“The Buzzard” (1935) with Bud Freeman

“The Buzzard”

Head arrangement by Bud Freeman, based on “Basin Street Blues.”

Recorded By Bud Freeman and His Windy City Five for Decca on December 4, 1935 in New York.

Lawrence “Bud” Freeman, tenor saxophone and clarinet, directing: Bunny Berigan, trumpet; Claude Thornhill, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Grachan Moncur, bass; William R. “Cozy” Cole, drums.

The story:

Another recording made at the first of three sessions produced by John Hammond for Decca in December of 1935 is this romp on the chords of “Basin Street Blues.” Much more about the music appears below in this post.

This recording session in a very real sense, began the transition of Bunny Berigan from ubiquitous sideman in the Manhattan radio and recording studios, to peripatetic bandleader. From December 5, 1935, when this recording was made, until January 5, 1937, when Bunny started to work more intensively toward organizing and then rehearsing his own big band, he participated in no less that thirty separate recording sessions as a free lance! This was in addition to him working full-time at CBS radio, which took up about forty hours each week, and his various activities performing on Fifty-Second Street at the Famous Door, which involved at least five hours a night (thirty hours a week). Bunny’s frenzied schedule of work continued through the year 1936 and into 1937.

The Berigan-Hammond triptych of December 1935 recording sessions was also the beginning of Bunny’s musical association through several months at the beginning of 1936 with guitarist Eddie Condon, of his multiple recording sessions with Bud Freeman, and of his association as a “house musician” for Decca Records through 1936. None of these associations was full-time, though Bunny’s work with Condon at the Famous Door came close. His association with CBS, which evolved through the first half of 1936 from Berigan being one of the “pool musicians” at CBS, to being the featured performer on the CBS show built around him (at first), The Saturday Night Swing Club, was initially a full-time commitment. (Above right – Bunny Berigan in 1936.)

The music:

Bud Freeman.

Tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman later reminisced about working with Berigan on this session: “Bunny always had such a wonderful respect for other players. (He was) ..very self-effacing, sort of modest, about his own abilities. (But on this session) …he had a ball, (he was) very relaxed, and played his best, …magnificently.” About his use of his clarinet on this recording, a treat for jazz fans, Freeman said: “I was always surrounded by such super clarinetists that it never entered my mind to play it as a solo instrument. But everybody (on the session) was so hot on it that I said ‘all right.’ They all seemed to enjoy it.” (1) The comment clarinet virtuoso Artie Shaw made about Lester Young’s clarinet playing also applies to Bud Freeman’s clarinet playing: He played clarinet better than a lot of better clarinetists. The essence of that observation is that both Freeman and Young were able to magically transfer the strong personality of their tenor playing to their clarinet playing.

“The Buzzard,” which Freeman takes at a brisk tempo, begins with no introduction as Freeman jumps right in with his clarinet, playing a gurgling, bubbling, low-register solo (a full chorus) that is filled with joy and humor. Notice how the rhythm section, especially Condon, Moncur and Cole, take charge and really swing behind Bud. Freeman, who was then playing in Ray Noble’s band, was not receiving backing like this there, and he responds by investing his playing here with the rhythmic gusto for which he was known in the mid-1930s.

Berigan’s solo on open trumpet (also a full chorus) which follows, is technically fluent, floating along over the chord changes with Bunny’s bright, full trumpet sound and strong swing much in evidence. His first sixteen bars are typically Beriganesque in that he constructs them logically, moving from his middle register upward to a climax. The second sixteen bars do the same thing but do not much resemble what he had played previously: creative sparks are flying. If this trumpet solo were played today, it would turn heads.

Eddie Condon – 1936.

Freeman returns, now playing his tenor saxophone. He undoubtedly understood that he had to produce something exciting so there would be no letdown after Berigan’s fire-breathing solo. Now we hear the rhythmically vigorous Freeman “…with grit in his tone and a rough edge to his attack. After some opening rhythmic patterns reminiscent of his clarinet (solo), he gets down to prodding and kicking the beat with short, barked accents, and now and then – a Freeman hallmark – an elliptically shaped outburst of eighth notes.“(1)

Claude Thornhill, a marvelous pianist who evolved into an inspired and creative bandleader, was not a jazz musician, though he certainly understood jazz. His selection for this date by Freeman (they worked together in the Noble band) was undoubtedly a matter of convenience. In his solo, which follows Freeman’s, he struggles manfully to keep up with the romping jazz statements of Freeman and Berigan, and barely does so. But his playing, as always, is technically excellent.

