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Berigan at the Paradise Restaurant (1938 ) “Back in Your Own Back Yard”

“Back in Your Own Back Yard”

Composed by Dave Dreyer, Billy Rose and Al Jolson; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded live at the Paradise Restaurant in New York City on March 27, 1938 from a broadcast over the Mutual Radio Network.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sonny Lee and Al George, trombones; Mike Doty, Joe Dixon, Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

The Story and Music:

Bunny Berigan and drummer Johnny Blowers on the stage of the Paradise Restaurant – spring 1938.

During the first year of his band’s existence, Bunny Berigan built a very strong ensemble whose personnel remained stable from the summer of 1937 through most of 1938. Notable performers who joined Bunny in the early summer of 1937 included Thomas Ball “Sonny” Lee, a veteran trombonist who was a first-rate lead player and jazz soloist; Robert “Mike” Doty, an experienced and very strong lead alto saxophonist; much respected bassist Frederick “Hank” Wayland; and the young and exciting jazz clarinetist/alto saxophonist Joe Dixon (real name: Giuseppe Ischia). Joining the Berigan band just days before they opened at the Paradise on Sunday March 20, 1938, was drummer Johnny Blowers (pronounced like flowers), who replaced the fabulous Dave Tough, who had replaced George Wettling. Berigan had a thing for drummers: he liked great ones. (Buddy Rich would follow Blowers into the Berigan band. Later, Jack Sperling drummed for Bunny.) Blowers, though less well-known than Bunny’s other great drummers (largely because he spent the vast majority of his long career in the studios), was nevertheless a splendid, colorful drummer, as these Paradise Restaurant airchecks show.

Berigan broadcast very frequently over the Mutual Radio Network while he was at the Paradise Restaurant, which was on the second floor of the Brill Building, on Broadway and 49th in New York City. He and his band were a great hit there. Their engagement was extended several times, with it eventually running seven weeks. It ended on May 6. That was the good news. The bad news was that the radio broadcasts emanating from the Paradise Restaurant were sustaining, meaning non-sponsored. So the band made no money from the radio broadcasts. Their pay for working at the Paradise Restaurant was not enough for Bunny to balance the band’s weekly payroll and other expenses. But Bunny, like other bandleaders, willingly accepted this out-of-balance financial set-up in order to get the substantial promotional benefits from appearing frequently on network radio. He could recoup his financial losses by playing in big theaters and ballrooms on the road later.

The Brill Building, site of the Paradise Restaurant, on the corner of Broadway and 49th in Manhattan – 1938.

This aircheck, which includes the sign-on theme, and then a romping version of “Back in Your Own Back Yard,”   is from the March 27, 1938 broadcast the Berigan band made which aired from 11:30 p.m. to midnight, and originated through the facilities of New York superstation WOR over the Mutual Radio Network. The Mutual/WOR announcer was Sidney Walton.

“Back in Your Own Back Yard,” is a pop tune that was written in 1928. Officially the credits show it as written by Al Jolson, Dave Dreyer and Billy Rose. Rose was exclusively a lyricist. Dreyer was a composer. Al Jolson was a singer who was often given composer/lyricist credits so he could earn more money from royalties. So the actual apportionment of the credits would likely be: music by Dreyer, lyrics by Rose. Jolson’s share of the royalties likely came in exchange for him recording and promoting the song.

The Berigan band used the melody of “Back in Your Own Back Yard” as a starting point for what can accurately be described as a joyous, swinging romp. Bunny comes on in spirited fashion, paraphrasing the melody in his first solo, partially muting his trumpet with a plunger. Georgie Auld then plays a long and rhythmically intense solo on his tenor sax, supported at various places by drummer Johnny Blowers’s strong back beats. Berigan then reappears with an open trumpet, playing some soaring (and searing) jazz, spelled twice by Sonny Lee’s muted trombone, which provides a nice contrast. Notice how Bunny exuberantly jumps back into his instrumental conversation with Lee after Sonny plays. These guys were having fun! This lean arrangement, which allows the jazz soloists plenty of unobstructed blowing room, was probably written by Bunny’s chief arranger in the 1937-1938 period, Joe Lippman.

