Composed by Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams; arranged by Sy Oliver.
Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra live in performance from an NBC radio broadcast emanating from the Astor Roof in New York City on August 3, 1940.
Tommy Dorsey, trombone, directing: Bunny Berigan first and solo trumpet; Ray Linn, Jimmy Blake and Clyde Hurley, trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins and Lowell Martin, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Johnny Mince , alto saxophone; Paul Mason and Don Lodice, tenor saxophones; Freddie Stulce, baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums. The Pied Pipers, Jo Stafford, lead; John Huddleston, Clark Yokum (who doubled on guitar), Chuck Lowery, vocal.
Since the events of the summer of 1940 which led to Bunny Berigan departing the Tommy Dorsey band actually happened, there has been substantial confusion about what happened, and when. False impressions have been created by the reminiscences of a number of people who were associated with the Dorsey band at that time. It is my hope that the content of this post will, to the extent possible, make the historical record about all of this more accurate.
Trumpeter Clyde Hurley, and his eventual successor in the Dorsey band, Ziggy Elman, provided some insights as to the circumstances surrounding Bunny Berigan’s final departure from the ranks of TD sidemen. Hurley: “It was a funny thing, Bunny just didn’t come around for a period and then he was back and then he was out again. Finally, after a lot of talk for what seemed like weeks before it really happened, Ziggy had joined the band and Bunny was seen no more.” (1) Elman: “The Benny Goodman band had broken up, with Benny going into the hospital, but I and a few others, the ‘key’ men, had contracts with Goodman. Tommy Dorsey had actually offered me a job before Benny broke up, but I wasn’t too keen and went back to New York (from California, where the Goodman band broke up) to gig and keep my lip in shape. I’d been friends with Joe Venuti for a long period, so I started playing with him at the Meadowbrook. I was added to the band and did mostly jump-type things, the idea being to help Joe pull bigger crowds. All the time, either Tommy or his band manager, Bobby Burns, would call me up every day, trying to persuade me to join the band. Bunny was really sick by then and I actually took his place on a couple of dates before officially joining the band. They were due to go out on the road, following the Astor stand, but Tommy doubted that Bunny would be able to make it. So, I finally agreed to join Dorsey but to be fair to Joe, I said I’d wait ‘til he finished at the Meadowbrook. I drove to the Meadowbrook one night, only to be told that Bunny was going to work with Venuti and I should go back to play with Tommy Dorsey. Tommy and Venuti had it all worked out.” (2) At least one other TD sideman recalled Bunny visiting the TD band on numerous occasions after his “firing,” sitting-in, and playing well. (3) But when did the “firing(s),” if that’s what they were, actually take place?
After Berigan finally left the Tommy Dorsey band, which certainly was in late August 1940, the trade papers played up the separation quite big: “Bunny Berigan again out of Dorsey crew. Bunny Berigan and the Tommy Dorsey band have parted again. After being on notice once or twice before, Berigan was let go last Tuesday (20th), following the Dorsey unit’s broadcast for Pepsodent. The understanding is that Berigan will again attempt a band of his own. He disbanded his last one when he joined Tommy Dorsey several months ago. Shortly after he came back, Dorsey began paying a certain percentage of his salary each week to the AFM, to go towards paying off debts Berigan had accumulated when operating a band of his own.” (4) “I fired Berigan!,” “I quit Dorsey!” are the conflicting testimonies of the two principals in the recent withdrawal of Bunny Berigan from the Tommy Dorsey band, said action having taken place after a radio program a NBC on August 20th. Said Tommy to Metronome: ‘I just couldn’t bring him around, so I had to let him go. I hated to do it.’ Said Bunny to Metronome: ‘I wasn’t happy in Tommy’s band, because I didn’t get enough chance to play. Most of the time I was just sitting there, waiting for choruses, or else I was just a stooge, leading the band while Tommy sat at somebody’s table. You can’t keep in trim that way, playing just a little each night, so I thought I’d better leave and start my own band and begin to play again.’ To fill his place in the band, Tommy (initially and temporarily at first) called in Chuck Peterson, former Artie Shaw trumpeter, assigning high notes to him and giving most of Bunny’s jazz parts to Clyde Hurley. (Peterson joined on a permanent basis after Hurley left.) Ray Linn and Jimmy Blake will also get a chance to blow some hot.” (5) “Tommy Dorsey let Bunny Berigan, his ace trumpet man, go ten days ago, Chuck Peterson temporarily replacing him. Tommy had been giving Bunny terrific dialogue spots with plenty of time for the script on the band’s Pepsodent show, to say nothing of the billing that Bunny got on the show every time he took a few bars solo. A spokesman in the band said that Tommy and Bunny just didn’t see eye-to-eye on certain things.” (6)
Berigan’s statement that he was not getting enough to play is certainly borne out by the aircheck and commercial recordings made by the Dorsey band after late June 1940. But was this a result of his increased drinking and consequent unreliability, his allegedly declining trumpeting skills, or after having been “fired” by TD, that his appearances with the band were only sporadic?
