Michael P. Zirpolo is a practicing lawyer in Canton, Ohio. He has written numerous articles and given many lectures in the last fifteen years on jazz musicians from the swing era, including Duke Ellington (and his sidemen Sonny Greer and Russell Procope), Artie Shaw, Roy Eldridge, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, and Bunny Berigan. He has written criticisms of reissues of classic jazz recordings and of books about the music and musicians of the swing era. He has also written about the development of swing and the contributions to that development made by Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. He is a longtime collector of jazz recordings from the 1920s to the 1980s, and has developed considerable skill in the art of digitally remastering vintage recordings. He is frequently consulted by writers and collectors of vintage jazz recordings from around the globe with questions about the music, recordings, and musicians of the swing era, and has appeared on radio and television discussing classic jazz. In addition to jazz and American popular song, he is a devotee of long form music. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
For information about the Bunny Berigan photo search project, and about the “lost” recordings of Bunny Berigan, please go to the “contact” page.
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“…About the trumpet players I admire…first, I’ll name my boy Bunny Berigan. Now there’s a boy I’ve always admired for his tone, soul, technique, his sense of phrasing and all. To me, Bunny can’t do no wrong in music.”
Louis Armstrong, Down Beat, September 1, 1941.
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The following are from reviews of Mr. Trumpet:
—-From the Big Band Library website, November, 2011, by Christopher Popa:
“There have been intelligent articles, commentary, books, and record liner notes about Bunny Berigan in the past, but this new, panoramic biography by Michael P. Zirpolo…easily surpasses any previous efforts, and not simply because of its length. By seamlessly threading together so many facts, quotes, fragments, reasoned thoughts and opinions, it presents the fullest, truest picture of Berigan that can likely ever be.”
“By piecing together many bits of information, …(Zirpolo) was able to come to a deep understanding of Berigan. Throughout the 550 pages and 25 chapters, (he) provides, in an interesting narrative, all the necessary facts, and gives the work a proper and thorough context–something that has often been lacking in other book-length writings about the big bands. While as knowledgeable a swing aficionado as they come, he retains the objectivity needed to write the definitive biography of Berigan, and tells his story with understanding, compassion, and respect.”
“(Zirpolo) recognized the scope of Berigan’s talents, the importance of his artistic achievements, and his standing in the big band business way beyond the classic recording of ‘I Can’t Get Started.’ Significantly, he explains or corrects many heretofore misunderstood events in Berigan’s life… including how Berigan became an alcoholic, why his marriage was unsuccessful, the nature of his friendship with Tommy Dorsey, and his relationship with Music Corporation of America (MCA).”
“From cover to cover, Zirpolo’s book has raised the jazz scholarship bar, and deserves a spot on the bookshelf along such pioneering and esteemed writers as Walter C. Allen, Whitney Balliett, John Chilton, D. Russell Connor, Stanley Dance, Chip Deffaa, Charles Delauney, Leonard Feather, John Flower, Edward F. Polic, Brian Rust, Gunther Schuller, Chris Sheridan, George T. Simon (whom, by the way, Zirpolo takes issue with for Simon’s sometimes less-than-enthusiastic reviews of Berigan’s talents), Richard M. Sudhalter, and Leo Walker.”
“Big Band Library rating: supremely excellent.”
The entire review written by Christopher Popa can be seen at: bigbandlibrary.com From the home page, click “current news,” and then click “November 2011.” Christopher Popa is a swing era expert and historian based in Chicago. *****
—-From a review written by Berigan fan and expert, Alvin I. Apfelberg, of Las Vegas, Nevada:
“I have just finished reading the biography of Bunny Berigan written by Michael P. Zirpolo. It is a masterwork of research and writing. Apart from the analysis of Berigan’s life and his music, which is tremendous, ‘Mr. Trumpet’ is a chronicle of the swing era. The endnotes/footnotes in this book are remarkable because they really help the reader understand the context of Berigan’s life. They alone would be worth the cost of the book. ‘Mr. Trumpet’ is a must-read for any person interested in fun in swingtime.” *****
—-5.0 out of 5 stars… A Great Artist…A Great Book, November 27, 2011
By Richard Claar, of Springfield, Oregon:
This review is from: “Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan” (Studies in Jazz) (Hardcover; Scarecrow Press), posted on Amazon.com:
“Bing Crosby was the first multi-media superstar, supremely triumphant on radio, records, stage, and screen. If its development hadn’t been delayed by WWII, he undoubtedly would have excelled in television as well.
