“Devil’s Holiday” (1938); and (1940) with Tommy Dorsey

Composed and arranged by Benny Carter.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Thesaurus Transcription Service on June 27, 1938 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky, first trombone; Ray Conniff, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

Benny Carter in 1938.

The story: The multi-talented Benny Carter composed this romping, rhythmic swing vehicle for his own big band in 1933. He recorded it for Columbia/Okeh on October 16, 1933. The arrangement he wrote found its way onto the music stands of several bands in the mid-1930s, including Benny Goodman’s. BG broadcast it in late 1937, but then did not seem to play it much after that. In the spring of 1938, this arrangement entered the Berigan band book while Bunny was playing a lengthy stand at the Paradise Restaurant at 49th and Broadway in Manhattan. (Carter himself was still in Europe at that time, but would return soon to the USA.) Bunny and his band broadcast it from the Paradise on April 8, 1938. Although Berigan and his band liked this arrangement, and Bunny wanted to record it for Victor, that idea was vetoed by Victor A and R man Eli Oberstein, who thought he knew best what Berigan should record. Nevertheless, “Devil’s Holiday” remained in the active Berigan band book continuously until Bunny gave up his first band at the end of February 1940 to join Tommy Dorsey for several months. Bunny recorded “Devil’s Holiday” for Thesaurus Transcriptions early in the summer of 1938, and that is the first version presented with this post.

The music:

The Berigan-Thesaurus performance of “Devil’s Holiday” was the sixteenth tune recorded (out of twenty) at Victor’s Manhattan recording studio on June 27, 1938. As was always the case on those radio transcriptions, each tune received only one take. The quality of this performance, in terms of ensemble unity, jazz solos and sheer enthusiasm, is something that reflects the overall character of the 1938 Berigan band very accurately. At the time this recording was made, the Berigan band was very good, and would get better as 1938 progressed.

Benny Carter’s composition/arrangement on “Devil’s Holiday” is a simple framework for jazz solos. Basically, it is a riff played by the brass, with a contrasting tremolo played by the reeds.

Georgie Auld.

Georgie Auld, though only nineteen years old when this recording was made, was already a veteran of some sixteen months as Bunny’s featured tenor saxophone soloist. Auld started out as a technical whiz on his instrument, and an excellent reader of music. Slowly during his time with Berigan, he developed his ability as a jazz soloist. Shortly after this recording session, Auld, along with a number of other Berigan sidemen, at Bunny’s direction, studied what the early Count Basie band was all about. Auld took away from that study an abiding admiration for the playing of one of Basie’s two tenor saxophone soloists, Herschel Evans. (The other soloist was Lester Young.) But in his playing on this recording, we hear the ripe early Auld style, pre-Herschel. It was characterized by a bright sound, intense rhythm, solid jazz ideas, and excellent execution.

The Berigan musicians jump right into this jet-propelled performance with no introduction. The minimalist main melody is little more than a riffing framework for whirlwind jazz solos. Georgie Auld pops in and out of the ensembles during the first sixteen bars (hear Berigan’s lead trumpet and volcanic octave jump on the first bridge). Auld cuts loose in the second chorus for a typically robust improvisation. The backgrounds Carter fashioned for Auld to play against are simple organ chords played softly by the open brass so as not to interfere with the rhythmic propulsion of the jazz solo. Drummer Johnny Blowers rocks away throughout this performance, but especially behind Auld’s solo.

The Berigan band in action in early 1938 with clarinetist Joe Dixon playing a solo. Visible with Dixon from L-R are: Dave Tough, Clyde Rounds, Hank Wayland, Mike Doty, Berigan, Tommy Morganelli, Sonny Lee, Georgie Auld and Irving Goodman.

Clarinetist Joe Dixon follows Auld for a fine, fluent jazz chorus of his own. Then we hear Berigan: he enters in his lower register for the first eight bars than plays a descending, shivering figure to begin the second eight, incorporating Carter’s tremolo device into his improvisation. The saxophone quartet plays the eight-bar bridge with fluid ease for the first four bars, then does some spirited trilling through the second four bars, launching Berigan into the remaining eight bars of his solo with a trill of his own. He stomps and romps through the rest of this sequence. Berigan’s harmonic and rhythmic acuity are on display in this performance.

