Berigan on Film (1936) “Take My Heart” with Jerry Colonna

“Take My Heart”

Composed by Joe Young and Fred Ahlert.

Recorded by Freddie Rich and His Orchestra at the Paramount-Astoria Studio, Queens, New York on August 14, 1936.

Freddie Rich, piano, directing:  trumpets, left to right: Lloyd Williams, Nat Natoli, Bunny Berigan; trombones, left to right:  Jerry Colonna, Larry Altpeter, Jack Lacey;  reeds, left-to-right: Adrian Rollini, bass sax; Arnold Brilhart, Reggie Merrill, alto saxes;  Irving “Babe” Russin, Hank Ross, tenor saxes;  violins, left-to-right:  Harry Edelman, Sam Freed, Lou Raderman, three unknowns, possibly including Johnny Augustine and Harry Horlick, but not Vladamir Selinsky;(*)  probably Walter Gross, piano;  Benny Martell, guitar;  possibly Joe Tarto, string  and brass bass;  Sammy Weiss, drums; Veryle Mills, harp. (**)

(*) I think I see violinist Joe Venuti at the far right of the violins. However he was not identified as noted below, so I reserve judgment.

(**) This personnel listing was created by Mark Cantor, and verified with the assistance of trumpeter Mannie Klein, who worked with all of these musicians in New York radio and recording studios in the early and mid-1930s; and saxophonist Arnold Brilhart, who actually appears in the film and plays on the soundtrack. (***)

NOTE: This post would not have been possible without the assistance of my friend and colleague Mark Cantor. Mark is the preeminent expert on vintage musical films from the early years of sound cinema. In addition to having a vast library of films, Mark knows almost everything about each of those films. He operates the Celluloid Improvisations Music Film Archive, and  My heartfelt thanks to Mark for all the work he did to make this post a reality.

The short sequence you can see toward the end of the video posted above contains images and sounds of Bunny Berigan playing a tin whistle that have remained almost completely unseen since 1937. Those “new” images of Berigan are the reason I asked Mark Cantor to allow publication of this film sequence. People in 2018 may wonder about the broad burlesque comedy of Jerry Colonna in this video. But it must be remembered that vaudeville, where this kind of comedy was effective with audiences, was still going strong in 1936, when this film was made.

The Story:

Berigan at Burbank, California Airport – October 1, 1935.

Once Bunny Berigan returned to Manhattan in the fall of 1935 after his summer sojourn  across the U.S. with Benny Goodman’s band, he immediately resumed his duties at CBS Radio, including his broadcasts with Bunny’s Blue Boys and as a member of “the Instrumentalists” with Raymond Scott. “Bunny’s Blue Boys on Tuesdays, 12:15 a.m. over Columbia, put on a few of the old jam numbers with the genuine swing. This outfit is led by Bunny Berigan, lately of Benny Goodman’s orchestra, and play right up to time.” (1)

The beginning of 1936 saw Berigan return to his work pattern of previous years (he was a workaholic), with a vengeance: mornings and into the afternoons at CBS; then commercial recording sessions outside of CBS as his schedule would permit; then appearances at the Famous Door, a Manhattan jazz club. (See below.) A review of the Berigan discography for 1936 indicates that he probably made more free-lance recording sessions in that year than in any other year of his career. In January alone he participated in nine or ten separate recording sessions. In the first half of 1936, Bunny Berigan was playing his trumpet on jobs for between 80 and 100 hours a week.

At the Famous Door on 52nd Street – early 1936. L-R:Forrest Crawford, tenor saxophone; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Red McKenzie, Eddie Condon, Joe Bushkin, Berigan.

Of far greater significance jazzwise was Bunny’s opening, on approximately February 10, with a small band led by singer Red McKenzie (2) with considerable help from guitarist Eddie Condon,(3) at the Famous Door, then located at 35 West Fifty-second Street, just a few doors west of Fifth Avenue. The Famous Door was one of many clubs on Fifty-second Street then featuring live music. The “concept” that led to the creation of the Famous Door was to have a small club where musicians could come and jam, in the mode of Plunkett’s, which had been a Prohibition era bar that was something of a clubhouse for New York’s radio and recording musicians. The originators of the “famous door” concept were musicians who worked in the nearby radio and recording studios, mainly under pianist/arranger Lennie Hayton who was then the conductor on the Ipana Troubadors and Fred Allen radio shows. The original investors in the project were: violinist Harry Bluestone; trombonist Jack Jenney; trumpeter Mannie Klein; bassist Artie Bernstein; trombonist Jerry Colonna; arranger Gordon Jenkins; Jimmy Dorsey; and Glenn Miller. They each put up $100. The major investors however, were Hayton and Jack Colt, who was not a musician, but who had experience in the club business. They each put up $1,000.(4)

Berigan listens while his personal manager Arthur Michaud talks – 1937.

After an incredibly busy spring and early summer, which included performing at the famous Imperial Theater Swing Concert on May 23, and being featured weekly on the new CBS network radio show Saturday Night Swing Club, which was initially built around Berigan, Bunny was having his career moves guided by personal manager Arthur Michaud. He was building his public name recognition primarily through his weekly performances on the Saturday Night Swing Club. He was also doing as much other work as possible to earn as much money as he could so he could assist with financing a new big band he was planning to start. (Such a venture was incredibly expensive. Usually, a new bandleader had to have financial assistance [loans] from a number of backers over a substantial period of time to successfully launch a big band. Berigan started his new band in early 1937. He had cleared his debt from launching that band by the end of 1937.)

On Friday, August 14, 1936, Bunny Berigan was a part of the Freddie Rich (5) band that went to the Paramount Film studios located in Astoria, Queens, New York City (6) to record the sound track for a “short” or “short subject.” These short films were used in movie theaters as filler between presentations of feature films. The band returned the following Monday August 17 to do the filming. (Note: The personnel specified above is the personnel that recorded the music. There may have been musicians on the recording date who were replaced for the on-screen filming/sidelining.)  It is my informed speculation that most if not all of the musicians who recorded the sound track appeared in the film.

The band shown on film consisted of musicians who mostly were on staff at CBS Radio in New York. (The personnel listing above identifies most of the musicians who appear in the film.) The film, which was entitled Song Hits on Parade, runs ten to twelve minutes. Berigan is plainly shown in the band, and plays a trumpet solo and sings a tune entitled “Until Today,” which is introduced by a display with his name on it misspelled, as so often it was, as Berrigan. (Berigan being featured as he was in this film did not happen by accident. His personal manager, Arthur Michaud, was working behind the scenes to do whatever he could to get Berigan into work situations where his name and talent would be presented to the widest public possible.) Among the other tunes presented in the film are “You Can’t Pull the Wool Over My Eyes,” as an “instrumental novelty,” “These Foolish Things,” then a new pop tune, and “Tiger Rag.” There appears to have been a couple of other tunes  presented, including “Cross Patch,” using a female vocal group. (Among the singers featured in that three-girl group called the Blue Flames, was Beverly Freeland, later to become Mrs. Gordon Jenkins. This group also appeared on the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club radio show.) (7)(8)

Berigan playing his tin whistle as Jerry Colonna clowns in a segment of the Paramount film short Star Reporter No. 3.

Recorded and filmed at the same time was “Take My Heart,” with Fred Rich playing the piano, Jerry Colonna the trombone (briefly), and then doing his burlesque singing shtick (which he had perfected over the previous couple of years warming up audiences for various CBS radio shows), and finally, Bunny tooting the tin whistle he had played as a gag since the late 1920s. (9)

When Paramount produced a feature film or short subject, they often recorded and filmed more material than was ultimately used in the released film.  The “Take My Heart” sequence presented here was recorded/filmed at the August 1936 recording/filming sessions, but not included in the released film short which was entitled Song Hits on Parade.  (“Until Today,” mentioned above, will be presented later here at, was a part of Song Hits on Parade.)  For reasons unknown to us, the producer decided that he did not want to include “Take My Heart” in Song Hits on Parade, which was released on approximately January 15, 1937.  It was placed on the shelf.

A bit later, during the production of one of the 1937 releases in a Paramount series entitled The Star Reporter also The Star Reporter of Hollywood ( this was a series of one reel shorts in which various musical acts were often shared playing a number or two), a musical number was needed, and “Take My Heart” was pulled off the shelf and used.  The name of the film in which “Take My Heart” finally appeared was Star Reporter No. 3, released on March 11, 1937.

(***) Relative to identification of the musicians in the film and on the soundtrack, the information that appears in the Bozy White Berigan bio-discography Bunny Berigan…The Miracle Man of Swing (vol. 2, pages 748-751), does not differ greatly from Mark Cantor’s personnel identification, presented above. In fact, the information in the White book regarding this personnel identification came directly from Mark Cantor, who reviewed his personnel identifications with Mannie Klein and Arnold Brilhart. Mr. White then apparently cross-checked Mark’s information with trombonist Larry Altpeter, who was on the soundtrack and in the film.

(1) Variety, November 20, 1935.

(2) Vocalist William “Red” McKenzie was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 14, 1899. He was raised in Washington, D.C., until the deaths of his parents, after which he returned to St. Louis, working at a variety of jobs including as a professional jockey. McKenzie began singing, as well as playing the kazoo and the comb, with tissue paper placed over the tines, in the early 1920s. With two others, he formed a novelty act called the Mound City Blue Blowers, and began recording in February 1924. The group’s initial release, “Arkansas Traveler,” became a hit, and they toured extensively in the United States then went to London. Upon returning to the United States, McKenzie led the group over the next several years. He spent a year with Paul Whiteman, 1932–1933, then reorganized the Mound City Blue Blowers, and began to appear at clubs on Fifty-second Street as well as on record both with and without the group. He returned to St. Louis in 1937, and was seldom seen in New York thereafter. The years prior to his death were spent in ill health owing to the progression of cirrhosis of the liver. McKenzie died in New York City on February 7, 1948.