The final chorus, which features Berigan and Freeman improvising in parallel but contrasting fashion, presents the two protagonists spurring each other on. “The chemistry between these two, foreseen by Hammond, creates wild excitement…”(2) The doyen of jazz historians, Dan Morgenstern, made these concise observations about Berigan’s playing in this out-chorus: “…unlike most white trumpeters, Bunny used lip vibrato. The rideout gives you an inkling of his drive.(3)

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Giants of Jazz …Bunny Berigan, notes on the music by Richard M. Sudhalter (1982), 34. Hereafter Giants of Jazz.

(2) Giants of Jazz, ibid.

(3) Swing Classics – 1933-1936, Prestige PR 7646 (LP) 1969. Liner notes by Dan Morgenstern.

Here is a link to another of the Berigan-Hammond triptych recordings made in December of 1935:

One thought on ““The Buzzard” (1935) with Bud Freeman

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  1. Artie’s observation about Pres’ clarinet playing absolutely applies to Bud’s! I hate to say it, but in some ways I prefer Bud’s clarinet to his tenor, although I of course recognize that in his more famous role of saxist he was a true innovator, a unique voice in the pre-Lester days, when virtually everybody else was influenced by, and emulating, Hawk. Bud created his own vocabulary and had a highly distinctive tone, which didn’t sound like Coleman’s. Still, I’m not always too crazy about the Freeman vibrato, in either the early or later days, and I have to admit that I find some of his pet phrases downright ugly, in melodic terms, though they were undeniably novel in their day. Bud, a noted Anglophile, can sound suave … or guttural — a pretty impressive sonic contrast, I think. To these ears, his tenor was at its prettiest and most soulful on things such as TD’s “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Lee Wiley’s “Here In My Arms,” and his own bands’ “After Awhile” and “Where Have You Been.” His style was idiosyncratic — but not inimitable, as we always know when a modern day player is paying homage to Bud. Perhaps somehow the fact that the clarinet was his second instrument made him feel freer just to let the notes flow as they may, without stringing them into Eelesque phrases. There are definitely similarities, though, to his tenor playing — for me, chief among these a droll quality, highly evident in “The Buzzard.”

    I can imagine that for Bud and Bunny, especially, this session felt like a day off from school — with no tricky Noble band charts or Kate Smith telling you how to play trumpet. This “Buzzard,” instead of swooping down on small mammals, seems just to be gliding around for fun — flying, because it can. The altitude drops considerably during Claude’s spot, but for me that just adds a little variety Not every highly skilled musician also happens to be a great jazz artist. As the side opens, Bud takes off right along with the rhythm, but we can imagine that as the bars flew by he felt encouragement from that light and lithe quality in Eddie’s tenor guitar and Cozy’s brushes — perfect mid-’30s small group jazz rhythm.

    Bud’s reminiscences about working with Bunny on the session are very sweet. It’s easy to see why Bunny was both idolized as a musician and well-liked as a person by all who encountered him. The man had committed himself to a double work week –he loved playing music, and he was handsomely providing for his soon to be expanding family. Still, we can imagine that the CBS gig, in particular, became a little wearying at times, and so this Hammond-arranged Decca session must have seemed to Bunny “like a slice of rare roast beef,” to borrow from DOUBLE INDEMNITY’s Walter Neff. No tight arrangements of dreary pop tunes, leaving no space for jazz — just blowing over good changes in the company of pals. On “The Buzzard,” he digs in with relish! Unlike in some instances, he enters the proceedings not by making an announcement but by simply joining the stimulating discussion. We hear in Bunny’s lines those “unending ideas,” noted by Helen Oakley Dance earlier in the year — free of “um … ah … er … you know” filler. Spencer Williams’ pleasing “Basin Street Blues” changes are clearly a topic he could warm to and he’s expansive; still, in that gleeful chorus, we can appreciate the master’s sense of arc and pace.

    After Bunny’s spot, Bud naturally had to go with the tenor, to keep the heat up. He sounds as if he couldn’t wait to get going, presumably greatly inspired by what he’d just heard. Following a breather, Claude’s chorus, we can delight in the chemistry of Bunny and Bud. … If only there had been opportunity for these sympathetic souls to meet again in the LP days of the ’50s.

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