The last chorus features the powerfully riffing brass playing call-and-response with the trilling saxophones. An abrupt stop to this high-volume rhythmic madness allows pianist Joe Bushkin to make a brief, contrasting solo statement. This is followed by an ascending ladder of sounds, first the trombones (led by Nat Lobovsky), then the trumpets, then everybody, with Berigan ripping into the high-note topper for this segment. The finale has the band return briefly to the riffing brass and trilling saxophones, then a blasting finale.

“Devil’s Holiday”

Composed and arranged by Benny Carter.

Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra live in performance on June 5, 1940 from a NBC radio broadcast from the Astor Hotel in New York City.

Tommy Dorsey, first trombone, directing: Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet; Ray Linn, first trumpet; Jimmy Blake and possibly Leon Debrow, trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins and Lowell Martin, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Freddie Stulce and Johnny Mince, alto saxophones; Don Lodice and Paul Mason, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Clark Yocum, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.

The music:

Bunny Berigan took some of the arrangements he had played with his band along with him when he joined Tommy Dorsey’s band in early March of 1940. “Devil’s Holiday” was one of those arrangements. My informed speculation about how Tommy Dorsey handled this is that as a part of the inducement he made to Berigan to join his band at what was a critical juncture for TD (he was without a network radio show for the first time since late 1936, and was reorienting his band’s musical approach around the jazz writing of arranger Sy Oliver, and around the surprising success with ballads of his new boy singer, Frank Sinatra), Tommy happily allowed Bunny to use a few of the arrangements from his own band where he felt comfortable playing jazz. Although this was a kind gesture on the part of TD, it also had about it the tinge of noblesse oblige: the appetite of Tommy’s band for music of all sorts was enormous – they played through a huge amount of music on any given week. If Bunny Berigan could be featured on a couple of jazz vehicles of his choosing that inspired him, all the better for the band’s presentation overall.

Don Lodice with Tommy Dorsey’s band.

In addition to showcasing Berigan’s jazz, this performance spotlights the virtuosity of the Dorsey ensemble, the solo talents of tenor saxophonist Don Lodice, and the superbly swinging drumming of Buddy Rich. We must remember that both of these young musicians were discovered by Bunny Berigan, hired by him, and cultivated by him as jazz musicians. Rich went from Berigan’s band to Artie Shaw, and was a big part of Artie’s spectacular success through the year 1939. He was hired by TD late in 1939. Lodice left Berigan’s band in the late summer of 1939 and went to work for Teddy Powell, who led a very swinging band then. Right after Berigan joined Tommy in March of 1940, he recommended Lodice to TD as a replacement for jazz tenor saxophone soloist Babe Russin, who was leaving the Dorsey band after a lengthy tenure. Lodice performed very well in that role for the next couple of years.

“Mr. Humble” …by mid-1940 Buddy Rich had become a great big band drummer.

This sizzling live performance leaps off the starting line with Berigan’s first trumpet much in evidence through the first chorus. Don Lodice is his own man in both his lively tenor saxophone bursts in the beginning and in his acrobatic and swinging jazz solo (what he plays on the bridge is especially tasty). Clearly Lodice knew where he was going in this performance: he had played this chart dozens of times in his eight month tenure as Berigan’s jazz tenor saxophone soloist.

Bunny’s entry is arresting: his sound is so low and fat that one could mistake it for a trombone. His playing during the 1940 TD interlude was especially flowing, with long phrases pouring out of his trumpet like liquid gold. After Berigan’s solo, Ray Linn takes the trumpet lead through the last chorus. Note Rich’s great drumming through this sequence, and indeed throughout this performance. He was also very familiar with the contours of this arrangement as a result of playing it often in the Berigan band. The manic clarinet burst was played by Johnny Mince. Berigan reappears soaring above the powerful ensemble at the ending.