(3) Guitarist, bandleader, and impresario Albert Edwin Condon was born in Goodland, Indiana, on November 16, 1905. He moved to Chicago in 1921, and spent most of the next decade there playing with many of the young white musicians who were then embracing jazz. He went to New York in 1928 and began musical associations with an ever-widening group of performers both on and off record, including Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Red Nichols. He continued an earlier association with Red McKenzie while in New York in the 1930s, and also began long but intermittent associations with Joe Marsala, Bobby Hackett, and Bud Freeman. During World War II, Condon began to lead bands for various concerts in Manhattan, and for residencies at Nick’s in Greenwich Village. At the end of 1945, he opened the first of his own jazz clubs, which would remain on the scene for many years, though most of the time without Condon on their bandstands. Condon was successful on TV in the 1950s, and was a master of the bon mot, often delivered with just the right mixture of sarcasm and irony. He toured widely throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and died in New York City on August 4, 1973.

(4) 52nd Street…The Street of Jazz  by Arnold Shaw (1971), 106. More information about the Famous Door can be found here:

(5) Freddie Rich (Fredric Efrem Rich), (1898-1956), was an active New York bandleader from the mid-1920s until the early 1940s, when he moved to California. He became associated with CBS radio as a conductor on a number of pop music radio shows through the 1930s. Rich first met Berigan in 1931, when Bunny (at age 22) first went on staff at CBS. Seldom over the next six years did he have any band at CBS that did not include Berigan (when Bunny was on-staff at CBS-he did take a few sabbaticals). Rich also used Berigan on his commercial recordings, and of course on this movie short.

(6) The Paramount Studios at 34-12 Thirty-sixth Street, Astoria, Queens, opened in 1920. For the next twenty years, over 120 silent and sound feature films were produced there. In addition, this studio was the home of the famed Paramount Newsreels (“the eyes and ears of the world”), as well as Paramount’s short-film division. This studio continues operation to this day at the Kaufman Astoria Studios New York Production Center.

(7) Much of the information about the film short Song Hits on Parade was taken from the Bozy White Berigan bio-discography, cited above (***). As noted, much of that information came from Mark Cantor.

(8) Here is a complete rundown of the music in Song Hits on Parade:

(a)  unidentified title (fanfare), segue to “Happy Days Are Here Again”;

(b)  “Cross Patch” (The Blue Flames, vocal);

(c)  “I Can’t Escape From You” (Jerry Cooper, vocal);

(d)  “You Can’t Pull the Wool over My Eyes”;

(e)  “Until Today” (Bunny Berigan, trumpet and vocal);

(f)  “These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You” (Benay Venuta, vocal);

(g)  “Tiger Rag” (soloists:  Jack Lacey, trombone;  Hank Ross, tenor sax).

(9) Although Berigan played his tin whistle at various times on jobs as a gag from very early in his career up to the time this film was made, there is no evidence that he ever played it after he became the leader of his own band.

“I Cried for You” (1938) Bunny Berigan and Kathleen Lane

“I Cried for You”

Music and lyric by Arthur Freed, Gus Arnheim and Abe Lyman. Arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on November 22, 1938 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Johnny Napton and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Ray Conniff and Bob Jenney, trombones; Murray Williams, bass clarinet and alto saxophone; Gus Bivona, B-flat clarinet and alto saxophone; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Buddy Rich, drums; Kathleen Lane, vocal.

The story:

Berigan at the Valencia Ballroom, York, PA on November 24, 1938. He is playing seated because of his broken ankle. The saxophonists are L-R: Chuck DiMaggio (subbing that night) and Gus Bivona.

Between September 24 and October 1, 1938, when the Berigan band resumed activity (after being blown out of a multi-week engagement at Boston’s Ritz Carleton Roof Garden by the Great Hurricane of 1938), by playing a one-night dance date in Westchester, New York, Bunny broke his leg or ankle. Clyde Rounds recalled the surrounding circumstances: “We were all surprised to see Bunny climb on the stand with his leg in plaster. He explained that he’d been at home, spending a rare night with his family and playing ball, when he slipped on a rug and fell. He heard and felt a sickening crack as a bone broke. Donna drove him to the hospital, where they X-rayed him and put the leg in a plaster cast. Then she drove him back to their apartment, where he rested until the Westchester date.”  ‘This crack is going to be heard all over the country,’ Bunny declared. ‘Anytime when I’ve drunk a few too many, only a very few people knew or cared, as long as the band sounded okay. And now, although I was sober, no one will ever believe it!’ I don’t know if it was because of that, but he went on the wagon for some time after his accident. “[i]

Alto saxophonist/clarinetist Gus Bivona with Berigan. Both had well-developed senses of humor.

Bunny’s broken leg or ankle slowed him down considerably. Gus Bivona had vivid memories of this situation: “Bunny had his leg in a plaster cast for five or six weeks. He used a cane to get around and a chair or a stool to rest his foot while he was playing. He claimed he’d broken his ankle at home while playing with his daughters, but I don’t know how many of the guys believed that. Sometime later, while riding in the band bus, he had his foot propped up on the heater and when the bus went over a big bump in the road, it knocked his foot down on to the floor, cracked the plaster and broke the bone again!”[i]

Berigan’s guitarist Dick Wharton reported that: “Bunny had to have the broken leg (sic) re-broken and reset. It became very painful and he went back to NYC to have it taken care of.” [ii]

Berigan’s streak of bad luck, which included the cancelled Boston residency, his broken and rebroken ankle, and an untoward incident, when he fell off the stage at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh while being tipsy,  continued.

Many of Berigan’s sidemen went on to very successful careers in music. In this photo taken outside the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh in late August 1938, L-R: Hank Wayland, Clyde Rounds, Ray Conniff, Nat Lobovsky, Joe Dixon, and Buddy Rich.

The episode where Bunny had fallen off the stage had engendered much insidious gossip in the band business. The result of this was that MCA (his booking agent) was now finding it very hard to sell the Berigan band to the operators of major theaters. It seems that Bunny’s drinking had now reached the point where he was always under the influence, to some degree. The only variable was how he was able to handle it from day to day. Trumpeter Johnny Napton remembered:  “He could talk to you at the end of the evening, and you’d have no idea that he’d knocked off a whole bottle of scotch. He could drive, he could play, and you’d never be able to tell a thing.”[iii] Gus Bivona had a slightly different take on this situation: “Don’t get me wrong. Bunny was playing good— he always played good, even when he drank. He was the best trumpet player ever!  But there were times when he was sloppy, when it just wasn’t up to what he could do.”[iv]  Ray Conniff agreed: “There was definitely some deterioration. He was drinking too much, and he missed an awful lot. But when he wasn’t drinking—well, he was the best. Really great! Inimitable! And don’t forget, things may have been getting worse, but we were having one continuous good time, like a non-stop party. And that counted for a lot.”[v]

In the 1930s, people who drank a lot were often regarded as being colorful and entertaining “characters.” In 1938, when pianist/arranger Claude Thornhill (later the leader of one of the most exquisite bands of the swing era), who was an alcoholic, went to Hollywood to work as an arranger with the Skinnay Ennis band on the Bob Hope radio show, he quickly established a reputation for eccentric behavior. Carmine Calhoun Ennis, Skinnay’s wife, recalled how Thornhill would, on occasion, enter the posh Victor Hugo restaurant, where the Ennis band often worked: “He used to come into the Hugo, laugh hysterically, and crawl around on the floor, barking at people. Being drunk in those days was looked on differently—drinking wasn’t looked on as the disease of alcoholism. If a celebrity like Claude did crazy things, it was passed off as a joke.”[vi] Although Bunny had numerous embarrassing experiences while under the influence, he never did anything quite like this.

Statuesque Kathleen Lane, pictured here in 1938, was Berigan’s best female vocalist.

At about the same time (early November 1938), the best girl vocalist Bunny ever employed joined the band. This was Kathleen “Kitty” Lane, a shapely redhead whose every attribute, definitely including her voice, exuded sex appeal. She sang both ballads and up-tempo tunes with a beat, had excellent voice quality, and very good pitch control and range. Beyond that, she was a very easygoing girl who had no attitude issues. Almost immediately, she became one of the most popular members of the Berigan band.

Through much of November 1938, the Berigan band was on the road. They returned to Manhattan just in time for their November 22 Victor recording session. In spite of the recent turnover of some of its musicians, the Berigan band that entered the RCA Victor recording studio on that date sounded very good. In addition, they finally had four excellent arrangements on four tunes that seemed to fit the style of the band to record. (#) Bunny’s old friend Leonard Joy was back in the control room that day to supervise the session, and as a result, there was very good karma in the studio. It seems that Bunny’s luck, if only temporarily, was back in a positive phase. The recordings he made on this date are among his finest.

The music:

Kathleen Lane at the November 22, 1938 Berigan recording session, singing “I Cried for You.”

The song “I Cried for You” was an oldie, but goodie, dating from 1923. The Berigan recording set off a bit of a revival of the tune. Joe Lippman provided the arrangement, and we hear Kathleen Lane’s first recording with the Berigan band. I suspect that she was not yet completely acclimated, because the RCA manifest shows that three separate masters of “I Cried for You” were cut. Two of them are extant. The issued recording is lovely except for one point in Ms. Lane’s vocal were she is a bit flat.  I had been annoyed by that little imperfection for over forty years. Since I have had the digital equipment to remaster vintage recordings—and spent many years learning how to use it, I tried many times to correct that flaw. Finally I did it. The resulting performance (which I present here) has Ms. Lane singing perfectly on pitch throughout the entire recording. I smile every time I listen to it.

