From Chapter 2:
Bunny’s grandfather, John Schlitzberg, died in 1927. The cause of death on his death certificate is “sclerosis of the liver.” Sclerosis appears to be another term to describe “cirrhosis” of the liver. There is no information extant as to whether John Schlitzberg was a drinker. There is however medical evidence that a genetic predisposition to cirrhosis of the liver can be passed from generation to generation. It is among the many ironies in the life of Bunny Berigan that he may have received the genetic predisposition to the disease that killed him from the same person who undoubtedly was a major source of his musical talent, his grandfather, John Schlitzberg.
From Chapter 8:
Jazz fans have long wondered why Bunny Berigan would ever have joined Paul Whiteman’s much maligned orchestra. Here are a few reasons: as 1932 ended, Bunny, who had only recently turned twenty-four, had completed his most productive year as a professional musician. His place in the highly competitive and demanding New York music world was now secure. Bandleaders, conductors, and record producers knew who he was and what he was capable of. And because of his unique blend of talents as a superb studio musician, as well as an exciting, inspired jazz soloist, he was constantly in demand. As always, his employment had been widely varied. He seemed to be able, even in the ever-deepening depression, to work as much as he wanted, and in his case, that was always a great deal. Now, he was employed by the nation’s leading bandleader, Paul Whiteman, earning an excellent salary, and still augmenting that income with good pay from other work, whenever time would permit. Bunny understood that Whiteman was “the top.” He was “class.” Through Whiteman, Bunny would be introduced into the upper echelons of not only the music business, but of show business as well. From a career advancement standpoint, Bunny’s move into the Whiteman orchestra made a lot of sense. Bing Crosby had launched his fabulously successful career as a singer with Whiteman. And we mustn’t forget that both Dorseys had previously worked for Pops Whiteman, and they undoubtedly encouraged Bunny to get from Whiteman some of the experience, musical and otherwise, that he had provided for them.
From Chapter 12:
But as fate would have it, as Bunny was trying to control one of the demons in his life, another situation began to develop that would eventually bring him substantial pain, both personally and professionally. His relationship with Lee Wiley had by April of 1936 definitely moved beyond the platonic stage. Clarinetist/saxist Artie Manners, with whom Berigan worked at CBS, later remembered a significant episode: “When Donna was having the baby, Bunny asked me if I would drive him to the hospital. I guess he didn’t have a car at the time, so I said OK. On the way there, we had to pass Lee Wiley’s apartment. ‘Stop the car!’ shouted Bunny and no amount of argument from me would make him change his mind. He came out after half an hour and we continued our journey to his wife’s bedside.” It does not require an extraordinary amount of deductive reasoning to conclude that Bunny’s inspiration for his first great recording performance of “I Can’t Get Started” (and very likely his second) came from Lee Wiley.
From Chapter 15:
Once his band got rolling however, and it moved into high gear in the autumn of 1937, he would not, indeed he could not entertain even the possibility of laying off, or heaven forbid, breaking up his band. Leading his band was far more intoxicating for Bunny Berigan than alcohol. It was through his band that Bunny Berigan lived. Almost everything else he did during the course of the day, no matter how important or inconsequential, was more or less irrelevant to him. What mattered most was what he and his band did onstage that night. He had to perform; he had to do what he did to the best of his ability—every night. And when he didn’t or his band didn’t, it was much more than a small disappointment. In this way, he was very much like his idol, Louis Armstrong. Both men lived through their music, and were unhappy when they were not making music. Vacations and layoffs made them feel very uncomfortable. They reveled in the love and appreciation they felt when they played for appreciative audiences. Armstrong dealt with the inevitable challenges and disappointments of life as a star performer perpetually on tour by habitually smoking marijuana. He was able to live a long, full life as a result. Bunny Berigan’s musical associates repeatedly tried to get him to use marijuana instead of alcohol as a coping tool. Unfortunately, by 1937, his addiction to alcohol was so profound that nothing else was powerful enough to get him to stop or reduce his drinking for very long. Moreover, given the constant demands of his work as a star bandleader, it was now impossible for him to stop drinking completely, go through withdrawal, and obtain the constant follow-up required to deal with breaking alcohol addiction. He simply could not do that and maintain the career he had worked so hard to build. Indeed, the progressive nature of his alcoholism made it necessary for him to consume more alcohol each day merely to function. Every day he had to gauge how much liquor he needed to get through the day, yet not be impaired. It was difficult to find the right balance; he frequently missed. But he tried, every single day. So, he worked and he traveled, and he drank. This would be the pattern of his life for the next four and a half years, with his overall consumption of alcohol increasing steadily all the while. This could not go on for very long, his associates thought. Or could it?
