Adapted from a part of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet by Larry Clinton, Buddy Bernier and Bob Emmerich; arranged by Andy Phillips.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra on September 20, 1939 in Boston. (*)
Bunny Berigan, trumpet; directing: Jake Koven, first trumpet; Truman Quigley and Carl “Bama” Warwick, trumpets; Mark Pasco and Al Jennings, trombones; Charlie DiMaggio, first alto saxophone; Joe DiMaggio, alto saxophone and clarinet; Stuart Anderson and Larry Walsh, tenor saxophones; (Walsh doubled on baritone saxophone); Edwin “Buddy” Koss, piano; Tommy Moore, guitar; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Paul Collins, drums; Danny Richards, vocal.
(*) It is uncertain exactly where in the Boston area this recording was made. The Berigan band opened at the Totem Pole Ballroom, at Norumbega Park, Route 30, Auburndale, Massachusetts on Wednesday September 20, 1939. It is possible that the recordings they made that day (seven in all, some incomplete), were a sound check for the radio broadcast they did over radio station WOR that night.
The tragicomic series of events that had unfolded in Chicago during the first eleven days of August 1939 were beginning to be reported, in bits and pieces, in the music trade press as the month progressed. In essence, Bunny Berigan, with his father, William P. “Cap” Berigan, acting as his personal manager and road manager for the Berigan band, had been spectacularly unsuccessful in balancing the band’s expenses with its income over the previous few months. Bills that had been incurred prior to Cap Berigan taking over had gone unpaid for many months, and gradually, especially during the Berigan band’s seven-weeks stay at the Panther Room of Hotel Sherman in Chicago,(*) the salaries of the musicians in the Berigan band were being paid in smaller and smaller parts, and finally not at all, because of lack of funds. The band’s income was not exceeding its expenses. It was not even equal to those expenses.
It appears that the first garnishment of Berigan’s earnings came while the band was at the Panther Room. This was to pay a judgment in favor of the Greyhound Bus corporation for several hundred dollars for services rendered in the last months of 1938. The reaction of Bunny and Cap to this was to at first to secure a loan or loans from MCA (Music Corporation of America), the booking agency that represented the Berigan band. It appears that those loans, by mid-August, totaled $1,500.00. At some point, MCA turned off the loan spigot, and Bunny secured a loan of $568.00 from a New York finance company. Then, he was served with a summons in a lawsuit brought by Wanamaker’s department store in New York for merchandise Donna, Bunny’s wife, bought there for herself and the two Berigan daughters. The Wanamaker bill totaled several hundred dollars. The bills and other expenses kept coming in, but Bunny’s earnings from the Panther Room gig simply were not enough to cover his current expenses, much less these other expenses.
In addition, there was a muddle created when Bunny fired his original personal manager, Arthur Michaud, in either late 1938 or early 1939. It appears that immediately after this occurred, Bunny turned to John Gluskin for personal management, and signed a contract with him. What he didn’t do was to terminate his contract with Michaud in proper legal fashion before he signed with Gluskin. Consequently, he was tied contractually to two personal managers simultaneously. And both were claiming commissions based on a percentage of all money earned by the Berigan band. That is one reason why Bunny pressed Cap Berigan into service as his personal manager in May of 1939. He knew he needed a personal manager, but was already paying two of them who were doing no work on his behalf. Bunny’s manager muddle continued until he filed for bankruptcy relief at the end of August 1939.
By the time all of this was falling-in on Bunny during the Panther Room engagement, he and/or Cap Berigan came to the conclusion that the solution to at least a part of the problem, his band’s unpaid wages, could be found through the local Chicago Musicians’ Union. This led to the bizarre meeting of the entire Berigan band, including Bunny, with the man who was then the president of the Chicago local, James C. Petrillo. It is not known precisely or completely what the result of that meeting was insofar in getting Berigan’s band members paid. But, according to Berigan band member Gus Bivona, who was present, Petrillo “…gave Bunny a telling-off using all the four letter words imaginable…” It is likely that in response, Bunny, who was definitely not a hot-head, may have used a few four letter words of his own. Petrillo, enraged, then imposed a fine on Berigan of $1,000.00 for “conduct unbecoming a member of the American Federation of Musicians.”(1)
Bunny Berigan really needed the services of a good lawyer from the time he began to organize a big band in early 1937. He apparently didn’t understand the extent to which anyone who leads a big band is a business person, in addition to being the band’s musical leader. He trusted others who were clearly in positions of conflict of interest with him to look out for his business interests. He had no comprehension of the concept of trust, but verify. He trusted, but did not verify, and often had no one else to verify for him. By the time he was presented with verification of the facts in his business life in July and August of 1939, he was buried in debt and legal complications.