A photo of the Berigan band bus – 1942.

The photo of Ms. Lane above left shows her in the Victor studio working to get her vocal on “I Cried for You” to be just right. Ms. Lane, who was a very good looking woman, looks a bit bedraggled in this photo. We rarely think about what the performers of the swing era were doing before and after they were in the studio making records. Very often, they were in the band bus, racing to the recording studio overnight after having played in some ballroom several hundred miles from Manhattan the evening before. Any sleep they might have gotten was snatched on the bus. Meals were taken on a strictly catch-as-catch-can basis. All of this was difficult for the young men who made up the bands. It was almost impossible for the girl singers with the bands who had to worry about many more issues when traveling, not the least of which was traveling almost constantly with twelve to fifteen men. Ah, the glamorous life of female big band singers!

After Kathleen Lane’s vocal chorus, Berigan enters with that warm, velvety sound of his, and creates some truly splendid jazz. Many of the trademark Berigan touches are present as he shapes his notes: glissandi, lip vibrato and trills, and lots of emotion. Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld plays next, and his solo is also excellent. He is clearly inspired by what Berigan had just played. The band’s powerful ensembles (with Berigan leading the trumpets) after these solos are first rate. This is wonderful swing recording.

[i] White materials: October 12, 1938.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Bluebird, Vol. III

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Gil Evans—Out of the Cool; His Life and Music, by Stephanie Stein Crease, A Cappella Books, (2002) 66.

[i] White materials: October 1, 1938.

(#) The other three selections Bunny recorded that day were: “Jelly Roll Blues,” “Sobbin’ Blues,” and “‘Deed I Do.”

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

Berigan at the Paradise Restaurant -“How’d You Like to Love Me?” (1938)

“How’d You Like to Love Me?”

Composed by Burton Lane (music) and Frank Loesser (lyric); arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra live from the Paradise Restaurant in New York City on April 10, 1938.

Bunny Berigan first and solo trumpet; directing: Steve Lipkins, Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sonny Lee, first trombone; Al George, trombone; Mike Doty first alto saxophone, Joe Dixon, alto saxophone; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones;  (all saxophonists double on B-flat clarinet); Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

This is the fourth in a series of broadcast recordings by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra from the Paradise Restaurant in Manhattan in the spring of 1938.

The story: 

Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra opened at the Paradise Restaurant on March 20, 1938. That engagement was extended several times, eventually running seven weeks.  They closed at the Paradise on May 6. Berigan’s sidemen greatly enjoyed their stand at the Paradise because they were able to stay for a period of time in the band’s home, New York City. Although Bunny himself also enjoyed playing at this high-level nightclub, he was well aware of the fact that what he was being paid by the Paradise did not completely cover his weekly “nut,” that is, the overall expenses of running his band. His ability to earn some money making records for Victor while he was at the Paradise (on April 21), helped a little. But overall, Bunny’s stay at the Paradise cost him quite a bit of money. (*)

Variety reported the basic information concerning the new Paradise “review” in its March 16 issue. (Note the Depression era prices): “Bunny Berigan orchestra heads the show opening Sunday, March 20.  Acts include Lionel Rand and his boys (rhumba band), Barbara Parks, Liberto and Owens, Alan Carney, McNally Sisters, Four Grand Quartet and Johnny Coy.” A dinner menu dated Saturday April 16, 1938, lists three shows nightly—“7:30 p.m., midnight, and 2 a.m. ‘Never a cover charge’ but there was a minimum ‘spending charge’ per person for dinner of $1.50. Saturday and Holidays: $2.00, Ringside: $2.50.”

Shortly after the show opened, Variety published this review: “A light and spring-like show, fittingly costumed and carrying special music, opened here Sunday (20th) night under a new policy to frequently change orchestras. Changes will be made probably every two weeks. Rudy Vallee is due in next. Management is making a pull for the dancing public. Figured that any deficits can be made up if the Paradise gets the younger generation. Bands will be booked with that in mind. The new floor show doesn’t include any name acts, but the Berigan band is being depended on for box office. However it’s an agreeably entertaining production with capable talent. Well rounded and moving along at a good clip, show is effectively emceed by Alan Carney. Special music is by Dave Oppenheim and Henry Tobias. Singers include Barbara Parks, Four Grand Quartet, while the McNally Sisters sing and dance. Johnny Coy also sings and tap dances.” [1]

The personnel of the Berigan band had remained unchanged through the early weeks of 1938, except that Joe Lippman returned on piano because Graham Forbes, his temporary replacement, did not have a Local 802 union card. (**)  Much later, there were reports by Berigan sidemen that during the first part of 1938, they auditioned for a number of sponsored radio shows, but did not get hired for any of them. One of these, for which the band auditioned while they were at the Paradise Restaurant, was for Griffin shoe polish. Hal Kemp got that gig. There had also been rumors in the trade papers for several months (planted by MCA no doubt), that the Berigan band would soon be heading for California to work on radio with Bob Hope.[2] This had not (and would not) come to pass either. Some of the veteran sidemen, most notably Sonny Lee, sensed that these strikeouts indicated that the Berigan band had perhaps topped out in terms of its commercial appeal. Lee received an excellent offer from Jimmy Dorsey while he was with Berigan at the Paradise. He discussed the offer with Bunny, who was in no position to equal it. Bunny told Lee to take the JD offer, and they parted on friendly terms. (Lee would remain with Jimmy Dorsey for the next seven years.) But Bunny now had to look for a top-notch trombonist who could play both lead and jazz.

As fate would have it, at the very same time as Bunny was dealing with Sonny Lee’s situation, a dispute erupted between him and his other trombonist, journeyman Al George. As a result, George  was on his two-week notice. Lee departed a few days before George. Bunny replaced Lee with Nat Lobovsky, an excellent lead trombonist, who really didn’t play jazz.

A very young Ray Conniff.

The trombone openings in the Berigan band had set the Manhattan musicians’ grapevine into  high gear.  The young trombonist Ray Conniff  later recalled:  “I ran into Joe Dixon one day at the Forrest Hotel in New York and he told me that Al George had just had a run-in with Bunny and as a result, he was working out his notice. Bunny was auditioning trombone players at the Paradise Restaurant, so I went down and was lucky enough to get the job. The trombone parts had been written for Sonny Lee, who had not only played lead, but took all the jazz solos as well. Nat Lobovsky had inherited that situation although he didn’t consider himself a jazz player, and was quite content to confine himself to playing lead parts after I joined. I took all the jazz solos after that.

I soon got to know all the stories that were told about Bunny. Of course, he was a marvelous musician, who could outplay all of us, a very warm-hearted guy, but the world’s worst businessman! Although I got my salary, which was $60 a week, I didn’t get paid for any of my arrangements! I did a couple of originals, ‘Little Gate’s Special’ and ‘Gangbusters’ Holiday’ and I was told I would receive $35 per score. Well, I waited for what I thought was a reasonable time, and when I heard nothing I reminded Bunny that I hadn’t been paid. ‘How much was I going to pay you?’ he asked. ‘$35 was it?  Well make it $40.’ And each time I asked him for payment, he’d raise the offer, but I never did get any money for those charts!

I recall Andy Phillips with the band when I joined at the Paradise in April ‘38 and about a week before Joe Bushkin I think; he replaced Joe Lippman; Lobovsky was still the other trombone. [i]

It should be noted at this juncture that even though Bunny Berigan never paid Ray Conniff for the arrangements he did on “Little Gate’s Special”[i] and “Gangbusters’ Holiday” (a story Conniff told for sixty-plus years), he did record them. This, coupled with the fact that Bunny did not put his name on these Conniff originals as a co-composer, allowed Conniff to receive all of the composer royalties on the sale of these recordings for many, many years. (Indeed, under the current copyright law, they are still accruing to his heirs.) Most bandleaders in the 1930s and 1940s routinely insisted that before they would record an original composition by members of their bands or arrangers they did business with, they be given co-composer credit. The result for the actual composer was that his composer royalty was suddenly and forever reduced from 100 percent to 50 percent. The reasoning was that this was payment to the bandleader for the great promotional push any original composition received as a result of it being recorded, especially by a popular band. In terms of abstract justice therefore, I think by Ray Conniff receiving 100 percent of the composer royalty instead of 50 percent, he was very well paid by Bunny for these two arrangements. Indeed, this could be regarded as yet another example of Berigan’s deficiencies as a businessman. He certainly could have used the 50 percent composer royalty revenue.

[i] Ray Conniff recycled many of the original composition/arrangements he wrote for Bunny Berigan’s band. “Little Gate’s Special,” with some small modifications, was later sold to Teddy Powell, whose band recorded it on May 20, 1940, as “Feather Merchant’s Ball.” The same basic arrangement of “Little Gate’s Special” played by Berigan was later played by Artie Shaw’s band, when Conniff played trombone and arranged for Shaw. Conniff’s original compositions/arrangements of “Savoy Jump” and “Familiar Moe” were later retooled by Conniff and recorded by Shaw as “Just Kiddin’ Around” and “Prelude in C Sharp Major.”

Berigan and his saxophone section. L-R: back – Georgie Auld and Joe Dixon; front – Clyde Rounds and Mike Doty.

Years later, Ray Conniff (1916–2002), as the leader of and arranger for the Ray Conniff Singers, went on to become the most financially successful ex-Berigan sideman by far. From the mid-1950s until his retirement around the year 2000, he made over ninety albums, won a Grammy, two Golden Globe awards, had two platinum albums, and at least ten gold albums. But his big-time musical career started with his association with Bunny Berigan.