Tommy Dorsey and his band in mid-1940. L-R front: Freddie Stulce, Johnny Mince, Hymie Shertzer, Don Lodice, Paul Mason, TD; middle: Sid Weiss, Clark Yocum, Lowell Martin, Les Jenkins, George Arus, Joe Bushkin; back: Bunny Berigan, Jimmy Blake, Clyde Hurley, Ray Linn, Buddy Rich. Notice the pile of music at Mince’s left foot.

The story continues:

Here is the story of the demise of Bunny Berigan’s first band, and of his first major health crisis. Those events led directly to Berigan joining Tommy Dorsey’s band at the beginning of March of 1940.

The Berigan opened an exciting week at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on December 15, 1939. Bunny followed Charlie Barnet into the Apollo. Variety included a review of the Apollo show Berigan headlined in its December 22 issue:

Apollo Bill: Bunny Berigan Orchestra, George Wiltshire (comedy), Lillian Fitzgerald, Apus and Estrelita, Al Hylton, Sandy Burns, Viola Underwood and the house line of eighteen. The movie is The Escape (Twentieth Century Fox). The show leans heavily on filth, is indifferently presented and not really staged in the accepted sense of the word, but merely tossed together with little thought of compactness, pace or development. Dance numbers are poorly conceived and insufficiently rehearsed. What laughs there are depend on the anatomical or bathroom variety. The Berigan orchestra plays the first half of the show behind a curtain, a usual procedure with guest bands. Lillian Fitzgerald, hot singer, shouts two numbers; Apus and Estrelita, a mixed pair, do songs, dance and comedy (loaded with smut). Al Hylton does a magic routine; Danny Richards sings ‘My Prayer;’ Miss Viola, a hefty Negro contralto, also appears with the band, doing several blues tunes to a sizeable response. Berigan vocalizes on ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ but he’s a trifle stiff as an MC.”[1] 

The White materials contain this note regarding the appearance of Viola Underhill with the Berigan band: “‘Miss Rhapsody,’ Viola Underhill, signed a contract to appear at the Apollo Theater during the week beginning December 15th at a weekly salary of $60. She appeared with the Berigan band and according to a newspaper report, ‘practically stole the show from the noted bandleader and his aggregation.’ And a pencilled note in her scrapbook reads, “Rhap got a raise to $75 after the first show.”[2] The viewpoint of a Berigan sideman about this engagement was provided later by Paul Collins: “The Apollo was a great date, with very appreciative audiences. They had an all-colored show with a very fast, very beautiful chorus line. The drummer had a lot to do! Business was very good and the band played really great, but we had to eat smelly doughnuts and spicy spaghetti between shows!”[3] 

While the Berigan band was at the Apollo Theater, a photo was taken of them onstage and in performance. A smiling and dapper Bunny in a gray double-breasted suit leads his tuxedo-clad sidemen as they play. The Berigan band’s week at the Apollo was successful, as this blurb from the trade press indicates: “Charlie Barnet shattered all percentages and opening day records as he brought the first white band into the Apollo Theater. Bunny Berigan followed, and also did well.”[4]

Bunny Berigan leads his band at a successful engagement at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in December of 1939. The musicians in the band are L-R: Buddy Koss, Tommy Moore, Morty Stulmaker, Paul Collins; saxophones: Larry Walsh, Chuck DiMaggio, Joe DiMaggio, Stuart Anderson; brass: Carl Warwick, John Fallstich, Joe Aguanno, Al Jennings and Mark Pasco.