Paradoxically, that the very time when Berigan’s financial health was at a nadir, his playing and that of his band were at a remarkably high level. His booking agency, MCA, was undoubtedly aware of Bunny’s financial difficulties. Nevertheless, they took no steps for the seven weeks the Berigan band was playing at the Panther Room, (presumably for either break-even money, or at a loss), to ameliorate those difficulties. If the Berigan band had been presented for week at a Chicago theater in July or August of 1939, the resulting cash-flow would have undoubtedly alleviated much of the immediate financial pressure on Bunny. One can speculate that the band’s many radio broadcasts from the Panther Room would have ensured a profitable theater run. This was MCA’s most basic promotional tactic, one that had worked successfully for myriad bands. Instead, Bunny was left to be sucked deeper and deeper into a quagmire of debt while he and his band remained at Hotel Sherman.
In the wake of the Petrillo fiasco, someone at MCA finally took steps to try to stabilize the finances of the Berigan band. This happened only because after the Petrillo meeting, Bunny contacted his MCA liaison and told him that he was very near to breaking-up his band, and seeking some sort of bankruptcy relief to get out from under his debts and manager tangle. Indeed, several of his band members were now talking about leaving simply because they could no longer work every day and not be paid. Someone from MCA intervened, met with Berigan and his band in Chicago, and promised them that a lucrative theater engagement had been secured for them at the Loew’s State Theater in Manhattan, to take place in the last week of August, and that the money Bunny owed his sidemen would be paid up in full at the end of that engagement. Consequently, everyone in the band agreed to remain until after that theater engagement had been completed. To tide the Berigan bandsmen over until then, MCA may have furnished them with eating money (borrowed by Bunny, with interest), but nothing more.
Then the MCA liaison talked with Berigan privately. Bunny was reminded of the incident the previous summer, when he fell off the stage at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. After that, MCA was not sure that he could handle a week-long engagement at a major theater because of his drinking. He could not do anything during the Loew’s State engagement, he was told, that would reflect negatively on him, or on MCA. This increased the pressure on Berigan to drink less in a situation where he very much wanted to drink more. That was a non-issue for MCA. MCA, as usual, was acting solely in its financial interests. They continued to reap commissions from every gig the Berigan band played, even though for some time Bunny himself and his musicians had not been paid. MCA very much wanted the Berigan band to continue to operate, because it was a solid, swinging band, and had always been a steady commission generator. Bunny promised to work through the Loew’s State engagement without any alcohol related problems. Somehow, he managed to to that.
Between the end of the Panther Room engagement on August 11, and the Berigan band’s opening for a week at the Loew’s State Theater on Times Square in Manhattan on August 24, they bounced around playing one-night gigs in the Midwest, working their way back to New York. The music trade papers were not sanguine about Berigan’s chances for success at the State Theater engagement: “The vaude bill this week is not so hot, and combined with a weak film, …will probably do only so-so business. Bunny Berigan’s band is on the stage throughout, with Berigan emceeing and then highlighting the band’s music some of his brilliant trumpeting. He and his 13 men snap out sharp swing-style rhythms. Their music is in the better swing class, but has a tendency to get monotonous before the show is finished. Tenor Danny Richards steps out for vocals, drawing generous applause.”(2) Featured on the bill with Berigan was singer Maxine Sullivan, in addition to a number of vaudeville performers.
The predictions were wrong – the engagement was a success: “Bunny Berigan gave the State Theater in New York City its best gross in weeks with $25,000.00.”(3)
At the end of the engagement, all of Bunny’s musicians were paid their back wages. Indeed, they also received bonuses from Bunny for their work in making the theater gig a success. Immediately after that Gus Bivona, Don Lodice, Joe Bushkin, Johnny Napton and Joe Bauer left. Berigan himself finally took steps to file a bankruptcy petition in Manhattan to obtain relief from his remaining debts and other legal entanglements. Future prospects for the Berigan band, with its personnel now depleted by almost half, including several key performers, were uncertain.