From Chapter 17:
“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.”
From Chapter 19:
It is very paradoxical that the RCA Victor Recording Company, which for the previous nineteen months had dictated to Bunny Berigan which tunes he should record for them, including such titles as “Mother Goose,” “Rinka Tinka Man,” and “Button, Button,” should suddenly allow him to record a six-side series of compositions either composed by Bix Beiderbecke, or associated with him. I must assume that Bunny and Joe Lippman pleaded with Leonard Joy, who was now supervising Berigan’s Victor recording sessions, to allow this project to go forward, and somehow persuaded him that it was worth a try. Eli Oberstein, Victor’s self-styled hit maker, would undoubtedly have vetoed this concept immediately. It had nothing to do with current pop tunes, banal lyrics, girl or boy singers, song-pluggers, and the other usual commercial considerations that guided his choice of what tunes a band should record. Indeed, this set of recordings was unique in that no other swing band up to that time had ever actually recorded, as a group, a number of compositions that shared a common theme. People often attribute the origination of the “concept album” idea to Frank Sinatra, who certainly did some great things along those lines in the 1950s while recording for Capitol. But this was happening in 1938, and it was being done by an artist who certainly did not have a lot of clout with the recording company. This extremely strange development is but the first of many difficult to explain (but in this case fortuitous) incidents that would occur between Berigan and Victor over the next twelve months. What is equally odd is that between the recording sessions of November 22, November 30, and December 1, 1938, a period of only nine days, Bunny Berigan recorded a total of ten sides for Victor, not a one of which was a current pop tune. This represented a complete turn-about from the many sessions he had previously made for Victor that had con-sisted exclusively of current Tin Pan Alley ephemera, often with mawkish lyrics. In light of Bunny’s overall experience with Victor Records, we must be very thankful that the series of recordings he made on November 30 and December 1, 1938, was ever allowed to be produced.
From Chapter 19:
On Tuesday, January 31, 1939, the Berigan band opened at the Southland Club in Boston for a week’s engagement. They were billeted at Boston’s number one musicians’ hotel, the Avery. Eddie Jenkins, the new kid in the band, discreetly recalled the Avery: “After another dreadful drive through blizzard conditions, we all checked in at the Avery Hotel in Boston. It was a well-known hangout for visiting musicians who were working in the area. Needless to say, there were plenty of stories about crazy goings-on there, and it became known among musicians as the ‘Ovary’ Hotel.” It was at this time, according to Andy Phillips, that Joe Bushkin created quite a sensation by launching fireworks skyrockets from a bathtub in the Avery Hotel through an open window into the still of the Boston night at 4:00 a.m. Berigan himself was in Bushkin’s room with several other band members urging Joe to “shoot off one more,” when a visit from the house detective, and a threat of immediate eviction from the hotel, brought the pyrotechnic display to an end.
