Buddy Rich at 100: “Moten Swing” (1938) Bunny Berigan

“Moten Swing”

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 of 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 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.

A unique though unfortunately blurry snapshot taken of Berigan sidemen in Traverse City, Michigan on July 13, 1938. L-R: Bassist Hank Wayland; guitarist/vocalist Dick Wharton; drummer Buddy Rich; tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld;  trumpeter Irving Goodman. Note the smiles on Wayland’s and Auld’s faces. The Berigan band, despite a number of tragicomic problems on the road, was a happy band. Bunny liked it that way.

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.

Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld recommended Rich to both Bunny Berigan and Artie Shaw.

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]

The inimitable Buddy Rich in a drum ad – 1938.

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.

[ii] White materials: July 5, 1938.

[iii] Traverse City Record 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.

Berigan band members pose outside of the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, August 25-31, 1938. L-R: Hank Wayland, Clyde Rounds, Ray Conniff, Nat Lobovsky, Joe Dixon, Buddy Rich.

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.

“Bunny was really a free spirit, man!” –Buddy Rich

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.

[ii] White materials: August 25, 1938.

[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.

Being an incomparable artist on trumpet did not ensure that Berigan got his name spelled correctly in promotional materials for his band.

Within a 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.

Trombonist/arranger Ray Conniff.  Berigan’s encouragement of Conniff as an arranger opened the door to a major career in music for Conniff.

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).

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

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 war 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.

The challenges of creating correct captions; and Benny Goodman’s “Goodbye” (1935)


Composed and arranged by Gordon Jenkins.

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.

Golfers from the Benny Goodman band – Los Angeles – August-September 1935. L-R: Bunny Berigan, Sterling “Red” Ballard, Mort Davis (road manager), Benny Goodman, Hymie Shertzer, Jack Lacey. This photo was taken during the Goodman band’s six weeks stay at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles.

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.

Trumpeter Ralph Muzzillo – late 1930s.

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.”



“Shanghai Shuffle”

 “Shanghai Shuffle”

Composed by Larry Conley and Gene Rodemich; arranged by Fletcher Henderson.

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; Joe Lippman, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

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

Paradise Restaurant sign on the Brill Building, 49th Street and Broadway, New York – 1938; looking north on the west side of Broadway.

“Shanghai Shuffle, ” like another pseudo-Chinese composition from the mid-1920s, “Limehouse Blues,” reflects the cultural mixing that occurred when jazz musicians played in Chinese restaurants, which they seemed to do quite often in the U.S. in the 1920s. It is one of many Fletcher Henderson arrangements in the Berigan band’s book. (*) It is also associated with Louis Armstrong, who played it in his days as a Henderson sideman, recording it on October 13, 1924. Louis’s solo on that record was a paean to his mentor, Joe Oliver. Undoubtedly, that record was in young Bunny’s collection when he was growing up. “Shanghai Shuffle” evolved over the years in the Henderson band, and the arrangement the Berigan band plays here is the one Fletcher recorded on September 11, 1934, for Decca.

On the first performance of “Shanghai Shuffle” presented in this post, from April 10, 1938, Bunny sets a perfect dance tempo, and his band digs into this chart with gusto: hear the precise, but swinging interplay between the brass(led by Berigan) and reeds (led by Mike Doty) throughout. Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld plays solo first, energetic as always.  As Louis had paid tribute to King Oliver, Bunny pays tribute to Louis in his solo, which is molten-hot. The swinging back-beat platform on which this performance rests was fashioned by drummer Johnny Blowers. The brief alto solo toward the end is by Joe Dixon. The overall feeling of this performance is one of intensity, but that in no way diminishes the romping swing of the Berigan ensemble.

The second performance, from April 24, 1938, demonstrates how different the same arrangement played by essentially the same band (**) only a few days later could sound. The key to that is in tempo: Bunny set the tempo of this performance a little slower than the previous performance.

Johnny Blowers.

For whatever reason, drummer Johnny Blowers and bassist Hank Wayland fall into a deeply swinging groove about midway through the first chorus, and they carry the band along with their relaxed yet driving rhythm throughout the rest of the piece. Blowers’s use of a 4/4 rhythm played on his top cymbal (later called the “ride” cymbals when they were larger in diameter), to drive the band was somewhat avant-garde for the spring of 1938, and the essence of hipness. Later in 1938, drummers such as Cliff Leeman (with Artie Shaw), and Buddy Schutz (with Benny Goodman), also flirted with this technique of driving a big band lightly but strongly. Others (Kenny Clarke was one who also embraced this technique in the late 1930s), began using it as a means of driving small jazz groups that were experimenting with the rhythms that eventually led to bop. By the late 1940s, this method of drumming was de rigeur in both big bands and small groups, with offbeats being played on the snare drum and bass drum. (The bass drum offbeats were called “dropping bombs.”) Use of the high-hat cymbals as the major driver of the rhythm, which was standard during the swing era, greatly diminished in jazz after World War II.

Georgie Auld.

Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld was not quite 19 years old when this recording was made. From his first days with Berigan he was a wonderful technician and a good reader. Bunny taught him how to be a jazz musician. In this performance, he has a bit of trouble finding his footing in the first few bars of his solo, but he quickly and creatively recovers to produce some good jazz.

Berigan enters his solo in the lowest register of the trumpet (he was renowned for his artistic use of this difficult trumpet technique), (***) and he really works down there. Then he vaults way up high, on the way to creating a passionate improvisation. Bunny does hit a few clams (missed notes) in his solo, and also hits one in the finale. I must point out however that at this time, Berigan was playing at least 50% of the first trumpet in his band, in addition to all of the trumpet solos. That was an incredibly demanding and taxing thing to do well night after night. How he managed to do it as well as he did is a testament to his great stamina and trumpet technique. We must also remember that Berigan was all about jazz: he loved nothing more that trying to create a new improvisation each time he played a solo. That, of course, had its risks, which Berigan accepted happily as a price to pay for creative improvisation. Starting in early 1939, Bunny carried three trumpets instead of two, and he used one or more of them to play the first trumpet book most of the time. He would chime in on lead parts when he thought the top voice in the ensemble needed a little extra zing. This was most effective in preserving his lip, and creating excitement when it was called for.

Berigan at the Paradise Restaurant, early April, 1938: – L-R: drummer Johnny Blowers (smiling), trumpeter Irving Goodman (Benny’s brother), Berigan, Georgie Auld, Joe Dixon, trombonist Al George.

(*) This is one famous Fletcher Henderson arrangement that Benny Goodman did not play.

(**) By April 24, 1938 the Berigan’s trombones were: Nat Lobovsky, first trombone; Ray Conniff jazz trombone.

(***) I have a recording in my library of the great trumpet technician Charlie Shavers playing in the very low register, I think it was recorded at a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in the late 1940s. Oddly, Shavers chose to use the low register in that performance to create comic flatulent sounds. Berigan never succumbed to that temptation, at least not when being recorded.