In a world where this man, one of the most popular and influential artists of the preceding century, is now barely remembered, what are the chances for the likes of Bunny Berigan, a trumpet player who died almost 70 years ago? Better than one might think, thanks in no small measure to a masterful new biography that should pique interest and open ears. Published by Scarecrow Press, Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of Bunny Berigan, is the work of Michael P. Zirpolo, a practicing attorney and jazz and swing connoisseur and scribe par excellence from Canton, Ohio.
Berigan was one of Crosby’s contemporaries, colleagues (they recorded together on several occasions) and equals, at least in the realm of talent. Very few, of course, know the name now. But many would recognize his incomparable version of a particular song that I could mention (and will), one that pops up regularly in film and television as an evocation of the late 1930s and a certain sort of bittersweet yearning or loss.
Bunny deserves to be in the pantheon, a member of any hall of fame that would celebrate the Great American Songbook, its composers and practitioners, especially the jazz contingent. He was a magnificent, one-of-a-kind trumpet player, possessed of prodigious technique, almost reckless daring and imagination, and deep, sincere soul. He was a bandleader of considerable skill, despite reports to the contrary, and also sang on occasion, in an unpretentious and charming manner.
He played with the cream of jazz musicians of the 1930s and early ’40s, including on record and in live performances, with Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw, et al. He also enlivened countless commercial recordings with his fearless, emotional and exciting trumpeting, sides that would otherwise have been consigned to the nostalgia scrap heap long ago. No less an authority than Louis Armstrong named Bunny as a particular favorite.
Bunny Berigan died, at a very young age, in 1942.
Most people at this writing know Bunny Berigan, his music if not his name, as a result of his passionate, definitive rendition of a song titled “I Can’t Get Started,.” A sort of trumpet concerto with a movingly vulnerable vocal, it transformed a moderately successful song written by Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin for the show the Zeigfeld Follies of 1936 (introduced by Bob Hope of all people), into a perennial favorite. Once heard, it is not easily forgotten.
The performance encapsulates the wonder and majesty of Bunny Berigan’s playing, a demonstration of both his mastery of the entire range of his horn and his (and our own) emotions, ranging from despondency to exultation, all in the space of 5 minutes. A piece of music for the ages, Berigan’s 1937 Victor recording of “I Can’t Get Started” is as good as anything Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Bix, Lester Young or Charlie Parker ever played.
But there was a lot more to Bunny Berigan’s music, life and times than this one memorable recording. At long last, it is explored in depth, from all angles, in Zirpolo’s massive new biography. The book is a must for the vintage jazz aficionado but it is not just for the cognoscenti. Anyone who is concerned with the human condition, a fascinating and long-vanished era of music and entertainment, the battle of commerce vs. creativity during the fabled Big Band Era, careless love and downhearted blues will be interested in reading Mr. Trumpet.
But I have yet to mention the 800 lb. gorilla in the room of Bunny Berigan’s life. He drank. A lot.
He was dubbed the Miracle Man of Swing by a press agent. It is facile but true to state that it was often a miracle he could play at all in the condition he was usually in, suffering from the effects of alcoholism, other debilitating ailments (related and not) and exhaustion. Berigan himself, when asked how he did it, supposedly replied that he “practiced when he was loaded.” This, of course, was an era when alcoholism was scarcely recognized as a disease or an affliction, when it was regarded as more of a loveable, tolerable weakness or even a joke (see W.C. Fields, of whom Bunny reportedly did a spot on impression).
Berigan’s battles with the bottle are not skirted or glossed over in Zirpolo’s book. In fact, they are more thoroughly covered here than in previous examinations of Bunny’s life, with accuracy and compassion. But it is also very clearly revealed that there was much more to his premature demise than alcoholism.