It is my informed speculation that at the end of the Loew’s State engagement, Bunny Berigan was depressed, exhausted, insolvent and disgusted with how MCA was procuring work for him and his band. Although he still very much wanted to continue leading his band, he realized that in order to do so he would have to fill the massive hole in it created by the recent departure of five of its members. He nevertheless was not as enthusiastic about doing that as he had been in the past, because he had just experienced events that had turned his normally optimistic attitude about leading a band to one of resigned cynicism. Berigan really needed the services of a strong personal manager at that moment. But since he had presumably just been freed of his connections with his last two personal managers as a result of his bankruptcy filing, he was not eager to hire another manager then. Consequently, he and his father continued to operate the business side of the Berigan band by themselves.
As one would expect, this resulted in exactly the same depression, exhaustion and insolvency for Bunny six months later. But by the end of 1939, there was an even more ominous development: Bunny’s vigorous good health and legendary stamina were now being undermined by the disease of cirrhosis of the liver, which sent him to the hospital around Christmas of 1939. He was hospitalized and away from his band for at least two weeks as 1939 ended and 1940 began.
As September of 1939 began, a new person at MCA, Harry Moss, was assigned to be the agency liaison with Bunny Berigan. Berigan was well acquainted with Moss, having worked with him in early 1937 when he was a booking agent for Associated Radio Artists. Moss booked the fledgling Berigan band then on a few gigs. Harry Moss appears to have genuinely liked Berigan. Nevertheless, Moss, like all MCA operatives, was always under intense pressure to manage MCA clients in a way that maximized MCA’s commissions. The prime consideration for MCA was the generation of commissions. All other issues, no matter how dire for the client, were subsidiary. It appears that Bunny met with Harry Moss at MCA’s posh Manhattan offices in the Squibb Building on Fifth Avenue a number of times during the first couple of weeks of September. I suspect that Moss’s approach with Bunny was to reassure him that MCA had lined-up weeks of good work for the Berigan band, and that Bunny could call Moss directly anytime he needed to. This appears to have mollified Bunny. George T. Simon, a writer at Metronome magazine then, encountered Berigan coming out of the MCA offices at that time. Here is how he remembered the encounter: “That recent bankruptcy trouble hasn’t worried him noticeably.” (4)
Whatever the case, Berigan in his usual efficient fashion, began auditioning and hiring musicians to take the places of those who had recently left his band. Soon they were integrated into the Berigan ensemble, and began playing the gigs Harry Moss told Bunny MCA had secured for them. For MCA, the Berigan situation had been stabilized. Commissions generated by the Berigan band continued to roll in, uninterrupted. For Bunny however, the situation that had forced him into bankruptcy was essentially unchanged. Although some of his debts apparently were discharged in the bankruptcy (principally his debts and legal obligations to Michaud and Gluskin), others, particularly the “fine” Petrillo had levied on him, and his debt to MCA, remained. He simply took whatever work MCA provided, and without a personal manager to do the math and make sure that the band’s income exceeded expenses, soon income was once again not exceeding expenses. Bunny and Cap were oblivious. The band was working, doing good business overall and playing well. So was Bunny. Bunny and the band forged ahead. With no management of the band’s income happening, he was once again slowly being submerged in debt.
The music: “Our Love,” based on a theme from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, entered the pop music world in March of 1939. Several bands recorded it then, including Jimmy Dorsey’s (with a vocal by Bob Eberly); Red Nichols’s (with a vocal by Bill Darnell); and Tommy Dorsey’s (with a vocal by Jack Leonard). Glenn Miller had an arrangement on it which he broadcast (with a vocal by Ray Eberle). Bunny Berigan liked the music of Tchaikovsky, and had a number of recordings of Tchaikovsky’s music in his record collection. He assigned the song to his staff arranger Andy Phillips in June of 1939, and by July the Berigan band was performing it before audiences at the Panther Room of Hotel Sherman in Chicago. Phillips’s arrangement is a well-constructed showcase for the velvety, low-register, melodic Berigan trumpet, and the singing of Danny Richards. It was well-received wherever it was performed, and is perfect for dancing. If Berigan had had a contract to make records after his contract with Victor expired in mid-March of 1939, he undoubtedly would have recorded this arrangement.