Ray’s daughter Tamara, who has worked in the music industry for many years, once asked him about his early years and recorded his recollections. Among them were his memories of joining the Berigan band:

“I was sitting at the Forrest Hotel Bar with Joe Dixon, a friend of mine from back in New England. He told me that Bunny Berigan had just had a run-in with one of his trombone players, so there was a spot open, and asked me if I would like to give it a shot. Would I! The next night I went to the Paradise Restaurant and sat in. The band started playing ‘It’s Wonderful.’ So Bunny came over to me and asked, ‘Do you know this song, kid?’ Of course I did because I was making the rehearsal band scene, so instead of giving the girl singer the chorus, I played it solo on trombone. I knew it note for note in any key, so I could watch the band as I played. Bunny looked over at Georgie Auld for approval, and Georgie gave him the code—the old index finger to the eye trick—meaning ‘get a load of this!’ I knew that I was in. Touring with Bunny was my first big-time gig, and it was one of the highlights of my life.” [ii]

[i] White materials: April 30, 1938.

[ii] This quote was taken from the Ray Conniff website called: “my web Ray Conniff,” January 2008.

Even though Berigan was drinking no more (or less) than he had previously, and the band while it played at the Paradise was in fine shape musically, for whatever reason(s) they were unable to land a sponsored radio show, the gold-standard of success for any band during the swing era.  The reason given as to why they were not getting these jobs were that: 1) Berigan was unreliable because of his drinking. That was not totally accurate. (***)  And 2) that he could not engage in the jovial repartee that was so much a part of network radio then, without stumbling, which was more accurate. (As an aside, no one was more awkward than Benny Goodman when he first began speaking on radio broadcasts featuring his band. On one notable occasion during the Christmas holidays, Benny was required to introduce the tune “Jingle Bells” to a national radio audience. He did so as follows: “And now, in honor of the season, ‘Jingle Balls.’” His MCA handlers quickly arranged for him to take elocution lessons, after which his radio voice was a cross between the south side of Chicago and Park Avenue. Benny wanted success very badly, and would do what it took to move his band ahead.)  Bunny wanted success very badly too, but there were certain things he would not/could not/did not do to move his band ahead. He never took elocution lessons; never got his dead front tooth fixed; and of course, never stopped drinking, at least not for long.

In spite of all of this, as the summer of 1938 approached, he was still a spectacular musician, and his band was  one of the hottest swing bands in the country.

[1] Variety: March 30, 1938, cited in the White materials: March 20, 1938.

[2] Leslie Townes “Bob” Hope was born in Eltham, London, England on May 29, 1903. Hope emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, with his family in 1908, and became a U.S. citizen in 1920. He spent most of the 1920s as a touring vaudeville performer, dabbling in song and dance, and developing a comedy routine that became increasingly successful. By the middle 1930s, Hope began to appear in comedy/musical short-subject films for Warner Brothers/Vitaphone. He was signed by Paramount Pictures in 1938, and it was there that he met Bing Crosby, then fast becoming one of Paramount’s biggest stars. Their pairing in many films over the next dozen years proved to be very successful. Hope initiated his own network radio program in 1937 on NBC, first sponsored by Woodbury Soap. A year later, he began an association with Pepsodent which lasted for fifteen years. By the early 1950s, Hope had made the transition from radio to television, and achieved much success in that medium which continued into the 1970s. Hope was also very well known for entertaining U.S. military personnel around the world from the 1940s until the 1970s. Bob Hope died at age one hundred on July 27, 2003, in Toluca Lake, California.

Gail Reese – 1938.

The music:

“Howdja Like to Love Me?” (*) is a delightful rhythm tune written by Burton Lane (music), and Frank Loesser (lyric) in 1938 for the Paramount film College Swing, in which it was sung by Bob Hope.

Joe Lippman’s arrangement is given an exuberant performance here by Bunny and the band. Vocalist Gail Reese, whose often listless singing weighs down many of Berigan’s late 1937-early 1938 Victor records, here demonstrates that she could be a very effervescent and saucy singer. The four clarinet transition after her vocal, juxtaposed with Sonny Lee’s muted trombone, is a particularly inspired Lippman touch. Berigan’s madcap entrance after the vocal suggests a skydiver who is frantically groping for his ripcord as he hurtles toward earth. Clarinetist Joe Dixon has a few bars of happy clarinet, and then the band takes it out.

This is another example of the true character of the 1938 Berigan band, which unfortunately was so seldom presented on its Victor recordings.

(*) Bunny was also hustling a few bucks by appearing as a guest with his former employer Paul Whiteman on a radio broadcast on April 1, and by appearing as a guest on the NBC Steine Bottle Boy Swing Club radio show on April 14.

(**) There were also changes in drummers. The great Dave Tough powered the Berigan band from mid-January through mid-March.  Then, as a result of the instability in the rhythm section of Benny Goodman’s band resulting from Gene Krupa’s departure, Benny, was casting about for a new drummer. BG, who had a network radio show as a financial base, offered Tough more money than Bunny could pay, so he left reluctantly. He was replaced by the exuberant and swinging Johnny Blowers, whose work with the Berigan band was consistently excellent.

(***) Despite Berigan’s drinking, with very rare exceptions, he was always where he was scheduled to perform on time, and was ready to play. Indeed, two days before his death, he was where he was supposed to be on time and was ready to play. Unfortunately, the bus carrying his band had gone in the wrong direction when traveling to the engagement. When they finally arrived, the venue where approximately 2,000 people had shown up to dance to their music, was closed, dark, and locked.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

“Blue Lou” (1939) Metronome All Star Band

 “Blue Lou”

Composed by Edgar Sampson; arranged by Horace and Fletcher Henderson. (*)

Recorded by the Metronome All-Star Band on January 12, 1939 in New York.

Metronome All-Star Band:  Bunny Berigan, Harry James, Charlie Spivak, Sonny Dunham, trumpets; Tommy Dorsey and Jack Teagarden, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, lead alto saxophone; Arthur Rollini and Eddie Miller, tenor saxophones; Benny Goodman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Bob Zurke, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Bob Haggart, bass; Ray Bauduc, drums.

(*) The arrangement was also further revised in rehearsal (see below).

The Story:

Bunny Berigan – January 12, 1939 – entering the Victor recording studio.

On January 12, 1939, at 1:18 a.m., Bunny Berigan walked into RCA Victor’s Twenty-fourth Street recording studio in Manhattan. In the studio already were Arthur Rollini, Jack Teagarden, Charlie Spivak, Carmen Mastren, Mr. and Mrs. Hymie Shertzer, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. Shortly after, Tommy Dorsey, his manager Bobby Burns, lawyer John Gluskin (who was also a business partner of Berigan’s soon to be fired personal manager Arthur Michaud), and recording supervisor Eli Oberstein arrived.

Also in the studio was George T. Simon, the editor of Metronome magazine (which sponsored the date), who in the previous two years had never missed an opportunity to report anything negative about Berigan and/or his orchestra, often without having obtained all of the facts.  One can reasonably conclude that Bunny would have had some ill will toward Simon. But despite the almost nonstop lambastings Simon had given Berigan in the pages of Metronome, enough of that publication’s readers thought enough of Bunny Berigan’s playing to vote him into the 1939 Metronome All-Star band. Even though Bunny probably would have liked to have told Simon that he thought he was an unfair little so-and-so, he did no such thing. He simply came in and performed as the quintessential professional he was.

The rest of the musicians selected for the date, including trumpeter Sonny Dunham and four men from the Bob Crosby band (Simon’s favorite in the 1930s), arrived late. The four Crosby musicians were nevertheless fine players: bassist Bob Haggart, tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller, pianist Bob Zurke (who had problems with alcoholism not unlike Berigan’s), and drummer Ray Bauduc. The Crosby musicians, sans Zurke, entered the studio at 2:08 a.m. Zurke finally appeared at 2:21. At that point, Bunny Berigan had been in the studio for over an hour.[i]

Bunny had every reason to be apprehensive about this date. He had no idea what Simon had in mind, and had to feel a bit of a twinge knowing that the other three trumpeters on the session, Charlie Spivak, Sonny Dunham, and especially Harry James, were each masters of their instrument, who undoubtedly would play well. Spivak was a lead trumpeter, so it was assumed that he would play lead. Dunham was a soloist specializing in forays into the high register of the trumpet that were not necessarily done with the utmost of musical taste. He was not an especially convincing jazz player. Harry James at that time was a superb lead trumpeter, and also a spectacular and often compelling jazz soloist. In terms of sheer technique, there was no trumpet player in 1939 who could surpass Harry James. (*)

Although Simon did not reveal how it was decided who would solo at which point on each of the two tunes recorded that night, I will speculate that since the arrangement on “Blue Lou,” used by both Tommy Dorsey’s and Benny Goodman’s bands (the first tune recorded), was used as the basic road map for the performance of that tune, and Tommy led the band through the recording of it [ii], TD had some input as to who would solo and where.

At the Metronome All-Star recording session – L-R: Tommy Dorsey; Bobby Burns; Berigan; George T. Simon; Benny Goodman.

The musicians started to rehearse “Blue Lou” at approximately 2:22 a.m. Choruses were assigned at 2:40, and a test was made at 2:45. After the band listened to the playback, it was decided to make another test. This was done at 2:55, but it was still not acceptable. Dorsey was leading the musicians through all of this, and making minor revisions to the arrangement as they went on. A third test was made at 3:08, and it was much better. The first master was attempted at 3:18; a second at 3:25; and a third at 3:29, which was marred by clinkers. The final master was made at 3:30, and this is the recording of “Blue Lou” that has been released and rereleased dozens of times since 1939. [iii]

The music:

This recording of Edgar Sampson’s tune is certainly among the best. The solos, in order, are by Berigan, Teagarden, Miller, Dunham, Goodman (who also played third alto in the sax section on a borrowed horn), Zurke, Bauduc, and then some parting thoughts by Berigan. These solos reveal that all of the featured musicians were excellent soloists, and when compared with the solos on the alternate takes, show that they were very comfortable improvising. On the issued take, the most fascinating comparison to be made however is in the jazz solos of the trumpeters Berigan and Dunham. Berigan’s sixteen swaggering bars are quintessential: he covers much of the range of his instrument, his sound is fat and round, even in the highest register; his jazz ideas are cogent; and his solo is suffused, bar by bar, with the feeling that anything might happen. There is nevertheless a very keen musical intelligence informing this solo.