These recordings were sonically restored and digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.


Swing Street

“I Can’t Get Started”

(Small group version.)

Composed by Vernon Duke (music) and Ira Gershwin (lyric).

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Boys for Vocalion on April 13, 1936 in New York City.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet and singing, directing: Artie Shaw, clarinet; Forrest Crawford, tenor sax; Joe Bushkin, piano; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Stan King, drums.

The Famous Door band in early 1936: L-R: Forrest Crawford, tenor sax; Red McKenzie, vocals and “blue blowing” (*); Morty Stulmaker, bass; Eddie Condon, guitar; Joe Bushkin, piano; Berigan.

The story: On approximately February 10, 1936 a small jazz band led by singer Red McKenzie[i] (with considerable help from guitarist Eddie Condon),[ii] opened at the Famous Door, located at 35 West Fifty-second Street. The Famous Door was one of many clubs on West Fifty-second Street in the two long blocks between Fifth and Seventh Avenues 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, the popular musicians-only bar that existed nearby a few years earlier. The originators of this 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 network 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; saxophonist/clarinetist Jimmy Dorsey; and trombonist/arranger 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.[iii]

The best summary of what Swing Street was all about is to be found in Arnold Shaw’s book entitled “52nd Street…Street of Jazz.”

The name of the club came from a door that trumpeter/singer Wingy Manone said he bought at a lumberyard, had the original investors sign, then shellacked. It was also signed later by the musicians who played in the club, and celebrities who visited. Sam Weiss (not the drummer), who was a host at the Famous Door, explained how the club looked and how the door was displayed: “You went down a few steps to enter the building. Then you would go down a dark, narrow hallway that took you to the club entrance on your left. The bandstand was to your right and the bar to your left. The ‘famous door’ itself rested on a small platform near the bar.” [iv]

The Famous Door had opened on March 1, 1935, with a small group (which included clarinetist Pee Wee Russell) led by a then unknown trumpeter Louis Prima, who also sang,  on the bandstand. Prima’s dynamic showmanship, which later made him a fixture in the lounges of Las Vegas, soon had nonmusicians lining up to come into the Famous Door, and the club became a commercial success with the general public, something its organizers had never intended. By the summer, Prima had moved on and trombonist George Brunies replaced him. At about the same time, trombonist Mike Riley and trumpeter Eddie Farley were packing them in at the nearby Onyx Club, with a show that had more to do with comedy and hokum, typified by their smash recording “The Music Goes Round and Around,” than music. The management of the Famous Door then made the decision to return to their original concept. Red Norvo’s Swing Sextet opened a stand there on September 29, 1935. Norvo was followed by Wingy Manone, and then the small group co-led by singer Red McKenzie and guitarist Eddie Condon, that featured Bunny Berigan.[v] Also in the McKenzie-Condon band with Berigan were: Paul Ricci, clarinet and tenor sax; Joe Bushkin, piano, trumpet, and singing; Morty Stulmaker, bass. There was no drummer.

Another view of the Famous Door band. L-R: Crawford, Stulmaker, Bushkin (with trumpet), Condon, Berigan.

Here is how Metronome reported this engagement some weeks later, after Forrest Crawford replaced Ricci:  “This is one of the best, if not the best strictly jam band to be heard around town. It’s purely a case of the boys getting together, sitting down (or standing up), deciding on a tune and doing what they feel with it. Fortunately for all concerned, the individuals at the Famous Door are ace jam men. There are few hot trumpeters in the country today who can touch Bunny Berigan, when he’s right. He of the high squeezes, the individual and free style, the phenomenal, but not often heard, lower register and the oft misspelled name, is a grand hornman, grand to listen to, not only because of his acts of execution, but, even more so because of his refreshingly different style. The one danger, though, is catching Bunny on an ‘off’ night. There’s no doubt that this man, doing all the house work at Decca studios, broadcasting regularly over CBS and putting in his 42 hours a week at the ‘Door,’ is doing too much. Either overwork or staleness can account for the occasional disappearance of the Berigan trumpet vitality. The other melodist, tenorman Forrest Crawford, a recent importation from St. Louis, displays an equal amount of vitality in attack, ideas and execution. Possessor of a really ‘dirty’ tone, typified by growls that are bound to send you, this man has already won himself a host of swing admirers. The three rhythm-masters stick it at you plenty. Little Joe Bushkin has become a much improved pianist, Eddie Condon still remains the greatest tenor guitarist in the business today, while left-handed Morton Stulmaker is a fine bassist with a big tone, at times much too big for the room into which it zooms. Leader McKenzie has been a favorite with this department for years. The man has an entirely distinctive low-slow vibrato that either gets you or leaves you cold. If it gets you, you’re lucky and you’ll get much kick from Red’s few offerings, wisely done in extremely slow tempos as contrasts for the more wild jamming that precedes. All in all, the six men swing well. Swing fans should have an evening of much fun.”[vi]

Berigan sings at the Famous Door – early 1936.

As was noted by the writer of the above-cited Metronome article (probably George T. Simon), Berigan, who was noted for taking every gig possible, especially if it would allow him to play jazz, was once again overworking, this time to a preposterous degree. If one adds to the forty-two hours a week he was working weekly at the Famous Door, even a low estimate of the time he spent each week at CBS, say thirty-five hours, he was working seventy-seven hours a week. And then there were the hours he was working at Decca. What drove this man to work ninety to one hundred hours a week?  (Answer: he wanted to lead his own big band and needed all the money he could earn, and more, to start that enterprise.) [vii]

Pianist Joe Bushkin.

The meeting of nineteen-year-old Joe Bushkin with Berigan in this band was fortuitous for Bushkin, and began a professional association between the two men that would last, with interruptions, for the following four and a half years. Joe Bushkin recalled: “I wound up at the Famous Door in 1936, playing piano. I was living at home with my parents. George Zack started the gig on piano. Sometimes Dave Tough would sit in, along with a good tenor player named Forrest Crawford. One night, (pianist) George Zack passed out and they asked me to fill in. I played all the bridges wrong, which disturbed Berigan, and I guess what made me nervous was the beauty of Bunny’s playing and being exposed to the clarity of the guitar bass. Condon had a marvelous chord sense. I learned from him how to keep chord patterns simple and colorful. In fact, Condon sketched out the chords for the opening and middle section of Berigan’s ‘I Can’t Get Started.’ The Famous Door was in the bottom of a narrow town-house. It had a bar and about 14 tables and the piano was near a window that looked out on Fifty-second Street. It got its name from a fake door with signatures of famous people, which was set up on a little stage near the bar. I guess the place had some trouble, because the sheriff shut it (later in) 1936. Berigan used to play behind me when I sang and he let me do duets with him on trumpet. It was beautiful.” [viii]  (From the early 1940s until his death on November 3, 2004, Joe Bushkin was a fount of stories about Bunny Berigan.)