Beneath the surface of this arrangement we find evidence that Andy Phillips, like Joe Lippman before him, benefitted from his musical association with Bunny Berigan. Listen for example to how he deploys the reeds and cup-muted brass behind Bunny’s sixteen bar melody exposition in the first chorus. The reeds sing while the brass add gently rhythmic emphases. This complements what Berigan is doing very well. The brass at first play the secondary melody on the tune’s bridge, and then the reeds return, with a bit of Larry Walsh’s solo tenor saxophone, to sing out the primary melody to finish chorus one.
The modulation that follows is brief and efficient, with Joe DiMaggio’s clarinet prominent.
The second chorus belongs to Danny Richards (real name: Donato Ricciardi). He had a warm tenor voice with good range, a fine sense of pitch, and a relaxed delivery, all of which he used with great skill. He was very popular with audiences who came to see and hear Bunny Berigan’s band. For a number of reasons that had nothing to do with him, he was unable to make commercial recordings with the Berigan band through 1939. Had he done so, the trajectory of his career may well have been more high-profile.(5)
It is amazing how quickly Berigan integrated the new musicians into a cohesive performing unit. This performance, given only a couple of weeks after five new musicians joined, is very good all the way around.
The recording presented with this post was digitally transferred and remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(*) Normally, Berigan as a bandleader, was on tour more or less constantly, and thus kept out of the reach of process servers. While he was at Hotel Sherman, the frequent radio broadcasts he appeared on specified where he was and how long he was going to be there. His creditors noticed. Consequently, process servers descended on him during that engagement.
(1) The Miracle Man of Swing …A Bio-Discography of Jazz Trumpeter Bunny Berigan, by Bozy White (2012), 1041-1042.
(2) Ibid. 1044. This quote comes from Billboard, September 2, 1939.
(3) Ibid. 1045. This quote comes from the September 1939 International Musician.
(4) Metronome, October 1939.
(5) In 1940 when Bunny Berigan was working with Tommy Dorsey’s band, Tommy fired Frank Sinatra for the first time. When TD was looking for a replacement, Berigan recommended Danny Richards, and TD called him. Danny balked, probably being intimidated by TD, and never sang with Dorsey. This undoubtedly was a missed opportunity that Richards long regretted.
A piece of work which is, on the face of it, so at odds with its backstory.
The phrase “Goose that laid the golden egg” springs to mind here, as the vultures gathered around Bunny, and they were set on bleeding him for every last nickel they could. If he owed, he paid, regardless of the outcome. If he had to hock his trumpet, well, too bad. Business is business, and if our actions result in an income stream being closed off, maybe permanently, hey, there’s plenty more fish…
Bunny was an angel, a maker of wonderful things. He needed a hard-nosed big hitter, firmly on his side for business. And he never got it.
As for Petrillo, the more I see of him, the more I despise him. He’s like that cigar -chewing parrot of Disney’s, minus the charm. $1000 “fine”? Unbelievable. More so that it still stood, in the wake of BB’s bankruptcy. The more I read, the more my heart breaks for Bunny. It’s a bastard’s world, alright.
Musically, this could not be further removed from the pressing realities.
As you said, Mike, it’s amazing how quickly Bunny assimilated 5 new band members into a cohesive unit. That’s one big hole to fill, and audible potholes there are none. Great credit, and that could only be to the man himself.
I wonder just how much music played in Bunny’s coping mechanisms? Surely every bit as much as “ol’ squareface” itself.
It’s worth comparing 2 vocal versions of “Our Love”;
Danny Richards shows his technical ability here – whilst he had a tendency to slide up to certain high notes, à la Al Bowlly, his ability to hold that final, high “love”, without wavering, for 6 bars is well worth noting. And it comes out well, in comparison to one Francis Albert Sinatra, who cut the same number as his demo disc some 5 months earlier.