Berigan solos on “Blue Lou” at the Metronome All-Star recording session. Under his trumpet are Hymie Shertzer’s hairline and Jack Teagarden’s head.

Here are trumpeter/writer Richard Sudhalter’s thoughts about Berigan’s and Dunham’s playing: “Berigan charges in with a typically long-lined, shapely four-bar phrase. An aggressive edge adds intensity to his tone, and when he shouts out his high D to open the second extended phrase, the sheer size of the sound seems about to overload the microphone. He rounds out his half-chorus solo with another pair of phrases. The first one dwells for a while on some almost growled blue minor thirds, accentuating the rather tough-minded mood of the solo. Then, in another leap to his high register, he concludes with a descending phrase of considerable eloquence. Dunham, taking it from the bridge, tries to equal Berigan, opening with a long middle-register exposition before leaping to his high register for a climax. His spectacular high-note playing on trumpet and trombone with the Casa Loma orchestra had made him something of a celebrity, but here he cannot compete: he lacks the full, compelling Berigan tone and overriding sense of purpose and form.” [iv]

Sonny Dunham: What am I going to play after that?

The progress of the development of the solos shown by the alternate takes reveals that Bunny was listening carefully to the way Dunham was organizing his solo, and then, when it came time to make the master, used all of that information to completely upstage Dunham. He in no way copied what Dunham had played. He simply distilled Dunham’s approach, which was to challenge Berigan, and turned it around and used it to cut Sonny. As Richard Sudhalter correctly observed, Bunny was definitely in the mood for combat that night: “It’s an affirmation, like a prizefighter who’s been on the ropes a time or two bringing his gloves together over his head to proclaim, ‘See, I’m still the champ.’” [v]  I have often wondered what Sonny Dunham was thinking immediately after he heard Berigan play the solo that is on the issued record. Most likely, it was, what am I going to play after that?

Tommy Dorsey, Berigan and Jack Teagarden.

Forty-two years later, George T. Simon made this comment about Bunny Berigan’s participation at the recording date that produced this version of “Blue Lou”: “All the musicians worshipped this guy. And that night he was in fine shape. No problems at all. He just pitched in—and played great.”[vi]  It is too bad that Simon could not have said this while Bunny was struggling to keep his band together in early 1939, or indeed while Bunny was still living. He certainly could have used some good press.

(*) Although because of some contractual reason Harry James’s name does not appear on the listing of musicians on the Victor disk containing “Blue Lou,” I think that he did play trumpet in the ensemble passages on this recording.

[i] Simon Says—The Sights and Sounds of the Swing Era, 1935–1955, by George T. Simon, Galahad Books (1971), 453–454, hereafter Simon Says. The liner notes for RCA Bluebird LP 7636-1-RB (1988), entitled The Metronome All-Star Bands, indicates that Leonard Joy supervised this session. Perhaps Eli Oberstein was “just visiting.”

[ii] Ibid.: 455.

[iii] Ibid.: 454. The White materials state that the arrangement on “Blue Lou” was the one Benny Goodman used, which had been written by Horace Henderson, and modified by his brother Fletcher. That does not mean, of course, that Tommy Dorsey’s band was not playing the same arrangement.

[iv] Giants of Jazz: 48.

[v] Lost Chords: 514.

[vi] Ibid.: 513. The second tune recorded that night was a blues on which Berigan did not solo.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Berigan with Tommy Dorsey – 1940 – episode two

Berigan rehearses with Tommy Dorsey’s band – early March 1940. His swollen condition is evident. Dorsey is at Bunny’s right, and to his right is trumpeter Ray Linn. Drummer Buddy Rich is in the background.

The story: The interlude from early March until late August 1940, when Bunny Berigan was with Tommy Dorsey’s band as its featured trumpet soloist, was a critical time for Berigan for a number of reasons. In late 1939 and into 1940, Bunny was hospitalized because the effects of cirrhosis on his liver and on his general health had caused him to suffer a physical collapse. Berigan had known at least since 1938 that his continuing consumption of alcohol was causing irreparable damage to his liver. He was shocked by this discovery, as one might expect. Nevertheless, his method of dealing with this dire chronic condition was to attempt to reduce his drinking. Being an alcoholic, this attempt at dealing with his cirrhosis was doomed to failure because Bunny had to have alcohol every day simply to function. After many months of him trying episodically to reduce his drinking, Berigan, feeling strong and well, concluded that he was “healthy.” So he continued living the life of a virtuoso trumpeter leading a a band that was almost constantly on tour, and drinking more or less as he always had. Then he collapsed around Christmas of 1939.

Another photo of Berigan at the same TD rehearsal depicted above. The derby on his head was used to mute his trumpet.

Berigan was leading a working, touring band when this health crisis occurred. His hospitalization required him to be away from his band for about two weeks. MCA (Music Corporation of America), the agency that booked the Berigan band, kept the band together and working while Bunny was away, usually by placing some “name” musician in front of it while it fulfilled committed play dates. Among the musicians who fronted the Berigan band in Bunny’s absence were trombonist Jack Teagarden and trumpeter Wingy Manone. When Berigan returned, still noticeably swollen and walking unsteadily on a cane, his musicians were unsure of how long his health would allow him to lead his band on tour while playing any number of demanding trumpet solos each night. Remarkably, the band continued to work with Berigan as its leader, and with very few personnel changes.

But as is so often the case, money factors, not human factors, brought about the end of this Berigan band. Due to a strange financial arrangement Bunny had become ensnared in in the summer of 1939, which involved MCA, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM – the musicians’ union), and Berigan, it was decided that Bunny owed more that $5,000.00 to MCA and AFM. Various agreements were put in place that would allow Bunny to continue leading a band (which he very much wanted), while a part of the Berigan’s earnings from the operation of the band would go to MCA and AFM to reduce the debt. MCA was the sole decider of where the Berigan band played and how much it would be paid. The agency booked the band to work steadily, but seemingly for less and less money. In the weeks after Bunny returned from his illness, there wasn’t enough money coming in to pay MCA and keep the band going. At that point, MCA pulled the plug on the Berigan band.

TD band members and others backstage at the Paramount Theater NYC – spring 1940. Among those pictured L-R: Red Skelton, second; Frank Sinatra, third; Ray Linn, sixth; Berigan and Les Jenkins seventh and eighth, both are imitating one of Skelton’s vaudeville poses. Ar right with a ping-pong paddle, Tommy Dorsey.

Enter Tommy Dorsey (who was having his own financial problems in early 1940). After some negotiation between MCA, TD and Bunny, it was agreed that Bunny would join the Dorsey band for a period of time, be paid an excellent salary (probably a base of $250 weekly, plus extra for recordings and sponsored radio shows – at a time when the average sideman in a big band was making between $60-$100 a week), and allow his creditors to be paid directly by Dorsey out of his weekly earnings. This strategem resulted in large chunks being taken out of Berigan’s debt, but Bunny himself being left with very little money each week. Still, Berigan went along with this plan because he saw it as a way of enabling him to resume leading his own band. It also took him off the road for awhile, allowing his exhausted body to recuperate, insofar as that was possible.

What it didn’t do was to address his underlying alcoholism. Even those around him, most certainly including Tommy Dorsey, told him he would have to stop drinking in order to continue his career in music, Bunny, being so strongly addicted to alcohol, did what he had done in the past: he tried to drink less. This plan of treatment was doomed to failure. Indeed, it ultimately resulted in Berigan’s death in June of 1942.

Against this background, I will set out the narrative of what went on in the summer of 1940, after Berigan had functioned rather well as the featured trumpet soloist in Tommy Dorsey’s band for the previous four months.


Tommy Dorsey band mid-1940. Berigan is the first trumpeter at left of the four trumpets.

On June 25, the Dorsey band began their thirteen week stint as Bob Hope’s summer replacement on the NBC Pepsodent radio show, entitled Summer Pastime during the thirteen weeks of its run. Variety reviewed the first broadcast: “Tommy Dorsey presides at a thoroughly enjoyable variety session, which should make listeners Pepsodent conscious. The spot is nicely paced with other talent, including vocalists Frank Sinatra and Connie Haines, who get a single each in which to show off their nice pipes. Tommy makes an amiable emcee and is allowed a good script. Guest is Jerry Lester, a fine comedian on a night club floor, who is handicapped by poor material and bad timing from the stooges. The show is over 62 NBC stations. If proof were needed, this half-hour reveals Dorsey as a showman capable of spreading his canvas over a full-sized radio lot.” [i]

 One of those “stooges” may have been Bunny Berigan. Bunny never excelled at public speaking, and apparently muffed some scripted lines on the first Pepsodent show, causing TD to become enraged. Soon thereafter, probably on the very next Pepsodent show, an untoward incident involving Berigan occurred.

