“Marcheta” (1940)

Composed by Victor Shertzinger; arranged by either Andy Fitzgerald or Frank Crolene.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra from an NBC broadcast on October 14, 1940 from the World’s Fair of 1940, Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Jack Thompson (lead), Frank Perry, Ray Kranz, trumpets; Ernie Stricker (lead), Max Smith, trombones; Eddie Alcock (lead alto), Andy Fitzgerald (third alto), Johnny Castaldi (second tenor), Frank Crolene (fourth tenor), saxophones; Buddy Koss, piano; probably Tommy Moore, guitar; Morty Stulmaker, bass; and Jack Maisel, drums.

The story:

Music Corporation of America (MCA) rode the crest of the dance band craze from the 1920s through the 1930s. In the late 1930s, MCA’s number one agent, Lew Wasserman, who earlier had developed the hugely successful “College of Musical Knowledge” on radio for Kay Kyser, began to represent Hollywood film queen Bette Davis. Although MCA continued to be a major player in the band-booking business for many years after 1940, after that year, the major focus of their business was slowly but surely moving from music to the film industry. This gradual change in MCA’s business plan undoubtedly had a negative effect on the band business, even though its competitors rushed in to grab whatever business MCA left behind as it slowly exited the dance band field. But the dance band field itself was changing in major ways by 1940. The various forces then at work ultimately led to the end of the big band era. Billboard carried a very informative article about these market conditions in late 1940:

“Leading orchestras are getting lower prices in night clubs, hotels, theaters and one-nighters, particularly as compared to the sturdy 30s, when bands could get 50/50 on the first dollars in theaters, walk away with $1,500 on one-nighters and draw figures commensurate with their popularity in hotels and night clubs. The down-turn is blamed on three important factors: the creation of new bands faster than the demand warranted; public saturation with the same thing over and over again, even with different faces; and cut-throat competition among booking offices, personal managers and road managers. Many ballroom operators are using cheaper bands in the theory that if a name band lays an egg, the loss runs $500 to $700, while a band in the non-name class drawing only $200 to $300 for the date can only hand the ballroom owner a loss of around $50. ‘A’ class bands used to walk into theaters for $7,500 a week or, if that strong, a 50/50 split of the box office. ‘B’ bands were good for $4,500 weekly or a percentage arrangement, while ‘C’ bands could get $2,500 per week, every week of the year. Now, with the public at saturation point, ‘A’ bands have dropped into the ‘B’ category, ‘B’ bands into the ‘C’ and ‘C’ bands are now tough properties to book, even for scale. The one-nighter field, which provided the bulk of the bands revenues, is also fading by comparison. The accepted price of $1,250 to $1,500 for top bands is dimming to $650 to $1,000.”(1)

What the Billboard article did not mention was that there was another category of big band, the “preeminent” category. In this category were the biggest names in the field: Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, on the swing side, and Guy Lombardo, Kay Kyser, Sammy Kaye, and Hal Kemp, on the sweet side. These bands could be booked anywhere for top money because their leaders had developed such powerful box office names that they stood above the competition provided by very good, but less bankable bands. Black bands, because of racial segregation, were unable to enter the realm of “preeminent” bands. No matter how good they were, or well-known, they almost always were paid less than the top white bands.(2) The one black band that came closest to parity with the preeminent white bands in the swing era marketplace was Cab Calloway’s. Fats Waller was also a top earner during the swing era, but still not in the same league as the preeminent white bands.(3)

Bunny Berigan and his band at the Roosevelt Hotel Jacksonville, Florida – November – December 1940: L-R: front: vocalist Danny Richards, Johnny Castaldi, Andy Fitzgerald, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Crolene, Buddy Koss; back: Max Smith, Ernie Stricker, Ray Krantz, Jack Thompson, Frank Perry, Jack Maisel, Morty Stulmaker.

Bunny Berigan’s 1940 band started out somewhere between a “B” and “C” band but it improved steadily during the ten and a half months it existed. To MCA, the only value of a Bunny Berigan band then was if Berigan could stand in front of it and play his trumpet in a passable manner. It appears that Bunny was playing quite well during most of the time he led his 1940-1941 band. In spite of this, MCA had long before given up on the idea that he could ever lead an “A” band. The myriad problems caused by his alcoholism had, in their judgment, made that impossible as early as the fall of 1938.(4) The fact that Berigan was one of the most thrilling trumpeters in the history of American popular music and jazz meant nothing to MCA, because the audiences that came out to hear his band or any other dance band were not too concerned about those things; they just wanted good dance music played by a “name” band.