The music:  On April 13, at what otherwise was another strictly ordinary (that is commercial) recording session, Bunny Berigan was given the opportunity to record the version of  “I Can’t Get Started” he had been working on with the small band at the Famous Door. In the ten days between an April 3 Decca recording session (where Berigan was a part of a small band that backed Red McKenzie in a rather ordinary performance of “I Can’t Get Started”), and this session at ARC-Brunswick, guitarist Eddie Condon suffered an attack of pancreatitis, and had to be hospitalized. The little band that accompanied Berigan on this recording, billed as: “Bunny Berigan and His Boys,” consisted of Artie Shaw, clarinet; Forrest Crawford, tenor sax; Joe Bushkin, piano; Tommy Felline, guitar; Morty Stulmaker, bass; and Stan King, drums. (Also on the session was vocalist Chick Bullock, then an ARC mainstay (American Record Corporation, parent of the Vocalion and Brunswick labels), who sang the other three tunes recorded that day.) [ia]

It is in this recording of “I Can’t Get Started,” issued initially on Vocalion 3225, later on Brunswick 7949, and backed by “Rhythm Saved the World,” that we begin to hear the outline of what eventually became the definitive performance of this song, recorded by Bunny some sixteen months later with his big band for Victor. The “arrangement” that we hear in this performance was largely devised by Berigan himself, except for the succession of chord changes after the vocal and tenor sax solo over which Berigan plays, and which serve as a modulation from concert C to D flat, springing Bunny into the stunning solo trumpet passage which closes the record. That part was worked out by Eddie Condon.

This performance starts out with Berigan stating the melody on open trumpet, the clarinet and tenor sax noodling quietly behind him for eight bars. Bunny wisely slowed the tempo down, knowing that would highlight what he had in store for later in the piece. Then he sings for an entire chorus. On the main strain of the song, the quality of his voice is pleasant and unaffected, with a fast vibrato. On the bridge, he attempts to croon, in the manner of der Bingle (Bing Crosby), which I’m sure sounded more musical in the mid-1930s than it does today. In his last eight bars he returns to a more genuine mode of singing.  Morty Stulmaker uses his bow to provide an arco bass foundation behind the vocal that is different, but it unfortunately imparts a rather lugubrious feeling to what is otherwise a peaceful and gentle rendering of the lyric. Thankfully, Stulmaker sets down his bow after the vocal chorus  and resumes plucking the strings of his bass so as not to weigh down in any way the musical fireworks that are about to begin. Forrest Crawford then plays a softly melodic eight bars that lead into the Condon-fashioned series of chord changes. Jazz historian (and trumpeter) Richard M. Sudhalter best described what happens next:

“A drum tap brings (Berigan) on for the piece de resistance. He begins it with four self-contained episodes, announced by single rhythm section chords but all, in effect, part of one great cadenza. The first establishes mood and expectancy. The second changes the key and moves effortlessly through the entire range of the horn in developing the idea. The third is delivered sotto voce and intimately. The fourth takes him deep into his low register for some final thoughts. Now he is ready. Leaping nearly two octaves, Berigan chimes out a cluster of clear, ringing high Cs and takes flight, avidly supported by the band. Working in the taxing range above high C, he tosses off E flats and one titanic high F, turning Vernon Duke’s enchanting melody into an anthem. Totally in charge of his instrument and material, he lowers the intensity level to a hush for a reprise of the melody, contemplative and soothing, then parades it home, as Shaw fills in the spaces, crowning his performance with a high B flat and a glorious, resounding E flat above that. It is all fresh and new, the apotheosis of Berigan’s art as trumpet soloist in the bravura tradition established a decade earlier by Armstrong—romantic, rhapsodic, emotionally unrestrained “[iia]

This recording began to garner critical plaudits soon after its release in May, and it began to sell in numbers higher that the run-of-the-mill pop tune vocal records that were being churned out by the dozens by ARC, Decca, and other labels.

Years later, Eddie Condon provided a bit more background about how Bunny Berigan and “I Can’t Get Started” got started together: “Johnny DeVries (a New York advertising executive who liked jazz and helped jazz musicians), is really responsible for Bunny having made the tune in the first place. Johnny heard the song in the 1936 Vernon Duke show and thought it had a little exposure. After insisting for a couple of months that Bunny play the song,he went to the publisher himself and got an orchestration of it. He hummed the tune to Joe Bushkin who in turn played it for Bunny. Bunny and ‘I Can’t Get Started’ have been inseparable ever since.” [iiia]

One of the few vague reminders that exist today in Manhattan suggesting that 52nd Street was once special. Photo by Matthew Zirpolo.

Today, West 52nd Street betweeen Fifth and Seventh Avenues looks nothing like it did in the mid-1930s. (**) The development of the Rockefeller Center complex between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 49th and 51st Streets in the 1930s caused the gradual demolition of the three or four story residential structures on the east-west numbered streets nearby. (If you want to get some idea what 52nd Street looked like when it was swing street, walk a few blocks west on the numbered streets in Hell’s Kitchen,  between West 51st on the north, West 45th on the south, and Eighth and Tenth Avenues. Incredibly, Manhattan real estate developers have not (yet) demolished the quaint old residential buildings on those streets.) By the 1970s, the area on West 52nd where the jazz clubs stood was filled with glass and steel skyscrapers. The only reminder of the musical history that was played out on 52nd Street in the 1930s and 1940s are a few street signs that say “swing street” along that two-block stretch of high-rises. Most people today, alas, have no idea what that means. I hope that this post raises new awareness about Mahnattan’s fabled 52nd Street.

(*) “Blue blowing” was achieved when Red McKenzie would “play” a pocket-comb by covering its tines with tissue paper, and then blow on it as one would blow on a harmonica.

(**) Only one building from the glory days of 52nd Street remains. The 21 Club Restaurant, sleekly preserved and updated, at 21 West 52nd, is wedged incongruously between the skyscrapers now on 52nd.

[i] 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, 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.

[ii] 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.

[iii] 52nd Street…The Street of Jazz: by Arnold Shaw, Da Capo Press (1977) page 106.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid., 106–112.

[vi] Metronome: April 1936, cited in White materials: February 10, 1936.

[vii] It is certainly possible that by this time, Berigan was in discussions with personal manager Arthur Michaud about forming his own band. Michaud may well have told Bunny that in order to form a band, a lot of money would be needed. That could explain Bunny’s incredibly heavy workload in the early months of 1936.

[viii] White materials: February 10, 1936. The White materials quote Bushkin from the recollections he shared with Whitney Balliett for an article about Bushkin that appeared in The New Yorker. Unfortunately, they do not give any citation to The New Yorker or the date of the article which was November 18, 1985. Balliett later included this article in a compendium of articles he had written over the years about jazz musicians for The New Yorker entitled: American Musicians—56 Portraits in Jazz, Oxford University Press (1986), 216–223. A slightly more detailed account of how Joe Bushkin came to meet Bunny Berigan at the Famous Door can be found in Robert Dupuis’s Berigan biography, Bunny Berigan…Elusive Legend of Jazz, at pages 121–122.

