Composed and arranged by Benny Carter.
Recorded from an NBC radio broadcast Carnaval de Broadway emanating from the Astor Roof in New York City on either June 26 or August 14, 1940.(*)
Tommy Dorsey, first and solo trombone; directing: Bunny Berigan, Ray Linn, Jimmy Blake, and either Leon Debrow or Clyde Hurley trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins and Lowell Martin, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Freddie Stulce, Johnny Mince, alto saxophones (Stulce doubled on baritone saxophone; Mince doubled on clarinet); Don Lodice and Paul Mason, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Clark Yokum, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
(*) There has been considerable confusion about when certain aircheck performances of Bunny Berigan with Tommy Dorsey from 1940 were recorded. I have attempted to sort out that confusion over many years. Recently, other scholars who have access to much original Tommy Dorsey material, including the airchecks themselves, have worked on this independently. Merging the information from their more recent scholarship with the information in the White materials, I have arrived that the conclusion that the performance of “Symphony in Riffs” presented here was broadcast and recorded either on June 26 or August 14, 1940. I have included a link to the more recent research below. See endnotes (3) and (8).
On Tuesday, May 21, 1940, Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra opened at the Roof Garden of Hotel Astor in New York City. Here is the information in the advertisement for this opening that was in the New York Times:
“Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra: Astor Roof, Hotel Astor —OPENING TONIGHT—with Sande Williams and His Orchestra—The Callahan Sisters—Hibbert, Bird & Laurie—The Top Hatters. Dinner and dancing nightly, except Sunday. Comfort is assured on the Astor Roof. Cooled by nature on suitable evenings; on other nights air conditioned. Dinner and supper dancing nightly, except Sunday. Deluxe dinners from $2.00; supper couvert (after 10 p.m.) 75 cents, except Saturdays and holidays, then $1.00.”(1)
More information was contained in Variety:
“The Astor show has the Tommy Dorsey band, Connie Haines, Frank Sinatra, the Pied Pipers, the Top Hatters, the Callahan Sisters, and the Hibbert-Bird-Larue trio. The band has five reeds, three trombones, not counting Dorsey, four trumpets, piano, bass and drums, no guitar. The Pied Pipers are three men and a girl, Jo Stafford; the Top Hatters are a whirlwind roller skating duo and the Callahan Sisters are a tap dance team. Buddy Rich is featured on a portable drum set down front on ‘Quiet Please.’ Tommy has asked ringsiders to bear with him if the blasting gets too loud during the broadcasts. Sande Williams has the house band.”(2)
It seems that vaudeville-style floor shows were still very much alive in 1940. It also seems that although TD’s singers and drummer Buddy Rich were mentioned in the blurb in Variety, Bunny Berigan was not.
The broadcasts referred to occurred almost nightly, alternating between NBC’s Blue Network (over WJZ–New York), and Red Network (over WEAF–New York). Many recordings were recorded off of the air during Tommy Dorsey’s 1940 engagement at the Astor Roof. They show the development of the powerhouse band Tommy was to lead from then well into the years of World War II, and document the emergence of Frank Sinatra as a singing star. They also show how important an asset drummer Buddy Rich had become, both as a very colorful ensemble player, and as a nonpareil soloist. Other valuable commercial assets were the Pied Pipers singing group, and increasingly, their lead singer Jo Stafford, and Tommy’s smooth trombone. Arranger Sy Oliver had by this time become a constant source of swinging originals for the band’s jazz contingent, which included, in addition to Rich, clarinetist Johnny Mince, tenor saxophonist Don Lodice, pianist Joe Bushkin, and Bunny Berigan. Oliver also wrote arrangements on pop tunes for TD’s band. Axel Stordahl continued to perfect his skills as arranger of ballads, most of which were sung by Sinatra. To top all of this off, Tommy used petite Connie Haines to sing mostly novelties and rhythm tunes. Paul Weston had left TD by this time, to embark on what would soon become a highly successful career as a freelance arranger/conductor.
While at the Astor Roof, the Dorsey band continued to make hour-long broadcasts over NBC on Saturday afternoons, advertised by NBC as The Dorsey Hour. The first of these took place on May 25, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.