So, under the aegis of MCA and without a personal manager, Berigan put together what initially was a workmanlike band in September of 1940. It would be a good dance band that played straightforward arrangements of current pop tunes, with jazz and musical thrills in a definitely subsidiary role. Bunny was given a budget by Harry Moss, the head of the one-nighter division at MCA, on which to run his band. He had to staff the band with suitable musicians, and pay all other expenses, including transportation, within that budget. MCA would make sure the band worked, at least part of the time. What MCA would not guarantee however, was either how often the band worked, or how much the band would be paid when it did work. Thus, even though Bunny ostensibly had control of the costs for his band, he had no control over his income.

He also did not have control over the commissions MCA assessed on his earnings. He found that he had to occasionally pay a higher percentage to MCA than normal simply to secure certain jobs. This was not unusual in the band business in 1940. Charlie Barnet reported in his autobiography that at one point, he was paying as commissions to his booking agent twenty-five percent off the top on one-nighters, and fifteen percent on locations and theaters in order to work.(5) These were the same risks and costs that Berigan had to assume if he wanted to be on the road for MCA. He evidently wanted this very badly because in spite of these risks and costs, which would soon submerged him in debt again, he once more took a band out on the road.

On Saturday, September 21, 1940, Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra opened a two-night stand at the Golden Gate Ballroom in New York City, playing opposite Benny Carter(6) and His Orchestra. Between the musicians he had gathered, and those Jack Maisel (5A), (who apparently acted as Bunny’s “straw-boss” with this band) had secured, he somehow had put together a very passable band in an extremely short period of time. Berigan’s knack for quickly fashioning a good-sounding band out of disparate sidemen is another of his talents that has seldom been acknowledged or commented on.

Down Beat carried this information soon after the band debuted:

“Maybe it was just a coincidence, or maybe it was smart booking, but Harlem was really popping the other Sunday night, September 22, when Tommy Dorsey jammed them in at the Savoy Ballroom, while his ex-sideman, Bunny Berigan, only two blocks away in the Golden Gate Ballroom, played the second of two days in which his new band made its public debut. Berigan, who’s all set with MCA backing, has Frank Tiffany, Frank Perry and Ray Crafton (Kranz), trumpets; Sam Kublin, Max Smith, trombones; Eddie Alcock, alto, Andy Fitzgerald, alto and arranger, Frank Crolene, tenor and arranger, Jack Henderson, tenor; Bill Clifton, piano; Jack Maisel, drums; and Morty Stulmaker, bass. Danny Richards, who sang with the last Berigan band, is back with Bunny, who won’t use a girl singer.”(7)

Here the recollections of a few of the sidemen who joined Berigan’s band then: Danny Richards remembered: “Bunny called me at home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and asked me to come back. I said OK and introduced him to Johnny ‘The Face’ DeSantos, and got him a job, first as band-boy and later as road manager.”(8) Frank Perry (trumpet) recalled: “I was working with Jerry Arlen’s band with Jack Maisel, who left to rejoin Bunny Berigan, promising to get me on Bunny’s new band if there was a spot in the trumpet section. The Golden Gate stand was the band’s first public engagement and shortly after we finished that job, Jack Thompson came in on first trumpet.”(9) Ray Kranz (trumpet): “I was working in a hotel in the Catskills that summer in a band that also included Buddy Koss on piano and it was he who recommended me to Bunny and got me on the band. I had always held Bunny’s playing in high esteem and while I was with the band, I learned a hell of a lot from him. It was my first ‘name’ band and I got a tremendous thrill listening to and playing alongside him every night.” (10) Buddy Koss (piano): “I’d jobbed around the New York area after Bunny joined the Tommy Dorsey band and when I got his call, I joined the new band at the Golden Gate Ballroom, replacing Bill Clifton, who only rehearsed with the band. Jack Maisel was the drummer and the contractor, who called all the guys together. Bunny’s library had been attached to secure a debt, but Maisel had copies of most of his old scores.”(11)

L-R: Frank Crolene, Jack Maisel, Berigan, Morty Stulmaker, Buddy Koss.

