Composed by Mack Gordon (lyric) and Harry Revel (music); Head arrangement.
Bunny Berigan with the Dorsey Brothers; recorded on March 14, 1934 for Vocalion in New York.
Probable personnel: Tommy Dorsey, trombone and trumpet, directing: Bunny Berigan, lead and solo trumpet; Don Matteson, trombone; Jimmy Dorsey, clarinet and alto saxophone; Lyle Bowen, alto saxophone; Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, tenor saxophone; Fulton McGrath, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Arthur Bernstein, bass; Ray McKinley, drums. Don Matteson, vocal.(*)
By the end of February 1934, Bunny Berigan, recently out of Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, was deeply immersed in radio and free lance recording work in Manhattan. As a part of this, he appeared as a member of the Fred Rich’s Orchestra in a Warner Brothers/Vitaphone movie short entitled Mirrors. That film was made at Warner Brothers’ Brooklyn studio on February 23, 27, and 28. Also in this movie are vocalist Vera Van and the Eton Boys vocal quartet. The total running time of the film is 11:23. It contains six tunes. On “China Boy” there are solos by Bunny, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Hank Ross on tenor sax, and Walter Gross on piano. (Gross later composed the lovely waltz “Tenderly.”) As a result of the “mirrors” gimmick, Berigan appears to be playing left-handed. I have attached a link to that film below at endnote (1). Bunny is plainly visible in many scenes in that movie.
At the CBS radio studios (Madison and 50th), where Bunny was on staff, he appeared almost daily in various orchestras known as: the Studio Orchestra, Mark Warnow Orchestra, the Captivators, the Merry Makers, the Dictators, etc.(2) He had also resumed his recording activity at American Record Corporation (ARC), and was scheduled to work with the Dorsey brothers at at a recording session at the Brunswick studio at 1776 Broadway (at 57th) on March 14.
By this time, the Dorsey brothers seemed to be moving in the direction of forming a regular, standing band to play dance gigs in and around New York. They had gathered a number of former members of the Smith Ballew band at Glenn Miller’s request (saxophonist Skeets Herfurt, trombonist/singer Don Matteson, guitarist Roc Hillman, drummer Ray McKinley, and singer Kay Weber) and combined them with some of the musicians they had been using on an ad hoc basis to form the band that made this recording. By the summer of 1934, they had organized the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.
Bunny Berigan was never a full-time member of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, because his full-time duties at CBS and many free-lance recording dates kept him tied to New York and unable to make many out-of-town one-nighters. Still, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, who both occasionally played cornet themselves, would often implore Berigan to come along. On more than one occasion, Bunny’s exhaustion and too many “pops” (intended to be pick-me-ups) resulted in substandard playing by him. Bunny simply loved to play so much, especially with a good band, that he could not say no when asked to be a part of what he considered to be musical fun. (Unfortunately, the combination of overwork, fatigue, and alcohol would mar quite a few Berigan performances in the coming years.) Eventually, the Dorseys reluctantly accepted the fact that Bunny was not going to be able to anchor the brass section of their new band, and then hired the reliable but unexciting George Thow, who had been working with Isham Jones, as their regular trumpeter.