Soon after the Berigan band closed at the Paradise Restaurant, they returned to New York’s Paramount Theater, on Times Square, where they had had a successful three-week run at the end of 1937.  The proven formula for successfully managing a big band in the swing era was to present the band on radio frequently for a period of time, and then capitalize on the radio build-up by immediately placing the band in a big theater as a part of a vaudeville stage show. There was serious money in theater work for big bands. (See below.) But in order to make that money, the band would often work four or five shows a day in the theater. That was very demanding and exhausting, but bands willingly did it to earn the good money that went with it.

When the Berigan band returned to the Paramount Theater, it was again a part of a vaudeville review. Here are the relevant details, provided by Dick Wharton, Bunny’s then-new guitarist and vocalist: “The movie was ‘Stolen Heaven.’ Gene Raymond, Cass Daley, and the dance team of Nichols and Roberts were on stage with the band. But I wasn’t allowed to play the date because Gene Raymond, the big star, objected to any other male singer being on the same stage as him. Bunny, as part of the stage show did a bit using a hat, with Cass Daley called ‘Hot Pertater.’”[i]

Despite the fact that Berigan was one of the most exciting trumpet virtuosos of the swing era, he had to participate in vaudeville routines on the stage of the Paramount Theater in New York in May of 1938 to ensure that audiences were “entertained.” Although he would have much rather just played his trumpet and led his band, he nevertheless danced very well. He was quite athletic and seemingly did everything requiring coordination with ease and grace.

Variety, as usual, had a reporter in the audience on opening night. Here is his report made with Variety’s unique argot: “Bunny Berigan’s orch; 40 minutes; band setting, Paramount, NY. Berigan’s hot trumpet originally came to attention through the swing sessions conducted by CBS. During the forepart of last year he was on the Admiracion Shampoo session over Mutual network (a sponsored network radio show-MZ) with Tim and Irene. Aggregation which made its bow at the Paramount with him consisted of a crack brass four-some, a like number of reeds, a pianist, a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist. From this combination plus a number of fetching arrangements Berigan draws a jitter brew that’s up to the minute in tang and flavor. For stage purposes his layout’s in the groove. The items are so varied as to keep the interest on the upbeat. It’s straight music from start to finish, with no imitation of top-blowing or any other outbreak of nut behavior by some member of the band. Berigan blends a keen sense of musicianship with a hard grasp of the current trends in dansapation, and the outlook for him should be a bright one. Gene Raymond—Songs-patter 10 minutes, Paramount, NY. Date is Raymond’s first on Broadway since he quit the legit for films. While he’s no great shakes as a crooner, Raymond carries a tune easily enough…with the uke accompaniment filling in nicely with limitations and style. Between vocal numbers Raymond had several of the musicians out of the Bunny Berigan contingent join him and his uke in a jam session. The incident went big with the jitterbugs in the assembly.”[ii]

Bunny did well once again at the Paramount. Here’s how his gross for the week compared with two bands that were MCA’s biggest box office draws: Kay Kyser, the week prior: $35,000; Hal Kemp, the week after: $47,000; Bunny Berigan: $32,000.[iii]

[i] White materials: May 11, 1938.

[ii] Variety: May 18, 1938, cited in the White materials: May 11, 1938.

[iii] International Musician: June 1938, cited in the White materials: May 17, 1938.

This recording was digitally remastered with considerable audio restoration by Mike Zirpolo. It is the second in a series of live broadcast recordings by Bunny Berigan from the Paradise Restaurant.

Berigan at the Paradise Restaurant (1938) “Royal Garden Blues”

This is the first in a series of exciting Berigan recordings taken off the air from radio broadcasts emanating from the Paradise Restaurant, located in the Brill Building in Manhattan, in the spring of 1938. Many more will follow. All have been digitally remastered by me to ensure the best possible sound.

“Royal Garden Blues”

Composed by Spencer and Clarence Williams; probably arranged by Abe Osser.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra live at the Paradise Restaurant, New York City on April 3, 1938.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet; Irving Goodman, trumpet; Thomas B. “Sonny” Lee, first trombone; Al George, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland bass; Johnny Blowers, drums. Solos by Bunny Berigan, Georgie Auld and Sonny Lee.

