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 theSeven 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:
“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]
[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.
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.
Composed by William Johnson, Julian Dash and Erskine Hawkins.
Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra live from an NBC radio network broadcast from the Astor Hotel Roof Garden in New York City in early June, 1940.
Tommy Dorsey, trombone, directing: Bunny Berigan, Ray Linn, Jimmy Blake, Leon Debrow, trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins, Lowell Martin, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, Johnny Mince, alto saxophones; Don Lodice and Paul Mason, tenor saxophones; Freddie Stulce, baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano, Clark Yokum, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
I have previously posted at swingandbeyond.com a detailed history of the swing era classic “Tuxedo Junction.” That post focuses on the origination in 1939 of “Tuxedo Junction” in the Erskine Hawkins band, and the later phenomenally successful refashioning of it by Glenn Miller. This post will examine Bunny Berigan’s association with “Tuxedo Junction,” first in Tommy Dorsey’s band in the spring and summer of 1940, and then with his own band, starting in the fall of 1940.
After Glenn Miller’s recording of “Tuxedo Junction” became a runaway hit in the spring of 1940, many other bands rushed to create their own interpretations of it. One such band was Tommy Dorsey’s. TD’s chief arranger in 1940 was Sy Oliver, whose charts on new pop tunes were every bit as good as his original composition/arrangements. Oliver’s direct, colorful and always swinging writing appealed to both Tommy Dorsey’s audiences and to the musicians in the Dorsey band.
Oliver’s arrangement of “Tuxedo Junction” contained a large place for an improvised trumpet solo, created especially for Bunny Berigan, who from March through August of 1940, was TD’s featured jazz trumpet soloist. The version presented here shows that Berigan was stimulated by both “Tuxedo Junction” and Oliver’s writing. His jazz solo in this live performance is terrific. The tempo Oliver used in this arrangement was slower than that used by Erskine Hawkins and faster than the one used by Glenn Miller: half-fast, as Louis Armstrong used to say. Berigan’s trumpet, which he plays open throughout this arrangement, begins this performance with a fragment of the melody as an introduction, then the TD reeds and brass deliver an entire chorus of “Tuxedo Junction.” As was often the case, there is a wonderful compositional flow to his improvised solo, which displays his broad, lustrous trumpet sound. Berigan begins his solo quitely, gradually increasing the intensity of his playing, reaching an exciting climax and relaxed denouement. That is Berigan’s trumpet by the way, leading the ensemble in the finale.
(Note: The arrangement Sy Oliver wrote for the Tommy Dorsey band on “Tuxedo Junction” included a chorus following Berigan’s solo that showcased the Pied Pipers singing quartet presenting the newly written lyric for the tune. I have excised that portion to highlight Berigan’s trumpet solo.)
Composed by William Johnson, Julian Dash and Erskine Hawkins; head arrangement organized by William Johnson and then modified by the Berigan band.
Recorded live from an NBC radio broadcast from the “Dancing Campus” of the New York World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows, New York on October 14, 1940.
Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Jack Thompson, lead trumpet; Frank Perry and Ray Krantz, trumpets; Ernie Stricker and Max Smith, trombones; Eddie Alcock lead alto saxophone; Andy Fitzgerald alto and baritone saxophone, and clarinet; Frank Crolene and Johnny Castaldi, tenor saxophones; Edwin “Buddy” Koss, piano; Tommy Moore, guitar; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Jack Maisel, drums.
Berigan left Tommy Dorsey’s band toward the end of August of 1940 for a number of reasons, paramount of which was that he wanted to be a bandleader once again. He organized and began rehearsing a new big band in September, and by early October was breaking his new band on jobs in and around New York City. The book of arrangements this new band played started out with many of the charts used by the 1937-early 1940 Berigan band, some new scores written by two musicians in the new band, Andy Fitzgerald and Frank Crolene, and a few Bunny snagged from fellow bandleaders who were disposed to help him. The arrangement Berigan used on “Tuxedo Junction” was given to him by fellow trumpet-playing bandleader Erskine Hawkins, and is the very same one the Hawkins band recorded for Bluebird in July of 1939.
What is interesting, in addition to Berigan’s own trumpet solos, which are fresh and new, is how the Hawkins arrangement (which was really a simple sketch prepared by Hawkins’s lead alto saxophonist and arranger Bill Johnson), evolved in performance by this new Berigan band. Although there were no dramatic changes, there were nevertheless a few new twists. First and most importantly, Bunny, like Glenn Miller, slowed down the tempo from the one used by Hawkins, but not to the crawl of the classic Miller recording, and like Miller he played this arrangement in 4/4 time. Second, he allowed almost all of the solo space to himself, muting his trumpet with a plunger at first, then using a cup mute, concluding with the plunger again. (The tasty clarinet solo is by Andy Fitzgerald. The fine guitar work throughout is by Tommy Moore.) That was not because Berigan wanted to exclude his sidemen from taking solos, but because he loved playing “Tuxedo Junction,” and especially enjoyed creating new improvisations on it. Berigan’s arrangement contrasted the melodic unison saxophones with bursts of open brass. Moreover, because “Tuxedo Junction” was such an audience-pleaser, it became a feature for Berigan’s trumpet that remained in his band’s book, and was played frequently by him until the end, which sadly would come all to soon, on June 2, 1942, when he died from cirrhosis at age 33. (*)
(*) During the five years he led big bands, Berigan gradually acquired a number of medium tempo arrangements that were showcases for his solo trumpet, were ideal for dancing, and were played often by him. In addition to “Tuxedo Junction,” these included: “Trees,” and “Night Song.”
The recordings presented here were digitally remastered with considerable sonic restoration by Mike Zirpolo.
Composed by Irving Berlin; arranged by Andy Phillips.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra live at Manhattan Center, New York City, September 26, 1939.
Bunny Berigan, Jake Koven,Truman Quigley, Carl “Bama” Warwick, trumpets; Mark Pasco, Al Jennings, trombones; Charlie DiMaggio (as/cl) Joe DiMaggio (as/cl); Larry Walsh (ts/bs); Stuart Anderson (ts/cl), reeds; Edwin “Buddy” Koss, piano; Tommy Moore, guitar; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Paul Collins, drums; Danny Richards, vocal.