There is much information in Mr. Trumpet that is new or previously unrevealed. In addition, from where, when and whom all the details in the book were obtained is clearly attributed. The usual assumptions, myths and legends are not repeated in Zirpolo’s book. If it’s not substantiated, it’s not reported. Seldom have I encountered such attention to sourcing, verification and attention to detail in general. And Zirpolo’s notes, addendum, and marginalia are illuminating and fascinating, invaluable: Berigan’s milieu comes into crystal clarity as never before.
One reaches for superlatives when attempting to portray Bunny’s playing and its emotional impact. One also struggles when it comes to Michael Zirpolo’s new book about Bunny. Like all art, it is better experienced than described. But Zirpolo does better than most.
As good as Robert Dupuis’s Berigan book of a decade or so ago was (and it was very good indeed), Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of Bunny Berigan by Michael P. Zirpolo is nothing short of definitive. A scholarly work that was meticulously researched, it is also immensely entertaining.
I could not be more enthusiastic or recommend more heartily this heartbreaking but ultimately inspirational recounting of Berigan’s star-crossed life. His music still moves and swings and inspires. That it is still enjoyed and cherished is the triumph.” *****
—Dennis M. Spragg
Glenn Miller Archive
American Music Research Center
University of Colorado, Boulder
“Mr. Trumpet, The Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of Bunny Berigan”
December 3, 2011
“From time to time, the opportunity comes along to praise the dedication and hard work of a respected acquaintance. This is an especially pleasant opportunity when a book exceeds the already high expectations that one may have had in advance of publication. Knowing the writer and the subject matter led me to expect nothing but the best and most informative read. However, having read and considered the contents of the work, I can enthusiastically say that I have just finished an impressive work of professional scholarship that will stand as one of the rare and essential histories of jazz and the big band era.
“Mr. Trumpet, The Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of Bunny Berigan” has been published by Scarecrow Press, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., Lanham, Maryland. It is Publication No. 64 in the “Studies of Jazz” Series.
This book is the comprehensive and indispensable biography of Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan. The author is Michael Zirpolo.
Anyone interested in Bunny Berigan, his contemporaries, jazz and big band history will be riveted to this book from the moment that they open it. Michael Zirpolo has captured the essence of his subject. Not only does Michael’s love and respect for Bunny create a very enjoyable read, his attention to detail and precision result in a most informative, thorough and balanced tour-de-force. The biography includes numerous previously unpublished photographs and a comprehensive broadcast discography.
Over years of dedicated study, Michael has thoughtfully assembled information from numerous sources and has unlocked valuable documentation from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the Fox Lake Public Library among many other sources.
The reader follows the life and career of Bunny Berigan from his beginnings in Fox Lake, Wisconsin. We learn of Berigan’s Irish and German ancestry and the effect of his family and upbringing on the direction that he would pursue. For the next 500 or so pages we are taken to the world of Bunny Berigan, Hal Kemp, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and many other giants of jazz.
Michael takes us through the history of Berigan the talent as leader, sideman, soloist and improviser. There are many aspects to his associations that the reader will not have known or associations that were different or of longer duration and depth than the reader will have previously understood. Michael pulls no punches in a balanced and thoughtful presentation of Berigan’s character, challenges and health issues. What is especially poignant is the story of Berigan’s marriage, children and devotion to family which no one, including the late George T. Simon, has previously documented with such honesty and tenderness.
What greatly impresses someone currently writing their own manuscript are the detailed chapter notes that Michael has assiduously assembled. The focus and level of detail that is presented is incredible. The chapter notes include dozens of insightful observations about many people, events, recordings and venues that in themselves are more than worth adding the book to anyone’s jazz and big band collection. My knowledge of details has been increased tenfold by Michael’s attention to detail.
From my specific vantage point, a very minor quibble is that it would have been interesting to learn something more of Berigan’s presence with the first Glenn Miller recording session. However, we do learn a great deal about vocalists Kathleen Lane and Gail Reese and their associations with Berigan, which paralleled their associations with the then-struggling Miller.
Michael Zirpolo has captured the story of Bunny Berigan in an entertaining and informative read. I will not go on and give away all the details or the plot but suffice to say that there are revelations and surprises. My personal experience has been that with this book my understanding of an essential personality and talent of jazz and big band history has come to life in way that my superficial and anecdotal knowledge of the man from other accounts and recordings had never done justice to. I suspect that everyone else interested in the subject matter will come away feeling the same way.