MANHATTAN’S BRILL BUILDING

A JAZZ SHOWCASE AND MUSICAL SHRINE

The story: I am constantly looking for historic buildings that are a part of the fabric of jazz history whenever I am in Manhattan. One building I have been looking for for years has been hiding in plain sight (not exactly) in the Times Square area. I have walked past it dozens of times. It is the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, at 49th. I say “not exactly” because the façades of buildings fronting on Broadway in that area are so overloaded with signs of all sorts, usually comprised of brilliant, blinking lights, that it is hard to discern what building is supporting the signage. The last time I was in New York City, at Thanksgiving of 2014 (I have been back since, thank goodness), I walked right past this building on 49th and Broadway with my son (with whom I stay when I visit, he lives nearby on 51st), and pointed out intuitively and uncertainly that the Paradise Restaurant occupied one of the buildings at that intersection, probably the one on the northwest corner. Being the loving son he is, he did not ask: “what’s so important about the Paradise Restaurant?”  He assumed that if I was making this point, there must be some significance to it, somewhere.

I did not definitively put together the pieces of information lodged in my brain somewhat haphazardly over many decades about the Paradise Restaurant until I read an article in New York magazine (3-24-14 issue) about the Brill Building being “The Hit Factory” of the rock-and-roll era. (Please note: there is also a building in Manhattan called “The Hit Factory.” It is located at 421 West 54th, and is a recording space.)  Oddly, the picture of the Brill Building used in the article was one from the 1930s, which included a prominent sign on the building for the Paradise Restaurant. A Eureka! moment ensued for yours truly: the Paradise Restaurant was located in the Brill Building, which is still located at 1619 Broadway. Given that basic fact, I began researching the history of the Brill Building. That led naturally to the series of jazz showcases that were housed in the same space on the second floor of that building from the early 1930s into the 1950s.

Please don’t think me too obtuse in putting this together rather slowly. In all of the research I have done over the years about various jazz-related venues that occupied the space initially occupied by the Paradise Restaurant at 49th and Broadway, I have never seen anything that indicated that that space was in the Brill Building.

Here is a little background about the Brill Building. It was built in 1930-31, is 11 stories tall and occupies the northwest corner of 49th and Broadway. It was named for the Brill brothers, Samuel, Max and Maurice, who operated a chain of clothing stores in New York City for many years prior to the 1930s. They were the lessors of the real estate upon which the building was erected by developer Abraham Lefcourt. Lefcourt was wiped-out by the Depression and defaulted on his obligations to the Brill brothers. Consequently, they took over the building. Lefcourt died in 1932, at about the time the building was first being occupied by tenants.

There are two curious niches in the Broadway façade of the Brill Building: one at the top of the ornate main entrance on Broadway (pictured at left), and one on the exterior of the 11th floor penthouse.  Each niche contains the bust of a young man, said to be the son of Abraham Lefcourt, Alan, who died in February 1930 at age 18. The bust above the entrance door is significantly smaller than the one near the top of the building’s façade.

The vast second floor “loft” (Manhattan jargon for a large open space in a building) was initially leased to the Paradise Restaurant, which would become a popular cabaret during the balance of the 1930s. Reached by stairs located directly left of the Broadway entrance, it covered approximately 15,000 square feet and held as many as a thousand people. Planned by the celebrated architect and interior designer Joseph Urban, the cost of its construction was estimated at $500,000 (about $7.5 million today).  Large exterior signs, obscuring the second-floor windows and projecting at an angle over the corner, claimed it was “America’s foremost restaurant” with the “world’s most beautiful girls.” Floorshows, sometimes called “Paradise Parades,” were accompanied by such well-known musical performers as Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (ten weeks, starting October 13, 1933), Bunny Berigan (seven weeks, starting March 20, 1938), and Glenn Miller (two weeks starting June 14, 1938, and five weeks starting December 23, 1938), whose bands also played for dancing. Aircheck recordings by Berigan and Miller from their engagements at the Paradise exist, and have been released commercially. The Paradise Restaurant was operated by Jack Adler, president and attorney; Nicky Blair, manager; and Nils T. Grantlund, who staged the floor shows.

The Paradise Restaurant closed in late 1939 or early 1940, but reopened as the Hurricane, on April 14, 1940, with “palm trees, tropical flora and fauna” evoking the Pacific Ocean island of Tahiti. Operated briefly by lawyer David J. Wolper (later a producer of documentary and other TV programs), who reportedly received ownership as part of a 1942 financial settlement with a gangster, the Hurricane had a troubled existence, marred by suspicious fires and stench bombs. Duke Ellington headlined at the Hurricane during 1943 and 1944, and some of Ellington’s performances were aired nationally on the Mutual and Columbia Broadcasting Systems. Many aircheck recordings from these broadcasts have been preserved and issued. (Here is one, by Duke Ellington, from Mr. Trumpet’s sister blog swingandbeyond.com)     https://youtu.be/RLqkr3CuMhg

Berigan band at the Paradise Restaurant – spring 1938.  Personnel is as listed above.
Berigan’s portrait graced the cover of Metronome magazine in December of 1937.