The story: As a change of pace, I am going to post parts of a recent review of “Mr. Trumpet” that I think says something that Berigan fans will benefit from. Authors always are grateful for reviews because reviews indicate that: a) someone read your book; and b) they cared enough about what they read to write about it. Reviews come in all sizes and levels of seriousness. I prefer reading reviews that are thoughtful, which this one is. However, even the most even-handed review may not be 100% accurate in terms of the historical record. That is beside the point. The point is that the reviewer thought that the book he read merited some expression of his opinion, and he took the time and effort to write a review. For that, I say many thanks.
I am posting only the parts of the review that directly discuss Bunny Berigan and/or “Mr. Trumpet.”
“One bedrock requirement for a musician seeking such a secure and well-paid job (at CBS Radio as a staff musician, which Berigan was) was the ability to sight-read sheet music, quickly and accurately. Another was stringent professionalism, as there was no way of correcting mistakes. It was one take, and gone into the irreparable ether.
It was into this dynamic milieu that a young man named Bunny Berigan landed with noticeable fanfare. As with so many others, Berigan at first accepted the corporate paycheck. It brought him to the big city, but he yearned for something more.
The jazz bug had bitten him, and now jazz itself was morphing into something else beyond small groups in dingy speakeasies. The backroom combo became the ballroom big band, fusing the spirit of improvisation with the crowd-pleasing predictability of increasingly sophisticated arrangements, both at the point of origin and for a far wider audience of nightly radio listeners.
Berigan was perfectly suited for the advent of swing, quickly forsaking the remunerative safety of studio employment in the Big Apple to play in constantly touring big bands, first as a featured sideman, and later as leader of his own aggregations.
Berigan’s high water mark as a big band leader came during the late 1930s, when the swing era still was in its ascendancy. By the standards of the day, he had it all: professional respect, personal popularity, a wife, children, house and car. But by 1942 Berigan was dead, his liver ravaged by cirrhosis, the victim of stunningly heavy drinking. Three-quarters of a century later, very few Americans remember Bunny Berigan, but for a while before most of us were born, he could do no wrong. Even Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong thought as much.
Long after the big bands provided America’s WWII soundtrack, a Canadian named Neil Young suggested it was better to burn out than fade away. Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan provided a case study in how to do it, with nary an electric guitar in sight. Berigan began as a fair-haired, corn-fed lad from Wisconsin, preternaturally talented and instinctively musical. He lived the normal Midwestern life of the time, made it through high school and dabbled at college. He was quiet and generally affable, and always regarded warmly by his friends and associates.
Seemingly destined for great musical achievements, his trumpeting skills took him to New York City, where his studio prowess can be heard, usually uncredited, briefly salvaging numerous pop songs with no redeeming qualities whatever, save Berigan’s inspired soloing. Berigan’s trumpeting style still stands out from the era’s norm. He had the rare technical ability to play well in the instrument’s lowest and highest registers, with an amazingly burnished, broad clarity of tone. His was not the agitated attack of a Harry James. Berigan’s improvised solos were thoughtfully calculated, lyrical and “risky,” as trumpet players liked to describe them.
In fact, Berigan’s solos were as iconic in their time as Eddie Van Halen’s were a half century later, whether for Benny Goodman (“King Porter Stomp,” “Sometimes I’m Happy”); Tommy Dorsey (“Marie,” “Song of India”); or in the trumpeter’s own bands, as with his greatest hit, “I Can’t Get Started.”
Earlier in the year, I read a biography of Berigan: Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan, by Michael P. Zirpolo. It is one of two major biographies written about the musician; the other is Bunny Berigan: Elusive Legend of Jazz, by Robert Dupuis. Zirpolo’s book isn’t perfect, but it’s as definitive a survey as any writer is likely to produce at this late date, when none of Berigan’s contemporaries are alive to tell the tale. Granted, the author is far from a disinterested party, and on occasion seems happy to reprise ancient blood feuds and eager to pick a side in them, as with the big band journalist George T. Simon’s purported indifference, perhaps even antipathy, to Berigan. Simon began as fanboy swing enthusiast, started young as a writer, and perhaps most unforgivably to his enemies, outlived just about everyone else who’d been there at the time, thereby achieving a cult status through sheer longevity.
Zirpolo also isn’t always kind to Berigan’s long-suffering wife, who wasn’t prepared for the jazz lifestyle or her husband’s infidelities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she had a drinking problem of her own, and probably deserves greater benefit of the doubt.
Far more informatively, Zirpolo amply describes the entertainment industry milieu in which Berigan and so many other musicians struggled to stay afloat amid the machinations of resident charlatans, piranhas and cutthroats. Indeed, these are constants throughout showbiz history, and perhaps Zirpolo’s greatest single contribution in writing his biography of Berigan is to settle accounts with those (like Simon) who continued to insist that the trumpeter was an indifferent businessman and a poor bandleader.
At least some of Berigan’s circumstances were extenuating. It’s true that as a bandleader during two separate stints, he was beset by simple bad luck, seemingly unable to catch a break. We know he drank too much. At the same time, he was badly served by monopolistic booking agencies, conniving managers and uncooperative record company executives. More importantly, far from being detached, Berigan exhibited considerable skill in recruiting and drilling his musicians, constantly receiving positive reviews from the public even when cash-poor and operating at a loss, which seems inevitable given the challenging economics of one-night stands and a paucity of recording opportunities in the latter stages of Berigan’s short career.
Ultimately, the story of Bunny Berigan’s life is inseparable from the tragedy of his early death. Zirpolo cites a former Berigan sideman’s testimony that near the end, his boss was drinking two bottles of rye whiskey per day; his cirrhosis, for which the author posits a genetic predisposition, steadily worsened, and the trumpeter was broke and living out of a suitcase. Without intervention, it was only a matter of time. Still, numerous accounts confirm that Berigan’s embouchure, chops and ability to perform remained largely intact amid this onslaught, until just before his liver finally disintegrated.We now understand that alcoholism is a disease, and while Berigan certainly refrained from treating it, the support mechanism for sobriety had not yet come into its own. Taking time away for treatment subsequently became a rite of passage for rock stars, but societal attitudes hardly supported this approach at the time. Berigan was left to his own devices, stuck in a moment like a hamster on a treadmill, unable to stop trying to make money even as the pace of his efforts left him increasingly indebted, with a break-even point that arrived only when he died. It’s useless, sad and infuriating, but in the end, it just is.