After closing at the Apollo, Berigan played a dance date at the chic Carlisle Hotel in Manhattan on December 22. The next night, he and drummer Paul Collins spent the evening together: “Bunny and I attended an ice hockey game at Madison Square Garden although he had complained of feeling rather poorly for a couple of days. He reckoned he got a further chill at the game and was taken to a nearby hospital (Polyclinic Hospital on West 50th between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.) He was out of his head with a high fever the first night and then his hands, knees and feet all swelled up, so he had to stay in the hospital for about ten days.”[5]

On December 24, the Berigan band was scheduled to begin a week’s engagement at the Mosque Ballroom in Newark, New Jersey, with the 26th and 27th off for Christmas. Press reports also said the he would appear for a time on the 24th with Georgie Auld’s band, which consisted of the remnants of Artie Shaw’s sidemen, who had elected Auld their leader after Artie left the band and went to Mexico a few weeks earlier. Auld was then playing at Roseland in New York City. Berigan certainly did not sit-in with Auld’s band, and did not play any of the Mosque engagement.[6] He entered the hospital in Manhattan on December 24, and would remain there for at least ten days. The available evidence indicates that he did not rejoin his band until January 7. This illness, which caused Bunny to be away from his band for two weeks, would be very costly for him in a number of ways.

The cirrhosis that would eventually kill Berigan put him in the hospital for the first time at the end of 1939.

Although there has been some discussion of the symptoms of the acute illness that put Berigan in the hospital at the end of 1939, and had him walking with a cane when he got out, there appears to be very little comment about the underlying chronic illness that was causing these symptoms. That illness was cirrhosis of the liver. The symptoms described above are symptoms of cirrhosis. Edema, or swelling, is a classic symptom of cirrhosis. “As cirrhosis of the liver becomes severe, signals are sent to the kidneys to retain salt and water in the body. The excess salt and water first accumulate in the tissue beneath the skin of the ankles and legs because of the effects of gravity when standing or sitting.”[7]  These symptoms are caused by the scarring of the liver that is also typical of cirrhosis. Irrespective of the effect Bunny’s drinking was having on his ability to function day-to-day, and play the trumpet, the disease within his body was now beginning to cause other serious health problems for him.

While Berigan struggled to overcome the assault on his organs that had now begun as a result of cirrhosis, his band forged on, no doubt at the behest of MCA, to honor the commitment to the Mosque Ballroom, which was then owned by former bandleader Jean Goldkette. This action also allowed Bunny’s musicians to continue working and getting paid while he was hospitalized. If this expedient had not been resorted to, the Berigan band, a solid performing unit, would have broken up. MCA summoned various musicians to lead the Berigan band in Bunny’s absence, first Jack Teagarden, on December 28 and 29, then Wingy Manone on December 31 and January 1.

On December 30, the Berigan band may have played in Port Washington, New York, with Big Tea leading them. (Teagarden was having his own problems leading a big band on the road for MCA then. On February 14, 1940, would file his own bankruptcy petition, listing a staggering $45,863 in debts, including $10,000 owed to MCA.[8] When compared with Teagarden’s debts, Bunny’s were small.[9])  In many ways, Jack Teagarden was like Bunny Berigan. They both were, first and foremost, magnificent musicians. They both were not vigilant in matters of business, and trusted others to look out for their interests. And they both were alcoholics. Fortunately, Jack Teagarden’s liver was able to tolerate his alcohol abuse for a long time. Indeed, when Teagarden died on January 15, 1964, at age fifty-eight, it was from bronchial pneumonia, not the effects of cirrhosis of the liver.

Wingy Manone“Let’s play the blues.”

Jack Teagarden was also a gentle soul who in no way would have ever wanted to hurt Bunny Berigan, a man he liked personally and revered as a musician. Nevertheless, when Teagarden stood in front of the Berigan band for those few nights at the end of 1939, he was very favorably impressed by the quality of their performances. While he was subbing for Bunny, no one knew when Berigan would be coming back to front his band, or indeed if he was coming back. Here is Stuart Anderson’s recollection of what happened at that time: “Wingy Manone led the band for a couple of nights. He took one look at our music and said, ‘Let’s play the blues.’ Jack Teagarden also fronted for a couple of nights, but he transposed and played Bunny’s parts from the arrangements without much trouble. He also brought his singer, Kitty Kallen, with him as we didn’t have a girl vocalist at that time. ‘Tea’ also offered all the boys jobs with him ‘if the worst should happen.’”[10] 