Our appreciation for Bunny Berigan, his talent, place in American music history and stature as a giant of jazz has thus been lovingly established and confirmed for all time by his devoted biographer Michael Zirpolo.
Michael’s work is a monumental contribution to jazz history which I highly recommend without reservation and with profound respect and appreciation.”
“Michael Zirpolo’s book is an immense blessing: it is the book on Bunny Berigan that we have been waiting for. Every page has a new story — funny, revealing, or sad — about this man who threw himself into his music so whole-heartedly that he played more in his brief lifetime than six or seven other (more well-behaved) musicians. But the book is also a Wicked Tempter, so beware! I have it on my kitchen table and whenever I walk by, “Mr. Trumpet” beckons to me, I read two pages, entranced, and I have to tear myself away by brute force to get on with the less entrancing parts of everyday life. Intoxicating, addictive, a good read, a page-turner . . . you name it. I wanted to say this now, right away, so that others could get hooked, too! ” —Michael Steinman “Jazz Lives” *****
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Mr. Trumpet by Michael P. Zirpolo
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“This book is, no doubt, the last word in Berigan. At 550 pages, it is an impressive body of work, thoroughly researched and, befitting its subject, never dull.”
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I have recently been notified that “Mr. Trumpet” has been added to the resources at the Recorded Sound Reference Center – Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division of The Library of Congress.
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Just how good was Bunny Berigan? Well, when asked to identify his favorite trumpet players in 1941, Louis Armstrong told Down Beat, “First I’ll name my boy Bunny Berigan. Now there’s a boy whom I’ve always admired for his tone, soul, technique, his sense of ‘phrasing’ and all. To me Bunny can’t do no wrong in music.” Steve Lipkins, a lead trumpeter in one of Berigan’s bands, told historian Richard Sudhalter that Berigan was “the first jazz player we’d heard at that time who really played the trumpet well, from bottom to top, evenly and strongly throughout. Besides that, he had something special in the magic department — and you had to hear that to understand it.” Bunny could play lead, solo, accompany singers, and bring to all of it a great sense of excitement, emotion, and power. He could sight-read too. He was a complete musician and in demand almost from the moment he picked up the horn.
The broad outlines of Bunny’s career are well-known. Long before he led a band, he did heroic freelance work in the recording studios that transformed pop records into jazz classics. He also played with many of the best bands (Hal Kemp, Fred Rich, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey), leaving behind thrilling solos at every turn, including some of the best-known masterpieces of the swing era (“King Porter Stomp” and “Sometimes I’m Happy” with BG, and “Marie” and “Song of India” with TD, to name a few). Inevitably, he wound up leading his own band and found musical success.
As Michael P. Zirpolo shows in his massive new book, it wasn’t easy. Soon after he helped launch Berigan’s new band, Bunny’s personal manager, Arthur Michaud, became distracted by other clients’ needs and stopped looking out for Berigan’s interests. Victor Records assigned the band many insipid pop tunes (reserving the better songs for its stars Goodman and Dorsey), failed to record the band at opportune times, and never offered Berigan the chance to make more affordable records for its low-price Bluebird subsidiary. What Mr. Zirpolo calls “the MCA booking dartboard” gave the band haphazard one-night bookings. He’s especially good explaining how Berigan could lead a touring band that was talented, popular and busy, and still not make money. After a few years, Bunny was on the well-trodden path to bandleader bankruptcy.
In 1934, Mr. Zirpolo tells us, Bunny the workaholic studio musician already used alcohol to help him get through long days of radio work followed by night-time recording dates, although he managed to stop drinking from time to time. By the time Berigan had his own band in 1937, his alcoholism had progressed to the point where he had to try to drink enough to function but not enough to be impaired. By 1938, his liver was showing signs of the cirrhosis that would kill him.Given the demands of his career, however, it was unthinkable to stop drinking, go through withdrawal and get extended treatment. After hospitalization for pneumonia in mid-April 1942, he rejoined his band in May against his doctors’ wishes. A series of one-nighters ended on May 30, 1942 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania’s Sunnybrook Ballroom with Bunny vomiting blood. Three days later, he was dead at 33. It may be that for Berigan, who had already made glorious music before his first big band date for Victor, leading a full-time big band was the greatest mistake of his life.