30 Rock today. In 1940 this building housed the main studios for the NBC radio network.

Sometime during the run of the Pepsodent show, for which the Dorsey band was required to leave the Hotel Astor Roof Garden on Times Square and go by taxi to the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center for the 10:00–10:30 p.m. broadcast, the following tableau unfolded. There are numerous variations to this story, but the basic outline is as follows: “One night, Bunny told Bobby Burns (TD’s manager) that his wife, Donna, was coming into the Astor Roof for dinner, and he asked if it would be alright to sign the check. Bobby said that it was OK. Bunny sat at the table with Mrs. Berigan between sets. At the end of the dinner session, Bobby okayed Bunny’s dinner check which came to about $21.00. The band went to NBC to do the Pepsodent radio show. ‘Marie’ was on the program. When Bunny stood for his solo, he fell off the stand. ‘When we got back to the Astor Roof’ said Burns, ‘Tommy asked me to dig out Bunny’s dinner check and see what he (and Donna) had for dinner. On close scrutiny it showed a tab for twelve scotch and sodas and one ham sandwich.’” [ii]

Protagonists/antagonists: Bunny Berigan and Tommy Dorsey. They had a complicated relationship.

Ray Linn, who sat next to Berigan in TD’s trumpet section that night, picks up the narrative: “Bunny got quite a few lines of dialogue on the Pepsodent show, which also starred comedian Jerry Lester who did a lot of clowning around, including blowing a trombone. The pairing of the world’s greatest trombonist along with the planet’s very worst must have seemed like a natural to the masterminds at the agency that put the show together! That night, Bunny completely fell apart on, of all things ‘Marie,’ the opening number on the broadcast! He was the drunkest I’d ever seen him. How he was able to stand, let alone try to play, was a testimony to his rugged constitution. Attempting his F to high F glissando entrance to his 32 bar solo, nothing but a series of funny noises came out and it got worse! We were on the air, coast to coast on the NBC network, some 200 (sic) or more stations. Bunny stayed on his feet for about 8 bars, trying to fight it through, as he had done so many times before, but this time the booze was the winner. He literally could no longer play and putting down his horn, he fell heavily toward his chair, which he missed and dropped about four feet from the section-riser to the floor! Had he been sober, he would have undoubtedly broken several bones, but in his benumbed state he was unhurt and clambered back up on the bandstand with Jimmy Blake’s assistance. He didn’t attempt to play another note during the remaining 25 minutes or so of the program. He just sat it out and luckily there was nothing more for him to do on the show. This created a lot of disturbance during the broadcast, because all the mikes were wide open. Tenorman Don Lodice was the one who alertly jumped up when Bunny collapsed and blew the remaining 24 bars of Bunny’s chorus. Don really saved the day, because Clyde Hurley and Blake and I were dumbstruck by all this! After the show, Tommy came back of the bandstand and said to his manager Bobby Burns, ‘Get rid of him now, Burns, pay him off. I don’t want to see him back at the Astor!’ I was standing about six feet away, putting my horn in its case and overheard the whole thing. So Bunny was given a check for two week’s salary, fired on the spot and told never to come back!” [iii]  But as we shall see, Berigan did return, a bit later, to the Astor.

The date of this incident has usually been given as August 20, 1940, which appears to be the date Berigan and Dorsey finally parted company. I think it happened earlier than that, probably on July 2, because the NBC radio logs housed at the Library of Congress for the Pepsodent show indicate that “Marie” was the first tune played on that broadcast,[iv] and after that date, Berigan’s presence with the Dorsey band was sporadic. The Dorsey band began its appearance on the Pepsodent show on June 25. Trumpeter Clyde Hurley had left Glenn Miller’s band on May 31,[v] and joined TD’s band shortly thereafter. “I joined Tommy Dorsey in mid-June at the Astor Roof and I was given some solos right away. I figured Tommy wanted everybody to know that he’d hired me away from Glenn Miller! Bunny was still around, of course, but he was being featured less and less. (Trumpeters) Ray Linn and Jimmy Blake were both playing some lead parts and Bunny was still playing pretty good jazz horn, but he could only get up and blow for one chorus, after that he hadn’t much left. He no longer had the stamina to play long solos, his wind and his lip were both going. He was drinking heavily and was deep in debt, always trying to borrow from everybody. Tommy was holding back part of his wages each week, but Bunny didn’t gripe about it. Playing in the Dorsey band was a ball compared with the rigid inflexibility of the Glenn Miller band.” [vi]

Berigan solos with Tommy Dorsey’s band -1940.

There is evidence that Berigan was present and quite active  in the Dorsey band through mid-June. After the June 19 broadcast from the Astor Roof, there was another broadcast, on June 22, which featured Berigan playing a solo on “Dark Eyes.” Another such broadcast, from June 26, had him playing on “East of the Sun” and “Symphony in Riffs.” The White materials indicate that his solo on “East of the Sun” is not up to par.[vii]  On June 27, the Dorsey band recorded five tunes for Victor, all featuring vocals.[viii] There is no aural evidence that would indicate the presence of Berigan at this session. A photo of the Dorsey band from this period does not include Berigan.[ix]  But as we know, he was present for the Pepsodent broadcast on July 2. The Dorsey band checked into the Victor recording studios again on July 17, when they recorded seven titles, including the romping Buddy Rich drum feature “Quiet Please!” with Clyde Hurley taking the trumpet solo. Berigan was not at that recording session. There is a paucity of aircheck recordings of the TD band from June 26 to July 20, so we do not know if Bunny was in the Dorsey band during that time. One source indicates that during this period “Dorsey sent Berigan away for rehabilitation.”[x] This is far from an established fact, however, as I have seen only one other reference to Bunny going away for rehabilitation.[xi] Nevertheless, it is possible that at this juncture (through almost all of July) Berigan sought treatment for his alcoholism.

The July 20 broadcast from the Astor Roof includes numerous tunes with trumpet solos on them. The White materials indicate that Bunny may have been present, but did not play all of these trumpet solos. The titles on which he appears to solo are “Whispering,” “The Lonesome Road,” and “East of the Sun.” I have not heard these airchecks so I cannot comment on them. Likewise, I have not heard any of the recordings from the July 24 broadcast, but the White materials indicate that Bunny played a solo on “Swing High” on that date. I have heard “Old Gray Bonnet” from the July 27 broadcast, and can say with certainty that the trumpet solo on that tune was played by Clyde Hurley. And then there is the aircheck of “I Found a New Baby,” which appears to have been recorded from the August 3 broadcast, which definitely contains an excellent trumpet solo by Bunny Berigan. No diminution of his powers is noticeable in this performance.

Hotel Astor 1515 Broadway, Times Square NYC – 1940s. This building stood from 1904-1967. The site is now occupied by a nondescript skyscraper. Lindy’s Restaurant, favored by TD and Berigan, was on the 45th St. (north) side.

Recently, due to the great work being done by Dennis M. Spragg at the Glenn Miller Archive at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the full Tommy Dorsey broadcast from July 27, 1940 has been made available. I have heard the entire broadcast and can say that with the exception of “Old Gray Bonnet,” referred to above, Berigan was present and playing wonderfully both in the trumpet section (sometimes on lead trumpet), and as an inspired soloist.

The music: Presented here are two off-the-air recordings made from that NBC broadcast of the Tommy Dorsey band from the Hotel Astor in Manhattan on July 27, 1940, “Swingtime Up in Harlem,” and “March of the Toys.” It opens with a bit of TD’s theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” followed by NBC announcer Lyle Van introducing Tommy, and then talking with him about an amateur songwriter contest TD was running for a number of reasons having to do with his music publishing companies. Tommy then sets-up the new swinging rhythm tune, “Swingtime Up in Harlem,” composed by Joe Thomas who was the featured tenor sax soloist in the Jimmie Lunceford band. This version was arranged by Sy Oliver, formerly of the Jimmie Lunceford band, but by 1940 TD’s chief arranger.

“Swingtime Up in Harlem”

Composed by Joe Thomas; arranged by Sy Oliver.

Recorded from an NBC broadcast by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra at Hotel Astor Roof Garden  in New York City on July 27, 1940.

Tommy Dorsey, trombone, directing: Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet; Ray Linn, Clyde Hurley, Jimmy Blake, trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins, Lowell Martin, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Johnny Mince, alto saxophone; Don Lodice and Paul Mason, tenor saxophones; Freddie Stulce, baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano, Clark Yocum, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums; Connie Haines, vocal.

In this happy performance, the Dorsey band is tight and swinging. Tenor sax soloist Don Lodice plays a piquant solo, as does pianist Joe Bushkin, who rated an introduction from TD. Connie Haines swings the lyric quite effectively. Noteworthy for Berigan fans is the fact that Bunny is playing first trumpet throughout this performance, and then lights-up the last chorus with some spine-tingling high-register solo trumpeting. Despite comments mentioned above that Berigan’s playing was not up to his usual standard at this time, I sense no deterioration in his trumpeting skills. Indeed, Bunny’s high-register playing here is spectacular, and quite beyond the ability of most trumpeters in 1940.

“March of the Toys”

Composed by Victor Herbert; arranged by Deane Kincaide.

Deane Kincaide – 1940s.

This arrangement was very popular in the 1939-1940 time period, and it represented something of a watershed for arranger Deane Kincaide (1911-1992). After working his way through a number of bands in the mid and late 1930s, he landed in Tommy Dorsey’s band in early 1939, playing whatever saxophone needed covered in the section. The TD-Kincaide relationship predated that by about two years, however. Tommy first began buying arrangements from Kincaide in 1937. “Beale Street Blues” was one of the first Kincaide arrangements Dorsey recorded. It had a semi-Dixieland/semi-swing feeling to it that typified the music made by the Bob Crosby band (for whom Kincaide was a staff arranger), in the mid and late 1930s. Other similar Kincaide arrangements made their way into the TD library and onto record through 1938 and into 1939, including: “Washboard Blues,” “Panama,” “Tin Roof Blues,” “Copenhagen,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Down Home Rag,” “Davenport Blues,” and “Milenberg Joys.” All of these had an old-timey feel, yet at the same time were “modern” enough to be enjoyed by Tommy Dorsey’s mainstream swing-oriented audience. TD began to urge Kincaide to broaden his scope in 1938. The first two results of this were Kincaide’s arrangements of “Boogie Woogie,” and “Hawaiian War Chant,” both of which were very successful as TD Victor recordings and with the folks who came out to hear the Dorsey band in person. Kincaide’s first major success with a song from the classic American songbook was Victor Herbert’s “March of the Toys,” from Babes in Toyland. After his success with “March of the Toys” (recorded by TD on August 10, 1939 for Victor), Kincaide continued arranging classic pop tunes for TD until he moved on to other employment. Post-TD, Kincaide sold many arrangements to many other bandleaders throughout the 1940s, and then was a successful arranger in television through the 1950s and beyond.