Like all bandleaders, Bunny was well aware of the dangers of layoffs, be it a layoff of the band or the layoff of the bandleader. His earlier layoffs of his band had invariably cost him at least a few musicians. This hiatus would too. Chuck DiMaggio remembered what happened while Bunny was convalescing:

“Bunny could stay away from the band for weeks at a time, like when he was in the hospital, and then come into a rehearsal cold, and just thrill everyone. He loved children and would often pick up my little boy, who was only two, and take him out for the day. The kids all loved him too. Unfortunately, he had that terrible drink problem, which caused him to go off the deep end frequently. He also had a weakness for the ladies, which caused Donna much grief. We didn’t see her or the kids very often, because she was rarely at any of the places we played. It’s true that Bunny and Lee Wiley had quite a thing going and I’m certain he felt more for her than any of the other women he had. He was a handsome guy and the women used to flock around him, but I’m sure that if he and Donna had ever divorced, he’d have married Lee. He approved of most of his fellow musicians and would never put anyone down, and with that philosophy, he got the most out of his sidemen. We often starved, but how we loved and respected him! He was quite a golfer too, and would go out on the course after having driven all night from some date in the sticks. Of course, his little bottle of stimulant always accompanied him in the side pocket of his golf bag! Those were difficult times for Bunny, and besides his financial worries he was laid up from time to time with ill health, pneumonia and arthritis in particular. Then he would lose good musicians, simply because they had to keep working to earn a living and couldn’t wait around while the band and its leader were laid off. So there was quite a turnover in personnel, which didn’t always make for good performances. While Bunny was in the hospital, Johnny Fallstich, Larry Walsh, and Jack Goldie all accepted offers from Jack Teagarden, and I got my brother Joe into the 3rd alto chair. Stu Anderson took over the jazz tenor and Frank Rash joined on 4th tenor. A young trumpet player called Les Elgart came in on first trumpet.”[11]

A swollen Bunny Berigan rejoined his band in early 1940 after ten days in the hospital.

When Bunny rejoined the band, even though he was using a cane and had not completely recovered from the swelling that had sent him to the hospital, he was evidently playing well, and was strong enough to work with his band, then go out afterwards to sit-in with friends. Paul Collins recalled: “When Bunny got out of the hospital, he was using a cane, because his fingers, knees and feet were still swollen, but it didn’t seem to affect his playing, and he was drinking less.”[12] Buddy Koss remembered: “Yeah, he started going down to Nick’s after work. He would sit-in and jam with the guys and word soon got around that Bunny was back and was in fine form.”[13] 

The Berigan band had a five-day engagement at Century Theater in New York City which began on January 7 and ended on the 11th. On January 12, they played a one-nighter at the George F. Pavilion near Binghamton, New York. The band probably played a couple of other one-night dates between then and their opening in Boston in the Marionette Room of Hotel Brunswick, Boyleston and Clarendon Streets, Boston, on January 15. Here is the probable personnel Bunny then was using: “Les Elgart (first), Carl Warwick, Joe Aguanno, trumpets; Mark Pasco (first), unknown, trombones; Chuck DiMaggio (first), Joe DiMaggio (jazz), (altos); Stu Anderson, Frank Rash (tenors), saxophones; Buddy Koss, piano; Tommy Moore, guitar, if present; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Paul Collins, drums; Danny Richards, vocals.”[14]  Bunny had no girl singer at this time, Kay Doyle having departed while Berigan was hospitalized. Regardless of Danny Richards’s very good performances, I suspect that the lack of a female vocalist was something of a commercial handicap because girl singers were an important feature in all bands. Nevertheless, the band forged on, and presumably played quite acceptably at the Brunswick.

While they were there, they broadcast over WEEI–Boston, and two of those broadcasts have been preserved. (See endnote 14A for details. Collectors, where are these recordings?)