Mark, it certainly seems to me that by this low point, playing music had become a coping mechanism — an escape, a refuge — for Bunny. I sometimes think of an illuminating little story, from the Ross Firestone biography of Goodman, that Helen Ward told about Bunny in the struggling, scuffling days of the nascent BG band: After mentioning the famous “falling off the bandstand” incident on the Let’s Dance show, and saying that she didn’t know why he did things like this (who did?), given the obvious joy that playing gave him, she went on to tell of Bunny showing her a new trumpet case that he’d just had specially made — which had a place for the horn and for the mouthpiece … and a separate compartment, lined in red velvet, for his gin bottle. Her incomprehension is so apparent and relatable! I think that at this point, when Bunny was just twenty-six, he, like so many young people, and perhaps especially those who are highly skilled in one area or another, believed he was invincible. Music was his love, as it always would be, and drinking was something that he convinced himself he was doing just to relax or unwind from the environmental stress of the road or studios. I don’t think he realised that he was already in trouble, so insidious is alcoholism. So by ’39, music was still his number one love but, too, with all his entanglements, it had become a means of coping with the great pressure he was under — the stage, with his trumpet to his lips and his band behind him, was a haven.
Oh, wow … Listening to this beautiful performance, I’m transported to ’39, as a fictional self (I was born twenty-seven years later), hearing a new arrangement from one of my favourite bands. I often imagine that the thrill we, modern Swing Era aficionados, feel in first exposure to an unfamiliar recording from one of the greats must be something like what the ardent — not merely casual — fans of the day experienced when they brought a new side home from the record shop or heard a radio broadcast or a band in person. This presumed sound check is a treasure! I think we may confidently believe that had Bunny been under contract to a label when “Our Love” was fresh, he would have recorded this lovely arrangement, which musically seems to signal a new direction, or evolution, for the orchestra. Alas, by the time of the Berigan band’s next recording date, the pop song’s shelf life had ended — and, it’s painful to be reminded, signs would soon appear that Bunny’s own expiration date might not be long off.
It’s profoundly saddening to think that, following the success of the Loew’s State engagement, Bunny’s simple, intrinsic optimism (so apparent, despite the tough times, in the smiling photo with his father) was being replaced by cynicism. Who can blame him? He kept his promise to stay sober, brought in great crowds, squared his debts with his sidemen and gave them a bonus on top of that — and then, still, as expected, lost a significant portion of the band, including key members. It’s no wonder he couldn’t muster the old enthusiasm for whipping a new crew into shape. Bunny, at this point in his career — indeed his life — was merely plodding along, with what we now know and he surely, deep down, sensed to have been no chance of a genuine professional or personal renaissance. To employ a noir-style metaphor, he was a rat in a maze, with business bloodsuckers and booze at the dead ends — and no exit.
This is not to say, of course, that Bunny didn’t continue to have triumphs as a musician. Almost unbelievably, soon after the Christmastime ’39 hospitalization that revealed starkly the advancement of Bunny’s disease, he was in the Dorsey band (with some ambivalence about the situation, I’m sure), contributing knockout work that we, his admirers, cherish. Creating these sparkling solos and subsequently receiving pats on the back from those who sat beside him in the TD trumpet section must have been a potent high for someone who appears to have measured his worth as a person in terms of his musical ability. Approval for the quality of his participation in the thing he loved most, music, was his drug of choice — booze was how he got by between the highs.
I would love to know just what ran through the minds of Petrillo and the sharks at MCA when they learned of Bunny’s death. Did they feel even the tiniest pangs of guilt? … Or did they merely conclude, “Well, I saw that coming” before briskly moving on to the next phone call or cigar. One of many things we may learn from this “Our Love” post is that Bunny had no one who was completely in his corner — not a family member, a friend, a lover or a professional associate. Though it could be said that his loyal sidemen loved him unconditionally, they were in no position to save him.
And out of all this comes the miraculous recording of “Our Love,” an almost inexplicably tranquil spot on the stormy sea that was Bunny’s life. It really makes me emotional to hear a new Berigan performance. Many years ago, I became resigned to the notion that there are many beautiful things in the world that I’ll never see, hear or experience. I do, though, hate the thought of missing any of the music that Bunny left behind. I’m most grateful to this site for making some of these more obscure wonders known to me!