Information about the band’s daily activities immediately after they left the Golden Gate Ballroom is lacking. We know that on September 29, they played a one-nighter at Mike Todd’s “Dancing Campus” at the New York World’s Fair, alternating with Gene Krupa’s band. The next night, they played at the Brooklyn Roseland Ballroom. They also may have played a few nights at Nick’s in Greenwich Village in early October.(12) 

On the way to a one-nighter at the Sunnybrook Ballroom in Pottstown, Pennsylvania on October 5, Bunny visited a physician in New Jersey. Buddy Koss was with him:  “About this time I went with Bunny to see his favorite doctor over in New Jersey. He warned Bunny that if he didn’t stop drinking, it would kill him. This seemed to worry Bunny and for a couple of weeks he actually went on the wagon!”(13)  

Later, Koss elaborated on this event:

“A lot of people say they saw Bunny fall off the stand. I never saw this. In all the time I was with him, I never saw him so bad. I took Bunny to a doctor in New Jersey. He put Bunny up on a table. After examining him the doctor says, ‘Bunny, you’ve got an enlarged heart, you’ve got the beginning of cirrhosis, you’ve got arthritis. If you don’t quit drinking, you’ll be dead.’ I always kept a pint of booze in my car for Bunny, and Bunny says, ‘I’m going to go out there and smash that bottle against a wall!’ We get outside and he takes it and looks at it, and says, ‘Gee, it’s a shame to waste it.’ Bunny went to priests, fortune tellers, hypnotists. Maybe if AA had been around, it could have saved him.”(14)

The Berigan band was back in New York for two nights at the Prospect Theater in the Bronx (October 12–13), and a similar gig at the Star Theater (Lexington and 107th) at around this same time. Quite possibly, vocalist Kathleen Lane appeared with the band on these engagements. Evidently, the acrimonious parting in the spring of 1939 between Bunny and Ms. Lane’s husband, Jerry Johnson, did not terminate his professional relationship with her. (In the interim, Johnson had become, according to the White materials, a music contractor at ABC.)(15)

Berigan in front of his band at the Academy of Music, East 14th Street and Irving Place in Manhattan January 7-8, 1941. front row L-R: bassist Morty Stulmaker, guitarist Tommy Moore, Frank Crolene, Joe DiMaggio, Andy Fitzgerald. The trumpeter in back is probably Ray Krantz.

On October 14, the Berigan band returned to the “Dancing Campus.” Here is the personnel lineup from that date: Remote broadcast, NBC (WEAF or WJZ) twenty-five minutes, airtime unknown. From Jitterbug Heaven of Dancing Campus, World’s Fair, New York City: Jack Thompson (lead), Frank Perry, Ray Kranz, trumpets; Ernie Stricker (lead), Max Smith, trombones; Eddie Alcock (lead alto), Andy Fitzgerald (third alto), Johnny Castaldi (second tenor), Frank Crolene (fourth tenor), saxophones; Buddy Koss, piano; probably Tommy Moore, guitar; Morty Stulmaker, bass; and Jack Maisel, drums. Danny Richards, Kathleen Lane were the vocalists. Fitzgerald and Crolene were writing arrangements for the band. At the beginning, the solos, other than those by Berigan, were by Koss on piano; Fitzgerald on clarinet, and Castaldi on tenor saxophone.(16)

Although most of the musicians who made up Bunny Berigan’s band at this time were unknown, they were not inexperienced. Here are some of the ages of Bunny’s new band members in the fall of 1940: Max Smith, thirty-seven; Johnny Castaldi, twenty-seven; Andy Fitzgerald, twenty-two; Ray Krantz, twenty-three; Jack Maisel, thirty; Jack Thompson, twenty-two; Ernie Stricker, thirty.(17)  Berigan himself was just shy of his thirty-second  birthday.

The music:

It is apparent from this performance that the band Bunny Berigan had assembled only a few weeks before this broadcast was remarkably well-integrated and swinging by the time this recording was made. Berigan must be given full credit for selecting the musicians he thought would best be able to realize the musical vision he had for this band, and then to effectively rehearse and inspire them to play well together, and with spirit, within a relatively short time. Bunny himself was also playing very well, continuing the string of excellent solos he had recorded through the five months he had spent (March – August 1940) as featured trumpet soloist with Tommy Dorsey’s band.

Bunny benefitted from using the copies of many arrangements the drummer in this new band, Jack Maisel, had retained in his files after copying out the original scores written by a number of arrangers who worked for Berigan in the years 1937 – 1940. Berigan audiences expected Bunny to play tunes that he had made popular with that first band. The originals of those arrangements somehow had disappeared after Bunny broke-up his first band in early 1940. But Berigan was intent on creating as many new arrangements for this new band as he could to allow them to develop their own unique musical personality. As with his first band, Bunny encouraged the sidemen in this new band who could arrange to do so. Two of them, saxophonists Andy Fitzgerald and Frank Crolene, responded with a stream of good arrangements that spiced this band’s book during its ten and a half months of existence. “Marcheta,” a well-paced and colorful arrangement, is one of them.