Billboard’s correspondent filed this review of the Berigan band at the Brunswick Hotel:

“Bunny Berigan, one of the leading exponents of hot trumpeting art, is surrounded by 12 versatile boys, who dish out the jive in the approved manner that pleases both adults and juniors alike. The maestro handles his trumpet in a superb manner, playing almost flawless tone, he fronts and vocalizes occasionally. Joe DiMaggio is the standout of the group, alternating between alto saxophone and clarinet. The only detriment to the band is vocalist Danny Richards. He has a pleasing personality, but is handicapped by a whispering tone which is out of place with the orchestra’s brassy arrangements. Other standouts, besides DiMaggio, are Stu Anderson on tenor saxophone, Morty Stulmaker on bass and the old hide-pounder, Paul Collins.”[15]

Drummer Paul Collins and Berigan – summer 1939.

Paul Collins and Stuart Anderson added some details: “During the Brunswick Hotel engagement, we were off on Sunday and I (Collins) did a ‘sub’ job for Jack Teagarden, who was playing at the Southland and he made me an offer that was much more money than I was getting with Bunny. So I turned in my notice, which I worked out until we finished at the hotel. Bunny had been booked in for a two week option and he got Jack Maisel to replace me for the second stint.”[16] Stuart Anderson recalled: “Jack Maisel joined the band in Boston and brought quite a few new arrangements with him. Soon afterwards, he took over the road management from ‘Cap’ Berigan, Bunny’s father. We were out of the hotel for about a week, playing a return engagement at the Raymor-Playmor twin Ballrooms opposite Teddy Powell. Boston was really jumping at that time with Jack Teagarden and Lennie Hayton also in the city.”[17]

The Berigan band closed at the Brunswick on January 27. The next day, Bunny returned to Manhattan alone to play on CBS’s Hobby Lobby show, from 5:00–5:30 p.m. He rejoined his band in Boston the following day for a one-week gig at the Raymor-Playmor Ballrooms. From this location, they also broadcast over WEEI from 12:00 midnight to 12:30 a.m. on the 29th. No recordings of this broadcast are known to exist.[18]

Bunny closed the Raymor-Playmor engagement on February 3, and returned rather unexpectedly to the Brunswick Hotel. “Bunny Berigan and his famous orchestra return to the Marionette Room of the Hotel Brunswick on Monday, February 5. Bunny is a crowd-pleaser and a perennial favorite and we strongly suggest that you plan to visit the Marionette Room this week as his band will be there for a limited engagement.”[22] In spite of this good break, Berigan himself was still not well. Former Berigan vocalist Gail Reese decided to visit Bunny while the band was in Boston: “I went down to the Brunswick Hotel to catch the band and was most upset to see Bunny in such poor physical shape. His hands were so swollen that he could hardly hold his horn. I think he must have been in a lot of pain, because he played very little that night.”[23] As it turned out, Berigan’s second run at the Brunswick lasted until February 14, and was very successful. “Boston was somewhat clogged by snow on its streets, but all the night spots and hotels did the largest business in some time. Bunny Berigan played to packed houses, while Teddy Powell was also playing to capacity. Berigan was at the Hotel Brunswick, where he was held over for three weeks.”[24]

As 1939 ended, Bunny Berigan was coming to grips with the disease that would eventually kill him. He was also trying to get out of debt.

Sickness, snow, or a successful gig made no difference to the MCA accountants: the Berigan band had to cover its weekly commissions “nut,” and that meant working whenever and wherever MCA booked the band. So, when Sunday February 11 rolled around, and MCA knew the band could not work in Boston that day because of the Massachusetts “blue laws,” they booked it to play a one-nighter at the Arcadia Hall in Brooklyn, New York. The band then returned to Boston to play the Brunswick gig the next day.