[ia] White materials: April 13, 1936.

[iia] Giants of Jazz Bunny Berigan, Time-Life Books (1982) pages 38–39.

[iiia] Eddie Condon’s Scrapbook of Jazz: Galahad Books (1973). Curiously, this book has no page numbers.

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


“Flat Foot Floogie”

“Flat Foot Floogie”

Composed by Bulee “Slim” Gaillard, Leroy “Slam” Stewart, and Bud Green. Probably arranged by Andy Phillips.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for the Thesaurus Radio Transcription                                                       Service on June 27, 1938 in New York City.

Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky, first trombone; Ray Conniff, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld, tenor saxophone; Clyde Rounds, tenor and baritone saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums. Vocal by Bernie Mackey with chanting by the band members.

Despite the fact that Bunny Berigan was very serious about music making, he never took himself too seriously. Here he clowns during the summer of 1939 at Jacobs Beach, CT.

The story and the music:  On  Monday June 27, 1938 Bunny Berigan and his bandsmen entered the RCA Victor studios in Manhattan. This time they were scheduled to make recordings for RCA’s The­saurus Transcription Service. (*) The sixteen inch 33 1/3 rpm disks on which the Thesaurus transcription music was marketed were leased or sold to radio stations under the generic name “Rhythm Makers” or “The Rhythm Makers.” No identification of the many bands that made Thesaurus transcriptions was ever done. Radio stations simply played whatever music was on the disks they acquired (tunes were identified), and announced the performance as by “The Rhythm Makers Orchestra.” Few swing aficionados were fooled however. They usually knew who was playing after hearing only a few bars of the music, especially when the performer was Bunny Berigan, one of the most individual of all trumpet soloists.

It is extremely fortui­tous that this opportunity existed for the Berigan band, because this Thesaurus recording session, and one which would take place in the not too distant future, like the airchecks of the band from the Paradise Restaurant and elsewhere (and unlike many of their Victor records), allow us to have a much more complete understanding of the Berigan band’s capabili­ties. Also, the difference between this band and the one Bunny had led on his pre­vious Thesaurus session almost two years earlier is immense. The earlier band sounded very much like what it actually was—a part-time band with no identity. This Berigan band, after about a year and a half of performing, had reached the place where it was imbued with its leader’s passionate musical persona: it was powerful, exciting, and sometimes a bit unpredictable, even reckless.

A Thesaurus radio transcription disk.

They recorded twenty tunes that day, and as always was the case with tran­scriptions, only one take on each tune was made. There is no indication of when the session started or ended. Indeed, there is some question as to whether this session took place in New York, or at Victor’s Camden, New Jersey “church stu­dio.” I think that this session was recorded in New York because I know that other Thesaurus recording sessions with many other bands, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Les Brown, Joe Haymes, Charlie Barnet, and Chick Webb,  all took place in New York. Although Joe Dixon, Bunny’s clarinet soloist, on at least one occasion recalled recording these transcriptions in Camden, every other source I have ever checked indicates that all Thesaurus sessions took place in Victor’s Twenty-fourth Street studios in Manhattan.

Flat Foot What??

The Berigan band obviously recorded many of the same tunes for Thesaurus they had recorded for Victor. Bandleaders would often use these transcription sessions to record a snap-shot of the repertiore they were presenting to dancing audiences at the time. Sometimes the vocal chorus of the previously recorded arrangement was omitted, sometimes not. It is always interesting to listen to versions of the pop tunes Berigan recorded for Thesaurus with the vocal chorus excised. Very often, removal of the vocal results in a better overall performance. Why Bunny would not have allowed an instrumentalist to play a jazz solo in lieu of the vocal on The The­saurus recordings where the vocals are omitted is not known. That would have improved these per­formances even more. (Note: Given the powerful influence music publishers exerted on all recording artists during the swing era, there was undoubtedly pressure on bandleaders to record as many of any given publisher’s tunes as possible, even without a vocal chorus. Publishers were paid when their tunes were played on radio. Presence or absence of a vocal chorus was irrelevant to that.)

Of much more interest however, are the titles that Bunny recorded for The­saurus that he did not record for Victor. One of those was “Flat Foot Floogie,” which was a zany then-current pop tune composed by the often hilarious pianist/guitarist Slim Gaillard, the fine bassist Slam Stewart (then performing together as “Slim and Slam”), and Bud Green. (Bunny was aced out at Victor on this tune by Benny Goodman, who made a good cover recording of it  on May 31, 1938.) In this Berigan/Thesaurus version, Bernard N. “Bernie” Mackey, is the singer. Mackey, who had subbed for an ailing Robert “Little Gate” Walker as the Berigan band’s equipment manager/truck driver earlier in the year, remained as Little Gate’s assistant when he returned. He was tapped by Bunny to sing the jivey lyric, probably because Bunny thought, correctly, that Mackey could provide a vocal interpretation that was most consonant with the original Slim and Slam recording. Although this seems rather improbable, Mackey was then studying guitar, and later (1944) joined the Ink Spots vocal group [i] playing guitar and singing. So he apparently had some singing experience. He clearly enjoys singing the nonsense lyric, as do the band members who chant enthusiastically about the floy floy and floy doy.

Pianist Joe Bushkin.

Pianist Joe Bushkin, who had only recently joined the Berigan band when this recording was made, starts things off in a swinging, funky manner. Bushkin brought a strongly personal jazz piano style to the Berigan band. Bunny then contributes an exuberant trumpet solo which covers much of his instrument’s range. Also recently arrived in the Berigan band was trombonist Ray Conniff, who  plays a nice eight-bar bridge in Bunny’s solo chorus. (Very soon, Berigan would discover that Conniff, in addition to playing very good jazz trombone, could also arrange. That would cause some stylistic changes in the music Bunny’s band played.) Tenor saxist Georgie Auld, and clarinetist Joe Dixon also play happy solos. Clocking in at 3:48, this performance of “Flat Foot Floogie” hints at what the Berigan band would do in front of audiences, by extending arrangements to allow for more (and sometimes longer) jazz solos.

Arranger Andy Phillips – 1939.

There is no indication anywhere as to who wrote this chart, though I suspect it was one of Andy Phillips’s first arrangements for the Berigan band. If one listens to the Slim and Slam original recording of “Flat Foot Floogie” (presented below), it is clear that Phillips listened carefully to the rhythms in that performance, and then incorporated them into his arrangement for the Berigan band.

Johnny Blowers.