Mr. Zirpolo chronicles all of this and more with an unprecedented level of detail that makes this book the definitive Berigan biography. (Did you know that 16-year-old Bunny played his first radio broadcast in 1925?) He tells us what Berigan was doing personally and professionally almost on a daily basis, describes recording sessions in detail, offers many unpublished photos, and provides tantalizing appendices of the Berigan band’s airchecks. Yet the book isn’t a dry recitation of facts. Mr. Zirpolo places events in context, so that the reader learns much about the entire music business in the swing era. Moreover, he is appropriately wary of conventional wisdom. His clear-eyed evaluation of the written and recorded evidence enables him to demolish some persistent Berigan-related myths, among them that Bunny lacked the discipline to rehearse his band. Ultimately, despite his obvious affection for Bunny, Mr. Zirpolo doesn’t excuse his failings and is even-handed in assigning credit and blame.
Given the book’s length and depth, you’d think that no detail of Berigan’s career could be missing, but a few tidbits eluded even Mr. Zirpolo. There is no mention of some early career milestones, such as the appearance of a transcribed Berigan solo on “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in the August 1930 issue of Rhythm magazine, or Bunny’s first vocal record, “At Your Command” with Fred Rich on July 15, 1931. The Bixians out there may be interested to know that Bunny recorded with one of the preeminent “English Bixes,” Norman Payne, at a July 7, 1930 recording date in London, although Norman is not mentioned. Further, there is incomplete information about Vincente Minnelli’s 1936 musical extravaganza The Show Is On, which in previews featured an on-stage jazz band comprised of Bunny, Sonny Lee, Milt Yaner, Red McKenzie and Cozy Cole. The book quotes conductor Gordon Jenkins as not remembering the number they played, but surviving documents show that it was “It’s So Easy to Lose” by Hoagy Carmichael and Ted Fetter, set in “a musicians’ hangout on 52nd Street.” (The show opened on Broadway in late 1936 without the jazz band or the tune and played 252 performances.) The book would have benefitted from a song index too.
Finally, if the Editor will permit it, a point of personal privilege: as Mr. Zirpolo acknowledges, this book would not have been possible without the archive of my late friend Bozy White, who spent more than fifty years researching Berigan in preparation for a book of his own. Bozy died in 2004 before he could get it published. (Bozy’s materials, including what is reputed to be a very long list of recordings erroneously attributed to Berigan, are being readied for publication as a bio-discography.) For a long time, it made me heartsick to think that the results of Bozy’s hard work would appear under someone else’s name. But after reading this book, I no longer have such qualms. Mr. Zirpolo has done his own additional research and has done a fine job of turning a mountain of information into a useful, entertaining book Not only that, his efforts have turned up unreleased recordings by the Berigan band that he is working to get restored and issued. He has earned his authorship.
Bunny certainly had “something special in the magic department.” From the beginning of his career to the end, no matter the date, the setting or his physical condition, his solos were eloquent, passionate and fearless. Just listen and you’ll see.
5.0 out of 5 stars— All you ever want to know about Bunny Berigan– December 7, 2012
By Anthony John Faria
“If you are a fan of Bunny Berigan’s music, this book is a must. No matter how much you think you know about Bunny Berigan, you will learn a lot more from Michael Zirpolo’s book. I have been reading anything and everything I could find on Berigan for 50 years, and I learned a lot of new information from this book. This book is must for Berigan fans or anyone who loves great jazz music.”
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By Scott Yanow in the February 2013 issue of Los Angeles Jazz Times
Bunny Berigan was a superb trumpeter, arguably the very best in the 1930s other than Armstrong. However he was a severe alcoholic who did not make it to his 34th birthday. Michael P. Zirpolo’s “Mr. Trumpet–the Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of Bunny Berigan” (available from Scarecrow Press at:
is a remarkably detailed look at Berigan’s life. Zirpolo had access to the extensive Berigan archives compiled by the late Bozy White, adds intelligent and logical insight of his own, and put together a remarkable book that reads like a novel. While I wish that there was more detail about some of Berigan’s early recording dates as a sideman, it is difficult to find fault with any aspect of this great book. Among the new information given is that Berigan was not actually a member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1937 (when his solos on “Marie” and “Song Of India” gave Dorsey two major hits) but was a special guest who just appeared on records and a few broadcasts for six weeks. The 520 page book (not counting the index) is quite definitive and will be followed in the near future by a lengthy Bunny Berigan discography.