Zirpolo documents Berigan’s life more than capably, and I recommend the book.
The music of the big band era has survived the departure of its creators and consumers, albeit as tribute rather than preference, according to the half-life that follows the demise of cultural relevance.
In retrospect, the era of peak big band in America was remarkably short-lived – ten, maybe twelve years at most. The music rose out of the Depression, reached a crescendo during World War II, and receded just as quickly at war’s end.
We can listen to Berigan’s recorded output; ponder his many might-have-beens, and imagine the musical scene long since passed. All of it, a society and culture, have been consigned to the history books. At times it is a melancholy remembrance, though a necessary one, at least for me.”
The music: In the late summer of 1939, after a series of financial reversals, Berigan became ensnared in a tangled business situation involving MCA (Music Corporation of America), his booking agent, Arthur Michaud his former personal agent, and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), the union he and all of the musicians in his band were members of. The net result was that Bunny almost lost the band he had so carefully built over the previous two and a half years. (Among those who left at the end of a successful week at Manhattan’s Loew’s State Theater in late August were: tenor saxophonist Don Lodice, alto saxophonist/clarinetist Gus Bivona, pianist Joe Bushkin, and lead trumpeter Johnny Napton.) He was forced to file a bankruptcy petition (which inexplicably did not discharge his debts), and made several other business decisions that left him utterly without money. His method of dealing with these setbacks was to leave it to others to attempt to work out a financial solution, while he continued touring, with a largely reorganized band which he whipped into shape in a short time.
After a six week engagement at Hotel Sherman in Chicago in July and August, and then the stay at the Loew’s-State Theater, Berigan hired a number of new musicians, and began a long string of one-night stands through most of September 1939. He returned to New York for a short time at the end of that month, appearing at Manhattan Center on September 29, from where a radio broadcast of the band was scheduled. This engagement held a pleasant surprise for Bunny. Paul Collins, who was the drummer in the Berigan band then, recalled: “That broadcast was Martin Block’s Swing Session program and Glen Gray’s Casa Loma orchestra played opposite us. They played ‘I Can’t Get Started’ as a tribute to Bunny, using his famous arrangement and featuring Murray McEachern on trombone. He played it extremely well, except for very last high note on the coda, when he stopped playing, turned and bowed towards Bunny.” Berigan, who was not a man given to demonstrations of emotion, on this occasion was moved to tears.
On “I Poured My Heart into a Song,”we hear Bunny’s capacious, velvety low register before the vocal; then after it the perfectly lip-trilled high C followed by the huge, ringing high F at the end. This is a classic example of many of Berigan’s stylistic devices, all delivered with dramatic authority. This song was composed by Irving Berlin for the 1939 Fox film Second Fiddle, and the arrangement we hear was written by Andy Phillips. Note how effectively he deploys the open Berigan trumpet in the first chorus melody statement and transition into the vocal chorus.
Danny Richards sings here, and we hear what a fine vocalist he was. His robust voice quality, sense of pitch and range were excellent, and he could put a song over subtly but persuasively. In the two-plus years (with interruptions) he was Berigan’s boy vocalist, he was consistently popular with audiences, and much appreciated by Bunny himself. (Listen after Richards sings the word “apart” toward the end of the vocal chorus; Berigan can be heard in the background saying …“Yyyess, Danny!”)Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against Richards making many commercial records with Bunny. Andy Phillips went on to considerable success writing arrangements for Claude Thornhill.
Despite all of Bunny’s problems at the time this recording was made, the revamped Berigan band on this broadcast is loose and swinging, and his own playing is magnificent.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Composed by Duke Ellington: arranged by Joe Lippman.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on April 21, 1938 in New York.
Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky and Ray Conniff, trombones; Mike Doty alto saxophone and bass clarinet; and Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and B-flat clarinet; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones and B-flat clarinets; Joe Lippman, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.
The music: Bunny Berigan and his band finished the five-tune recording session of April 21, 1938 with one of Joe Lippman’s special arrangements. Berigan’s recording of Duke Ellington’s “Azure” is certainly one of the best treatments this sixteen-bar composition ever received. Lippman’s masterful arrangement on “Azure” is somewhat reminiscent of his great chart for the Berigan band on “Caravan.” In it are frequent changes of timbre and dramatic, contrasting uses of register and dynamics.
Bunny set a perfect dance tempo for this performance, which opens with three of the four saxists playing B-flat clarinets, with Joe Dixon on lead, and Mike Doty playing his bass clarinet. They play the eight-bar intro over drummer Johnny Blowers’s soft tom-toms, and oo-ah brass. Then Bunny sets out the sixteen-bar melody with an open trumpet displaying his unique low register sound; here it is velvety, indeed sumptuous. Berigan, as was often his wont, shapes the notes he plays. Behind him, the reeds provide color, Doty’s bass clarinet again being noteworthy, with the brass adding subtle emphases.
After this, the open brass play what amounts to a miniature fanfare, and Bunny’s suddenly brilliant high register trumpet projects a commanding and stirring transitional figure that ushers in the four-man Berigan reed section, now playing their saxophones. Their sixteen-bar chorus is a model of unity and singing (and swinging) expressiveness. Behind them are Blowers’s insistent high-hat cymbals, solid bass and guitar rhythm, and a few strategically placed brass oo-ahs. A brief muted brass interlude (led by Berigan’s cup-muted trumpet) is followed by a few more bars of splendid work by the saxophones. Then Lippman’s arrangement sets the reeds against the open brass, after which Georgie Auld plays a few bars of solo tenor saxophone. The climax arrives when the Berigan-led open brass, with warm reed voicings beneath them, reprise the melody again, but in the high register. (Hear them shake on their high notes!) The denouement comes via a bit of Joe Dixon’s clarinet, and a reprise of Bunny’s warm, low register trumpet.
This is a remarkable performance of a magnificently constructed arrangement. Few, if any critics have noted what superbly creative use Joe Lippman made of the rather limited instrumental resources available to him in Berigan’s thirteen-piece band with this arrangement. The most salient of those thirteen instruments was one singularly expressive musical voice: Bunny Berigan’s trumpet. This is another one of the “essentials” for Berigan aficionados.