From Chapter 19:
Sometime in the fall of 1938, a series of disturbing incidents relating to the Berigan daughters occurred. They set in motion a number of reactions by Bunny which were directed to improving the ongoing care of his daughters, Pat, now seven, and Joyce, three. In the wake of the initial separation of Donna from Bunny, which started in the spring of 1938 after Donna confronted him about his liaison with Lee Wiley, Donna took the girls to live with her in Syracuse, New York, her hometown. This arrangement evidently lasted for only a few months because Donna was bored living in Syracuse with the girls. By late in the summer, she was spending a considerable amount of time with Bunny and the band on the road. During these times, she put the girls in places described by Patricia Berigan as “foster homes,” probably in the Queens section of New York City. Donna asked her (and Bunny’s) friend Kay Altpeter, the wife of trombonist Larry Altpeter, who lived nearby, to look in on the girls periodically and let her know how they were doing. On one such visit, Kay discovered what Patricia described as “child abuse” of little Jo. Kay notified Bunny and Donna of this, and an irate Bunny immediately returned to New York from wherever he was with his band, removed the girls from this home, and began searching, with Donna, for another place for them to stay while he and Donna were together on tour with the band. He was not satisfied with any of the places he visited, and told Donna that she would have to remain at home with the girls until he had time to find a place for them to stay whenever Donna chose to join Bunny on the road. He then returned to his band.
This development caused Donna to become very resentful. By the time Bunny came home for the holidays at the end of 1938, she was drinking too much, and was strung out emotionally. The atmosphere in the Berigan home, which had never been nurturing for the girls, or well organized, was now nearing crisis. Pat later stated that Donna was not a loving mother, and did not in any way enjoy staying at home to care for her and Jo. Indeed, when Donna drank too much, which she was now doing more often, she would berate the girls to such an extent that they hid from her to get away from her rages. When the girls told Bunny about this, he confronted Donna and there was a major blowup between them. With the girls cowering in a hiding place watching and crying, a hysterical Donna grabbed a butcher knife and came at Bunny with it. He was somehow able to deflect the assault, but she refused to put down the knife. He then told her to go ahead and stab him. As she came at him a second time, little Patty appeared and said, “Don’t hurt Daddy!” A dim light-bulb of reason then switched on in Donna’s addled mind. Instead of stabbing Bunny, she hurled the knife to the floor, and began screaming imprecations at him.
From Chapter 20:
Despite the generally dismal financial situation surrounding the Berigan band then, there were lighter moments. Trumpeter Johnny Napton recalled a couple of visits by a legendary actor who had many of the same problems Bunny had: “John Barrymore would come into the Panther Room after he’d finished work at a nearby theater. Bunny looked a bit like him and of course they hit it off, alcoholically speaking! Barrymore would sit at a ringside table and between numbers he’d say, just loud enough to be heard by the band, ‘What the shit goes on here?’ That used to break us up!”
Bunny would occasionally be asked by Barrymore to join the group gathered around him for a taste, and for some of Barrymore’s stories. One such, which was recalled later by both Joe Bushkin and Gus Bivona, two of the more manic members of the band, had Barrymore recounting some of his onstage triumphs. Barrymore, in his inimitable fashion, was discussing how he interpreted the role of Hamlet. One of the young people listening to this earnestly inquired of the great thespian as to whether Hamlet had had an affair with Ophelia. Barrymore paused, struck a pose, and then said with an absolutely straight face, “…only in the Philadelphia company.”