Between the time the Berigan band came into existence in early 1937, and the spring of 1938 when it played a lengthy engagement at the Paradise Restaurant, both it and the swing era had picked up a lot of momentum.  In this interim, Bunny and his band made several successful tours of the eastern U.S., played many major theaters, including a three-week engagement at Manhattan’s Paramount Theater, and made many records for Victor. One of the most fortuitous (for Berigan fans) developments to have occurred while the Berigan band played at the Paradise Restaurant in 1938 was the recording of many of its sustaining broadcasts emanating from that location. Many selections from those recordings will appear here appear here in the near future. They reveal much more clearly the capabilities of the mature Berigan band, and the true breadth of its repertoire, balancing in large measure the distorted and limited picture that one gets by listening only to their Victor recordings from 1937 and the first few months of 1938. The Berigan band on these recordings had an ensemble assurance and élan that bordered on swagger, and Bunny was at the top of his virtuoso skills as one of the leading jazz trumpeters of the 1930s.

The music: This performance of “Royal Garden Blues” is a perfect demonstration of both Bunny Berigan’s capabilities as a jazz soloist, and of how successfully he had, by early 1938, shaped his band into a formidable musical force much in his own image and likeness. Unfortunately, the executives at Victor Records were seemingly oblivious to this. When Bunny entered their studios to make commercial recordings through the early months of 1938, they were mostly of current pop tunes, some quite bad, like “Rinka Tinka Man.”

It is unknown who wrote the arrangement on “Royal Garden Blues” that Berigan and his musicians brought so vividly to life in this performance. It had been in the Berigan book for a year before this recording was made. Using the process of elimination, I suggest that it may have been written by Abe Osser, or possibly by Dave Rose.

Georgie Auld.

Whoever arranged “Royal Garden Blues”  cast it in a straight ahead, uncluttered swinging design that is an ideal vehicle for jazz solos. Berigan’s romping three chorus improvisation is superb.  It is delivered with his usual burnished open trumpet sound, and is constructed with Mozartean logic. It moves in perfect musical sequence from chorus to chorus, having a beginning, middle and end. Auld, with the brashness of youth that Bunny always enjoyed in his playing (Georgie was 19 when he made this recording), follows, bouncing along creating his own kind of excitement for his three choruses, supported by drummer Johnny Blowers’s aggressive backbeats.

Unsung trombone wizard Thomas “Sonny” Lee – 1939.

Trombonist Sonny Lee plays next, fashioning a lucid, indeed cogent two chorus jazz solo. He was one of the veteran musicians in the Berigan band, being all of  34 years old when this performance was recorded. Lee’s professional career started in the early 1920s, and included stints working with such notable musicians as Peck Kelley (as a boy in Texas), Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Pee Wee Russell, Isham Jones, Artie Shaw, and Gordon Jenkins before joining Berigan at the Pennsylvania Hotel in the late spring of 1937. Shortly after this recording, Lee was lured away from Berigan by Jimmy Dorsey with a big money offer. He stayed with JD from May of 1938 until the fall of 1946. Sonny Lee was a first-rate lead trombonist, as well as a fine jazz player, as this performance clearly shows. He was well-respected (and well-paid) as one of the most accomplished trombonists of the swing era.

The Berigan band then moves into the foreground with swinging assurance, indeed abandon, spurred on by Bunny’s high note interjections and Blowers’s exciting drumming.  As this recording demonstrates, in 1938, Bunny led one of the best bands on the swing scene.

I discovered this recording (and many others) in 2010 while I was doing research in the Berigan Archive at the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Eventually, in 2013, it and several others from that same cache were issued commercially on Hep CD 96, Bunny Berigan…Swingin’ and Jumpin’ …broadcasts from 1937-1939. Later posts here will present many of the recordings that are a part of the Hep CD, as well as many others from the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere that did not make it onto the CD, all in brilliant sound.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

“Trees” (1937)

“Trees”

Composed by Oscar Rasbach, aranged by Abe (later Glenn) Osser.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on December 23, 1937 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet; directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet; Irving Goodman, trumpet; Sonny Lee, first trombone; Al George, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano; Tommy Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; George Wettling, drums.