Boston was buried in snow on February 15. Luckily, the MCA bookers had lined up a one-nighter for the Berigan band just across the Charles River from Boston at Harvard University for February 16. Yet again, Bunny and his boys pleased the paying customers. Stuart Anderson remembered: “We played that date in a terrific blizzard, but the campus crowd seemed to like the band. The show also included a comedian, who parodied the Roosevelts and got a big hand from the kids.”[25] “The campus approved of the Bunny Berigan orchestra. Reasons were: the name, theme and the fact that he and the band’s playing were much better than expected.”[26]

From that gig, what the band did over the next few days is rather uncertain. There definitely was a one-night dance date at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Philadelphia on February 21, and another at Blair Academy, Blairstown, New Jersey, on the 23rd. Then on Sunday February 25, 1940, the Berigan band played a one-nighter at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. After the gig, Bunny unceremoniously announced that he was breaking up his band and would be joining Tommy Dorsey’s band, which had recently opened at the Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Here are two remembrances of that night. Stuart Anderson recalled: “That was the band’s last date. We weren’t given any real notice by Bunny or the office. I guess they just ran out of bookings and that caused the band to break up.” Buddy Koss added: “Bunny left the band very quickly without much warning. ‘I am going back to Tommy Dorsey,’ was about all he said to the band, but he added that he would definitely have his own band again at some time in the future.”[27]

MCA had finally pulled the plug on the Berigan band. In the previous eighteen months, Bunny had experienced a slow but inexorable withdrawal of support from MCA. Their attention was now divided between many more swing bands than had existed when they first took him on as a client in the spring of 1937. Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Jack Teagarden, to name but a few, were now also being booked by MCA. MCA had even started a “colored” department in early 1940 under the direction of Harry Moss, who oversaw the booking of dance band one-nighters by MCA.[29] In addition, there were now many other former sidemen stepping out with their own big bands. Bobby Hackett, Jack Jenney, Teddy Wilson and Sonny Dunham, had already done so; Lionel Hampton soon would. The big band era had reached its apogee, but the supply of bands now exceeded the demand. As a result, many of these sidemen-turned-bandleaders would be driven either into bankruptcy or insolvency. Given these harsh realities, MCA undoubtedly masterminded the move of Bunny Berigan from the helm of his own struggling band into Tommy Dorsey’s band. But exactly what did MCA have in mind?

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.


[1] Variety: December 22, 1939, cited in the White materials.

[2] White materials: December 15, 1939.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Metronome: January 1940, cited in the White materials.

[5] White materials: December 23, 1939. In 1939, Madison Square Garden was located on Eighth Avenue at West Fiftieth Street. Polyclinic Hospital was located across West Fiftieth Street from Madison Square Garden. It was here that Berigan was hospitalized.

[6] Trumpeter Joe Aguanno had a very specific remembrance of Bunny at the Mosque Ballroom. See biographical sketch of Bunny Berigan at the Big Band Library website. So he may have begun the engagement before being hospitalized.

[7] MedicineNet.com, Cirrhosis of the liver (2008).

[8] White materials: February 14, 1940.

[9] The story of Jack Teagarden’s bankruptcy is remarkably similar to the story of Bunny Berigan’s bankruptcy in that most of the same characters were involved: Arthur Michaud, John Gluskin, MCA, and the AFM musicians’ union. The ultimate outcome was much more favorable for Teagarden however, because he employed the services of veteran show-biz lawyer Andrew Weinberger, who made a career out of extricating musicians from their improvident business dealings. See: Jack Teagarden—The Story of a Jazz Maverick, by Jay D. Smith and Len Guttridge, Da Capo Press, Inc. (1988), 132–133, for a brief explanation of the Teagarden bankruptcy.

[10] White materials: January 1, 1940.

[11] Ibid. Later, in the 1950s, trumpeter Les Elgart became a successful bandleader, first alone, and then in conjunction with his brother, alto saxophonist Larry Elgart.

[12] White materials: January 7, 1940.

[13] Ibid.

[14] White materials: January 15, 1940.

[15] Billboard: February 3, 1940, cited in the White materials.

[16] White materials: January 22, 1940.

[17] Ibid.

[18] White materials: January 28–29, 1940.

[19] Billboard: February 3, 1940, cited in the White materials.

[20] Down Beat: February 15, 1940, cited in the White materials.

[21] White materials: February 2, 1940.

[22] Boston Post: February 3, 1940, cited in the White materials.

[23] White Materials: February 16, 1940.

[24] Metronome: March 1940, cited in the White materials.

[25] White materials: February 16, 1940.

[26] Billboard: May 25, 1940, cited in the White materials.