Drummer Johnny Blowers, whose always swinging rhythms are present if this performance, related an incident that occurred in the wake of this Thesaurus recording date that is indicative of the way Arthur Michaud, Bunny’s much-disliked (by Berigan band members) personal manager, han­dled the Berigan band’s business. After not being paid extra for the Thesaurus recording sessions (as required by musicians’ union regulations and Blowers’s contract with Berigan), Blowers went to Michaud and asked where his money was for the tran­scription date. “‘What transcription date?’ Michaud said, trying to look innocent. ‘My contract states that I’m to get paid extra for recording. That transcription date was supposed to pay over $400.’ (Probably for the whole band. This was happening in 1938, and the Great Depression was still very much a reality then.)  ‘I want my money or I’m going to report you to the union.’ The threat worked, and every­body in the band was paid for the date.”[ii]

This incident led directly to Johnny Blowers leaving the Berigan band, despite the facts that he greatly enjoyed playing in that band, and liked Bunny personally. Berigan, on the recommendation of his tenor sax star Georgie Auld, then hired a twenty-year old drummer from Brooklyn, New York who had grown up there with Auld: Buddy Rich.

(*) In an effort to explain the corporate relationships that existed at the time this recording was made: Radio Corporation of America (RCA), owned Victor Records. RCA also owned the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and the Thesaurus Radio Transcription Service. Thesaurus radio transcriptions were often used on-air by NBC radio network affiliate stations.

[i] The Ink Spots were a very popular black vocal group from the 1930s–1940s that found acceptance among white as well as black audiences. Their vocal stylings led to later developments like rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and doo-wop.

[ii] Back Beats and Rim Shots…The Johnny Blowers Story, by Warren W Vache’ (1997) Scarecrow Press, page 40.


As a bonus, I am also posting the original recording of “Flat Foot Floogie” made by its composers Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart. This is a very humorous recording which Slim and Sam originally entitled Flat Fleet Floogie.  A large cross-current of humor, often ironic, flowed through the music (and hip jargon) of the swing era.

Take note of Slam Stewart’s bass playing, both pizzicato (plucked strings), and arco (bowed strings), and Stewart’s melodic humming along with his arco playing.

“Flat Fleet Floogie”

Composed by Slim Gaillard, Slam Stewart and Bud Green.

Recorded on February 17, 1938 by Slim and Slam for Vocalion in New York City.

Slim and Slam, including: Slim Gaillard, guitar, vibraphone and vocal; Slam Stewart, bass, vocal and vocalizing; Sam Allen, piano; Pompey “Guts” Dobson, drums.

The recordings presented in this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo. Some sonic restoration was also required on the Slim and Slam recording.

First Recordings of Bunny Berigan (1930)

“Washin’ the Blues From My Soul”

Composed by David Oppenheim and Willard Robison; arranged by Billy O’Brian.

Recorded by Hal Kemp and His Orchestra for Brunswick on May 14, 1930 in New York City.

James Harold “Hal” Kemp, alto saxophone and clarinet, directing: Bunny Berigan, first trumpet; Milton “Mickey” Bloom, trumpet; Wendell “Gus” Mayhew, trombone; “Jimmy” James, lead alto sax and clarinet; Ben Williams, Saxie Dowell (composer of the immortal swing era opus “Three Little Fishies”), Reggie Merrill, saxes and clarinets; John Scott Trotter, piano; J. Paul Weston (not the arranger Paul Wetstein, later known as Paul Weston), bass/tuba; Pinky Kintzel, banjo/guitar; and Skinnay Ennis, drums and vocal.

The music: “Washin’ the Blues From My Soul” had been a hit for Sophie Tucker in 1926, so this recording by Hal Kemp is an early example of a cover. It is a 1930 period recording by a very good band, but that is not why most people remember it. Rather, this recording is significant because it marks the debut on record of Bunny Berigan. Bunny had joined the Kemp band only a few weeks before this recording was made. His main job was to play lead trumpet, which he does here, and does very well. But again, that is not what is most important to Berigan aficionados. Instead, Bunny people are curious about his solo playing here, which is confined to a melodic paraphrase of the tune’s main melody in the first chorus. (The second brief solo after the vocal on open trumpet is almost certainly not Berigan.) The nub of that issue is that this early glimpse proves clearly that he is already, at age 21, stylistically the Bunny Berigan who would have a meteoric career as a trumpet virtuoso throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s.

The “Lacy “Speed” Young band (Philadelphia, June 1928). L-R front: Billy Southern, Speed Young; rear: Julie Towere (Julio Torres), Berigan, Walt Dorfuss, Ardon Cornewll, Keith “Curly” Roberts. Roberts was a Berigan friend who got him an audition for this band.

The story: Bunny Berigan was a seasoned professional musician by the fall of 1929. He had spent the previous four years working with a variety of bands in Wisconsin and the Midwest. (Bunny’s home town was Fox Lake Wisconsin, which lies about 60 miles north of Madison, and 70 miles west of Milwaukee.) He left the Midwest and went to New York in the spring of 1928 to join a band that performed for several months in Philadelphia. When the Philadelphia gig ended, he returned to New York in search of work, but he was severely limited in the work he could do because he did not hold a membership card in New York musicians’ local 802. A musician seeking membership in the union in New York had to spend six consecutive months living in New York City before he could satisfy the residency requirement. Without the union card, a musician could only work casual jobs, and not work in radio or recording studios or theaters.  Despite this large handicap, Bunny’s already strong musicianship enabled him to work in a band in Brooklyn for several months in the fall of 1928. He returned to Wisconsin at the end of 1928 without fulfilling his residency requirement, probably to spend time with his family, and reassess how he was going to build his career in music.

Upon his return home (his 20th birthday was on November 2, 1928), he led and played in various bands in the Midwest until the fall of 1929, when he was summoned to New York by bandleader Frank Cornewll. (Bunny had met and greatly impressed Cornwell’s brother Ardon in 1928 in the band he played in in Philadelphia.) Bunny’s first “big time” gig was with Cornwell’s band billed as Frank Cornwell and His Crusaders. It was a band that was headquartered in New York, that had worked lengthy residencies in Manhattan. Berigan opened with the Cornewll band at a place called Janssen’s Hofbrau, on 53rd and Broadway in Manhattan, on October 10, 1929.

The period from the fall of 1929 until he joined the CBS radio network as a staff musician in early 1931, is the time during which Berigan made the transition from being a very talented young musician to being one of the top musicians in the country. How he made this transition is very much explained by understanding the time he lived in, and the place.

The New York City Bunny Berigan arrived at late in 1929 was in the middle of an explosion of architecture, in addition to the rapid maturation of Broadway musical theater, and the new mass medium of network radio. The face of modern New York began to appear with the art deco building boom that started in the late 1920s and continued well into the ‘30s. Among the magnificent structures that leapt skyward downtown then were the Cities Service Building, 40 Wall Street, the City Bank Farmers Trust Building, and One Wall Street, all of which dwarfed the earlier Singer and Woolworth Towers; in midtown were the Empire State Building, for many years the world’s tallest, and the Chrysler Building, with its unique stainless steel spire. Overlooking Central Park were the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, Hotel Pierre, from the east, and the San Remo Apartments, the Beresford, and the El Dorado from the west.  Just a little south of the park, stood the mammoth Radio City complex. American popular song was in the process of being invented and perfected by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Vincent Youmans, and many others. The Harlem Renaissance was under way. The excitement, the creative ferment, the sense that anything was possible—all of this was a part of the intoxicating atmosphere of New York as the 1930s began.