The story: The Brian Rust discography states that the arrangement for Duke Ellington’s recording of “Azure,” recorded by Ellington for Irving Mills’s Master label on May 14, 1937, was written by Joe Lippman.[i] This assertion was denied by Lippman himself. It is significant however that the record that contained Duke’s “Azure (Master 131), had “Caravan” on the other side. This disk probably provided Lippman with the inspiration for the splendid arrangements he wrote for Berigan on both “Caravan” and “Azure.”
Bunny’s April 21 Victor recording session was his most successful in many months. The band’s engagement at the Paradise Restaurant, which began in March, was extended into May. The recent personnel changes that had occurred had actually improved the band overall. Once again, it seemed that Bunny Berigan had weathered a number of challenges, and emerged unscathed. The Berigan luck, which had helped him on a number of occasions while he was starting his band, held.
The recollections of everyone connected with Berigan’s band during its run at the Paradise Restaurant were extremely positive. The band members were very happy to be off the road and at home in Manhattan. New drummer Johnny Blowers, who joined as the band opened at the Paradise, got to know Bunny during that stand. He recalled his Berigan experiences, including some impressions of Berigan’s drinking, more that fifty years later:
“We spent a lot of time together. I believe he liked me as a drummer and also as a person. When we were working at the Paradise, the band would play for two hours and then break for the floor-show, after which we would go back and finish the night. But it was a long intermission, and Bunny would ask me ‘are you going to join me tonight?’ And I usually did. That meant a fast trip to Mama Leone’s, the Italian Restaurant on Forty-ninth Street, for a spaghetti dinner or pizza, and always a large bottle of wine. I would fill my glass halfway, and Bunny would drink the rest. Bunny was an alcoholic, and eventually it killed him, but I don’t think he drank for pleasure. It was a compulsion, and I know he tried to fight it. He took the cure two or three times. I really believe that if AA had come along sooner than it did, he would gladly have joined. I know, too, that he was concerned about his family and wished he could see them more often. But a musician has a hard time trying to spend much time at home.”[ii]
I have found as a result of a lot of research and cross-checking, that some of Blowers’s recollections are less than one hundred percent accurate. I do not really know what he meant when he said that Bunny “took the cure two or three times.”[iii] There is certainly evidence that on many occasions, Berigan tried to greatly reduce the amount of alcohol he drank daily. But he was in no position to take time off and go somewhere to dry out and try to modify his behavior. He was far too busy. He had a lot of commitments, and most of them were sources of pressure for him. Invariably, when Bunny would try to drink less, his mood would turn from jovial and fun loving to sullen and standoffish. His trumpet playing would improve. The multitude of irritants he had in his life as a bandleader would bother him more. He would feel more and more stressed. The quick fix that always seemed to make things better was to take a few more drinks. Berigan was by 1938 completely ensnared in the vicious cycle of alcohol addiction. But he was still able to function well enough when drinking to do what was necessary to perform as a virtuoso trumpet soloist and leader of one of the best swing bands of the day.
As happy and musically successful as Bunny and the band were during the Paradise engagement, things were happening behind the scenes that would ultimately affect the business side of the Berigan band negatively. Gene Krupa, now the leader of his own band, was also being managed by Bunny’s personal manager, Arthur Michaud. Michaud had continued representing Tommy Dorsey through the time he was involved in launching Berigan as the leader of his own band. Most of Michaud’s attention during the spring of 1938 was being absorbed in activities involving the fledgling Krupa band. Michaud and attorney John Gluskin, the “money man” referred to by another Berigan arranger, Andy Phillips, as well as MCA, had all been involved first with TD, then Bunny, and now Gene. It was only a matter of time before conflicts of interest would occur.
[i]Jazz and Ragtime Records (1897–1942), by Brian Rust, Malcolm Shaw, Editor, Mainspring Press (2002), 537–538.
[ii]Back Beats and Rim Shots – The Johnny Blowers Story, by Warren W. Vache’, Scarecrow Press (1997) page 39.
[iii] The only time when Berigan may have actually sought professional medical help to deal with his alcoholism was in July of 1940, when he was in and out of Tommy Dorsey’s band.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Composed by Louis Alter and Paul Francis Webster; arranged by Joe Lippman.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra on August 7, 1937 for Victor in New York City.
Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sonny Lee and Al George, trombones; Mike Doty and Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Waylend, bass; George Wettling, drums.
“Turn On That Red Hot Heat (Burn Your Blues Away)” is undoubtedly one of the best recordings Bunny Berigan ever made, though it has only rarely been released as a part of the many anthologies of his recordings. The arrangement, the band’s performance, and especially Berigan’s trumpet playing, are all superb. Once again, newcomer Gail Reese is saddled with a pedestrian lyric, but such was often the lot of girl vocalists in big bands then. Joe Lippman reprised his very successful opening from “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” with a few new dramatic twists here: drummer George Wettling’s pounding tom-toms, and the growling open trombones of Sonny Lee and Al George, followed by the wailing clarinets, then the ooh-aah trumpets tell the listener that this heat is to be found in Equatorial (or is it Ellingtonian?) Africa. In any case, it is a masterful use of contrasting registers and timbres. Then the maestro steps out, plunger in hand, growling away on his otherwise open trumpet, to state the melody for sixteen bars, backed by those tasty clarinets. Joe Dixon then takes his turn, with sixteen bars that start in the juicy lower register of his clarinet. He is backed by the open brass. As he moves up into his high register, there is a corresponding heightening of excitement. Dixon’s solo is first-rate jazz.
The band then struts on into the vocal chorus, which Gail Reese does invest with some enthusiasm. Berigan returns on open trumpet for another sixteen bars with a sound so huge that it almost overloads the microphones. His exultant solo is the quintessence and culmination of everything he had been working to achieve as a jazz soloist for the previous ten or more years. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end to this solo: it is a perfect musical statement, and marvelous jazz. It is also technically dazzling, but not at the expense of the music in his playing. Note in the finale when Berigan joins the rest of the brass section playing the first trumpet part for the ride-out. The music soars.
This tune was written by Louis Alter (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyric). Webster would do much better in later years with the lyrics to memorable songs like “The Shadow of Your Smile” (the title to which the great lyricist Johnny Mercer hated); “Somewhere My Love,” “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” “The Twelfth of Never,” and “Black Coffee.”
Bunny Berigan’s 1937 recording of “Turn On That Red Hot Heat” is definitely a swing era sleeper that deserves to be heard.