From Chapter 21:
Life off of the bandstand was fairly pleasant for Bunny during this period. Since the band had Sundays and much of every other weekday off, they began playing softball games in Central Park. Ray Linn recalled that Bunny participated enthusiastically: “We all began to feel human again, playing that summer at the Astor Roof, a lovely job. Our first softball game with brother Jimmy’s team was a memorable one. I was third baseman and went 3 for 5 and I think that everybody in the band, and especially those of us on the team, would have been too scared of Tommy to show up for work that night if we’d lost. Actually, we won 12 to 10 and we won the return match a week or so later which had been arranged as a publicity stunt for Pic magazine, by 7 to 5. Bunny really loved to play softball. He always played catcher and would keep up a stream of patter, none too complimentary, with all the opposing hitters. I guess you could say he had an ‘Irish mouth,’ but he was a better-than-average player, always good for a couple of hits. Of course he could be a little slow-footed, but surprisingly capable, generally, for a guy in his advanced state of alcoholism. It was really amazing that he was able to walk rapidly, let alone run. He had a good strong arm for throwing out base runners. He really loved the game, though. He’d have me call his room at the Piccadilly Hotel on Forty-fifth Street every Wednesday morning when we had a game. Most of the guys in the band, the single ones anyway, stayed at the Piccadilly, and I seem to recall that Bunny was either living apart from his wife, or he and Donna were fighting a lot at that time. Anyway, whenever I would pick up the house phone to wake him for the ball game, he would reply, sleepily, ‘Ray, Pootie, what time is it?’ ‘It’s ten o’clock, Bunny,’ and we’re leaving for the park in ten minutes,’ I’d reply. ‘Aw, Pootie, I don’t feel like it, I gotta get some more sleep.’ And so it would go on, with me pleading with him to get up, and him demurring and yawning, ‘Naw, Pootie, gimme a bit longer.’ Bunny called everybody ‘Pootie,’ except Tommy, who was always ‘Tom,’ and who never called Bunny anything but ‘Shanty’ to his face, a name of true endearment that only one Irishman can call another. Otherwise, it’s a fighting name! Bunny even called Connie Haines and Jo Stafford ‘Pootie’! In fact, even the bus-driver on our one nighters was ‘Pootie’ to Bunny. Anyway, to get back to my story, I would finally succeed in cajoling him into getting dressed, pour a couple of stiff jolts down his throat and join us in piling into two or three taxicabs and heading for Central Park.”
From Chapter 24:
On the first of January 1942, an exhausted Bunny Berigan entrained at Grand Central Terminal heading for Hollywood. He arrived at Union Station in Los Angeles on January 4. The next day, he reported to the soundstage at the RKO Studio to begin work on the soundtrack for the feature film then in production called Syncopation. Down Beat reported the particulars: ‘Headline: Bunny Gets the Call—When You hear Jackie Cooper apparently playing cornet in the new RKO film, Syncopation, that will actually be Bunny Berigan’s horn you’ll hear pouring out golden notes. Bunny has been signed by producer William Dieterle to record the soundtrack, which will supply music for the Cooper scenes. He reported for work on January 5. Also in the picture is Rex Stewart, who enacts a role somewhat reminiscent of the great forerunner of today’s hot trumpet men, Buddy Bolden. Stewart, a member of the Duke Ellington orchestra, also recorded the music to go with his impersonation. Said Leith Stevens musical director of Syncopation concerning Bunny Berigan: ‘We selected Bunny, not only because we believe him to be one of the best in the country, but also because his musical style seemed to fit with the character played by Jackie Cooper. Cooper does not represent any one musician, but is a composite of several great trumpet players.”
From Chapter 25:
The inaccuracies, contradictions, and exaggerations that had been a part of Bunny Berigan’s life continued after his death. And so the distorted picture of him that had existed while he lived began to be embellished further after he died. Many people had wanted a piece of Berigan while he was alive. Now that he was dead, most of those people, and many more who knew little or almost nothing about him, rushed forward to give their recollections and express their opinions.
In reviewing Bunny Berigan’s death certificate, which contains information provided by Donna, who signed it, several errors appear. Bunny’s mother is identified as Mayme “Slitzenberger” instead of the correct Schlitzberg. One would think that Donna, after eleven years of marriage to Bunny, and after spending many months living with Mayme over those years in Fox Lake in close contact with the Schlitzberg family, would have known Mayme’s family name. Donna also reported that Bunny resided in New York City for fifteen years when in reality he lived there for about twelve and a half years. Finally, it appears that Donna, perhaps to avoid embarrassment, stated that she resided with Bunny at the Van Cortlandt Hotel, which is almost certainly not true. Clearly, Donna had gone to New York Polyclinic Hospital sometime during the day of June 2, 1942, to provide the hospital staff with the information that was required to complete Bunny’s death certificate. In light of the fact that she had spent at least some part of that day drinking with George Zack, one wonders what condition she was in when she arrived at the hospital. On the other hand, Donna never really appeared to have been completely in touch with what was going on in Bunny’s life at any time while he was alive, so why should she be expected to know all of the details after he died.