On Tuesday May 28, 1940 from 2:00 – 2:30 p.m., Tommy’s band participated in the America Dances radio show that may have been relayed to England via shortwave signals. This broadcast emanated from one of CBS’s Manhattan broadcast sites. John Allen Wood was the announcer. Here is the lineup from that broadcast: “Getting Sentimental,” partial, announcements; “Loosers Weepers”; “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” vocal Frank Sinatra; “Easy Does It”; “I’ll Never Smile Again”; “Blues No More”; “Boog It,” vocal Connie Haines and band; “East of the Sun,” vocal Sinatra and band; “Old Man Harlem”; theme and close. That same night, the band broadcast on a sustaining basis over NBC-Red (via WEAF-NYC) from the Astor Roof from 11:30 p.m. to midnight.
In addition, Tommy Dorsey and his band participated in a series of NBC broadcasts from the Astor Roof on Wednesday nights from 10:15 to 10:45 p.m. with Spanish-speaking announcer Alfredo Barrett. This series, which was called Carnaval de Broadway, apparently continued through the month of June, beginning on Wednesday June 5. It was sponsored by the Astor Hotel. I say “apparently” because it is unclear if a Carnaval de Broadway broadcast took place on June 26, which was the fourth Wednesday in that month. What is more peculiar is that documentation exists for a Carnaval de Broadway broadcast on Wednesday August 14, 1940, eight weeks after the third of the June Carnaval de Broadway broadcast. (3) To me as a historian, it would make more sense for a number of reasons if that fourth Carnaval de Broadway broadcast took place on Wednesday June 26. All four known Carnaval de Broadway broadcasts were transmitted over NBC’s White international network via shortwave and local affiliates to Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America. Announcer Alfredo Barrett invited the listeners to write to “El Rey de trombone, Tommy Dorsey,” c/o NBC, New York, for a free autographed photo. (3)
The recordings of the Dorsey band from this time period not only document the evolution of the band’s style from the 1930s TD band to the 1940s TD band and capture the rapidly maturing singing style of Frank Sinatra, they give us a very clear picture of how Bunny Berigan was playing then. The many recollections of the musicians who worked with Bunny during this time are contradictory. I think this is because when these people were asked about Bunny many years later, they recalled incidents in a way that is very typical, that is by merging events that may have actually happened days, weeks, or even months apart. The resulting picture is almost always distorted to some degree. The recordings that were made then are a literal documentation of what was happening at a given time, and they greatly assist in presenting a truer, fuller representation of the reality that existed at that juncture.
Fortunately, sixteen performances from June of 1940 (and possibly one from August) by the Tommy Dorsey band have been gathered and presented on a CD with excellent sound, entitled Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra—Featuring Bunny Berigan—March/June Broadcasts to South America, Soundcraft SC-5012 (2001). The liner notes that accompany that CD are a fine tribute to Bunny Bergan, but do not contain any precise information about the dates the recordings on that CD were made.
With the assistance of the White materials, I was able (in 2008) to match the recordings on that CD with the dates assigned to them in those materials by matching the actual timings of each recording, with the timings included in the White Materials. However, additional historical research done since then, with materials that are relevant to Tommy Dorsey’s career, has in some instances yielded more accurate and/or detailed dating information. That research can be found in the Tommy Dorsey studies housed at the Glenn Miller Archive at the University of Colorado. See the link that appears at endnote 3 below.
All of this fact-finding has led me to come to some conclusions about how Bunny Berigan was playing was playing in mid-1940.
The first fact correction I must make is to the title of the above-said CD: None of the recordings on it come from March 1940; they all come from June of 1940, except one or two, which may come from August 14, 1940. The following tunes were definitely taken from the June 1, 1940 Saturday Dorsey Hour, broadcast which originated over WEAF–New York, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. (NBC staff announcer Lyle Van): “I’m Nobody’s Baby,” vocal Connie Haines, arrangement Sy Oliver; medley of “It’s a Wonderful World,” vocal CH; “Believing,” solo TD; and “Shake Down the Stars,” vocal Frank Sinatra; “Hawaiian War Chant”; “East of the Sun,” vocal FS and band; and “Hallelujah!” arrangement Oliver.