Notable in this performance is the joyous swing of the band, facilitated by the drumming of Jack Maisel, and the strong playing of first trumpeter Jack Thompson. The tasty tenor saxophone solo was played by Johnny Castaldi, who clearly modeled his sound on that of Chu Berry, one of the tenor giants of the 1930s. Bunny contributes a robust jazz solo and then lights up the ensemble with his high-notes in the last chorus and finale.

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

(1) Billboard: November 30, 1940, cited in the White materials.

(2) Some of the financial records from Duke Ellington’s orchestra have been preserved. Here is what they reveal: in 1939, Ellington grossed $160,000, but just broke even. In 1940, he took in $185,000, and had a small profit. In 1941, he earned $135,000, but had a loss of $1,500. In 1942, Ellington was paid anywhere from $700 to $1,200 for a one-nighter, and grossed $210,000, but netted a mere $4,000. In 1942, Johnny Hodges (Ellington’s highest paid sideman), started the year making $125 a week, which was raised to $140 by midyear. All Ellington sidemen were paid $30 each for Victor recording sessions in 1942, except Hodges, who got $50. I have personally seen these records. They were also cited in Beyond Category—The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, by John Edward Hasse, Simon and Schuster (1993), 272–273. These numbers do not include Ellington’s earnings from royalties on his compositions.

(3) Fats Waller, like Duke Ellington, was earning more and more money as the swing era progressed from royalties on his compositions. His objective was to get off of the road, and he was just about to do that when he died, on the road, in 1943.

(4) Berigan’s failure to take elocution lessons, as Benny Goodman had when he was headed for stardom, and his failure to have his teeth capped to correct the unsightly appearance caused by his dead and crooked teeth, were also factors that militated against his being a star bandleader who could engage in breezy patter with radio announcers, and flash his perfect smile to admiring fans. These things have nothing to do with music, but nevertheless were important matters for anyone wishing to be successful in the entertainment business. Bunny, ever concerned with his precious embouchure, was afraid that if anything was done with his teeth, it could negatively affect his ability to play the trumpet.

(5) Those Swinging Years, by Charlie Barnet, with Stanley Dance, Louisiana State University Press (1984), 92.

(5A) Drummer Jack Maisel was something of a hustler. It seems that he worked as a music copyist, who took scores completed by swing era arrangers, and then copied out all of the individual parts from the score for each instrument in the band. That in itself was very common. However, Maisel made sure to retain a copy of all the arrangements he copied, and then sold them to many different bandleaders. He also had worked briefly with Bunny Berigan in early 1940 as a drummer, and as Bunny’s road manager.

(6) Bennett Lester Carter, born on August 8, 1907, in New York City, was for many years one of the most versatile musicians in jazz. Although his primary instrument was always the alto saxophone, he also played a number of other instruments very well, especially the trumpet. But possibly his greatest talent lay in arranging. Carter first recorded in 1928, and then began an apprenticeship as a sideman in the Fletcher Henderson and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers bands, which lasted until 1932. Thereafter, he led his own bands intermittently until the early 1940s, when he moved to Hollywood and became increasingly involved in studio work as an arranger. (He spent the years 1935–1938 in Europe.)  Throughout the 1930s, many big bands had featured arrangements written by Carter. Although he never gave up performing as a jazz soloist, most of Carter’s time in the decades from the mid-1940s until the mid-1960s was spent writing scores for recording artists, television shows, and movies. He gradually resumed his career as a performer in the 1960s, continuing to perform regularly until his ninetieth birthday, in 1997. He also frequently lectured on music at leading universities including Princeton and Harvard in his later years. Benny Carter lived a long and successful life and was widely recognized and honored for his musical achievements. He died on July 12, 2003, in Los Angeles, California.

(7) Down Beat: October 1, 1940, cited in the White materials.

(8) White materials: September 22, 1940.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) White materials: September 29, 1940.

(13) White materials: September 30, 1940.

(13A) The rest of the story Buddy Koss told about Bunny going on the wagon in the autumn of 1940 was that during a stand at the Chatterbox in Mountainside, New Jersey (October 17 – 31, 1940), he was invited by Paul Whiteman to stay at his farm nearby. Whiteman later reported that while greatly reducing his intake of alcohol then, Berigan suffered delirium tremens, which included him having nightmares during which he often shouted, much to Paul’s dismay. Slowly, to settle himself, Bunny resumed drinking.

(14) This quote is from an interview of Buddy Koss done by Debbie Mikolas, cited in Dupuis: 248. It should be remembered that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935. Nevertheless, it was not a widely known resource for alcoholics until after World War II.

