Composed by Bronislau Kaper, Walter Jurmann and Gus Kahn; arranged by Joe Lippman.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on June 18, 1937 in New York.
Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins, Irving Goodman, trumpets; Thomas B. “Sonny” Lee, first trombone; Morey Samel, trombone; Sid Perlmutter, first also saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and B-flat clarinet; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano, Tom Morganelli, guitar; Arnold Fishkind, bass; George Wettling, drums; Ruth Bradley, vocal.
Bunny Berigan and his new band were still in the process of getting settled as a performing unit when they made this recording of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” on June 18, 1937. Their commercial success had advanced quickly through the spring of 1937. In March they secured a contract to make Victor records. In April, they landed a spot on a sponsored network radio show, Mutual’s Fun in Swingtime. This was an extremely rare coup for a new band. At the end of April, they began a lengthy engagement at Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan, following Benny Goodman. As the band earned money, largely from from their radio show, Bunny gradually upgraded the personnel of his band. One of his major moves in June of 1937 was acquiring the great trombonist Sonny Lee.
Bunny replaced trombonist/singer Ford Leary with the veteran jazz trombonist Thomas Ball “Sonny” Lee (1904–1975). Four years older than Berigan, he, along with George Wettling, was one of the few veteran musicians in the band. By 1937, he had been a professional for fifteen years. He had worked with Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Pee Wee Russell, then moved into the commercial dance bands of Jean Goldkette, Red Nichols, Cass Hagen, Roger Wolf Kahn, and Isham Jones. In 1936, he became a New York freelance working, among other places, at CBS. He was an absolutely first-rate first chair trombonist in addition to being an excellent jazz improviser. Bunny’s concerns over his trombone section leader and jazz soloist were now at an end. Sonny Lee later recalled how he came to join the Berigan band:
“Bunny had first talked to me about playing in his band when we both worked at CBS and it was more or less agreed that I would join when he’d gotten sufficient commercial deals going, with money guaranteed, so he could pay me a decent salary. Eventually, I got a call from his manager, guaranteeing me at least $100 a week. In all the time I was with the band I never drew less than $150 a week. From the minute I came on the band, I played both lead and all the jazz solos as Morey (Samel) had only slight ability as a ‘ride’ man, so the book was written accordingly. Cliff Natalie was on the band very briefly when I joined, but then Irv Goodman came in. Joe Dixon joined at almost the same time. He replaced Frank Langone, who went over to Jan Savitt.
Bunny gave definite instructions as to what he wanted on ensembles, but never on solos. On ‘The Lady From Fifth Avenue’ he used a cup mute reversed and did a ‘flutter-tongue’ growl on his solo, which really impressed the other trumpeters in the band. The band worked harder than any other band I ever was with, and Bunny worked harder than any other leader I ever knew, even when he was ill.
Sy Devore made the clothes for the Berigan band as well as Bunny’s own suits. He always favored a light brown or cream-colored, double-breasted style. We each had three sets of uniforms tailored by Devore, who was just getting started in men’s fashions then. He became very big later in Hollywood. I think he may also have made the Jimmy Dorsey band’s uniforms.” (1) (After leaving Berigan, Lee spent many years in Jimmy Dorsey’s band.)
As Sonny Lee remembered, there were a few other changes in the personnel of the Berigan band at the time. Benny Goodman’s trumpet-playing kid brother Irving replaced Cliff Natalie, who had been in the band more or less on an interim basis. The second trombone chair also changed, with journeyman Morey Samel coming in, replacing Frankie D’Annolfo.
Bunny also replaced singer Carol McKay (she would soon marry Benny and Irving Goodman’s brother Freddy) with a musicianly singer named Ruth Bradley. “My background included working with several all-girl bands such as Ina Ray Hutton’s, in which I played sax and clarinet. I was 22 when I joined Bunny at the Pennsylvania Roof. I had been working as a singer with Ruby Newman in the Rainbow Room when I heard that Bunny was auditioning singers and went down between shows. Joining him was my biggest break to-date. I never met Sue Mitchell who preceded me, or Gail Reese who replaced me, and I stayed with the band until toward the the end of the Pavilion Royal date. I didn’t really want to leave, and Bunny wanted me to stay. But the band was going on the road. I had been on the road with Ina Ray Hutton, and wanted no more of that. Bunny was a generous, relaxed person who liked his scotch.”(2)
By the time the Berigan band entered the Victor studios in Manhattan for their recording date on June 18, Bunny had almost completed the process of building his band. That process had stretched over a six-month period, and had involved about two dozen musicians. Bunny had been very particular about the composition of his band. The personnel now consisted of Steve Lipkins, first trumpet, Irving Goodman, Berigan, trumpets; (Bunny would very frequently play lead to “pick up” a part of an arrangement); Sonny Lee, first and jazz trombone; Morey Samel, trombone; Sid Perlmutter, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto sax and jazz clarinet; Georgie Auld, jazz tenor saxophone; Clyde Rounds, tenor and baritone sax; Joe Lippman, piano and arranger; Tommy Morganelli, guitar; Arnold Fishkind, bass; George Wettling, drums; and Ruth Bradley, vocals. Despite Sid Perlmutter being a fine musician, he and Bunny had different ideas about how the lead alto saxophone parts should be played. Soon after this recording, Perlmutter was replaced by the veteran lead alto player Robert “Mike” Doty. Bunny also would soon replace Arnold Fishkind (later Fishkin), once again opting for someone with long experience, Frederick “Hank” Wayland. The personnel of the Berigan band then remained stable for many months. The primary arranger was Joe Lippman; however arrangements were also beginning to be commissioned from Abe Osser and a few others.
The first tune recorded on June 18 was “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm.” The music for “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”was composed by the wonderful Bronislau Kaper (and Walter Jurmann) for the 1937 Marx Brothers M-G-M film A Day at the Races, with lyrics by Gus Kahn. It was introduced in that movie by Ivie Anderson and Duke Ellington’s band. Kaper composed at least two other themes that jazz musicians have long found attractive: “Invitation” and “On Green Dolphin Street.”
The arrangement, by Joe Lippman, is his first truly distinctive work for the Berigan band. The eight-bar introduction is very ingenious: the trombones and Wettling’s tom-toms set up a low pedal point over which three clarinets come on wailing. Then the trumpets come in, low and growly. The reeds and brass then mass for a burst of sound out of which George Wettling’s tom-toms finish this dramatic opening sequence. From there on, the band romps on into the first chorus. Lippman later effectively recycled some of these musical devices in his arrangement on “Turn On That Red Hot Heat” for Bunny.
Lippman reprises the sonorities of the intro on the modulation leading into Ruth Bradley’s vocal chorus. This girl could sing and swing. She sang on pitch, had a good beat and excellent voice quality. She had worked for Ina Ray Hutton’s Melodears all-girl band, where she played saxophone and clarinet, in addition to singing. After that, she free-lanced in New York. She went on from Berigan’s band, which she left in early August, to other work as both a free-lance singer, and occasionally with bands, including a stint with Gray Gordon.
After the vocal, Steve Lipkins demonstrates that he learned a great deal from Berigan in the previous couple of months. He plays the eight-bar upward modulation on his ringing open trumpet in a way that undoubtedly had Bunny smiling. The maestro jumps in right behind him and plays a bit of jazz, then Joe Dixon takes a pungent solo on his clarinet as the band swings the performance to a close.
This recording clearly demonstrates that as a performing unit, the Berigan band by mid-June had arrived. They were now capable of doing full justice to a good jazz arrangement.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
(1) White materials: June 10, 1937.
(2) White materials: June 13, 1937.