From Appendix 4:
Berigan’s two chorus solo on the aircheck recording of “Livery Stable Blues” is magnificent. The first twelve bars have him playing in his middle and low registers, setting up what is to come. The second twelve bars, including room-shaking high notes, demonstrate a supreme level of virtuoso instrumental command and a musical imagination of almost frightening intensity.
The following quotes have been gleaned from the pages of “Mr. Trumpet.” The book itself contains many more.
—“Steve Lipkins and I would sit there in the back row night after night, set after set, and watch and listen to Bunny, and be totally amazed by what he could and would do.” —Irving Goodman, trumpet; page 169.
—“Bunny always wanted free rein, ad lib solos without any inhibitions of any kind. As his professional peers, we could understand his fearless cavortings on the horn, full of surprises and delightful experiences. Bunny was a most colorful player. When he laid eight bars on the line, it was there for posterity.” —Manny Weinstock, trumpet; page 138.
—“Wow! Tremendous! He just picked that whole band up and swung it by himself.” —Johnny Blowers, drums: page 239.
—“Bunny was a hell of a musician.” —Del Sharbutt, radio announcer; page 163.
—“This bum could play the trumpet!” —Eddie Condon, guitar; page 144.
—“Bunny Berigan was a revelation to me. Never having heard him in-person before, even though I was well acquainted with his work on recordings, I was unprepared for such a tremendous thrill.” —Helen Oakley (Dance), critic; page 257.
—“He had the most gorgeous sound, and that beautiful vibrato. And everything he played had a line. It was like a melody, even if it had a lot of notes in it.” —Jimmy Maxwell, trumpet; page 259.
—“Touring with Bunny was my first big-time gig, and it was one of the highlights of my life.” —Ray Conniff, trombone/arranger; page 227.
—“I asked Freddy, the recording engineer, where Bunny had stood when he played that chorus (on ‘Marie’) into a standard RCA 44-ribbon mike. He showed me a point approximately thirty feet away from the microphone. Thirty feet! ” —George “Pee Wee” Erwin, trumpet; page 259.
—“This is the greatest living trumpet player.” —Harry James, trumpet; page 142.
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Dramatis Personae, etc.
Here are some insights gleaned from the pages of “Mr. Trumpet” about some of the people with whom Bunny Berigan worked, and observations about other interesting facets of his career and life:
Page 102: “Goodbye,” 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.) 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. The brief trombone solo is played by Jack Lacey, and the big-toned first trumpet part by Ralph Muzzillo.
Page 177: The music for “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” was composed by the wonderful Bronislau Kaper (and Walter Jurmann) for the 1937 Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races, with lyrics by Gus Kahn. It was introduced in that movie by Ivie Anderson and Duke Ellington’s band. Kaper composed at least two other themes that jazz musicians have long found attractive: “Invitation” and “On Green Dolphin Street.”
Page 221: Even though Berigan was drinking no more (or less) than he had previously, and the band was in fine shape musically, the reasons given as to why they were not getting these jobs were that Berigan was unreliable because of his drinking, and that he could not engage in the jovial repartee that was so much a part of network radio then, without stumbling. (As an aside, no one was more awkward than Benny Goodman when he first began speaking on radio broadcasts featuring his band. On one notable occasion during the Christmas holidays, Benny was required to introduce the tune “Jingle Bells” to a national radio audience. He did so as follows: “And now, in honor of the season, ‘Jingle Balls.’” His MCA handlers quickly arranged for him to take elocution lessons, after which his radio voice was a cross between the south side of Chicago and Park Avenue. Benny wanted success very badly, and would do what it took to move his band ahead.) Bunny wanted success very badly too, but there were certain things he would not/could not/did not do to move his band ahead. He never took elocution lessons; never got his dead front tooth fixed; and of course, never stopped drinking, at least not for long. In spite of all of this, as the summer of 1938 approached, he was still a spectacular musician, and his band was now one of the hottest swing bands in the country.