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March 4, 2013
“With Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan (Scarecrow Press, Inc.), Michael P. Zirpolo has established himself as the major authority on this great musician. Access to the massive archive of Berigan materials that Bozy White spent a half century collecting served Zirpolo well, for he plumbed it thoroughly, compiling a definitive record of Bunny’s professional life, and using quotes from published reviews and interviews with those who worked with this trumpeter and bandleader to personalize his 520-page biography of a musician whom many, musicians and fans alike, would do well to familiarize themselves with. As the late Richard Sudhalter said of Berigan, “Among jazz trumpeters in 1930, only Armstrong and a very few others were working with such a span [of command on the instrument], and fewer still with such ease.” The author adds, “an Armstrong disciple from childhood, [Berigan] had the rhythmic message of Louis in his bones.” Bunny’s personality and character are laid bare in Zirpolo’s magnificent book with much attention given to his family life, love affairs, and the workaholism, and functioning alcoholism that contributed to his death at thirty-three in 1942. There are photographs, notes of sources, an index, and several appendices of air check recordings.”
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MARCH 1, 2014: Here is the latest review of “Mr Trumpet,” by Michael Scott Cain, which is posted at Rambles.net.
Michael P. Zirpolo,
“Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of Bunny Berigan”
(Scarecrow Press (paperback), 2014)
“From now on, everyone writing about the great swing and big band trumpeter Bunny Berigan will have to refer to this book. When they do, they just might realize that they should pick out another jazzman to write about: Berigan is covered. “Mr. Trumpet” is and will be for a long time the definitive biography of this wonderful musician.
Zirpolo is the first biographer to be granted nearly unlimited access to the original “White Material,” a collection of details about Berigan’s life and music compiled over a 50-year period by Cedric Kingsley “Cozy” White. He has made remarkable use of the material and other available sources. He’s listened more than once to all of the Berigan recordings — and is even able to note which records bear the trumpeter’s name even though he didn’t actually play on them — has read all of the original PR material and reviews of concert appearances, and he has interviewed the surviving members of the bands Berigan either lead or played in.
In short, he has done his homework and has created a book that every Bunny Berigan fan will want to keep on their shelves for repeated readings, as well as a book that casual fans of the music of the swing years, the late ’20s and ’30s, will devour like a slice of lemon meringue pie.
Zirpolo has brought a legendary figure to life not simply by detailing the ups and downs of his life but by putting that life into perspective by creating a picture of the music scene at the time: Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Erskine Hawkins, Gene Krupa and all of the rest fill these pages the way they did concert halls and night clubs. We learn about the day-to-day life of the professional musician during the big band days.
Berigan himself played in a few different CBS radio orchestras at the same time, playing live music on radio broadcasts from 10 in the morning until late at night. Between radio sessions, he recorded as a freelancer for a dozen or so bands, sometimes doing pop novelties, sometimes accompanying singers and every once in a while, getting to play some jazz. While he was still in his 20s, he was a giant in the New York City music world, making better than $25,000 a year without touring. That wasn’t bad money in the Depression years. (Multiply it by seven to get an idea of how it translates into current money.)
Of course, to make that kind of money, he worked day and night, often going without sleep, grabbing a nap on a chair at CBS between shows. How did he deal with the constant pressure he put himself under? He drank. And there we have the heart of the book. Berigan was the most gifted musician of his time, the man you called on when you wanted a great jazz solo or when your band was sounding stale and you needed an influx of energy and inspiration. Since he drank away or threw away every penny he made, he was also the man who could never say no, the man who always needed money. How did he get it? By taking on more work, by creating impossible situations for himself, like trying to tour while still playing for the radio or by forming his own bands and going on the road on long and difficult tours. By the time he was 33, he drank himself to death.
Berigan wasn’t the first artist to create beautiful art by destroying himself but Zirpolo, by going so deeply into Berigan’s story, makes his rise and fall understandable; we see the tragedy in self-destruction.