Risk-taker Berigan.

In this performance we once again hear the beautifully rehearsed Tommy Dorsey band doing what it did do well for so long, …keeping the customers satisfied. By the time of this performance, Tommy and his band had played this arrangement literally dozens of times. On all extant recordings, the solos played by Johnny Mince on clarinet and Tommy Dorsey on trombone are virtually identical with earlier versions. Although Bunny Berigan had also played this arrangement many times in his previous five months as a Dorsey sideman, he never played the same solo twice. And what he does here is even more risky and challenging than anything he had ever done before in delivering this solo. He takes the Harmon mute he had been using with the other trumpeters in the preceding ensemble passage,  removes it from the bell of his trumpet, and uses it in mysterious ways by manipulating it in front of the bell of his trumpet and creates an other-worldly sound. Also, check out his extreme change of registers. Whenever Berigan played a solo, listeners were sure to be treated to the sound of surprise.

Note: I have received feedback from trumpeters whose expertise I respect that the mute Berigan used on his solo on “March of the Toys: was a Buzz-Wow mute.

[i] Variety: July 3, 1940, cited in the White materials.

[ii] Tommy and Jimmy—The Dorsey Years, by Herb Sanford, Arlington House (1972), 193. When it came to drinking, Bunny’s wife Donna was not a positive influence on him. In fact, she was a bad influence, not that he abstained when he was away from her.

[iii] White materials: August 20, 1940.

[iv] The NBC radio logs housed at the NBC Archive, Library of Congress, indicate that “Marie” was the first tune played on the Pepsodent Summer Pastime show that aired from 10:00–10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2, 1940. Information provided by Carl A. Hallstrom.

[v] Moonlight Serenade—A Bio-discography of the Glenn Miller Civilian Band, by John Flower, Arlington House (1972), 178.

[vi] White materials: June 14, 1940.

[vii] White materials: June 26, 1940.

[viii] One of the tunes recorded that day was “Only Forever.” After Frank Sinatra recorded “The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else),” he angrily walked out of the ongoing recording session because of a disagreement with TD over Tommy having Frank record cover versions of Bing Crosby tunes, one of which was “Trade Winds.” One more Sinatra vocal remained to be recorded on that date, “Only Forever.” TD tapped Clark Yocum from the Pied Pipers to sing the tune for the recording. When the Victor record came out, it identified the vocalist on “Only Forever” as “Allan Storr.” To compound this, MCA then began circulating promotional photos of TD and his singers, with Clark Yocum being identified as “Allan Storr.” To complicate this further, an autograph book containing the signatures of many of the members of Tommy Dorsey’s band in early 1938 contains the signature of Allan Storr. Clark Yocum, who was also one of the singing Pied Pipers, did not join the TD band until 1939.

[ix] White materials: June 22, 1940.

[x] Livin’ in a Great Big Way: 131. This biography of Tommy Dorsey is worthwhile, but is not particularly scrupulous in terms of scholarship, and contains numerous factual errors. The definitive biography of Tommy Dorsey is yet to be written.

[xi] Berigan band vocalist Danny Richards told one of the White researchers that Bunny attempted some sort of assisted rehabilitation on one or two occasions. If this ever occurred, it seems that the period from early July, 1940 into August, 1940, when Berigan appeared with Tommy Dorsey’s band only sporadically, was when it could have happened.

The unique recordings posted here are provided courtesy of Dennis M. Spragg of the Glenn Miller Archive of the University of Colorado-Boulder. The digital transfers from the original 16″ acetate disks on which these recordings were made were done by Mr. Spragg. I must also acknowledge Sony Legacy which archives these historical recordings. Digital remastering of these recordings by Mike Zirpolo.

Episode One of the Bunny Berigan – Tommy Dorsey story can be found here:

“I Can’t Get Started” (1937)

I have received a number of inquiries asking why I haven’t posted Bunny Berigan’s most famous recording, “I Can’t Get Started,” yet here at  The answer is that I have posted it already at  That of course does not mean that I can’t or shouldn’t post it here also. So, here it is:

“I Can’t Get Started” (1937) Bunny Berigan

 Music composed by Vernon Duke, lyric by Ira Gershwin.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on August 7, 1937 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet, Irving Goodman, trumpet; Thomas “Sonny” Lee, first trombone; Al George, trombone; Robert “Mike” Doty, first alto saxophone; Giuseppi Ischia (Joe Dixon), alto saxophone; Clyde Rounds and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Joe Lippman, piano; Tommy Morgan(elli), guitar; Frederick “Hank” Wayland, bass; George Wettling, drums. Arrangement by Bunny Berigan, adapted for this band by Joe Lippman.

The Story:

Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan (1908-1942), was one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of his time, and a giant of the swing era. The fact that he died when he was thirty-three years old (from cirrhosis of the liver), only five years after he began to lead his own band, is the largest reason why he is not better known to the general public today. There are many other smaller reasons. Nevertheless, among those who have some knowledge of the history of jazz, his name is well-known. His reputation for most of the last seventy-five years has been based largely on a few commercial recordings, most notably his bravura performance of the Vernon Duke-Ira Gershwin song “I Can’t Get Started,” which he used as his theme, cm_0001_0002_0_img0010and a handful of the other records he made with his band for RCA Victor. In the more recent past, other commercial recordings he made as a bandleader have provided some additional evidence of what a great jazz trumpeter he was, and what very good bands he usually led. Still other studio recordings he made, either as a featured soloist (as with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey), or as an anonymous sideman (the dozens of commercial records he made in the early to mid-1930s where he functioned as a member of ad hoc bands, usually backing a vocalist), provide still more proof of his stature as an inspired jazz soloist and flexible session player.

We know that the basic outlines for Berigan’s classic Victor Records performance of “I Can’t Get Started” had been created by him in early 1936 when he first began to perform it at a small jazz club, the Famous Door, on Manhattan’s fabled “Swing Street,” West 52nd, between Fifth and Seventh Avenues. The Vocalion recording he made of the song on April 13, 1936 (posted elsewhere on this blog, with a link to it provided below), provides an early snapshot in the evolution of his treatment of it. But over time, Berigan made subtle changes in the arrangement. By the time he was ready to record it with his big band, his conception of how it should be presented had been carefully refined, and now included an extended rubato (out of tempo) opening cadenza to display his virtuosity on trumpet, and fill space on a twelve-inch record (see below). Later in the spring of 1936, he became the featured trumpet soloist on the CBS network radio show Saturday Night Swing Club, and continued on that show into 1937, when his duties leading his own band took all of his time and attention.

The Berigan band’s recordings of “I Can’t Get Started” and “The Prisoner’s Song” were issued back-to-back on the twelve-inch Victor record 36208, and were a part of an album of four such records entitled A Symposium of Swing, Victor C-28. “RCA Victor has given the wax cult something to really shout about. Spreading their stuff on 12 incbb-paradise-005hes of wax and packeted in an album dressed up with concert notes by swing critic Warren Scholl, candid camera shots of the wand-wavers and personnel of the tooters, Victor Hall of Fame’s A Symposium of Swing(C-28) features Tommy Dorsey, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman & Bunny Berigan.”  (Billboard: September 18, 1937) Benny Goodman’s contribution to this collection was the two-sided blockbuster “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Tommy Dorsey’s was “Stop, Look and Listen,” backed by “Beale Street Blues.” Fats Waller’s disc in this set had “Honeysuckle Rose” on side A, and “Blue Turning Gray over You” on side B. Both of these performances were by Fats Waller and His Rhythm.[i]

[i] The information concerning the Waller disc in the album A Symposium of Swing came from big band historian Christopher Popa, who operates the Big Band Library website.

The music:

The late jazz trumpeter Richard M. Sudhalter, a most sensitive and perceptive critic of Berigan’s music, analyzed this classic recording as follows:

“An introduction—an extended cadenza over four different sustained chords in the key of C—had been added by this time, but otherwise Berigan’s routine had  not changed since the Vocalion recording. But whereas the Vocalion comes across as a virtuoso performance of a great song, the Victor version presents itself as a kind of concerto, a tour de force for a trumpeter of imagination and daring having impeccable command of his instrument. A younger player, raised on the finger-snarling complexities of bebop, might listen to this recording and wonder what all the fuss was about—until he tried to play it and learned the killing difficulty of executing this kind of top-to-bottom endurance contest with polish, power, and Berigan’s broad tone. It is both an athletic feat and a supreme test of musicianship and emotional strength.

lippman-001The introduction itself is no small feat, ranging from the lowest note on the trumpet to more than two octaves above that, with every note struck square, full, and fat. Berigan follows with eight bars of straight melody, as he did on the Vocalion record. But there is a different feeling here: something tighter, grander in scope, more aware, perhaps, of the importance of this performance. His tone is especially broad and lustrous, his phrasing generous.