From the Carnaval de Broadway broadcast of Wednesday June 5, WJZ–New York, 10;15 – 10:45 p.m. (Spanish-speaking announcer Alfredo Barrett) are “Sweet Lorraine,” vocal Pied Pipers; “Whispering,” vocal Frank Sinatra and Pied Pipers ; “East of the Sun,” vocal Sinatra and band; and “Devil’s Holiday.” From the Carnaval de Broadway broadcast of Wednesday June 12: “Song of India,” “Marie,” vocal Sinatra and band; and “I’ll Never Smile Again.” From the Carnaval de Broadway broadcast of June 19, WJZ: theme, opening announcements; “Dark Eyes”; “March of the Toys”; and “Deep Night,” vocal, Frank Sinatra and band.(4)
The recording of “Symphony in Riffs” presented with this post, which is approximately five minutes in length, was made on either June 26, 1940 or on August 14, 1940. June 26 was the fourth consecutive Wednesday on which the Carnaval de Broadway series of broadcasts was apparently presented. The White materials state that “Symphony in Riffs,” in an approximate five minute performance, was played on that broadcast. The 1940 Tommy Dorsey Materials at the Glenn Miller Archive have no information about a June 26, 1940 Carnaval de Broadway broadcast. Instead, those materials have information about a Carnaval de Broadway taking place on August 14, 1940, on which “Symphony in Riffs” was played.
While Bunny Berigan was a featured member of Tommy Dorsey’s band, he would also usually lead the band during at least part of the first set on dance dates, and did so at the Astor Roof, with Tommy making a grand entrance before the first intermission. Fans constantly requested that Bunny play his theme song, “I Can’t Get Started with You.” Consequently Dorsey was faced with a bit of a dilemma: he wanted Bunny to be spotlighted, yet he didn’t want there to be any confusion about the fact that this was Tommy Dorsey’s band, not Bunny Berigan’s. The solution worked out by TD had him graciously bringing Bunny down front at some time during the evening, and allowing him to play “I Can’t Get Started.” This did not happen nightly, but it happened frequently. There is only one time however that TD presented Berigan playing “I Can’t Get Started”on a radio broadcast, and that was on a Dorsey Hour airshot from the Astor Roof on June 8. It is not known whether this performance was recorded, or if it was, whether it still exists.(5)
Well then, how was Bunny playing? On “I’m Nobody’s Baby,” he is featured in the first chorus with a straight mute, and sounds fine. He returns after the vocal with a few bars of high note playing on both sides of Don Lodice’s tenor solo. On “Hawaiian War Chant,” his solo is fluent and inventive with an exciting climax. “East of the Sun” was being promoted heavily by Victor, and Tommy cooperated fully, broadcasting it as often as possible. After Sinatra’s vocal Bunny has a few muted bars where he tried to create excitement. Perhaps he tried a bit too hard in such a short solo.
On Sy Oliver’s arrangement of “Hallelujah!” I think he plays at least some lead trumpet, then takes the climactic solo to conclude the performance. Johnny Mince has a splendid solo on clarinet; Don Lodice keeps the excitement going with his tenor saxophone. Buddy Rich’s drumming is superb. Berigan’s arresting entrance on a held note (a high D) shows that his sense of drama was still very much intact, as was his high register. (He ends the performance with a massive, ringing high F.) “Hallelujah!” clearly demonstrates what a great band Tommy had then, and Bunny’s solo on it is top notch. “Hallelujah!” was the closing number of the June 1 broadcast. (Below at endnote (6) is a link to that great performance.)