I have to believe that the Tchaikovsky basis for this particular Clinton pop adaptation would please, now as then, all but the most riff-ravenous swing fans. It’s nice to think that Bunny numbered among the admirers of the Russian composer’s work! That Wisconsin-born lad had sophisticated musical taste. I have to say that Bunny’s take on “Our Love,” which of course was new to me, has emerged as my favourite of the several I’ve heard for a number of reasons: First, I love Andy Phillips’ arrangement, which is respectful to the material in both original and adapted form, and uncluttered (the Miller band chart is overly fussy!) The pretty reed and muted brass background for Bunny’s solo isn’t flashy, but it’s somehow more affecting, I feel, than what we find in either Dorsey band’s chart. There’s no gratuitous embellishment in Phillips’ writing! The brief modulation is tasteful and then, once again, the support for the foreground action — in this instance, Danny’s chorus — is tasteful and builds gently to a crescendo. I love the harmony in the trumpets’ brief figure on the VI chord, right after “And so you’re always near to me.” I’m a great admirer of Bob Eberly, Jack Leonard and Sinatra, but I don’t feel that Danny’s vocal suffers in comparison with that of any of the three. The pitch of the original source is a bit dodgy, but the vocal comes out closer to being in G than F#, so I think we can deduce that the tempo was actually a little brighter, and thus Danny’s chorus is in G — like Sinatra’s and both of the Eberle/Eberly brothers’; Jack Leonard’s is in F.
Finally, I haven’t heard another musician who could match Bunny’s gravitas, so movingly employed in his solo. Where did that come from? Here, as in his famous theme as well as “Ebb Tide,” “Azure” and the live “I Poured My Heart Into a Song,” among others, he displays his lush lower register, and this sound, in combination with his phrasing is extremely well-suited to the solemn tone of the melody and lyric. I love how, despite his fondness for Tchaikovsky, he can’t resist a little tinkering — the semi-tone alternations near the end of his statement. Perhaps because of the classical source of the song, Clinton, though following the standard AABA format, makes each A section ten bars long (the bridge is the usual eight), with the result that Bunny’s half chorus, comprising two A sections, is twenty measures in length rather than the typical sixteen.
What we hear in “Our Love” as well as in the excellent broadcast performances of six days later is that Bunny, the musican-orchestra leader, was still able to work magic — to play beautifully under all manner of crushing stress and quickly to assemble and polish a band. … If only this amazing power had extended to other areas of his life.
Mark T and Elizabeth’s comments are so insightful and true in addition to Mr. Zirpolo’s text. They are commendable in view of the state of popular music today in an effort to keep Bunny’s music and that of the swing era alive. I salute them and all the other “silent “ fans of this era.
As an educator I am going to take an entirely different tack on all of Bunny’s life. Many colleges and universities are instituting “Music Business “ majors into their music curriculum. Bunny’s life and that of many other famous musicians unfortunately are textbook cases of what not to do in one’s career. Like Bunny, many promising musicians become caught up in the musical side of their careers and woefully lax in the business side.
As an attorney, Mr. Zirpolo brings a very insightful commentary on the business side of Bunny’s career. We gain an additional perspective of not only the times that Bunny lived and operated in but also the manner in which Bunny unfortunately encountered his business setbacks. A higher education institution would be wise to include as required reading parts or all of Mr. Zirpolo’s book as background to a music performance major. Students would gain insight into the importance of paying close attention to the business side of their career and learning from Bunny’s shortcomings. Every musician would benefit from having a wise and insightful attorney. (There, as a writer I should know not to use the word “insightful “ as many times as I did. Mea culpa)
Ted, I couldn’t agree more that the inclusion of Mike’s book, at once exhaustive in its detailing of Bunny’s unwitting professional missteps and extremely empathetic, would be of great value in a university level music business program. While many things have changed since Bunny’s day about the manner in which an artist’s music becomes “product” for sale, some key aspects remain the same — one being the dynamic in which self-serving wolves take advantage of those whose knowledge does not extend beyond the realm of making music to the business environment. There have, it’s sad to note, been many casualties in this field, with Bunny’s case being one of the most tragic examples.