The saxes take eight more bars while Berigan moves to the microphone for his vocal. He sings the Ira Gershwin lyric again in that curiously appealing voice. His phrasing constantly recalls his trumpet playing: Note the snap he gives to ‘still I can’t get no place with you,’ and his note-for-trumpet-note rendering of ‘…cause I can’t get started with you’ at the end of the chorus.

There is no tenor solo after the vocal on this one—just the full band sustaining big, fat chords and drummer George Wettling laying down a solid beat as Berigan takes to his horn for the climax. (Above left are the Berigan band rhythm section in the spring of 1937: L-R Tommy Morgan, guitar; Arnold Fishkind, bass; Geroge Wettling, drums; and Joe Lippman, piano. By the time the Victor recording of “I Can’t Get Started” was made, Hank Wayland had replaced Fishkind on bass.) Again, there are four little episodes of two bars each: two in the upper middle register, two lower down, then a final clarion call, a series of strong, singing high Cs, balanced on perfectly cmr-trumpet-cover-2-003ontrolled lip trills, to push off his half-chorus assault on the summit. It is all done in that punishing high register, and all with no loss of power, tone size, or melodic shape. There is a magnificent lunge to a high F in bar three, the chimelike E flats at the end of bar four, the same descent with its echo of Louis Armstrong. There is no longer the thrill of discovery in this performance. Berigan is retracing familiar steps by now, but because of that this performance radiated a greater assurance. At the end, rather than going straight to the high E flat as he had a year and a half earlier, Berigan spins things out a bit for the sake of drama. He plays first his B flat, drops to a G for a moment to build tension, and then, after an artful pause, vaults to the high E flat and finds it waiting there for him as the band chimes in underneath to finish the performance.”[i]

[i] Time-Life Records Giants of Jazz-Bunny Berigan (1982), by Richard M. Sudhalter, page 43.

Numerous trumpeters have pointed out to me that the contrasting low-register and high-register playing for which Bunny Berigan was renowned, and which is on full display in this classic performance of “I Can’t Get Started,” is something that was facilitated by his uncommon control of the trumpet’s lowest range. Berigan’s frequent vaults into the highest register of the trumpet were very often “set-up,” both technically and musically, by his playing in the lowest range of the horn immediately before. This allowed his chops to receive maximum blood circulation so that when he went upstairs, his sound would remain full and rich, not pinched or piercing.

Another interesting sidelight to both this recording and its predecessor is how much Bunny Berigan had altered the original Ira Gershwin lyric. Most of this retooling had been done by the time the Vocalion recording was made. But the process of evolution had nevertheless continued after that recording. Here is a comparison between the original lyric as written by Ira Gershwin and what Berigan sang on his Victor recording:


IG: I’ve flown around the world in a plane;

BB: I’ve flown around the world in a plane;

IG: I’ve settled revolutions in Spain;

BB: I’ve settled revolutions in Spain;

IG: The North Pole I have charted, but I can’t get started with you.

BB: And the North Pole I have charted, still I can’t get started with you.

IG: Around a golf course, I’m under par;

BB: On the golf course, I’m under par;

IG: And all the movies want me to star;

BB: Metro-Goldwyn have asked me to star;

IG: I’ve got a house, a showplace, but I get no place with you.

BB: I’ve got a house, a showplace, still I can’t get no place with you.

IG: You’re so supreme, lyrics I write of you;

BB: ‘Cause you’re so supreme, lyrics I write of you;

IG: Scheme, just for the sight of you;

BB: I dream, dream day and night of you:

IG: Dream, both day and night of you,

BB: And I scheme, just for the sight of you,

IG: And what good does it do?

BB: Baby, what good does it do?

IG: In nineteen twenty-nine I sold short;

BB: I’ve been consulted by Franklin D.;

IG: In England I’m presented at court;

BB: Greta Garbo has had me to tea;

IG: But you’ve got me downhearted,

BB: Still I’m broken hearted,

IG: ‘Cause I can’t get started with you.

BB: ’Cause I can’t get started with you.[i]


I’ll leave it to you to judge which lyric works best.

[i] This comparison was first made by Vince Danca in his self-published booklet entitled Bunny (1978), 18–19.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Here is a link to Bunny’s earlier small-group recording of “I Can’t Get Started”:


“Heigh-Ho – The Dwarfs’ Marching Song” (1938)


Flagship store: Sak’s Fifth Avenue – Thanksgiving night, 2017. This light display covered the entire eight story Fifth Avenue facade.

I was recently in Manhattan. New York during the holiday season is always particularly exciting, especially along Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center, where the many retail retail stores go all-out to try to top each other with their holiday decorations. Year-after-year, it seems that the folks at Saks Fifth Avenue, whose flagship store is directly across Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center, impress me most with the incredible illuminated decorations on the exterior of their eight story building, and the life-like and animated displays in the many display windows at sidewalk level. This year, Saks partnered with Disney to create many window displays and a magnificent light display that celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length totally animated Hollywood feature film.

I was there there on Thanksgiving night with those who are near and dear to me. The sea of humanity surrounding Saks,  and across Fifth Avenue on the Promenade and around the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink, was so dense that it was almost impossible to walk. But it was a delightful experience because it was a brisk evening, everyone was excited by the many illuminated holiday displays, and the by generally stimulating Gotham atmosphere.

The Saks displays reminded me of a delightful recording made by Bunny Berigan of one of the most memorable songs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “Heigh-Ho, The Dwarfs’ Marching Song.” Here is that classic swing take on Disney:

“Heigh-Ho (The Dwarfs’ Marching Song)”

Composed by Frank Churchill (music) and Larry Morey (words); arrangement probably by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on January 26, 1938 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Thomas B. “Sonny” Lee and Al George, trombones; Mike Doty and Joe Dixon, alto saxophones; Clyde Rounds and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Fulton McGrath, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass, Dave Tough, drums; Gail Reese, vocal.

The story: The Berigan band did some one-nighters within a 150 mile radius of the New York area for a few days before they opened for a week at the Brunswick Hotel in Boston on Tuesday, January 18, 1938. That job ended on the 24th. They then returned to New York for a Victor recording session on the 26th. Bunny’s band was used by Victor to promote four current pop tunes with Gail Reese vocals. The most notable of  these was “Heigh-Ho, (The Dwarfs’ Marching Song),” which was a part of the musical score for Walt Disney’s film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

By this time Joe Lippman, who had spent the previous eleven months touring with Berigan, as well as playing piano in the Berigan band,  was remaining in New York to write arrangements for Bunny. He probably fashioned the joyously romping arrangement  we hear on “Heigh-Ho.” His place in the band had been taken on an interim basis by pianist Fulton “Fidgey” McGrath. 

On this recording, the Berigan band and Bunny himself were obviously energized by Dave Tough’s electric presence on drums. After being fired by Tommy Dorsey for drunkenness, Tough was hired by Berigan, probably around January 15. Tough was not a super-technician on the drums, nevertheless he had the uncanny ability to impart enormous swing in any band he played with and at any tempo. Bunny and his sidemen were elated. Berigan’s stalwart saxophonist Clyde Rounds recalled the diminutive Mr. Tough:

Dave Tough and Berigan at the January 26, 1938 Victor recording session.

“Davey, as we all called him, was a man of many parts. Of Scottish descent, he could be as dour as any true member of the kilt set, or convulse us with his outrageously wild sense of humor. Also highly intelligent and imaginative, he could have been a successful writer, poet or composer. He was the best and most solid drummer I ever worked with, who despised the idea of a drummer being a flashy soloist in the Krupa tradition, and played very few solos himself. Like Bunny and his predecessor George Wettling, Davey had a strong affinity for hard liquor, and also like Bunny, he couldn’t stay on the wagon for long. Rollo Laylan (an interim drummer with Berigan) couldn’t swing the band, and the difference with Davey Tough in the driving seat was obvious to musicians and listeners alike. Bunny had auditioned several drummers, but none of them had what he was looking for. When he heard that Tough was available, he went all out to get him, and dispensed with an audition.”[i]

Dave Tough.

[i] White materials: January 26, 1938.  In addition to having a chronic problem with alcohol, Dave Tough was epileptic. These two demons were difficult for him to control, and he suffered periodic collapses. Nevertheless, during the periods he was well, he provided nonpareil rhythmic support for many of the best bands of the swing era.

The music: “Heigh-Ho” is given a romping up-tempo treatment in 2/4 time. This is a happy-sounding performance that I’m sure the band didn’t take too seriously. But that doesn’t mean they did not invest the music with great spirit. There has been speculation about the source of the arrangement on “Heigh-Ho”; Deane Kincaide has been mentioned as the possible writer. I cannot say definitively who wrote this chart, but it certainly does not sound like anything Kincaide was writing then for the Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, or Tommy Dorsey bands. Nevertheless, Kincaide himself recalled “doing a Disney tune for a Berigan record date,” so on that basis, it is certainly possible that this arrangement is his. My educated guess however is that Joe Lippman wrote this chart. He was, after all, Bunny’s chief arranger, and go-to man for any arrangements that would showcase Berigan’s dynamic trumpet playing.

Bunny and Gail Reese – on tour, fall 1937.

After the fanfare-like marching intro, Bunny states the melody with great swing, using a buzzing straight mute. After the band plays a bit, Gail Reese sings the hardly poetic lyric well, projecting a happy feeling. Then the maestro returns with a few bars of torrid open horn trumpeting. Note how Tough provides a solid swinging beat behind Berigan on his high-hat cymbals, fairly levitating him. Ms. Reese returns for more hi-hoing, followed by an upward modulation by the band into Georgie Auld’s brief tenor sax solo. The entire ensemble romps on  into the joyous finale, led by Berigan’s trumpet on top and drummer Tough’s back-beats and bass drum on the bottom. Heigh-Ho indeed!

The recording presented here was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.