Vocalist Kay Weber was present at the beginning of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra:
“When the Smith Ballew band got to New York, the Florida job (which they had been promised) having been canceled, Glenn Miller somehow managed to get us some studio dates at Brunswick (by 1934 it was ARC) that just about kept the wolf from the door. He got Skeets Herfurt, Roc Hillman, Don Matteson and me on some Dorsey Brothers dates and we were signed up for the new band the Dorseys were taking out on the road. We broke in with a few one nighters, including dates at Virginia Military Institute, Amherst, and Philadelphia, where Bunny arrived late after his regular radio work. And by that time he was very drunk and played very badly. He didn’t remain very long with the new band, because he was making lots of money in the studios, much more than the Dorseys could match on the road. We used the Rockwell-O’Keefe office a lot for rehearsals and Tommy and Glenn were constantly striving for a particular sound, which couldn’t materialize unless Bunny played his part. Glenn did most of the arranging and worked the band through the new charts, but Tommy was always the boss, even though he was the younger brother. Jimmy said very little.”(3)
It is safe to say that the animating spirit for creation of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra was Tommy Dorsey, being greatly assisted by Glenn Miller. Both Dorseys and Miller were approximately the same age, and by 1934 they had been involved in their careers as professional dance band musicians for a few years more than Berigan. They now seemed to be ready to move in the direction of forming a new jazz-oriented dance band. The brothers undoubtedly were bored and stifled as a result of spending several years on the grueling (but lucrative) merry-go-round of working in the New York radio and recording studios. Miller had developed a reputation as a competent trombonist and arranger, but equally important were his abilities as a “straw boss,” who helped harried bandleaders with myriad details like hiring the appropriate musicians, either making new arrangements or reworking stocks, and rehearsing the musicians. He had done this for Smith Ballew, was now doing it for the Dorseys, and would later do it for Ray Noble. The Dorseys and Miller also sensed that there now might be some new potential for success with a band of this sort, undoubtedly being encouraged by Tommy Rockwell and Cork O’Keefe, who booked them.
The scene for radio musicians in Manhattan in 1934 was rather bizarre. Variety, “the Bible of show business,” reported in its April 3, 1934, issue:
“With an estimated 5,000 active musicians in New York, a select few commute between the studios of the two networks, playing in one name band after the other. In the meantime, the unchosen many go hungry. According to a leader with a one-time weekly shot of his own, there are about 300 musicians, if that many, on the air, from whose ranks most orchestras are made up. These musicians are kept working constantly from audition to rehearsal to broadcast and back again. Some individuals average up to $600 weekly. Those on the outside, hungrily looking on, and blame this partly on the agencies, partly on the leaders. There are instances where leaders have changed rehearsal times because too many of their men have been on other jobs. Louis Sayde, violinist, is offered as one example, playing with Leo Reisman, Nat Shilkret, Lennie Hayton on Terraplane and Ipana-Sal Hepatica show and others. Charlie Margulis, trumpet, is with Hayton, Leon Belasco (Armour), Shilkret, Arnold Johnson (True Story). Tommy Dorsey, trombonist, Larry Abbott and Dick Ladd, saxes, Lou Raderman, Benny Baker and Mannie Klein, trumpets, are some of those doubling constantly. Musicians kept constantly on the move are in surprisingly high money brackets. Very minimum is $6 hourly for rehearsals, $12 for performances. Multiply that by the days of the week, including Sunday and the number of jobs they do. It’s so bad that there are those who claim the players are often too physically tired out by the constant grind to give the best in them. Equally as bad is the substitute system. When those in the select circle can’t fill a job, they get their own subs to replace them. This prevents the outsider from getting a look-in. Likewise, it obligates the sub. Exception offered to the clique rule is that rare occasion when a member of the circle is unavailable. Another factor working against the outsider is a union ruling regarding dues. Musicians must be paid up or no workee. This means they must often turn down calls. It gets worse for these chaps daily, the back dues being augmented by the fines for not being paid up.”(4)
Bunny Berigan was deeply involved in all of this at CBS; plus he was making records and doing club dates. In the years 1934, 1935 and 1936, there were many times when he had his trumpet to his lips for 80 or more hours a week. But he loved playing so much that he pushed himself beyond reason. Consequently, two things were happening to him then more or less simultaneously: he was becoming a workaholic and he was becoming an alcoholic. It appears, starting in 1934, that he was turning to alcohol more and more “to get through,” and he was certainly not alone among Manhattan studio musicians in doing this.
Why then did musical conductors, contractors and bandleaders continue to employ Bunny Berigan? The answer to that question is to be found in many of the recordings he made in those years. The one presented with this post, “She Reminds Me of You,” is a perfect example: Berigan’s unmistakable presence on this record as both a lead trumpeter and soloist enlivens the music greatly.