From the June 12 Carnaval de Broadway broadcast come two of the biggest hits TD had in the 1930s: “Song of India” and “Marie.” Both of these tunes were recorded by Tommy in January of 1937, with Berigan playing inspired trumpet solos. Once again, based on these aircheck performances, Bunny was at or near the peak of his powers. The comparison between the classic Berigan solos on the 1937 Victor records and these is very interesting. On “Song of India,” Bunny enters in his middle register, then leaps into the high register, and goes on from there to complete an excellent solo that is totally different from the one he had recorded earlier. I am struck by how Bunny was playing in long, flowing phrases at this time.(7) On “Marie” he enters as he had on the Victor record, then fashions some new ideas into another exciting solo. This version also spots some very good TD trombone and an extended booting tenor sax solo from Don Lodice. As anyone who knows anything about jazz will tell you, it is not easy to come up with interesting ideas on a tune that you have played for the one-hundredth time. Yet Bunny did it here on both “Song of India” and “Marie.”
As if all of this was not enough to keep the Dorsey band busy, they started work on Tuesday June 25 on a weekly sponsored thirty-minute NBC network radio show. That was the first program in the summer replacement series for The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope, which was scheduled to run for 13 weeks. There was one feed of the program for all NBC Red local affiliates across the entire nation, broadcast at 10:00 pm EDT. The rehearsals and broadcasts were done at NBC’s Radio City studios in Manhattan.(8)
Benny Carter composed “Symphony in Riffs” in 1933, and first recorded it on October 16, 1933. The arrangement Carter made for this tune was used by a number of bands throughout the 1930s, and recorded by Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and Glenn Miller. TD’s Victor recording of it was made on July 25, 1938.
As noted above, the performance of “Symphony in Riffs” was probably taken from either the June 26 or August 14, 1940 Carnaval de Broadway TD broadcast using the same Benny Carter arrangement that was used (and indeed recorded) by Tommy and many other bands. (9) Berigan’s solo on “Symphony in Riffs” (forty-eight bars) is inspired, swinging jazz, and it disproves the recollections of those who said he could no longer play extended solos. His playing here is fluent, his sound is full and rich, his range from the bottom of the horn to the top is unimpaired, and his ideas are interesting and exciting. Yes, he does stumble a bit along the way, but he was pursuing interesting jazz ideas and trying to create provocative music, not play safe. And in the end, he fashioned an excellent, cohesive jazz solo.
The other soloists, Don Lodice on tenor saxophone, Tommy Dorsey on trombone and Johnny Mince on clarinet, also play very good jazz, spurred on by the dynamic drumming of Buddy Rich. The streamlined saxophone soli which are hallmarks of this Benny Carter composition/arrangement, are played with zest by the saxophone quintet of Hymie Shertzer on lead alto, Freddie Stulce, Johnny Mince, Don Lodice and Paul Mason. This is a very satisfying swing performance that shows that the Tommy Dorsey band of mid-1940, definitely including Bunny Berigan, was firing on all cylinders.
The translation for the Spanish announcement for “Symphony in Riffs” is as follows: “The moment has arrived for the ‘killer diller’ of tonight, the final swing number of (this broadcast ??); to dance, as they say, to the beat of the Symphony of Swing!” (I must thank professors Mason Shuman and Manuel J. Albacete of Kent State University for this translation.)
A Bit More Story:
I have many musical heroes, and Arturo Toscanini is certainly one of them. Maestro Toscanini’s passionate dedication to musical excellence remained constant throughout a career that lasted over seven decades. In 1937, late in his life, he accepted the position as conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, a top-grade ensemble that was created just for him, to present concert music over the NBC radio networks. That required him to spend substantial amounts of time in New York City, where the Orchestra was based. In the early years of his association with the NBC Symphony, Toscanini resided in Hotel Astor.
Toscanini’s magical realm was the huge Studio 8H in the RCA Building. That was where he and the NBC Symphony rehearsed and made their broadcasts from. The adjacent Studio 8G, which was smaller, is where Tommy Dorsey and his band broadcast their NBC Raleigh-Kool radio show. Throughout 1938 and 1939, Toscanini and Tommy Dorsey were often working near to each other on the eighth floor of the RCA Building in Radio City. Very soon, the musicians in each ensemble began socializing and comparing notes about their exacting, temperamental leaders.
It is not known how Toscanini, who did not fraternize, became aware of Tommy Dorsey’s abilities as a trombone virtuoso and bandleader, but somehow he did. At various times, Toscanini referred to Tommy as the world’s finest trombonist. Still, at any given time, the Maestro was basically in his ivory tower, thinking about the music he and his Orchestra would be performing.