Page 263: 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.”
Page 277: In the 1930s, people who drank a lot were often regarded as being colorful and entertaining “characters.” When pianist/arranger Claude Thornhill (later the leader of one of the most exquisite bands of the swing era), who was an alcoholic, went to Hollywood to work as an arranger with the Skinnay Ennis band on the Bob Hope radio show, he quickly established a reputation for eccentric behavior. Carmine Calhoun Ennis, Skinnay’s wife, recalled how Thornhill would, on occasion, enter the posh Victor Hugo restaurant, where the Ennis band often worked: “He used to come into the Hugo, laugh hysterically, and crawl around on the floor, barking at people. Being drunk in those days was looked on differently—drinking wasn’t looked on as the disease of alcoholism. If a celebrity like Claude did crazy things, it was passed off as a joke.” Although Bunny had numerous embarrassing experiences while drunk, he never did anything quite like this.
Page 280: It must have been a deeply tired Berigan band that returned to Manhattan on Sunday, November 4. But tired or not, they were in for another major challenge: they were to battle Erskine Hawkins “The Twentieth Century Gabriel,” and His Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom that night. Hawkins was a very good trumpet player who had an extraordinary high register. He was more of a first trumpet player than a jazz soloist, but jazz or not, he could handle his trumpet very well. Hawkins’s secret weapon however, was another trumpet player in his band, the vastly underrated jazz soloist Wilbur “Dud” Bascomb. In addition, Hawkins had a good tenor sax soloist, Julian Dash, and the crowd-pleasing blues-drenched pianist Avery Parrish. The Hawkins band was an excellent dance band, and had made a lot of friends in its many engagements at the Savoy Ballroom. Once again, Bunny and his band would have their hands full as they invaded the Savoy. They proved to be equal to the task. As Haywood Henry, who played saxophone and clarinet for Hawkins, recalled:
“There were only three bands that stole the show from us at the Savoy: Duke’s, Lionel Hampton’s and Bunny Berigan’s. Bunny took us by surprise. Usually we’d prepare in advance by rehearsing or working over one of their specialities, just to make it more exciting. We didn’t prepare for Bunny, because we thought we had him. But Buddy Rich and Georgie Auld were with him and the house came down! We had a number with a ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ ending, but when our drummer’s foot pedal broke, we sounded so horrible after Buddy Rich had got through. As for Bunny, I’ve no doubt he was the best white trumpet player. And something else— he sounded like himself!”
Page 291: It is interesting to review how Georgie Auld recalled the events surrounding these two recording sessions: “Bunny wanted me to play alto and tenor on this album. I hadn’t touched the alto in a long time. I squeaked a couple of times. Bunny took his trumpet and threw it up against the wall, cursed me out and said, ‘Blackie (Bunny’s nickname for Auld), you sonofabitch, you’re doin’ the squeakin’ so we can go overtime.’ It broke my heart. Those were the first out-of-the-way words we ever had. I go back to the Forrest Hotel, and run into Billie Holiday and Tony Pastor. They say ‘Artie has been looking for you all day. Where have you been?’ They were working at the Lincoln Hotel. So I said, ‘I’ll come by tonight.’ I went by that evening and Artie hired me. The next evening I went back to RCA to finish Bunny’s album. I walked into the men’s room to take a leak, and Bunny’s in there taking one. He looked at me and said: ‘Jeez, Georgie, I was overtrained last night. I never should have done what I did. I hope you’ll forgive me.’ ‘I forgive you Bunny. I hope you’ll forgive me.’ ‘Why? What did you do?’ ‘I joined Artie Shaw last night. I’m going with his band in two weeks.’ He says: ‘You make a move and I’ll knock every one of your fuckin’ teeth out.’ One minute later, he’s hugging me and saying: ‘No matter who’s in your chair with my band, if you’re not happy with Shaw, that chair always belongs to you.’”