The commercial record business was in shambles in early 1934 as a result of the ongoing economic depression the United States was then experiencing. Record sales were so poor that companies making and selling records were improvising wildly to try to sell whatever product they had to sell. As a result, a lot of things we today would consider a bit strange were going on. For example, this recording was made by a group of musicians that was gradually coming together as what would eventually be billed as “The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.” Nevertheless, this recording was first issued on Vocalion as by “Paul Hamilton and His Orchestra.” There was no Paul Hamilton who had an orchestra that recorded for Vocalion. It was later licensed to and issued by Decca as “Harry Woods and his New Jersey Orchestra.” I am unaware of anyone named Harry Woods who was making commercial records in 1934. Decca then issued it again with the designation “Bob Snyder and his Orchestra” on that record label. Finally, it was issued on yet another label, Decatur, as by “Bunny Berigan with All Star Group.” That at least was an accurate designation of the musicians who made the record.
From a marketing standpoint, none of this made any sense either for the artists or the record companies involved. Nevertheless, these expedients were used to try to sell some records.
This performance is interesting from a number of perspectives. The brief introduction seems to reflect the development of swing as of the late winter of 1934. But as the band launches into the first chorus, the music, played at a brisk tempo, seems to move backward in time about four or five years. The rhythm is clipped, the music played in stacatto fashion. This is certainly not the place Bunny Berigan dwelled rhythmically in 1934. The acrid-sounding straight mutes in the brass instruments only add to the rat-a-tat feeling. Bassist Artie Bernstein is definitely driving the band, leaning into the beat. All in all, this is music that has a vertical rhythmic feeling.
Berigan, playing lead trumpet throughout this performance, attempts to balance the vertical rhythm called for, presumably by Tommy Dorsey, who likely led the band in the studio, with his natural inclination to play more horizontally, that is, to swing. Drummer Ray McKinley also contributes to the swing in this performance with his flowing rhythm and tasty offbeats, especially those on his tom-tom.
The straight mutes come out toward the end of the first chorus, undoubtedly to allow for a smooth transition into Berigan’s swaggering open trumpet solo in the second chorus. Bunny’s first sixteen bars are a model of big-toned, flowing swing. His first eight bars glide along beautifully, with the notes articulated full and round in his lower register, except for one upward thrust. In his second eight, he employs the stabbing, repeated note use of rhythm that his idol, Louis Armstrong, had perfected in the previous half-dozen years. Jimmy Dorsey plays effectively the eight bar bridge on clarinet, also getting some good swing. Berigan returns for the last eight bars of the chorus, once again stabbing out notes in his high register, plus adding a great upward glissando for dramatic effect.
The third chorus is given over to trombonist Don Matteson’s bustling vocal. After this, there is a modulation that leads to a couple of brief bursts by Skeets Herfurt on tenor saxophone, an eight bar eruption by Berigan, and a romping finale, with Berigan vaulting into his top register. Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet adds the high G punctuation mark at the very end.
As the jazz historian Richard M. Sudhalter, who was also a professional cornetist/trumpeter, wrote about Bunny’s contribution to this recording: it is “…a spectacular ending to an awesome display of the Berigan horn.”(5)
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and link:
(*) The instrumentation and personnel for this recording session were verified by the producers of The Complete Brunswick, Parlophone and Vocalion Bunny Berigan Sessions. Mosaic Records (2002).
(1) Here is a link to the 1934 short film Mirrors:
(1) The six tunes performed in Mirrors are “China Boy”(instrumental); “I Want to Be Loved”(vocal, Vera Van); “I Want to Go Back to My Little Grass Shack” (vocal, Vera Van and the Eton Boys); “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” (vocal, the Eton Boys); “Chloe” (vocal, Vera Van); and “Daybreak”(instrumental).
(2) The Studebaker Corporation produced an automobile model throughout the 1930s called the Dictator. Obviously this noun had a different, less negative connotation in the years before the crimes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were committed and became known.
(3) White materials: March 14, 1934.
(4) Variety: April 3, 1934,cited in White materials.
(5) Giants of Jazz – Bunny Berigan (1982), (30).