The story: On December 23, 1937, Bunny  Berigan led his bandsmen into Victor’s Twenty-fourth Street studios in Manhattan. The last time they had been there was on October 7, before they went on a tour of the major theaters and ballrooms of the eastern U.S. Despite fine trumpeting by Bunny, that session, as directed by Victor’s self-styled hit-maker Eli Oberstein,  produced only four forgettable pop tunes with vocals. This session, which began at 1:00 p.m., ran until 5:30,  produced five instrumentals, something that was virtually unheard of in the swing era. All of the performances recorded that afternoon are good, and a couple of them, including”Trees,” are more than that.

It would seem that the vintage tune “Trees” (written in 1922 by Oscar Rasbach as a melody for the poem previously written by Joyce Kilmer while he was serving in France during World War I, shortly before he was killed in action), was a rather odd choice as a vehicle for the dramatic and expressive Berigan trumpet. Nevertheless, with this recording, Bunny utterly transformed it into one of the essential performances not only of his career, but of the entire swing era.

The music: The arrangement  here, written by Abe Osser, is open and airy, and is taken at a perfect dance tempo. It provides an ideal showcase for Bunny’s unique talents as both a first trumpeter and as a jazz soloist. Joe Dixon on clarinet leads the reeds, which play the background figures while Berigan leads the cup-muted brass, which carry the melody through the first twenty-four bars. Bunny’s very personal sound, phrasing, and expressive vibrato utterly permeate and define the sound of the brass choir: no one else could ever play this music in precisely this way. When Dixon switches to alto saxophone, the four-man sax team steps out for sixteen bars of its own superb melodic playing under the supple lead of Mike Doty’s first alto, with the still muted brass punctuating behind them. At about bar 10 of this chorus, the brass are suddenly open, and warm; they then finish the chorus with eight glistening bars of melody. The saxes modulate into Berigan’s iconic open trumpet solo. The late jazz trumpeter and writer Richard M. Sudhalter, who knew what playing the trumpet was all about, explained what happened next:

“He chooses the trumpet’s lowest register to begin a solo that after many hearings seems less an improvisation than a commentary on both Kilmer’s poem and (Rasbach’s) melody. Especially poignant is a drop to his F sharp (concert E) in bar six, followed by a low F (concert E flat), a note not actually on the horn, but which Bunny ‘lips’ into being. A magnificent upward sweep to his high B flat and he sings out a legato passage in his horn’s highest register, culminating a clarion high F—all with no diminution of power or tonal breadth. He lets Lipkins carry things for four bars, then returns to play his own strong, sure lead, bearing the performance into immortality.”[i]

I have played this recording for many trumpeters, and have discerned a consensus in their reactions to it. That consensus can be summarized in the statement I heard more than once: “Man, there’s a lot going on when he plays.” It has taken me a long time to begin to understand what that means. Berigan did not just play notes on his trumpet, he shaped them, he sculpted them. He used a wide assortment of musical devices including: glissandi, slurs, scoops, rips, growls, half-valve effects, and lip vibrato. These techniques most often resulted in deeply expressive playing by Berigan. The downside of using them was that each of them held pitfalls that could result in missed or cracked notes. Berigan did the cost/benefit analysis, and usually opted to keep using theses expressive techniques. As singer and pocket comb (covered with tissue paper) virtuoso Red McKenzie, who worked with Bunny often in the mid-1930s said: “If that man wasn’t such a gambler, everybody would say he was the greatest that ever blew. But he’s got such nerve, and likes his horn so much that he’ll go ahead and try stuff that nobody else would ever think of trying.”

The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, NYC. Few white bands were invited to play there because of their lack of swing. Berigan played there a number of times, always to great acclaim.