The available evidence seems to indicate that before late June/early July, Bunny was mostly being used by Dorsey as a jazz soloist. Although he did play in the trumpet section, and did on occasion play lead, the amount of work he did with TD was much less than he was accustomed to doing with his own band. Then, when Clyde Hurley came upon the scene in late June, and began to play some jazz trumpet solos, Bunny seemingly reacted negatively, went into a tailspin, and his drinking went out of control.
This, and Bunny’s apparent difficulty with scripted lines on the Pepsodent show, which led to the disaster on that show on July 2, 1940 and Bunny’s “firing,” were undoubtedly some of the reasons that led to his ultimate departure from the Dorsey band. (7) What Bunny was doing after this incident, and the date of his actual departure from the Dorsey band, which was August 20, some six weeks later, is not clear. He did not work anywhere else during this period, but definitely did continue some kind of intermittent relationship with the Dorsey band.
One hypothesis is that after TD discussed with Berigan the possibility of Bunny staying with the band through the remainder of the summer (this discussion may have happened in mid-June), and then continuing on through the autumn, when the band was going to relocate to California for a period of time, Bunny told Tommy that he didn’t want to do that. We must remember that the reasons why Berigan joined TD’s band in March of 1940 were: a) primarily to clear his debts; and b) to get off the road for a period of time and attempt to restore his health. I think it likely that by mid-June, Bunny had in fact mostly cleared his debts. His health, to the extent he could improve it without stopping drinking, was evidently good. He had likely already told TD that he didn’t want to remain in the band much longer, but wanted to form another band of his own. But Tommy understood that Berigan’s presence in his band, from a musical standpoint, was a definite asset. Berigan was playing well, and his effect on audiences was still very strong. So he persuaded Bunny to stick around. But he also hired Clyde Hurley so that he would have a jazz trumpet soloist in his band after Berigan left.
In addition, Tommy continued to work with Berigan on improving his public speaking and ability to engage in banter on his radio show. These were skills that were definitely required of any successful bandleader. In these endeavors, Berigan performed poorly, and TD being who he was, ridiculed Bunny’s failures, sometimes quite publicly. Berigan’s reaction to this was to drink more, especially before the broadcasts of Tommy’s radio show, on which he was expected to engage in badinage. This is what led to the incident on the July 2, 1940 Pepsodent show when an inebriated Berigan stood to play a solo on “Marie,” but only funny noises came out of his trumpet. An enraged Tommy Dorsey fired him at that time, but…
There is circumstantial evidence that after the fiasco that occurred on the Pepsodent show Bunny Berigan may have sought professional help, possibly with the assistance of Tommy Dorsey, to dry out and stop drinking. I say this because Bunny’s whereabouts during most of the month of July are basically untraceable. And subsequent events have made it clear that Bunny and Dorsey continued some sort of relationship after the initial “firing,” up to the date of his final departure from the Dorsey band, which was August 20, 1940. This may be what Ziggy Elman referred to obliquely in his quote above: “Bunny was really sick by then and I actually took his place on a couple of dates before officially joining the band. They were due to go out on the road, following the Astor stand, but Tommy doubted that Bunny would be able to make it.” Elman did not permanently join the TD band until after Bunny left.
If one assesses the six months association Bunny Berigan had with Tommy Dorsey in 1940, the result on balance, contrary to the accepted “wisdom,” is overwhelmingly positive. On the plus side, Berigan spent almost all of that six month period off of the road. He had been able to have a vacation with his wife and daughters. He had been used by TD more or less as a featured soloist, thus being spared the hard work of playing constantly in Tommy’s trumpet section. Consequently, his health, which was precarious at best when he joined Dorsey, was likely restored as much as that was possible, given the ongoing harm he was doing to his damaged liver by continuing to drink. He had undoubtedly reduced his debt either to zero, or close to it. He had been on display with one of the highest-profile big bands of the swing era, and had received a lot of publicity, much of it good, indeed, encouraging.
We do not know if Bunny Berigan received professional help to deal with his alcoholism in July of 1940. If that had happened, it would not necessarily have meant that Bunny could or would have stayed sober. But he might have. And if he had, he certainly would have lived a lot longer than he did. Instead, by the end of August, Tommy Dorsey, like Bunny’s own father had, gave up trying to help Berigan stop drinking. But Bunny’s prime objective as September of 1940 began, was to reorganize his own band as soon as possible, and resume touring with it. Consequently, his close personal support system would once again become the members of his band, who could not stand watching him destroy himself with drink, and his wife Donna, who had her own drinking problems, would sometimes accompany Bunny on the road, and drink with him. By the summer of 1940, Berigan’s rapidly deteriorating liver now placed his health, indeed his survival, at risk. It was no longer a matter of trying to stay sober enough to function: each drink Bunny Berigan now took would do more damage to his already ravaged liver. In spite of his understanding of these risks, which I think was rather complete, he would continue to deal with these dire new challenges as he had in the past – by trying to regulate his drinking. But as we now know, alcoholics can deal with their drinking problem in only one way – by stopping all intake of alcohol. Only that plan would have effectively dealt with Berigan’s alcoholism and cirrhosis. Bunny’s plan was doomed to failure, and as a result, he too was doomed. He would be dead less than two years after his 1940 sojourn with Tommy Dorsey’s band.