Berigan (age 21) on board the S.S. Majestic, headed to England with Hal Kemp’s band (May 1930).

By the time things got rolling at the Hofbrau with Cornwell, Bunny had set himself up with a room on the twenty-third floor of the Chesterfield Hotel, 130 West Forty-ninth Street. On November 2, 1929, he celebrated his twenty-first birthday. He undoubtedly felt exhilarated to be where he was, doing what he loved and did so very well. He had been a professional musician for four years, perfecting not only his trumpet skills, but also his all-around musicianship. Berigan already possessed the ability to read music extremely well, transpose at sight, and play the trumpet at virtuoso levels. But the most exciting aspect of Berigan’s trumpeting, even in 1930, was his ability to produce stimulating jazz solos. Although Louis Armstrong had been Berigan’s jazz idol, and would continue to be an inspiration, the recordings Bunny was soon to begin making show that even at this early date he was no Armstrong clone; he had his own ideas and sound. Also, something else was there: the ineffable “Berigan Magic.” That is best understood by listening to the recordings Berigan made in the early 1930s. (See Richard M. Sudhalter’s description of Berigan’s debut on records, the pop tune “Washin’ the Blues from My Soul,” below.)

Since the Hofbrau was so close to Jimmy Plunkett’s speak-easy (see below), it was only a matter of time until some of Plunkett’s regulars, who would on occasion stop by the Hofbrau for dinner and a show, encountered the trumpet playing of Bunny Berigan. Frank Cornwell recalled: “The Hofbrau featured a Saturday lunch session, and Bunny was gradually being featured more and more. (I) would bring him ‘down front’ for his solos. He had no drinking problem then. Bunny played a little violin in addition to some singing, and I was very enthused over his hot choruses on a tin flute. I’m not sure, but I think we worked seven days a week. We certainly kept busy. Bunny had no reputation at all when he first came to New York to join my band. But he sure got one fast! Bunny was truly a musician’s musician!”[i] Musicians, including Jimmy Dorsey, were immediately impressed by the young trumpeter in Cornwell’s band.

Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey – 1930.

Soon Jimmy Dorsey invited Berigan to Plunkett’s, the legendary musicians-only speakeasy, located at 205 1/2 West Fifty-Third Street, in the short block between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Plunkett’s had its own special ambience both outside and in. In 1930, the Sixth Avenue El (elevated train), turned west at 53rd, and ran over to Ninth Avenue. (*) Consequently, Plunkett’s front door was always in the shade of the El, and was shaken periodically when the overhead trains sped by. The dingy interior was the place where musicians met, drank together, socilaized and made connections for work. It was there that Bunny got to know Tommy Dorsey. Plunkett’s was listed in the Manhattan telephone directory as The Trombone Club, because, according to Jimmy Dorsey, his trombone-playing brother Tommy had achieved a certain renown there: he had built-up the all-time record bar tab owed to Jimmy Plunkett, $850.00.

Tommy Dorsey – 1930.

Tommy Dorsey,[i] then twenty-four years old and in the first flush of his success as a highly paid Manhattan free-lance studio musician, was the king of Plunkett’s. He was a big, bluff, boisterous, boozing, talented dynamo of a man, and a superb trombonist. He was also the very image of the Irish New York politician and fixer of the day. He was always working some angle, setting something up, negotiating some deal. Tommy wasn’t satisfied to be merely one of the best on his instrument; he had to have other irons in the fire too. He led his own bands and he put together ad hoc bands for recording dates and casual jobs, in addition to doing all the radio work he could handle. Tommy was then, and would remain for the rest of his life, a force of nature. One either liked him a great deal, or loathed him; there was no middle ground. From the moment they met, Bunny Berigan liked Tommy Dorsey a great deal, and the feeling was mutual. TD called Bunny “Shanty,” presumably a joking reference to Bunny’s Irish ancestry. Bunny called Dorsey “Tommy” or “Tom,” the latter name being used only by those who knew Tommy very well. Berigan and Jimmy Dorsey also established a mutual admiration society and friendship.  In addition, JD and Bunny had remarkably similar personalities. In many ways, Bunny Berigan was the third Dorsey brother, though for a number of reasons, he would have many more interactions over the years with Tommy than Jimmy.

The Cornwell engagement at the Hofbrau ended probably in mid-February 1930, after which the Cornwall band broke up. (Berigan, likely with the help of Frank Cornwell,  either obtained his Local 802 card at some point during the Hofbrau gig, or somehow got special dispensation from the Union to play the Hofbrau location job without actually having the card until he satisfied the residency requirement.) Soon thereafter, Bunny began to work with the Dorsey Brothers on casual jobs in New York, booked through both the Mike Markel booking office, and through Howard Lanin.[ii]

Berigan was becoming known to people in the music business in New York. His prospects for establishing a career in music in Manhattan were looking up.

There had been both good and bad points about Bunny Berigan’s association with Frank Cornwell. Although Bunny respected Cornwell, and undoubtedly enjoyed his time with the Crusaders, the hours at the Hofbrau were long, and his work with this essentially commercial band, where he mostly played as a member of the brass section, quickly settled into a numbing, confining routine, especially for someone like Bunny who loved to play improvised solos as frequently as possible. Yes, Bunny was given the opportunity to play solos and sing, but the Cornwell band was really nothing more than a temporary musical unit put together for the specific and limited purpose of  “playing the show” at Janssen’s Hofbrau. In short, there was not much happening musically in the Cornwell band, and after its reason to exist, the Hofbrau gig, ended, so did the band. Nevertheless, Bunny’s membership in this band had allowed him meet and impress a number of important musicians,  get his New York union card, and to establish a small beachhead on the ever-shifting sands of Manhattan’s highly competitive music scene.

Hal Kemp -mid-1930s.

Soon after (or possibly even before) Bunny found himself at liberty from the Cornewll/Hofbrau job, the Manhattan musical grapevine, always a powerful if indirect method of communication, linked him with bandleader Hal Kemp.[i] Today, if Kemp is remembered at all, it is by aficionados of the music of the big band era, who know his music only as the stylized, somewhat pallid, commercially acceptable fare he served up from the mid-1930s, as one of the powerful band booking agency Music Corporation of America’s  most successful road bands, until his untimely death in late 1940, at the age of thirty-five from injuries he received in an automobile collision while traveling to an engagement. Consequently, one does not think of jazz and Hal Kemp together. Recordings of the Kemp band from the time Bunny was a member, roughly from mid-April of 1930 (after which he definitely had his 802 union card), to early 1931, including Berigan’s first known recordings, suggest a slightly different reality, however.