Page 304: By this time, MCA’s one-nighter “dartboard” was being used to book the Berigan band. From Scranton, their caravan of automobiles headed north to Kingston, Ontario for a gig at Queens College on the 20th, then on to the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit for a dance on the 22nd. They were off on the 23rd, which was a Monday, then played a one-nighter at the Coliseum Ballroom in Lorain, Ohio on the 24th. From there, they returned to Pennsylvania, where this wild goose chase had begun only the week before. Eddie Jenkins recalled the trip from Lorain to Bradford, Pennsylvania:
“That was a bitterly cold night and after we’d finished the job, we set off for Bradford, Pennsylvania. During that long journey, we ran into a blizzard and one of the cars ran into another vehicle that had been abandoned in the snow. Bob Jenney and another of the boys were injured and required medical attention. Our car, which carried manager Jerry Johnson, singer Kitty Lane, Don Lodice and me, had skidded and spun round in a circle at one point. The band had no drum ‘book,’ to speak of. I took my cues from Hank Wayland’s hand until I became familiar with the arrangements.”
The collision referred to by Eddie Jenkins, which occurred in Corry, PA, was newsworthy enough to be reported in the Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Morning Herald on January 27: “Suffering bruises and cuts were Ray Conniff, driver and trombone; Frederick Wayland, bass; Larry Walsh, sax; Joe Bushkin, piano; and Bob Jenney, trombone.”
Bunny’s band at last had another theater engagement, at Shea’s Theater in Bradford, Pennsylvania, on the 25th, playing four shows. It was there that Danny Richards replaced Dick Wharton: Wharton remembered:
“I left the band on good terms at Bradford, Pennsylvania and joined Vincent Lopez. Betty Hutton was with him then and it seemed like a good move. Bunny was not much of a ‘stage personality,’ like Tommy Dorsey. He never ‘led’ much—he would start a tune and the rest of it was on the music. His teeth were very dark; he smoked cigarettes right down to the very end, yet he didn’t seem to worry about his teeth, as far as I could see.”
Danny Richards added a few more details:
“I joined the band on this date, and my first experience was having to sit in Bob Jenney’s chair in the trombone section, and pretend to play! Bob had been hurt in an auto accident on the way to the job and wasn’t able to play, so I just moved the slide up and down as though I were playing the instrument. However, I didn’t have to pretend when Bunny called me out front to sing. The first number I sang with Bunny was ‘Change Partners.’ I’ll never forget the thrill.”
Page 354: The White materials contain this note regarding the appearance of Viola Underhill with the Berigan band: “‘Miss Rhapsody,’ Viola Underhill, signed a contract to appear at the Apollo Theater during the week beginning December 15th at a weekly salary of $60. She appeared with the Berigan band and according to a newspaper report, ‘practically stole the show from the noted bandleader and his aggregation.’ And a pencilled note in her scrapbook reads, “Rhap got a raise to $75 after the first show.” The viewpoint of a Berigan sideman about this engagement was provided later by Paul Collins: “The Apollo was a great date, with very appreciative audiences. They had an all-colored show with a very fast, very beautiful chorus line. The drummer had a lot to do! Business was very good and the band played really great, but we had to eat smelly doughnuts and spicy spaghetti between shows!”