[27] White materials: February 25, 1940.

[28] Metronome: February 1940, cited in the White materials.

[29] Billboard: January 27, 1940, cited in the White materials.

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  1. The fact that there was no Victor recording of “Devil’s Holiday” is yet another illustration of Eli Oberstein’s tone deafness with regard to the Berigan band’s musical character. He deemed such drivel as “The Pied Piper” and “(A Sky of Blue and You) And So Forth” suitable but couldn’t see Carter’s brilliant instrumental for this hard-swinging (albeit versatile) band? We must be so thankful both that later in ’38 the attuned and perspicacious Leonard Joy assumed supervision of the orchestra’s commercial recording sessions and for the Thesaurus transcriptions, which provide a much more accurate representation of the band’s identity than a good part of the Oberstein-overseen records.

    It’s interesting to compare the Berigan and Dorsey versions of “Devil’s Holiday,” on both of which Bunny is the key presence. Because they follow the same arrangement, the standout difference for me between the two takes, apart from the solos, is the way in which their respective drummers, Blowers and Rich, drive the band. The ever-swinging Buddy, though of course known for his pyrotechnics, seems to confine himself largely to punctuations to the soloists’ comments until the final chorus, in which he becomes more prominent. I’ve always had much affection for the Rhythm Makers transcription — which, though recorded in a studio, was a product of the same high-pressure one-take situation as the Dorsey on-location performance. Too, Bunny’s lip got a real workout on that ’38 session and held up to the demanding solo and lead work required. For me, this song was a good vehicle for Georgie’s style of the time, as it allowed him to make pithy statements and rely on his then somewhat vertical approach, before he’d soaked in Herschel’s influence and become more linear, and thus jazz-oriented, in his soloing. Joe Dixon, whose distinctive tone I’ve always enjoyed, and the great Joe Bushkin are heard to good advantage, as well. Bunny’s cogent and flowing solo does indeed, as mentioned, showcase his harmonic keenness — he never just glossed over the changes! As usual, his technical command is on glorious display.

    Though we’ve heard that Bunny’s role in TD’s band in those months in 1940 was somewhat limited, for reasons which may be numerous and open to speculation, we still must surmise from this performance that there were certain instances in which Tommy wanted Bunny’s lead for its power, depth and impeccable phrasing. Always an excellent lead man, Bunny was still capable of delivering, as we hear. The purpose, in the musical sense, of his return to the Dorsey fold, though, was to play jazz, and his work on “Devil’s Holiday” attests to his enduring ability to produce compelling, fresh lines infused with drama. His trilled high C and then perfectly speared high F reappearance as the “Holiday” concludes seem to say “I’m still here!” — which can be further interpreted as having meaning beyond just that one performance.

    Part of being human is having an interest in our fellow humans. This interest manifests itself in our concern for our family, friends, neighbors and, we can hope, those far beyond our immediate sphere, on the basis of the humanity and world we share. Too, it can be seen in our curiosity about those, viewed from afar, whose work or achievements we admire. From the first time, decades ago, that I heard Bunny — to whose music I was introduced by my mother, who spoke of him with reverence — I wanted to learn more about him. And I did — with MR TRUMPET eventually appearing and becoming my most valuable resource. Sometimes, though, it’s true that our heroes — musical, in this case, or certainly otherwise — can appear to us, with increased knowledge, as quite different from how they appear through whatever brought them to our attention. Bunny, despite being flawed, as we all are, seems to have been a genuinely good man. Too, I see his persistence in soldiering on with the band — in spite of the personal, professional, financial and, above all, disease-related adversity he faced — as entirely consistent with the heroic quality he displays in his work, as exemplified presently by “Devil’s Holiday.”

    It would have been interesting to hear Wingy’s “Let’s play the blues” subbing stint for Bunny. … And, finally, I too have always seen many similarities beyond the obvious features of “virtuoso” and “alcoholic” in Bunny and Big Tea. Each quiet man was indeed a “gentle soul,” who spoke well of their fellow musicians and treated them with respect.

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