Hal Kemp band in England, spring/summer 1930. Kemp is second from right; to his right is drummer/vocalist Skinnay Ennis; Berigan is over Ennis’s right shoulder.

Shortly after Berigan joined the Kemp band, they opened a three-week stand at the Nixon Café, 425 Sixth Avenue, beneath the Nixon Theater, in Pittsburgh, on Monday, April 21, 1930. Kemp was then under contract to record for Brunswick Records. Bunny replaced Holly Humphries, Kemp’s first trumpeter. However, it is apparent from recordings made by the Kemp band on May 14, that in addition to playing the first trumpet book, Berigan was also given solos to play.

Bunny in England -1930.

T.D. Kemp, (brother of Hal and manager of the Kemp band in its early period) said:  “Yes I recall Bunny in the band. He was a quiet, unassuming fellow; real clean cut looking boy in those days. Hal was very careful who he selected for band. First and foremost, all the men were gentlemen; we had no drunks, weed heads, etc. Bunny always seemed to be a ‘loner.’  I paid the men then and I think Bunny got one hundred dollars a week.”[ii]

A few weeks later, the Nixon’s management, which also operated the Willows Ballroom, about fifteen miles up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, installed the Kemp band there to play on Friday and Saturday nights, until the full summer season began in late May.[iii] After the Pittsburgh jobs ended on May 11, the Kemp band returned to New York. There they prepared for a recording session, which took place on May 14.

Members of the Hal Kemp band in London – May 1930. L-R: Berigan, Ben Williams, Skinnay Ennis, Milton “Mickey” Bloom.

No one has written about the trumpet artistry of Bunny Berigan more discerningly than Richard M. Sudhalter, who was a jazz trumpeter himself. Here is his appraisal of Berigan’s debut on records:

“‘Washin’ the Blues from My Soul’ is Bunny Berigan’s first solo on record, and by any standard, it’s an impressive debut. On both issued takes he uses a straight mute for his opening statement of this minor theme (similar to the better-known Victor Young–Ned Washington ‘Got the South in My Soul’ of the following year). Even at this early point he’s unmistakably Bunny Berigan: the figure-shapes,

Bunny and budding actress Ella Logan – London 1930.

rhythmic address, attack, and execution—even the sense of swagger in the entrances—are fully formed, recognizable. In a total of twenty-eight solo bars, the young trumpeter has covered two octaves and a fourth, from his instrument’s next-to-lowest note, a written G below middle C to its firmly struck high C. Among jazz trumpeters in 1930, only Armstrong and a very few others were working with such a span, and fewer still with such ease.[iv]

Berigan also has a muted solo on “If I Had a Girl like You,” from the same session.

As a bonus, here is the Kemp band’s recording of “Them There Eyes” made on November 18, 1930, after the Kemp band returned to New York from Europe.

“Them There Eyes”

Composed by Maceo Pinkard, William Tracey and Doris Tauber; possibly arranged by John Scott Trotter.

Recorded by Hal Kemp and His Orchestra for Brunswick on November 18, 1930 in New York City.

James Harold “Hal” Kemp, alto saxophone and clarinet, directing: Bunny Berigan, first trumpet; Harry Preble, trumpet; Wendell “Gus” Mayhew, trombone; “Jimmy” James, lead alto sax and clarinet; Ben Williams, Saxie Dowell, Reggie Merrill, saxes and clarinets; John Scott Trotter, piano; J. Paul Weston (not the arranger Paul Wetstein, later known as Paul Weston), bass/tuba; Pinky Kintzel, banjo/guitar; and Skinnay Ennis, drums and vocal.


The music: What jumps out when listening to this recording immediately after listening to “Washin’ the Blues From My Soul” is that the Kemp band is being impelled toward swing in “Them There Eyes” by Bunny Berigan. His playing as the band’s lead trumpeter, and his exuberant, swinging jazz solo are hallmarks of what would make him such a strong musical personality in the years after this recording was made. In other words, his playing has not changed one whit since the earlier recording, but theirs is beginning to reflect Berigan’s rhythmic approach.

(*) The Sixth Avenue El was dismantled in 1939 after the completion of the first phase of the mammoth Rockefeller Center/Radio City complex. The Sixth Avenue subway was constructed in its place, and opened in phases from 1936-1940. A large, modern subway station was opened then beneath the RCA Building on Sixth Avenue (now called the GE Building or 30 Rockefeller Center), to serve the tens of thousands of people who work in and near Rockefeller Center.

[i] The Miracle Man of Swing…Bunny Berigan, by Cedric K. “Bozy” White,  Shoestring Records Press (2012), hereafter the White materials: November 2, 1929.

[ii] White materials: April 28, 1930.

[ii] White materials: May 2, 1930.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Lost Chords; White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz—1915–1945, by Richard M. Sudhalter, Oxford University Press (1999), 490-491. Hereafter referred to as Lost Chords.


“Downstream” (1938) …Demythologized


Composed by H. Lawrence, B. Neison and Jay Milton; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on March 15, 1938.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sonny Lee and Al George, trombones; Mike Doty, Joe Dixon, Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, saxophones; Graham Forbes, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Dave Tough, drums. Gail Reese, vocal.

The story: Every band during the swing era had to play and record pop tunes. Pop tunes then were generally written by composers who were either contracted to music publishing houses, or who wrote a tune on speculation, and then sold or placed it with a music publisher. Pop tunes were distinguishable from tunes written especially for Broadway plays or Hollywood films. They were also of course distinguishable from “originals” written by musicians who were either arrangers and/or sidemen with bands. But no matter where or how a tune originated, in order for it to be promoted, publicized and played, it first had to be published. Music publishers were therefore in a commanding position in the music business, and were extremely competitive with one another.  They devised all kinds of ways to get tunes they were plugging (pushing, promoting) to be played in public before audiences. The best promotion for a tune would be for it to be played repeatedly on radio or in a feature film. Commercial records, at least in the late 1930s, were a good way to promote a new tune, but certainly not the best because the Depression had hit the recording industry particularly hard, and many people did not have a lot of spare money to buy records, even the budget-priced labels like Decca and RCA Bluebird, whose disks sold for 35 cents. (We must remember that money had a different value in the late 1930s: a 35 cent record then would cost about $5.00 in today’s money.) Victor disks sold for an incredible 75 cents each in the 1930s, almost ensuring small sales. Their price was reduced to 50 cents a disk in 1940 in an attempt to make them more competitive.