The recording used in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Composed by Bennie and Buster Moten; arranged by Ray Conniff.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra live from a broadcast over WABC-New York from Roseland Ballroom in New York City in October of 1938.
Bunny Berigan, first trumpet, directing: Johnny Napton and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Ray Conniff and Andy Russo, trombones; Milton Schatz, lead alto saxophone; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone; Clyde Rounds, tenor and baritone saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland. bass; Bernard “Buddy” Rich, drums. Solos: Bunny Berigan, trumpet; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone; Gus Bivona, clarinet; Ray Conniff, trombone.
This is the first of three posts that will appear at the sister blog ofbunnyberiganmrtrumet.com swingandbeyond.com celebrating the centenary of drum legend Buddy Rich’s birth. This first post will focus on Rich’s first big-time jazz gig: his six months as the drummer in trumpeter Bunny Berigan’s band. NOTE: This post is a bit more detailed than the one that is posted at swingandbeyond.com covering Rich’s time with Berigan.
The story:Bernard “Buddy” Rich, perhaps the most technically astonishing drummer in the history of jazz, was born on September 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were vaudeville performers, and almost from infancy Buddy was onstage performing with them. His prodigious drumming talent manifested itself when Buddy was only eighteen months old. This led to a very successful vaudeville career for Rich, which lasted through his childhood years. By 1937, he began his career as a jazz drummer, first with Joe Marsala, then in 1938 with Bunny Berigan. Berigan’s swinging band provided Rich with an excellent laboratory to experiment with techniques of driving a big band that he later perfected. Rich’s big break came when he joined Artie Shaw’s band at the beginning of 1939, just as Shaw was ascending to a place of national prominence with his band. With Shaw, Rich’s stunning drumming technique was first put on display before a national radio and movie audience.
From Shaw he went, in late 1939, to Tommy Dorsey, who featured him as a soloist almost as much as Gene Krupa was featured in his own band. His tenure with Dorsey lasted until 1945, although he did serve in the Marine Corps during World War II. After World War II he led his own big bands with modest success in the late 1940s. He worked for many bandleaders in the 1950s and into the 1960s, including Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, and most notably, Harry James. He also worked extensively with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, and on his own with small groups. In 1966, Rich formed a big band, which he led with considerable success, until his death. Rich was helped immeasurably in this endeavor by television personality Johnny Carson, who was an amateur drummer, a personal friend, and an idolator. Rich appeared on Carson’s Tonight Show dozens of times from the 1960s to the 1980s. In addition to his virtuoso drumming, Rich would easily trade witticisms with Carson. Rich also had an explosive temper and the sidemen in his last bands took delight in surreptitiously recording his rages to band members within the confines of the band bus. Buddy Rich died on April 2, 1987, in Los Angeles, California.
Berigan’s tenor sax star Georgie Auld related how Rich got into the Berigan band:
“Y’know I met Buddy when I was 14 and he was 16, which means we knew each other for 54 years. I got him in Bunny Berigan’s band and I got him in Artie Shaw’s band. He and I both lived in Brooklyn. Bunny was looking for a drummer, he was upgrading the band at the time, and I said ‘there’s a buddy of mine that’s a genius behind the drums but he can’t read a note of music.’ Bunny said ‘well, that’s no good.’ In those days we played theaters and we usually had 5 acts of vaudeville. He said, ‘What’s gonna happen when we play a theater and we get a dance act or something and he can’t read music?’ I said, ‘He’ll do more without reading than any 30 drummers you get that can read.’ Then Bunny said, ‘All right let him sit in for a tune.’ The exact same thing happened with Artie Shaw.” [i]
Rich joined the Berigan band on July 5, 1938 at Manhattan Beach in New York City. Dick Wharton, Berigan’s guitarist, remembered the gig, and Rich’s impact on the Berigan band: “Manhattan Beach was an amusement park with an open-air bandstand next to Coney Island. Johnny Blowers had just left and Georgie Auld was Bunny’s contact for enticing the young Buddy Rich away from Joe Marsala and persuading him it was a great opportunity for him. Buddy was loud from the very start and Bunny would have to insist on him cutting down the volume. But Bunny apparently liked the rhythmic ‘figures’ Rich played, and had Buddy’s ‘licks’ worked into some of the arrangements.”[ii] The Berigan band, with their new drummer, played at Manhattan Beach for a week, closing there on July 11. Buddy Rich began to slowly settle in.
After the Manhattan Beach stand, they played one-nighters west to Michigan, including one at the Queen’s Ball for the National Cherry Festival at Traverse City, Michigan on July 13.[iii] They opened on Friday July 15, at the Fox Theater in Detroit,[iv] for a one-week engagement. Here is the review of the show that the Berigan band was a part of:
“Berigan blows into the Fox with his trumpet and band to keep the jitterbugs happy and it’s a lively package of talent that Berigan has with him in the stage show. Bunny’s band is plenty smooth and keeping up the festivities are the Frazee Sisters, song stars of Billy Rose’s Casa Manana, returning by popular demand, three sophisticated ladies whose knockabout antics get plenty of laughs. Sharpe and Armstrong do a very clever satire on ballroom dancing, and Ruth Gaylor and Dick Wharton sing several popular lyrics. It is sixty minutes of lively stage fare to accompany the movie, We’re Going to Be Rich, starring Gracie Fields, Victor McLaglen and Brian Donlevy.” [v]
[i] Don Manning interview, cited in the White materials: July 5, 1938.
[iii]Traverse CityRecord Eagle: Wednesday, June 29, 1938. Information provided by Carl A. Hallstrom.
[iv] The Fox Theater, located at 2211 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, was built in 1928 by Hollywood film pioneer William Fox. Its seating capacity of 5,048 makes it the second largest theater in the United States. (Only Radio City Music Hall in New York is larger.) Its twin is the Fox Theater in St. Louis, which has 500 fewer seats. The Fox Theater has remained a vital entertainment venue since its opening.
[v]Detroit Free Press: July 16, 1938, cited in the White materials: July 15, 1938.
The Berigan Mystique:
Here is some first-hand information from a young Berigan fan (my father), that will give you an inkling of what the Berigan band was all about in the summer and fall of 1938. He saw Berigan and company at the Capitol Theater in Steubenville, Ohio (for two shows) on Sunday August 28, 1938.