Sometime the summer of 1940, Toscanini decided to bring a party into the Astor Roof to hear Tommy Dorsey’s band. Here is what happened that night:
“At the Astor Roof, word got around that Toscanini was coming. There was some speculation. Would he like the band? Toscanini’s party arrived and was seated at a table advantageously placed for listening to the band. The next set began and Toscanini was attentive, apparently taking in every nuance. He looked pleased. During the intermission that followed, Tommy was invited to Toscanini’s table. The Maestro smiled and commented; ‘Tommy, the band sounds fine. The boys play with a great deal of feeling. But they play too goddamned loud!'”(10)
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered and edited by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) New York Times: May 21, 1940, cited in the White materials.
(2) Variety: May 29, 1940, cited in the White materials.
(3) In attempting to match these tunes with the dates on which they were broadcast, I matched the actual aircheck performance timings from the tunes on SC-5012 with the same tunes and timings listed in the White materials. Other resources I have consulted include: the 1940 Tommy Dorsey materials at Glenn Miller Archive. Here is the link to those materials which are housed at the Glenn Miller Archive at the University of Colorado: https://www.colorado.edu/amrc/sites/default/files/attached-files/gma_3_1.06_1940_0.pdf This resource is referred hereafter as: 1940 Tommy Dorsey materials at Glenn Miller Archive.
The 1940 Tommy Dorsey Materials at the Glenn Miller Archive include information about an apparent Carnaval de Broadway broadcast on August 14, 1940. I question why there would be such a broadcast separated by eight weeks from the last June Carnaval de Broadway broadcast reported in the 1940 Tommy Dorsey materials at Glenn Miller Archive, which is the one that occurred on Wednesday June 19. To me, it would make more sense if there were a series of four Carnaval de Broadway broadcasts on consecutive Wednesdays through the month of June, including on Wednesday June 26. There exists at the Library of Congress an archive of NBC materials that includes information regarding broadcasts over NBC’s White international network: The International Network master books: August, 1936-September, 1948, (the White logs). That may be where the information is that would help resolve this issue. If anyone has other relevant information about when the 1940 Bunny Berigan with Tommy Dorsey recordings were made, please contact me with it.
My thanks go out to Dennis Spragg and the other historians at the Glenn Miller Archive who have done heroic work in organizing the Tommy Dorsey (and other) materials housed there into a coherent resource available to scholars.
(4) 1940 Tommy Dorsey materials at Glenn Miller Archive, 54.
(5) Ibid. 56. (June 8, 1940.)
(6) Here is a link to the great performance of the TD band on Sy Oliver’s arrangement of “Hallelujah!”:https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/12/01/on-the-air-with-the-great-bands-1940-tommy-dorsey-hallelujah/
(7) Ibid. 57. (June 12, 1940.) An extraordinarily compelling example of Bunny Berigan playing “in long flowing phrases” is the recording he made of “Tuxedo Junction” on June 8, 1940. Here is a link to that recording: https://bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com/2017/11/28/tuxedo-junction-1940-two-different-versions/
(8) 1940 Tommy Dorsey materials at Glenn Miller Archive, 65.
(9) There is no mention of the June 26, 1940 Carnaval de Broadway broadcast in the 1940 Tommy Dorsey materials at Glenn Miller Archive. But there is information concerning an apparent Carnaval de Broadway (including Spanish announcements) broadcast on August 14, 1940, on which “Symphony in Riffs” was performed as the closing number. The recording of “Symphony in Riffs” that was performed and broadcast on the June 26, 1940 Carnaval de Broadway show includes (according to the White Materials) announcements in Spanish. The June 26 recording mentioned in the White Materials, which also includes its timing of approximately five minutes. NOTE: The version of “Symphony in Riffs,” from either the June 26 or August 14, 1940 Carnaval de Broadway broadcast which is presented here has been slightly edited, resulting in a timing of 5.02.
Although the TDGMA materials do indicate that “Symphony in Riffs” was also performed on the Saturday June 15, 1940 Dorsey Hour broadcast from the Astor Roof, that broadcast was announced in English by NBC staff announcer Lyle Van, so it could not be the performance presented here.