In terms of musical quality, some pop tunes were quite good, but the vast majority of them were bad. The song presented here, “Downstream,” falls somewhere in the middle. Without the Berigan/Victor recording of this tune, it likely would have disappeared. But for whatever reasons this tune came to be recorded by Bunny Berigan, consequently we are able to hear it. Preservation of the tune itself is of small importance however. The more important reason for listening to this recording is to understand how important an artist’s interpretation of a song is to securing an enduring place for it in the tradition of American music. And Berigan’s interpretation of “Downstream” provides an excellent demonstration of how good his band was when they recorded it, and how fine an arranger Joe Lippman was. Of course, Berigan’s trumpet playing was so individual that we know after only a few notes who is playing. And how he played!

Berigan in the Victor recording studio on East 24th Street in Manhattan.

All of this has been submerged however in a number of myths that began at the Victor recording session when “Downstream” was recorded on the Ides of March, 1938. These myths were unfortunately given false credibility because they became linked with of a number of other true but rather unfortunate happenings in Berigan’s career as a bandleader later in 1938.  These usually humorous “Bunny Berigan stories,” true and false, were told with relish by people who knew Bunny, and they gradually became a part of the Berigan legend, and remained in circulation, usually being exaggerated by each teller, for decades.  In my biography of Berigan, I tried to set the historical record straight, which is not easy seven decades after the events in question were alleged to have happened.

The jazz critic Leonard Feather, in 1938 only recently arrived in the United States from England, was a guest at a part of the Berigan band’s March 15 recording session which ran from 1:30 to 6:00 p.m. Soon after this, he wrote the following:

“When you hear a band in person, it is customary, indeed instinctive, to pardon a slip here and there and if the ensemble work is less than perfect, a few faults may not prove offensive. But it was not until I heard Bunny and his boys down at the Victor studios that I realized the difference between a band that sounds fine and one that records well.

As I entered, Bunny was growling his way into one of those very low register choruses which have become his forte. The tune was a popular number, ‘Downstream,’ and the arrangement by the talented pianist, Joe Lippman. Bunny had already made several masters, but all had been spoilt, generally through some slip in his solo. As the buzzer called for silence and the next master went into action, Bunny got going nicely, then came just one sour note and he knew the master was wasted.

Next time, the band didn’t even get past the introduction as (trumpeter) Irving Goodman took a bow for the fluff that held up proceedings. Rose-cheeked and petite, Gail Reese sat in her chair, waiting for them to make a master in which they’d get as far as her vocal in the second chorus. ‘Now, just take it easy, this is going to be the one,’ said Bunny, quite calmly, for the seventh time. Because he has been a rank-and-file musician and feels the way the men do, Bunny is unlike many bandleaders. The master-and-pupil disciplinary method is entirely absent. Possibly he has erred on the side of leniency for it was difficult for him to maintain law and order between takes and it was clear that no amount of rehearsal would pave the way for a perfect master of ‘Downstream.’ It was just a matter of playing on until luck gave them three minutes of flufflessness!

After the next take, Bunny called out, ‘Wrap it up!’ By now, he was feeling the strain and to let off steam he started on a glorious impression of a street musician. This was funny enough to take everybody’s minds off ‘Downstream’ and there was a fresher approach to the next waxing. The time had come for me to leave Bunny floating ‘downstream,’ so I slipped out as the much-too-familiar strains of the introduction were striking up yet again.[i]

Snapshot of Berigan and Gail Reese – on tour, fall 1937. Photo courtesy of Al Apfelberg.

“Downstream” was the first tune recorded on March 15. To my ears, whatever strain there was in producing this recording is totally absent from the issued take. Bunny’s playing is exemplary, indeed exciting, throughout. He lobs out huge, fat low notes in his first exposition of the melody.  Listen for the slight rasp he uses here. When he returns, it’s in the middle register, and he’s moving up, heightening drama. After the vocal, tenor sax star Georgie Auld plays effectively on the bridge; then Berigan returns low at first, then high and fiery. He growls over the humming reeds to finish this recording. All things considered, Bunny’s treatment of “Downstream” was exceedingly musical, and thoughtful. His trumpet playing is masterful and expressive. This is a quintessential Berigan recording. No other trumpeter could ever play this music as Bunny did.

Berigan in the Victor recording studio in Manhattan. Coincidentally, this photo is from another recording session, exactly one year after the “Downstream” session.

Anyone who knows even a small amount about trumpet technique knows that the bottommost register of the trumpet is treacherously difficult to play in for a number of reasons. In fact, many trumpeters are unable to play way down low at all.  Berigan could and did play in that very low register. But even he had to work extremely hard to make  music down there. When listening to Bunny’s playing  in the first chorus of “Downstream,” I think that perhaps a few of the abortive takes Leonard Feather referred to may have been a result of Bunny trying tenaciously to achieve the expressive effects we now can hear on the issued take. It would have been nice if Mr. Feather had mentioned that in his article about what went on at the Berigan recording session of March 15, 1938.

It should also be noted that the Berigan band recorded four usable masters at that recording date, which was industry standard. To do that, they had to be doing something right!

Vocalist Gail Reese.

Leonard Feather was right about Berigan’s style of leadership: he was extremely patient with his musicians, and led by example. We must remember that the musicians in Bunny’s band were mostly young men in their early twenties, some of whom were hyperactive. While it would be accurate to say that Berigan’s recording sessions were not grim, tense affairs (as those of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller could be), he nevertheless got the job done, often with excellent, indeed inspired results, by taking a generally lighthearted, relaxed approach to recording. But to say that Berigan was careless and not focused on the music would be inaccurate. In fact, one of Berigan’s sidemen, clarinetist/alto saxophonist Joe Dixon, later happened into a recording studio where Duke Ellington was recording, and was immediately struck by the similarities between Duke’s methods of recording and Bunny’s.

Reality made no difference. Feather’s story was later embellished, and became a typically apocryphal Bunny Berigan tale: that Bunny required approximately forty!!! takes to make an acceptable master. There is no evidence in the RCA Victor files indicating that Berigan made an amount of takes or tries even remotely near to forty for “Downstream.” Given the totality of the circumstances, the eight or ten tries Bunny took to get that low, growly melody statement that he was so intent to achieve, are understandable.

This myth and others circulated widely during the summer of 1938, and they began to undermine Berigan’s reputation at a time when his career as a bandleader had finally gotten into high gear. In fact, 1938 was the year when Bunny’s music reached an apogee. Yet because of this story, and other incidents, some of which were true but were not in any way Bunny’s fault (and a few that were), his career began to ebb slowly.

In addition, and far more dire eventually, though no one including Berigan knew it in 1938, the disease that would eventually kill him at age 33 had already begun its inexorable progress.

[i] Melody Maker: June 11, 1938, cited in the White materials: March 16, 1938.

As good as the Victor recording of “Downstream” is, the one Berigan made a few days later on March 27 while performing at and broadcasting from the Paradise Restaurant in Manhattan on is even more inspired and exciting. The band personnel is the same as above except that Joe Lippman was present on piano, and Johnny Blowers had replaced Dave Tough on drums. Here it is:

These recordings were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.