Usually, the best judges of any human endeavor are those who do the same thing professionally. Fellow trumpeters made no secret of their opinions about Bunny’s trumpeting. Louis Armstrong’s admiration for Berigan’s playing is well-known. Harry James, one of the greatest trumpet virtuosos who ever lived, was also deeply affected by Bunny’s playing. When James first arrived in New York in 1936, he couldn’t wait to go the the Famous Door, a small jazz club on West 52nd Street, to hear Bunny. After he heard Berigan play, he confided to a companion: “this is the greatest living trumpet player.” A little later, after James had become the star of Benny Goodman’s 1937-1938 band, he raced up to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem after the Goodman band had finished work for the night to catch the battle of music between Berigan’s band and that of Erskine Hawkins, another fine trumpeter who specialized in high-note playing.  Berigan’s guitarist then, Dick Wharton recalled: “(Harry stood) only a few feet in front of the bandstand to hear Bunny. He stood there set after set.”  Trumpet virtuoso Mannie Klein, perhaps the most recorded trumpeter in history, met Berigan in the radio and recording studios of Manhattan in the early 1930s, and performed with him many times. Indeed, Klein substituted for the workaholic Berigan often because Bunny’s services were in such high demand. His opinion: “You didn’t know sometimes if he was going to show up for a session. But when he did show up–well, nobody played with the balls and the beat he did.” (*)

This performance is obviously a tour de force in the technical sense, but more than that, it is a magnificent, passionately made musical statement. The emotional and musical content of Berigan’s playing here is so powerful that the technical wizardry is all but completely subsumed by it. All in a day’s work, I guess—if you are Bunny Berigan.

[i] Liner notes—The Complete Bunny Berigan, Vol. 2 (1986); RCA/BMG Bluebird 5657-1-RB, by Richard M. Sudhalter.

(*) Lost Chords…White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz 1915-1945, by Richard M. Sudhalter, Oxford University Press (1999), page 496.

The Bunny Berigan band that made the recording of “Trees” is shown here in a photo from the fall of 1937. L-R: Joe Lippman, piano; back: Sonny Lee and Al George, trombones; George Wettling, drums; Steve Lipkins, trumpet; Hank Wayland, bass; Irving Goodman, trumpet; Tommy Morgan, guitar; front: Georgie Auld, Joe Dixon, Mike Doty, Clyde Rounds, reeds; Berigan stands at right.

NOTE: Bunny Berigan died on June 2, 1942, 75 years ago, at age thirty-three.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Berigan in the mainstream media today

Terry Teachout.

Terry Teachout has written many articles  and books about jazz and jazz musicians. I have read and admired his biographies of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Most recently, on May 17, 2017, he published a piece on Bunny Berigan in Commentary. It is entitled “The Tragic Trumpeter…a Jazz Casualty.” Although I do not agree with everything Mr. Teachout says in his article, I am happy that he has written knowingly about Bunny Berigan, and that what he has written has appeared in a mainstream publication.

Here is a link to Terry’s piece:

http://https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-tragic-trumpeter/

Why Did You Write the Book?

Mike Zirpolo.

In the years since I wrote “Mr. Trumpet…the Trials, Tribulations and Triumph of Bunny Berigan,” I have been asked by people all over the USA to make presentations about Bunny Berigan’s life and music. I recently returned from doing just that for three separate audiences at the 2017 Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee, which was presented last weekend in Bunny’s home town of Fox Lake, Wisconsin.  I was gratified by the attention people paid to Bunny’s music, images of him and his fellow musicians and family members, and most of all by the questions that were asked.  These questions led to informative discussions where everyone, including me, learned. In one of my audiences was the fine jazz trumpeter Duke Heitger, who performed at the BBJJ, and knows a thing of two about trumpet technique and jazz. Duke provided insights about why Bunny was such a great jazz trumpeter.

Whenever I have made presentations about Bunny Berigan, I can expect one question to be asked: why did you write this book? I got that question a couple of times last weekend. The answer is presented in the introduction of the book. But the explanation is also presented in a You Tube post.

Shortly after the book was published, my friend Michael Steinman, the man behind the wonderful Jazz Lives blog… https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/ …asked me to provide the explanation of why I wrote the book, while he filmed me on a street in Manhattan in front of a small saloon called “The Ear Inn,” where classic jazz is often presented. Despite quite a bit of traffic , sidewalk noise and the falling of dusk, the resulting video turned out quite well. I want to thank Michael once again for producing it, and present it here for all “Mr. Trumpet” followers to watch and hopefully enjoy.

“High Society” (1938)

“High Society”

Composed by Porter Steele and Walter Melrose; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded on September 13, 1938 by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor in New York City.

Roland B. “Bunny” Berigan, solo trumpet; directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet, Irving Goodman, trumpet; Nat Lobovsky, first trombone, Ray Conniff, trombone; George “Gigi” Bohn, first alto saxophone, Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, clarinet and alto saxophone; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Frederick “Hank” Wayland, bass; Bernard “Buddy” Rich, drums.

