme and so effective is his lead horn that we might almost forget that he doesn’t solo. In Bunny’s place, we have a beautiful chorus from young Joe Bushkin, whose lyricism here is so like the nuance that he was able to bring to Muggsy’s Ragtime Band, with whom he would work after his Berigan stint. Speaking of Muggsy — yes, Bunny, like Muggsy and Teagarden and the Crosby orch., displayed a pronounced affection for the trad material, but it’s true that the Berigan band delivered this fare with the greatest amount of Swing Era sensibility. Bunny found a way of updating these warhorses without diminishing their primal power! It’s been written that Buddy Rich grew very impatient with the brush accompaniment that was required of him on the many Dorsey sides that featured Sinatra vocals, but we can appreciate his flawless and sensitive work behind Joe.

    For me, the wonderful live take represents the amazing degree to which the band, including its leader, was able to tune out the lousy conditions — Bunny’s disintegration, the grueling one-nighters and trickling or non-existent pay — to play inspired jazz on the stand. Joe’s barrelhouse and boogie approach here brings the old ODJB number right into ’39, without rendering the interpretation ersatz. Gus Bivona — like Joe, devoted to leader Berigan — and Don Lodice stay clear of barnyard resident simulation and just play their hearts out. Most astonishing of all is Bunny’s perfectly structured and paced statement that seems equal parts wail and whoop. We’ll never know what that guy who never lost his cool was thinking as he spontaneously spun those exquisite lines out. Maybe the stage, where he was in control, was a refuge from Donna, debt collectors and the lure of the bottle.

    1. I think Bunny is actually using a fairly standard Harmon Mute on the studio recording. I’m pretty sure the rasp in the sound comes from his embouchure and not the mute itself. Over the years I experimented with dozents of mutes and can get a similar sound with a Harmon Mute and a “dirty” embouchure.

  2. I’m coming to the party a little late, here, but wanted to comment on three items.
    First, I really enjoyed this post, as it gave insight into what trumpeters of the period thought of Bunny and his playing. It is quite something for a player to be able to accomplish what Bunny did on a regular basis. Many players will have a “steller”night interspersed with mostly average nights. Bunny seems to do the opposite! The common thread here seems to be that Bunny’s playing had a quality to it that you had to hear live. Magical, charming, with a “sound “ that was so compelling that it lit up the bandstand and the dance floor! Those who have heard Clifford Brown live describe that sound. There are other trumpeters with “it”; maybe Doc Severinsen or Wynton Marsalis, or Rafael Mendez. Certainly very few in anyone’s lifetime. It seems as if we mere mortals are privileged to hear perfection as if from Heaven only on a rare basis! “And the Angels Sing!” Thanks, Mike, this post was great from many standpoints!
    Next point: Elizabeth, you astutely hit the nail on the head stating that maybe Bunny being onstage was his escape from his problems. Many celebrity performers have commented that the only place where they truly feel at home is onstage. It’s as if part of their existence is completed once they are sharing with an audience.
    Third point, the mysterious mute! Having heard this “growl” from various players on recordings, I set out to replicate the sound. The closest I could come was a metal “Pixie” mute ( like a miniature straight mute) combined with a rubber plunger that had a hole drilled in its center. I think Bubber Miley used this combo, but I might be mistaken. When using this setup I would growl from the throat to recreate what I heard in my head. Bunny could have used this setup without moving the plunger to obtain the “Wah-wah” sound, but I am unsure. In a pinch I have used beer bottles or plastic drink cups to get a gutsy sound. Dennis, I’ll have to try your idea with the metal Harmon. I presume the stem is left in. I am not sure what you mean by a “dirty embouchure” (?)
    Trumpet players of that era were constantly searching for new sounds from their horns and companies like Humes and Berg were marketing all kinds of mutes to keep up with the demand. (Including the aforementioned Pixie) I recall reading about a H&B “Buzz-Wow” but never had the need to purchase one. Could that be Bunny’s mute on the studio recording? I feel strongly what I am hearing is a metal mute of some kind being played by Bunny, but it doesn’t sound like a straight mute. The increased tempo of the live recording I feel makes it more difficult to do a bona fide growl, although it almost sounds as if a mute is being used here, too.
    Bunny’s jazz solo on this take is one of those “where the hell did that come from?!?” type of solos which usually occur in an inspired, live setting such as this. Probably accompanied by some liquid enhancement. Totally correct to include in this blog!