It is easy for us, with the help of eight decades of advances in the treatment of alcoholism, to judge Bunny Berigan a failure in his fight against his alcoholism. But it was infinitely more complicated than that for him in his day-to-day life in 1940. He had always been severely insecure about “laying-off” playing his trumpet, and “losing his lip.” He felt he had to work consistently, and fairly hard, to maintain his emboucher and playing skills. This phobia, and myriad other negative factors, militated against Bunny doing what he had to do to stop drinking. All of this, coupled with the relatively primitive understanding that the medical community had in 1940 about alcoholism as a disease, and the methods that had to be employed for a successful “intervention,” made it almost impossible for Bunny Berigan to conquer his alcoholism. Nevertheless, he tried, in his own way. Tragically, that was not enough.
Berigan’s first documented appearance with Tommy Dorsey’s band after his July 2 firing was on the July 27, 1940 broadcast of The Dorsey Hour on NBC, taking solos and playing well on “Swingtime in Up in Harlem” and “March of the Toys.” (A link to those recordings can be found below at note (8). It is clear from listening to him play on those recordings that he was playing well.
His solo on the recording of “I Found a New Baby” presented with this post is also excellent.
The song “I’ve Found a New Baby,” known to jazz musicians as “I Found a New Baby,” was composed in 1926 by Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams. They collaborated on both the words and music. The song was introduced by Clarence Williams’s Blue Five in 1926 and has since been recorded by many artists, making it a popular jazz standard. Popular versions in 1926 were by Ted Lewis and Ethel Waters. Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers recorded a notable version on September 15, 1932. Bing Crosby recorded the song on September 5, 1945 with pianist Eddie Haywood, Bobby Darin included the song in his album Winners in 1960.(9)
The original lyric, considering that it was written in 1926, is remarkably hip and saucy. Nevertheless, by 1940, the Pied Pipers, the very talented singing group (whose lead singer was Jo Stafford) then working with Tommy Dorsey, thought quite correctly that those lyrics needed a bit more hipifying. Their changes are wonderfully effective. Here are some of them:
MY KIND A BABY, I FOUND MY LOVER AND SHE’S SO MELLOW, SHE’S A SOLID CHICK
HER LOVIN’ MAKES ME A RIGHTEOUS SLAVE
HER TURTLE DOVIN’, NEW KIND OF LOVIN’ PUTS ME AWAY
SHE’S MY BABY, …DON’T MEAN MAYBE
IT WAS ONE GLANCE, ROMANCE, WHEN I FOUND MY BABY
This performance by Tommy Dorsey and his band includes many of the musical resources he had at his disposal at the time: a great arrangement by Sy Oliver which seamlessly encompasses the tenor saxophone solos of Don Lodice, an inspired trumpet solo by Bunny Berigan, and a swinging vocal chorus by the Pied Pipers.
After a brief introduction in which Don Lodice’s tenor saxophone can be heard prominently, Lodice starts the first chorus by paraphrasing the melody for sixteen bars against a shifting kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds. TD takes the secondary bridge melody with the saxophones playing harmonic pads and the open brass providing bright contrasting sounds behind him. Lodice finishes the chorus, again being backed by a shifting variety of bright instrumental sounds.
Berigan, who knew how to effectively begin a jazz solo, jumps right in as the second chorus begins. His huge, low register trumpet sound immediately captivates the listener. Although he does work his way up in this sixteen bar segment, basically he plays in his middle and lower registers. Lodice returns to improvise on the bridge, obviously inspired by what he had just heard. Bunny returns to finish the chorus. Now he builds to a dramatic conclusion, ending his solo with a beautiful upward glissando. The master musical architect, despite the many problems he was confronting at that moment, had once again fashioned a compellingly cogent jazz solo.
The vocal chorus, in addition to being a contrast to what had gone before, is a delight. The hip lyric described above is delivered with great swing. Notice the backgrounds Sy Oliver fashioned not only for the Pipers, but throughout this arrangement. They are marvelous examples of his creativity and skill.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) White materials, August 20, 1940.
(3) Recollection of saxophonist/clarinetist Henry “Heinie” Beau, who joined the TD band in August of 1940, contained in the White materials, August 20, 1940.
(4) Variety, August 28, 1940, cited in the White materials.
(5) Metronome, September, 1940, cited in the White materials.
(6) Down Beat, September 1, 1940, cited in the White materials.
(7) Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to pin down the exact date of the Berigan “incident” on the TD-Pepsodent show. As is stated in the text, there are valid reasons to assume that it may have happened on July 2. (“Marie” was the first tune played on the July 2 Pepsodent show.) But it is also possible that it happened on or about August 20, the date of Bunny’s final departure from the Dorsey band. Proof positive could be obtained if airchecks were made of the TD-Pepsodent shows, and those airchecks were positively dated. Unfortunately, no such airchecks, to my knowledge, have emerged in the eight decades since the occurrence of the incident.
(8) Here is a link to “Swingtime Up in Harlem” and “March of the Toys”:
(9) The information about the song “I Found a New Baby” is derived from the Wikipedia post on it.