Steubenville, Ohio, is located on the Ohio River about twenty-five miles due west of Pittsburgh. One of its most notable sons, Dino Crocetti, later to achieve fame as Dean Martin, who in the late 1930s was dealing blackjack and poker in one of the city’s many illegal gambling casinos, described it as: “a rough and tumble Ohio River town full of steel mills, speakeasies, and whorehouses.”[i]The Capitol Theater there had an agreement with the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, then one of the major stops on the big band and vaudeville circuit, that allowed the Stanley’s current attractions to play at the Capitol on Sundays when they could not perform in Pennsylvania because of that commonwealth’s “blue laws.” Almost every performer who played at the Stanley Theater, therefore, also played at the Capitol Theater. Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra opened at the Stanley Theater on Thursday, August 25, 1938, for a one-week stand.[ii]
By the time my father actually saw Bunny Berigan in person he had known about him for probably three years, had purchased many of his Victor recordings, and had heard him many times on the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club radio show. The band that Berigan led that night at the Capitol Theater consisted of the following: Steve Lipkins (lead), Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky (lead), Ray Conniff, trombones; George Bohn (lead), Joe Dixon, Georgie Auld, and Clyde Rounds, reeds; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar/vocals; Hank Wayland, bass; Buddy Rich, drums; and Ruth Gaylor, vocals. My father remembered the Andrews Sisters, who did appear at the Capitol with Berigan, only as “a corny vocal group,” and didn’t recall the dancers at all. He stated that there was no movie, but that the band played two one-hour shows, with the theater being cleared between them.His sole reason for going to the Capitol Theater that night was to see and hear Bunny Berigan. His expectations were high, and he was not disappointed.
The day had been “roasting hot, with stifling humidity.” The 2,000-seat Capitol “was filled to the rafters with a very wild audience.” My dad was seated somewhere in the first few rows, and was able to see Bunny and the band very clearly. Those there wanted hot music, and Berigan and his musicians made no apologies about swinging hard, and playing loud.
“As the curtain rose, Bunny was standing in front of the band; they came on playing his theme, ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ for a few bars, then segued quickly into a loud up-tempo swinger, which lasted for about five minutes. The audience responded with a roar of approval, and the show proceeded in like fashion for the next hour, with little letup. Berigan himself was a big guy, probably six feet one, with powerfully built arms and shoulders (the result no doubt of lifting a trumpet to his lips for anywhere from three to seven hours a day for the past ten years). He had magnificent reddish-blonde hair, and arresting blue-gray eyes. He was wearing an immaculate light colored suit, with blue necktie and kerchief in his breast pocket. He was a very good-looking guy. He looked like a movie star. He said very little to the audience between numbers and seldom flashed his teeth, like many other bandleaders, because his teeth looked crooked. His trumpet seemed to be extra long, and he would hold it so it was straight out and level when he played. But when he would play a high note, he would point the trumpet up, at about 45 degrees.”
My father recalled one or two vocals by the girl singer in each show, “to allow the band members to catch their breath between romping swingers. Bunny and all of the other soloists played much longer solos, completely different from those on the records, with the arrangements being extended by Bunny setting up spontaneous riffs in the various sections behind the soloists.” This was rarely done in white bands then, and not done too frequently even in black bands (with the exception of Basie’s). The Berigan band played both shows without any music stands or written music.
Bunny’s trumpet sound was awe inspiring: He had a huge sound. It was full and rich and ringing, but always very warm. He was not a blaster, like Ziggy Elman, or a screecher, like Cat Anderson and Maynard Ferguson, who came later. “His sound was just enormous, in all registers of the horn. I have no idea how he did it, but when he played, and that trumpet was pointed at you, my God, it was like being enveloped by that gorgeous sound. It completely filled the theater; it was like the walls were bulging. And his ideas were fantastic: he could play an entire improvised chorus without even the hint of repetition or cliché. The music just flowed out of his trumpet. He was clearly inspired when he was onstage in front of his band playing, and that was very contagious, to his musicians and to his audience. He put a lot into his playing, both physically and emotionally. I had never seen mist come out of the bell of a trumpet before. That night, I saw it frequently. It seemed that when Bunny played a solo he was able to communicate with his audience in a very immediate, powerful, magical way. His band gave him everything they had every second they were playing. That was one swinging band!”
As a result, the audience was stirred to frenzy, and remained at fever pitch throughout the evening.
“At the end of the first show, he let his drummer play, and he was fantastic. His arms were flying around the drum set and cymbals, and he was swinging. We had no idea who he or any of the others in the band were because Bunny didn’t introduce anybody. He just let them play.”
The drummer in question was Buddy Rich. Anyone who knows anything about Buddy Rich knows that he was not one to engage in exercises in nostalgia. He was, nevertheless, a very emotional man who was very proud of having played with many of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz, including Bunny Berigan. When he formed his big band in the 1960s, one of the first things he did was to commission from arranger Dave Bloomberg a lovely, evocative arrangement of “I Can’t Get Started.” I personally witnessed Rich and his band play this arrangement more than once. Buddy never made a big issue about dedicating it to Berigan, but he did clearly announce that this tune was “the theme song of Bunny Berigan.” When Rich decided to record this arrangement, his tenor saxophonist Jay Corre had a solo. Here is what Corre remembered: “I had begun playing my solo when I happened to glance over at Buddy. He was playing brushes and leaning over the snare drum crying his eyes out; teardrops were running down his face and falling on the snare. I knew right then that he was probably thinking about Bunny Berigan and the times they had spent together. I got caught up in Buddy’s emotions and it affected my playing as well. It’s a moment that I will always remember.”[iii]
The Capitol Theater in Steubenville, Ohio was not air-conditioned.