  3. That is, totally correct to include this recording as a contrast to the studio recording even with its poor quality….

  4. Thank you Elizabeth, Dennis and Ted. Your thoughtful comments allow everyone who visits this blog post to understand a bit more about Bunny Berigan, both as a musician, and as a human being.

    I especially appreciate the comments about the mysterious mute Berigan seemed to be using at various times in the period 1938-1939. One last question: what kind of mute is Berigan using in the picture that is posted in the box containing the 1938 studio recording of “Livery Stable Blues”? It is “terraced” but otherwise looks like a cup mute. I have never seen this kind of mute elsewhere.

    1. Hello, Mike,
      Thank you for your reply. I am glad to be of assistance.
      As to the identity of the mysterious mute, I am not sure what it is. The “ridges “ or “terraces” would be a distinct identifying feature of this brand, to be sure. The “Harmon” brand of mute has become a generic name for many mutes of this style, just like the name Kleenex has come to designate tissues. Bunny probably used whatever brand gave the sound he wanted, and this mute has probably gone out of production. I was not able to find anything similar in the current Humes and Berg catalog.

      A gentleman who might be able to identify this mute is Jon-Erik Kellso, a trumpet/cornet player based in NYC, but who has impeccable credentials as a performer of early jazz. You can read about him on Wikipedia and also hear him perform Sunday nights at the Ear Inn, with his band the EarRegulars, and M-T, at the Iguana with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. Jon-Erik gives an excellent tutorial on (early) jazz usage of mutes on YouTube entitled “Getting Creative with Trumpet Mutes in Jazz” on Jazz Academy, which seems to be associated with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
      Kellso’s performance schedule may be entirely changed or non- existent due to COVID, best to check as I think my information is several years old.
      Another thought occurred to me as I write this, is the cornet player Warren Vache might be familiar with this particular mute, but I am not sure how one would get in touch with him. Perhaps the NYC Musician’s Union.

      I performed with an organization which was quite similar to the Nighthawks here in Wisconsin entitled “The New Century Dance Orchestra” Our library was culled from 3 libraries, one known band and 2 unknown bands from the 20’s- early 30’s here in Wisconsin. The known band was the Schmitz Sisters Orchestra, an all female outfit hailing from Mt. Calvary, the same village Heinie Beau, of Benny Goodman fame, came from. (I was very fortunate to have performed with him twice for fundraisers) The charts were all stocks, but very authentically written. Armstrong, King Oliver, early Duke, Casa Loma, Bix, ODJB, among many others. I was afforded an opportunity to become familiar with this pre-1932 genre, the style and techniques, and some of the muting requirements here. I think I worked with them from 1988-2019. The 2 older co- leaders reached a point where performing was just not viable anymore and I think June 9, 2019 might have been this wonderful group’s last gig. I have made inquiries into taking it over, but time will tell. My Pixie/plunger technique was learned in this ensemble. A very unusual group to be found in Wisconsin to be sure, but my best shot at duplicating the LCJO experience.
      At any rate, I am enjoying your book, “Mr. Trumpet”, the blog entries, and especially all the remastering you have done. (I am reading the book very slowly, savoring every page, because I know how it ends :-(. ) If, by chance, I acquire any new info on the mute, I’ll let you know.

      Musically yours,

      Ted Pierce

      1. Ted, thanks again for your thoughtful and illuminating comments. I really appreciate them on a personal level, and as further clarification on issues that remain less than clear after many decades about Bunny’s music making. People are still curious about how Bunny played.

        I have heard Jon-Erik Kellso on many occasions, going back to the early 2000s, or perhaps earlier, when he appeared at Joe Boughton’s various jazzfests at Chautauqua, NY. I have also heard him play many times with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks at Iguana in Manhattan, and on at least one occasion at the Ear Inn, with Michael Steinman, also in Manhattan. He is a fine trumpeter.

        I am delighted that you have my book and are savoring every page. When people, especially trumpeters, really “get” what Berigan was all about, that is big payoff to me.

        Any further information about Berigan’s playing is always welcome here.