Mr. Trumpet takes us inside not just a man’s life but a whole world that we know only superficially. It’s a story worth the telling and a world worth the seeing.”
Thanks Mr. Cain for reading the book and writing a thoughtful review.
Here is another worthwhile review which appears on the “Mr. Trumpet” webpage at Amazon.com:
“The only reason I’m not giving the book five stars is because it really could have been edited down. And, alas, it needs an index of the tunes mentioned in the text.
Having said that, I really must take my hat off to Zirpolo. I’ve been listening to Bunny since I was a kid in the 1950s. Like a lot of aspiring trumpet players, I listened to Can’t Get Started and wondered why I couldn’t do that. Heh. No one (well, maybe Shorty Sherock, who is credited with the recreation on Themes of the Great Brands (the studio version of Casa Loma in the 1950s and 1960s) could, but Shorty had the misfortune of getting fired so that Roy Eldridge could take his chair with Krupa. No shame there, either way). I’ve read Dupuis’ biography of Bunny and found it interesting. But, really, this is got to be the definitive life of Berigan, if not for good, then for the next 25 years. It’s all here, or, at least, probably as much as you can reasonably expect to find out about a guy from rural Wisconsin who Harry James said was the greatest trumpet player in the world when he was new on the scene. Or about whom Armstrong raved.
I talked to a certain number of people who heard Berigan play–many years ago, of course. It’s amazing how many had the reaction to him that Zirpolo’s father did, which is recounted in the biography. Simply unbelievable, or words to that effect. Top studio musicians in LA did indeed talk about that breathtaking leap Bunny made in “Wearin’ of the Green”–because I knew a guy who made his livelihood playing swing who, in fact, told me just that. And Zirpolo has the good sense to defer to Dick Sudhalter, whose taste in trumpet players is that of the literate, trained variety,on many of Bunny’s solos. I never realized that Bunny played so much of his own lead when he had his orchestra, but as soon as Zirpolo pointed this out, I listened, and sure enough, I could hear him come in over his own capable lead, Steve Lipkins. Oh, boy.
If you want a musicologist’s take on Berrigan, go look at Gunther Schuller: Bunny’s big solos are notated and analyzed there. But with a lone reference to Berigan’s catastrophic alcoholism and emotional turmoil, there is no Bunny the person. He comes through here, or at least, far more of him than you thought you could know. All the David Copperfield stuff, to paraphrase Salinger, but an awful lot more–probably too much detail on gigs, recording sessions, one nighters and the rest. But the overall picture is compelling. A picture of the band business and its finances I never really understood. A picture of the commercial pressures that playing junk to make a living had on the aesthetic sensibilities of a great artist. A picture of how a less-than-disciplined sideman put together an under-appreciated orchestra that, if not quite Shaw or Goodman or the Dorseys’, was more than passable. And just enough of Bunny’s tangled personal life to explain some of his obvious conflict–which came out in the ballad playing. This is important because the lurid and lewd tales about Bunny, or Bunny and Lee Wiley, are out there if you want to find them. But, thankfully, Zirpolo mostly leaves them alone: and even without them, you know, the Bunny, ex-altarboy, was no choirboy. Eventually, you get caught up in the grip of Bunny’s descent–the tragedy, Zirpolo suggests–into end-stage alcoholism. If it leaves you unmoved, well, you’re tougher than I am.
I’d have like to have known more about Bunny’s chops, his technique, the horns he played (it sounds as if he was remarkably casual in his choice of equipment), you know, trumpet player, stuff. But that may be gone for good, and the book is awfully long at over 500 pages anyway. I guess I’ll never know what the Trump mouthpiece he endorsed was, which is probably a good thing. I almost ruined myself trying to play the Parduba that James used. Most readers won’t care about that stuff.
I’ve been going back to relearn Bunny oeuvre, now widely available, with Zirpolo’s book in my hand. He does a great job and I’m learning a lot. This is really a reference book on Bunny Berigan I and II. Believe me, if you’re a serious student of swing music, trumpet playing, or just the cultural life of the 1930s, you have to read this book. You won’t be sorry, even if it isn’t perfect. It’s subject wasn’t either, and look what he left us.”
Thanks RJS of San Antonio, Texas. A trumpeter’s perspective is always welcome at the “Mr. Trumpet” website