“I had never seen a human being sweat like Bunny, and I had worked with guys in kilns in the brickyard. He perspired so heavily that by the end of the first show, he was completely soaked, with sweat coming through the lapels, arms, and back of his suit jacket, and indeed, the crotch of his trousers. During the show, he had a towel hidden inside the lid of the piano, and he would go over there while someone else was playing, and wipe his face.”[iv]
After the first show, the theater was cleared, and within about a half hour, the second show began. My dad and his friends, including some Steubenville “relatives,” had paid little kids to stand on the ticket line for them for the second show. (“We gave them a dime when we went in for the first show, and then another dime when we came out. They knew if they took off with that first dime, we would go looking for them.”) It was, if anything, more swinging and exciting than the first show. Berigan, who had changed suits (and probably everything else) during the intermission, “strode out from behind the curtain playing ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ but this time he played it all the way through, exactly as he had recorded it. The audience was quiet for the first and only time that night. At the climax of the performance, as Bunny went into the high register, his trumpet pointed skyward, a clap of thunder shook the building, and wild cheering erupted.” Once again, Berigan had immediately stirred the audience, and he then proceeded to play a completely different program of tunes, most of them up-tempo swingers, for the second show. “By the end of the second show, Bunny was again drenched. So were we. That theater smelled like a horse barn by then!” The audience departed and was able to cool off in a hurry as they walked out into a full-scale thunderstorm.
[i]Dean and Me, by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan, Broadway Books, (2005), 16.
[iii] Quote from Jay Corre is in the liner notes to Buddy Rich’s Pacific Jazz CDP-7243-4-94507-2-1 (1998) entitled The New One!
[iv] In order to deal with so much perspiration, Berigan used great quantities of talcum powder.
Withina few weeks of playing at the Capitol Theater in Steubenville, Ohio, the Berigan band, badly shaken by the great hurricane of 1938, which blew them out of a prime two-week engagement at the Roof Garden of the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Boston, was scrambling for work. They secured a series of Wednesday night appearances at the Roseland Ballroom, 51st and Broadway in Manhattan beginning on October 5. There were at least two Wednesday appearances at Roseland by Berigan, the one on October 5, and one a week later, on October 12. (Note: Broadcasts from those dates were recorded and exist somewhere. If they were to be released to the public, they would showcase the best band Berigan ever led, romping away on some 15 different selections, all with Buddy Rich on drums.If anyone knows anything about these recordings PLEASE contact me.) It is my opinion that this recording was made on either of those dates (possibly as a part of a broadcast on those same dates other than the ones referred to above), or was possibly recorded on October 19.
The music: This arrangement of “Moten Swing” was one of the first charts 22 year old Ray Conniff wrote for the Berigan band. Conniff had joined the band as a trombonist in the spring of 1938, but almost immediately he and Berigan began discussing ways that the Berigan band might alter its musical orientation slightly, to reflect the bracing swing then emanating from the Count Basie band, then beginning its ascent to national prominence. Conniff was a great admirer of the Basie method of swing. At some point that summer (probably after Berigan halted a rehearsal that was not proceeding well and told his musicians to go listen to the Basie band, then appearing at the Famous Door on 52nd Street in New York), Berigan asked Conniff to write an arrangement that was in the Basie mode. Conniff wrote two: “One O’Clock Jump,” (Basie’s theme song), and a retooling of “King Porter Stomp” called “Gangbusters Holiday.” Bunny liked both of them, and he and his band played them. The apparent third Conniff arrangement to come into the Berigan band book was “Moten Swing,” which had been associated with Basie since the early 1930s (and indeed was associated with him for the next 45 years).
This performance starts with no introduction. From the downbeat, the band is in a deeply swinging groove. Listen for Rich’s clever use of his tom-tom, and his bass drum offbeats. His exuberant shouts are also present, even at this early date. Berigan solos first. At the beginning, he plays his trumpet open for a few bars, then he grabs the kazoo he sometimes used as a mute, and holds it inside the bell of his trumpet loosely. The resulting sound is quite growly…it reminds me of some sort of large predatory jungle cat roaming about a jungle. Rich supports Berigan’s improvisation with rock-solid back beats and bass drum offbeats. Auld follows, with a robust solo that shows him developing in the direction of fellow jazz tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans, then being featured with Count Basie (along with Lester Young). A few bars into Auld’s solo, we hear a voice shouting Yes! That was none other than Bunny Berigan himself, greatly enjoying leading this terrific band. Following Auld, clarinetist Gus Bivona has a bright, happy solo. Ray Conniff starts his trombone solo by quoting from the 1938 cutting-edge Basie swing opus “Every Tub.”
About this unique historical recording.
The recording used in this post was taken from Bunny Berigan’s personal collection of in-performance recordings. Those recordings are now housed in the Bunny Berigan archive at the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Berigan caused those recordings to be made while he was a bandleader so he could check how his band was performing when they were broadcast over radio. I use the words “caused to be made” because earlier in his years as a bandleader, Berigan contracted with professional transcription services to make recordings of many of his radio broadcasts. But when this recording was made, I suspect that he had his wife Donna (or possibly vocalist Lee Wiley), make it on a home recording device. Those devices were quite sophisticated in the late 1930s, though rather expensive. So the average music fan would have found the cost of such a device prohibitive.
This recording, and many others like it (it was on a non-commercial ten-inch acetate disk that had no information on its label), lay unplayed and hidden away from 1938 until I discovered it in 2012. I had it and many others like it digitally transferred. A number of those recordings were then remastered by audio engineer supreme Doug Pomeroy, and issued on the Scottish label Hep (CD-96). This performance of “Moten Swing,” regrettably, was not among the ones on the Hep disk because of the gap in it. (See below for an explanation.)
The particular acetate (plastic) disk that contains this recording could hold approximately four minutes and thirty seconds of music on each side. As you will hear, this performance, which is far longer than four minutes, was captured by the amateur recordist in two pieces: the first part, which is four minutes and thirty seconds, and then after the break in the recording, the second part, which is thirty-one seconds. This recording ends with a fade out indicating this tune was probably used by Berigan to wrap-up the broadcast. Unfortunately the person recording this broadcast had to turn the disk over right in the middle of trombonist Ray Conniff’s trombone solo because side one had run out of space.
The digital transfer of this recording from the original acetate disk was done by Doug Pomeroy. The digital remastering and audio restoration was done by Mike Zirpolo.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor on September 27, 1935 in Los Angeles, California.
Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Bunny Berigan, Ralph Muzzillo and Nate Kazebier, trumpets; Jack Lacey and Red Ballard, trombones; Hymie Shertzer and Bill DePew, alto saxophones; Dick Clark and Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums.