The story:

101bunny-in-cloro7847_editedOn September 12, 1938, Bunny Berigan (pictured at right) and his very hot band played at a private party on Long Island. It was at this gig that clarinetist/alto saxist Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona became a member of the Berigan band. “I joined Bunny for that date, replacing Joe Dixon. There was another band at the affair, one of those society orchestras organized by Meyer Davis. We played alternating sets and there was quite a difference in the types of music!  I’d never met Bunny before that day, but he had contacted me at the Forrest Hotel in New York (actually, it was at the bar of the Forrest Hotel, which was something of a connecting point between Bunny Berigan and musicians who wanted to join his band), where the band assembled before leaving for the date. Jayne Dover,[i] who had worked with ‘Gigi’ Bohn and me in the Hudson-DeLange orchestra, joined Bunny about the same time.”  Following this date, the band returned to New York for a Victor recording session the next day, September 13.

Six acceptable masters were recorded that day between the hours of 1:30–7:00 p.m. One wonders when (or if) the Berigan band had the opportunity to rehearse the tunes that were recorded. (Their life on the road was chaotic, thanks to their booking agency, Music Corporation of America (MCA.)The two new members, Bivona and vocalist Jayne Dover, had joined only the day before. Ms. Dover had three new songs to sing at the recording date. (These are details that record reviewers and critics are seldom aware of, or consider.) Legend has it that Bunny used the privategus-and-georgie party the day before to prepare the band for the recording date. However the band rehearsed the tunes to be recorded, the resulting recordings were remarkably good.

More of the band’s arrangements in the summer of 1938 were being written by Andy Phillips, especially those on current pop tunes. But Joe Lippman was still contributing many of the charts the Berigan band was recording, especially those on “special” material. His wonderful arrangement on “High Society” definitely fits into the “special” category. (At left: Gus Bivona (L)and Georgie Auld (R) are pictured as members of Bunny Berigan’s band in the fall of 1938. Photo courtesy of Gary Bivona.)bushkin-4

The music: The venerable “High Society” (composed in 1901), is recast here in the finery of swing by the Berigan band’s chief arranger, Joe Lippman. The jaunty clarinet-led reeds (probably three B-flat clarinets with Gus Bivona playing lead, and Georgie Auld’s tenor saxophone), play call and response in the first chorus with the Berigan-led brass, which play the melody, and set the stage for a series of excellent jazz solos. Check out the popping brass jump that catapults Georgie Auld into his solo.

georgie-2Auld (pictured at left) comes in with a big sigh (calling Mr. {Herschel} Evans!) on his tenor sax, to start sixteen bars of solid, rhythmically intense jazz. Young Mr. Auld had progressed light-years in his jazz playing in the eighteen months he had been in Berigan’s employ. Joe Bushkin (shown above right) swings nicely on piano (hear drummer Buddy Rich behind him), and then a fanfare by the band (Steve Lipkins on first trumpet) brings Berigan on. Here he is at his best on open trumpet; his sixteen-bar jazz solo is a perfectly constructed, flowing musical statement delivered with his usual brio and burnished trumpet tone. Ray Conniff (shown below at right) follows with some struttingconniff trombone, and then the band rocks through the exuberant out-chorus, with Berigan adding zest to the ensemble with his fiery lead trumpet playing.

“High Society” is a quintessential Berigan recording and a superb example of swing era jazz. It is one of the few Victor recordings made by Bunny that captures the irrepressible panache of the 1938 Berigan band. When this recording was made, Berigan was leading the best band he ever led, indeed one of the best of the swing era. (Many of the musicians in this band went on to have long and successful careers.) A key performer in this band was the not yet 21-year-old drummer Buddy Rich. His six-month tenure with the Berigan band, roughly the second half of 1938, was his first big-time jazz gig. Rich was a phenomenon as a drummer even in 1938. Although he would slowly alter his style of drumming zildjian-brover his career, he always had incredible technique, and immense exuberance, and a knack for imparting great rhythmic color and drive to any band he played in. That is clearly evident in his playing on this recording.

The photo of Buddy Rich at left was taken on Tuesday September 20, 1938 outside the Avedis Zildjian cymbal factory near Boston, Massachusetts. The Berigan band opened the night before at the Ritz Carleton Roof in Boston.

[i] Jayne Dover later sang with Claude Thornhill’s band as Jane Essex.