(15) Variety: November 6, 1940, cited in the White materials. I must point out that ABC (the American Broadcasting Company) did not exist in 1940. In essence, the American Broadcasting Company was formed out of the former NBC Blue network on October 12, 1943. (See Wikipedia entry for American Broadcasting Company for the full history.)

(16) White materials: October 14, 1940.

(17) Ibid.


One thought on ““Marcheta” (1940)

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  1. I well recall finding “Marcheta” a surprising title back when I got the Jazz Unlimited label’s CD collection of ’37-’40 Berigan band on-air performances. The “light classic” Schertzinger song, dating to 1913, had indeed become something of a standard and was recorded by other jazz artists of the day, including Gene Krupa, Cootie Williams and Eddie South, but it just didn’t strike me as typical Berigan band fare — that is, until I heard the track! Whether the work of Andy Fitzgerald or Frank Crolene, this swinging and well-paced chart was clearly crafted for an orchestra led by Bunny Berigan; the arranger well understood what his boss would want to hear and play. The writing for the ensemble trumpets, in particular, is very like the sound we aficionados associate with Bunny’s aggregation. Many of us realise that a rhythm section alone can identify a band for attentive ears: This hard-swinging team sounds like what we expect from a Berigan-helmed crew. Despite his obscurity, Johnny Castaldi handles his tenor spot with assurance and, as noted, a Chu Berryesque sound. There are a few miraculous aspects of Bunny’s participation in this performance: 1) That after both experiencing great professional and financial challenges as a bandleader and then leaving the Dorsey fold in strained circumstances, he had the emotional reserves to take up, again, the baton 2) That he was able so quickly to whip a new group of musicians into shape and make them sound like a genuine Berigan outfit 3) That, gravely ill and beleaguered by a variety of pressures, he could play trumpet with fire, imagination and power — and actually sound carefree!

    With his world crumbling, Bunny swoops, soars and swaggers through “Marcheta” as if he’s the happiest guy in the world. Who knows? — maybe in that moment, with his trumpet to his lips, he was. The fresh, inspired and inspiring phrases just tumble out of the bell of his horn. I call that amazing. I don’t know if he was the world’s greatest compartmentalizer or just someone who concentrated on what he loved and ignored all the rest.

    As we know, being “under the wing” of MCA meant being valued strictly on the basis of having the ability to make money for the “protective” hen. The term “virtuoso” signified only if it drew cash customers — otherwise, the agency couldn’t have cared less about those relatively rare individuals justly designated. A, B and C class bands obviously mattered to MCA, but today do we assign the same ratings for the various swing orchestras’ musical worth? Not in every case.

    The discussion of Bunny’s unsightly teeth and shortcomings as a public speaker accentuates the essential differences between him and many other bandleaders and musicians of the day. Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, for whom Bunny worked at times, had ambitions beyond being the best musicians they could possibly be on their respective instruments and leading bands that reflected their artistic ideas. It seems, on the other hand, that these were Bunny’s sole professional aspirations. Tommy, Benny and many other leaders were willing to do some things beyond the musical/instrumental realm — elocution lessons and the like — to facilitate achieving the kind of lives they craved. Though clearly Bunny wanted to provide well for his family, it seems to me that having a band of his own was for him personally the end in and of itself and that living in luxury and hobnobbing with Hollywood royalty or, as in Goodman’s case, society were of no interest.

    From the playful shot of handsome, resplendent and tuxedoed Bunny (in Fairbanksian pose) on the bandstand, it’s not possible to see properly just how bad those teeth actually looked. It was, though, a rare instance in which he flashed a toothy smile, We can deduce that he felt the imperfect and unhealthy teeth marred his looks and we know he was having dental issues early in his career. Unlike, say, Teagarden, who got fitted with a full set of dentures in, I believe, 1940, and hardly missed a beat, or Bobby Hackett who assumed the guitar chair in the Miller orch while he was recovering from dental surgery so that he could ornament the band’s performances with his beautiful cornet work, Bunny resisted taking a step that surely would have benefited both his dental health and, in various ways, his career. Was he worried only about his embouchure — for certain, hardly a minor concern for a brass musician — or did he have additional fears related to surgery? Bunny and also Lester Young, some have said, drank in part to ease dental pain. Though never reduced to hunting around in the snow for an errant “pivot tooth,” like eccentric genius Bix, Bunny was still strangely stubborn with regard to health-related matters.

    In the strictly musical sense, Bunny was lavishly equipped to be a hugely successful bandleader – in the ‘A’ class. But his virtuosity and ability to shape and inspire those he led weren’t enough for him to thrive in an environment that was, after all, one of entertainment — not just of music.

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