(10) Tommy and Jimmy …The Dorsey Years (1972) by Herb Sanford, 193-195.
As always, Mike, your stories are most interesting with supportive and exceptional details. Wonderful extended solos on this performance adds excitement to the original Benny Carter chart. Thank you.
I well recall the excitement I felt when that Soundcraft disc was released! In the heyday of CDs, I suspect the keen anticipation many of us experienced just before listening to a “new” Berigan (Dorsey; Goodman; Ellington; Shaw …) performance was like that of a Swing Era fan, who had just returned home from the local record shop with a new Victor 78 in its paper sleeve. Having read the Dupuis book back in the early ’90s and learned of the ever-increasing professional and personal adversity that Bunny faced as he was forced to disband, I was incredibly eager to get a clearer picture of the Berigan horn of the ’40 stint with TD’s orch. So invested was I in Bunny’s story that I know I was biting my lip as he began each solo: Will he make it? What will he say in his lines (the musical kind)? Will he sound strong?
We know that among the audiences, both in-person and remote, for these shows on the Soundcraft CD were people who really cared about the music and followed the swing bands and Bunny’s career, in particular, very closely. I’m sure that these aficionados were thrilled by what they heard and detected no diminution of Bunny’s powers. He was a gleaming hero to these avid supporters! We listen now with an awareness that cirrhosis of the liver was ravaging his body and wonder how he existed then, let alone blew a trumpet. That he played with this technical excellence, imagination and fire is a true marvel. Of course, we know that deterioration is generally gradual and insidious.
I have to say, I’ve never met a rendition of “Symphony in Riffs” — from the initial one by its brilliant author’s band to subsequent treatments — that I didn’t love. As I recall, I heard the song first performed by the Miller band, who played it on dance dates but did not make a commercial recording of it. I was knocked out by the attention-grabbing opening theme and then of course the writing, so characteristic of Carter, for the reeds. The intriguing harmonic structure, too, lends itself to improvisation.
It’s always interesting to make comparisons between a band’s commercial recording of a piece and either previous or subsequent on-location performances. In this case, I think what we notice before the solos start rolling out are the differences between Moe Purtill, on the Victor take, and Buddy here. As he had done with the Shaw orchestra, Buddy transformed the Dorsey crew — and I think it was sheer serendipity that he came aboard soon after Sy Oliver’s arrival as arranger, as the Lunceford alumnus’ writing for this new, in flux band opened up so many artistic opportunities for the powerhouse Mr Rich.
The soli on this extended “Symphony in Riffs,” from Don Lodice’s opening bridge to the later procession, are superb. Going out of chronological order, TD sounds particularly inspired in his two choruses, and we must imagine that the playing of the man who directly preceded him had something to do with this. We can hear Buddy’s “Play it, Tom!” but it doesn’t sound as if the leader needed any urging, as he, though always deprecating about his jazz, blows with passion. Both Johnny Mince, with his pretty, distinctive plaintive tone, and Lodice, whom I consider to be an extremely consistent and underrated tenor man, keep the excitement and interest high in their respective choruses. (We might be thankful that Johnny didn’t see fit to repeat his “Swanee River” allusion from the Victor take — but of course that was highly unlikely!)
Bunny, at the head of the parade, sets the pace and the tone. He enters with confidence and command (I love Buddy’s snare behind him) and swaggers through his three choruses but also displays care and thought as to content. He sounds like Bunny Berigan! And we, though these notes flew out of his horn and into the night over eighty years ago, feel compelled to cheer him on as if it’s happening before our ears. Yes, there are those few “reaching” moments, but I think maybe Red McKenzie characterized Bunny’s style most accurately of all, in describing him as a “gambler.” Jazz, by definition, is improvisation. You have to take chances, and there’s never been a more fearless improvisor than Bunny Berigan. Today, we can both revel in the many times he gambled and won and admire the courage he exhibited every time he rolled the dice.
Thank God he gambled. Thank God, like Bird, he “reached”. Because 80 years on, would we still have that anticipation, that auditory thrill, for someone who had played safely within his envelope?