Digital remastering and sonic restoration of this recording by Mike Zirpolo.

“Caravan” (1937)

“Caravan”

Composed by Juan Tizol; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra on August 18, 1937 for Victor in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet; Irving Goodman, trumpet; Sonny Lee, first trombone; Al George, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones and clarinets; (Rounds also plays baritone saxophone in one sequence.); Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; George Wettling, drums. Arrangement by Joe Lippman.

The story:

On August 18, 1937, Bunny Berigan and his band checked in at Victor’s 24th Street recording studio in New York City to make some records. The recording session ran from 1:30 to 6:45 p.m., after which they rushed from Manhattan to the Pavilion Royal, a ballroom at Valley Stream, Long Island that featured an inside/outside dance floor, and a radio wire for remote band broadcasts.They were in the middle of a long engagement there which would last through most of the rest of August. In September, the band began touring, but only on a limited basis. They had to stay near enough to Manhattan to return there on Sundays for their Mutual network radio show Fun in Swingtime. After their commitment to that show ended in mid-October, they began touring in earnest. Berigan would spend most of the succeeding two years on the road with his various bands.

The Berigan band recorded three tunes for Victor that day: the then current pop “Why Talk about Love?” with a Gail Reese vocal; and two good instrumentals, “Caravan” and “A Study in Brown.” “Caravan” was a new tune then, composed by Duke Ellington’s valve trombonist Juan Tizol. The Berigan version, in a great arrangement by Joe Lippman, showcases Bunny using a pixie straight mute in his trumpet, and a plunger over its bell to achieve an insinuating growling effect.

Berigan’s recording of “Caravan” was well received at the time of its issue by the more cultivated swing commentators, albeit with some rather overheated adjectives: “‘Caravan’ is an eerie, satanic interpretation in slow tempo of Juan Tizol’s noteworthy melody. It testifies to the steady improvement in Berigan’s group, and is far and away the finest of its recordings (to-date).

L-R rear: Georgie Auld, Joe Dixon, Berigan; seated Clyde Rounds and Mike Doty.

The significance of the disc lies in the fact that it presents an exceptional and imaginative arrangement, which never for a moment hesitates to utilize the most colorful harmonies and techniques at the command of the modern jazz orchestra. Against a coherent and deftly articulated background of clarinet choir, strongly accented percussion led by bass saxophone (sic, see below), and subtone clarinet and delicate pianissimo brass figures, Berigan introduces the theme on solo trumpet. It’s sensuous and feverish and played with tremendous feeling; its phrasing and intonation complete the bizarre atmosphere conjured up by the background counter-themes. Except in the finale, which returns to the opening motif, the source is ensemble. Unity of design, however, is so well maintained that the concerted unison chorus with the crescendos, diminuendos and modulations creates a powerful climax in keeping with the original mood. Wettling’s drumming considerably strengthens the driving rhythmic background. All in all, this is a fit companion piece for the Ellington and Ambrose versions.” This review was by Paul Eduard Miller, and it appeared in the November 1937 issue of Down Beat, and is cited in the Bozy White Berigan bio-discography at August 18, 1937.

(Note: There is no bass saxophone on Bunny Berigan’s recording of “Caravan.” There is, however, a bass clarinet, which was played expertly by Mike Doty. Likewise, there is no subtone (quiet, low-register) clarinet playing in this performance. This commentator was obviously not familiar with the tonal characteristics of a bass clarinet.)

Berigan at left, and drummer George Wettling on the sidewalks of New York, 1937.

The music:

This performance of “Caravan,” wherein Bunny and the band bring Joe Lippman’s brilliant kaleidoscopic chart vividly to life, executing the many crescendos, diminuendos, and brass oo-ahs perfectly, is one of many bits of recorded evidence that refute the hoary canard that the Berigan band was little more that a ragtag group of undisciplined musicians. Here are some specifics: In addition to playing trumpet superbly, Berigan set an absolutely perfect tempo for this performance. Drummer George Wettling provides a sonic cushion for the band playing his drums and cymbals with both imagination and taste. Mike Doty’s bass clarinet work is an outstanding feature throughout this performance. Lead trombonist Sonny Lee emerges briefly from the ensemble for a melodic solo. Also, catch Berigan’s last trumpet phrase just before the finale. It is executed in one long breath, with a marvelous, soulful downward glissando along the way.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.