        By the way, can you identify the various high notes Bunny plays in the live version of “Livery Stable Blues”? High F was his favorite high note. He joked with members of his bands that those high F’s paid their salaries.

      2. Hi, again, Mike,
        When I first listened to both versions of Livery Stable Blues I was surprised that they are in the key of E concert, which means that is the key the piano, guitar, trombone and bass play in. A little music theory here, that key has 5 sharps for those instruments, the piano plays on 4 of the 5 black keys. The clarinet and trumpet, however have to transpose and play in the key of F#, which is 6 sharped notes for them, and some unusual fingerings. Alto and bari sax get stuck in C# major which is 7#s, the most you can get. E concert is typically a “guitar “ key, as the lowest open string is E and rock bands favor the sharp keys for ease of chords. So, right off, this song is placed in an unusual key for horns, who favor Bb and F, again for ease of fingerings. Professional players, however, are expected to be able to “cut it” in any of all the 12 keys. It is much to the credit of the band that they sound as at ease and credible on these arrangements as any other band would in an easier key. All the solos do not sound stiff, but are fluid and expressive and exciting.
        OK, more theory. A “blues” has notes which are altered to give it that gutsy sound. From the aforementioned “major” scales for the band, a blues scale will include a lowered ( “flatted”in jazz parlance) third note of the scale, an occasional flatted fifth, and a flatted seventh note. These notes make the whole piece a bit more accessible fingering-wise, but they are not consistently used in a blues, either in the arrangement or in the solos. The flatted third is interchangeable with the normal third, the fifth is also, but players are careful not to overuse this one, and the seventh is consistently flatted. Confused yet? You might recall Eddie Condon’s critical comment aimed at Be-boppers: “ We don’t flat our fifths, we drink’em!” Flatted fifths are more the property of the Delta and Chicago electric blues styles, and only a minor component of the harmonic language of bebop.
        OK, now Bunny’s solo on the live version. When Bunny steps up to the plate, the band accompanies him in “stop time” where the ongoing background changes to give the soloist open space to blow. Bunny’s first chorus has three accented quarter notes from the band on each of the chord changes. The second chorus gets only one accented quarter on each of the chords. Bunny begins his solo kind of fiddling around with the flatted notes of the blues scale and also “lips”. (as in a verb form) or “bends” the pitch lower in some places for a bluesy effect. This is kind of like playing in the cracks between the piano keys, transcribers hate this, cuz how do you notate this?
        Bunny’s second chorus finds him sailing up to (trumpet pitch) C# above the staff on a lip trill. These are performed by adjusting the tongue in a “Tah-ee-ah-ee-ah-ee” manner for the duration desired. Trumpeters manipulate their high velocity air stream with a combination of lip, tongue, muscles and jaw to do this and it requires a lot of power and control to pull it off.
        For Bunny’s next note, on this particular night the spirit was willing and the flesh was NOT weak, so he nails a super strong high F#, the root note of the chord, for a very dramatic effect. Bunny moves on, playing around with the various tones of the F# blues scale (F#, G#, A, B, C-C#, D, E, F#) and when reaching the dominant seventh, or “roman numeral V7 chord, attempts a repeated melodic fragment
        which begins on that high F# again. This one is not as strongly hit, and kind of squeaks out, but Bunny completes the idea nicely and then I think he repeats it, with the same partial success on the F#. Up in this atmospheric range, the trumpet can get quixotic and some instruments (lesser quality) don’t even have these notes; they just don’t come out. More modern times have seen the trumpet’s range extended by the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Cat Anderson, Jon Faddis, Wayne Bergeron, and a veritable host of others, but Bunny was fairly alone in the day in being able to play high, with Louis and Roy Eldridge in that club, too. No wonder the socks of his trumpet section rolled up and down night after night as they listened in amazement. Just to play “I Can’t Get Started” night after night is an exceptional feat, not to mention all the barn burners and flag wavers Bunny continued to play lead AND solo on as the night wore on. An exceptional lip and facial musculature, indeed. For the F#’s of that night, his band must have been deserving of an extra cash allowance!

      3. Many thanks Ted. Your analysis will be of great help to all, especially to trumpeters who want to understand from a technical standpoint what Berigan’s playing was all about.

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