Recently, I was talking with friends about creating correct captions for photographs that range in age from 100 or more years to about 70 years.The challenges inherent in doing that are compounded when one confronts boxes of uncurated documents, doodads and old pictures in archives that usually do not relate in any way to each other. Don’t get me wrong, I am most grateful that whatever I find in the various archives I have visited is actually there. I’m sorry to say that a great deal of historically significant material is lost whenever the person who collected it either dies or becomes incapacitated, and his/her relatives have no idea as to the importance of a lot of old unidentified artifacts. All too often, these precious and often unique historical objects end up in a dumpster, and a bit of history is lost forever.
Whenever I was writing “Mr. Trumpet,” I was extremely fortunate to have stumbled across a number of photographs of Bunny Berigan that I had never seen before. I was very happy about this because I wanted to include in the book as many previously unpublished photos as possible. The photo above, which I found in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Bunny Berigan archive, was one such photo. Creating an accurate caption for this photo was relatively easy because many pictures exist of the various musicians in the Benny Goodman band in the summer of 1935. The mystery man in the photo was the only non-musician in it, road manager Mort Davis. His name was written on the back of the actual photo, I think, and that solved the mystery immediately.
Some time later, I came across the photo shown above. Obviously, Berigan is the man on the right. But who are the other two men with him? Under a deadline with my publisher to provide captions for the photos that would appear in the book, including this one, I used the information I had at hand. That included the facts that in the early to mid 1930s, Berigan had reddish blonde hair (it was darker later), and wore small wire-rimmed glasses. Not recognizing either of the other two men as members of the 1935 Benny Goodman band, which Berigan played in in the summer of 1935, and since Berigan did not tour with any band in the summer of 1934, I went back to the spring and summer of 1933, when Berigan toured throughout the South and Midwest, with Paul Whietman. I still didn’t recognize either of the other two men as musicians I could identify from the 1933 Whiteman band (even though an extremely knowledgeable friend questioned whether the man with the hat was long-time Whiteman sideman Frank Trumbauer). I uncertainly submitted the following caption to my publisher: Berigan relaxes with members of the Paul Whiteman band on tour (Texas, April 1933). That caption was published and is in the book.
Almost immediately after the book was published, I got an email from another knowledgeable friend, suggesting the man in the middle might be trumpeter Ralph Muzzillo, who indeed was a member of the Benny Goodman band during the summer 1935 tour, the final stop of which was at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. (The BG band was very well received at the Palomar Ballroom. Their stay there eventually ran some six weeks.) I started looking through every book I had that might contain a picture of Muzzillo (he was a highly respected lead trumpeter during the swing era), but found only photos of Muzzillo taken from a distance, where I could not see his face clearly. Of course, I also began to revisit the process I used to identify this photo, and began noticing some similarities between it, and the one at the top of this post, of the BG golfers. Although it is not clear if Berigan is wearing the same shirt in each photo, it does look like he was wearing the same trousers and belt. Also, I detected a similar southern California Mission-style architecture in the buildings in both pictures. All of these things suggested to me that the two pictures may well have been taken on the same day at the same place, since the golfers picture was most certainly taken in Los Angeles in the summer of 1935. Perhaps the other picture had in it another musician who was in the Goodman band at that time, like Ralph Muzzillo.
Very recently, while doing research for another blog post, I came across the photo of Ralph Muzzillo at left on the Internet. (It was clearly identified and was grouped with other similar photos about Muzzillo’s work with Jimmy Dorsey’s band.) I immediately went back to the photo with the mystery man in the middle, and came to the conclusion that I could now positively identify that man as Ralph Muzzillo, and that that photo was in all likelihood taken in either late August or in September of 1935 at a golf course/country club in Los Angeles on the same day as the BG golfers photo was taken. It has taken me some nine years, but I think I finally have the caption right, at least as it correctly identifies Ralph Muzzillo. The identity of the third man, however, remains a mystery. The only member of the Goodman band then who looked even remotely like the man in the hat was tenor saxophonist Arthur Rollini, but I cannot identify that man as Rollini with certainty.
The music: The Benny Goodman band made one Victor recording session in Los Angeles while they were resident at the Palomar Ballroom, on September 27, near the end of the engagement. Three tunes were recorded: “Santa Claus Came in the Spring”; “Goodbye” (printed as “Good-Bye” on the label of Victor 25215-A); and “Madhouse.” “Santa Claus Came in the Spring” is a pop tune that was arranged by Spud Murphy, featuring a vocal by Joe Harris,[i] and a tasty sixteen-bar solo by Berigan, using a tightly fitted cup mute. Bunny also played first trumpet throughout most of that performance.
“Goodbye,”[ii] a lovely ballad, was composed and arranged by Gordon Jenkins, then working in the Isham Jones band. (Jenkins was friendly with Goodman during the time BG was forming his band, and recommended that Benny hire the marvelous, but almost never featured trombonist Sterling “Red” Ballard, who had been working with Jenkins in the Jones band. Ballard remained with Benny until 1940.) By the time this recording was made, BG had decided to use “Goodbye” as his closing theme. This recording of “Goodbye” is magnificent, indeed one of the most memorable of the swing era. The performance is superb, and the fidelity excellent. The Jenkins arrangement has Goodman playing the somber melody, with Berigan behind him, playing a recurring three-note phrase on his straight-muted trumpet. Bunny’s playing here is purely straight, but strangely evocative. The trumpeters in the Goodman band quickly dubbed these three notes the “go-to-hell” notes, and joked among themselves about who was going to play the “go-to-hell” notes behind the boss in the closing theme. While he was a member of the Goodman band in the summer of 1935, it was usually Bunny Berigan. The brief trombone solo is played by Jack Lacey, and the big-toned first trumpet part by Ralph Muzzillo.
[i] Trombonist Joe Harris (1908–1952) was a splendid instrumentalist and fine jazz player, as his solos on the Benny Goodman records of “Basin Street Blues” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” plainly show. However, he did not play trombone in the Goodman band during its 1935 cross-country tour. He was used only as a “boy vocalist.” The jazz trombone solos then were handled by Jack Lacey, also an excellent trombonist. Harris moved into the trombone section only after Lacey left the Goodman band, which was immediately after they closed at the Palomar Ballroom.
[ii] “Goodbye,” according to D. Russell Connor, was at first entitled “Blue Serenade.” See The Record of a Legend—Benny Goodman, by D. Russell Connor, Let’s Dance Corp. (1984), 58. I suspect that Gordon Jenkins or his publisher changed the title to avoid confusion with a then very popular song entitled “A Blues Serenade.”