Page 387: Not everything that happened that summer was pleasant however. Lead alto saxist Hymie Shertzer remembered an incident that finally brought out into the open the lingering animosity between Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich: “One night, backstage at the Astor during an intermission, Frank accused Buddy of messing up one of his vocals with a misplaced paradiddle. He picked up a glass pitcher full of iced-water, threw it straight at Buddy, who ducked, and almost felled me! Fortunately, it missed and struck the wall, shattering into a thousand pieces. Buddy really hated playing ballads and sometimes he’d just stop playing altogether or give a sly, most inappropriate thud on his bass drum, just when Frank reached the most sentimental part of the song!” Sinatra followed up on this by having some thugs accost Rich on a Manhattan street and beat him up. Down Beat’s September 1, 1940, issue contained this headline: “Buddy Rich Gets Face Bashed In,” followed by a story detailing the assault. While Rich recuperated, Nick Pelico, the drummer with Sande Williams’s house band at the Astor, filled in for him.
Page 463: It was after this gig that Danny Richards, surely the most popular performer in the band after Bunny, was forced to leave. He recalled the details, and provided a very concise summary of his three-year association with Berigan: “I had my Army physical on April 7th and was inducted into the Army on April 9th. Kay stayed with the band for a little while after I left. Bunny was a grand guy. And I believe I’m well qualified to say this because I knew him at his best and at his worst, and his worst was not as bad as everybody has been led to believe.”
The Berigan Mystique
People often ask me: what was so special about Bunny Berigan? Here are several answers to that question drawn from the pages of “Mr. Trumpet.”
George T. Simon, who began his long affiliation with Metronome magazine in 1935, was one of many whose first exposure to Berigan’s trumpeting also came while Bunny was in Benny Goodman’s band. Although during the years Bunny fronted a big band Simon was perhaps his most consistently harsh critic (often unfairly so), eventually, he too got the message: “He was for many of us the ultimate jazz trumpeter, a fiery player with a tremendous range and one of the fattest upper register sounds ever to emanate from anyone’s horn.”
But in addition to the bravura, there was a touch of Irish melancholy in Berigan’s playing, and it was expressed sensitively and subtly in many of his ballad performances.
Many years after Berigan’s death, two of the stalwart sidemen from his 1937–1938 big band reflected on the Berigan mystique. Clarinetist/alto saxist Joe Dixon: “You can talk about one thing and another—beautiful, clear, big tone, range, power—and sure that’s part of it—but only part of it. Bunny hit a note, and it had pulse, that certain ingredient that makes it vibrate right away, and—well, inside you. It just did something to you, that’s all. It’s hard to describe, but his sound seemed to, well, soar. He’d play lead and the whole band would soar with him, with or without the rhythm section. There was drama in what he did—he had that ability, like Louis, to make any tune his own. But in the end all that says nothing. You had to hear him, that’s all.” Steve Lipkins played lead trumpet in that band, whenever Bunny didn’t. His impressions were: “He was the first jazz player I’d heard at that time who played the trumpet well from bottom to top, very evenly and strongly throughout. Besides that, he had something special in the magic department, and you had to hear that to understand it.”
Berigan’s relationship with Benny Goodman could be best described as “strained.” Anyone familiar with BG knows that he was not one to pass out compliments, especially about other musicians. He well understood that Berigan’s abuse of alcohol could make him unpredictable as a person, and inconsistent as a performer. Nevertheless, even he was not immune to Berigan’s musical sorcery. He described Bunny’s effect on his band this way: “It was like a bolt of electricity running through the whole band. He just lifted the whole thing. You can explain it in terms of his tone, his range, musicianship, great ideas, whatever you want. It’s all of that—and none of it. It’s a God-given thing.” Shortly before Benny Goodman’s death in 1986, Loren Schoenberg, a young tenor saxophonist and pianist who was then working with BG on a number of projects, showed Goodman a video of Berigan singing and playing in the film short that he made with Fred Rich’s band in 1936. Schoenberg recalled: “Although not usually given to any form of nostalgia, he asked me several times to rewind the tape to where Bunny started; it was one of the few times I saw Benny so moved.”
Berigan’s impact on other trumpet players was enormous. As has been noted in the comments of Berigan band members Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, both of whom had the pleasure of hearing a large amount of Bunny’s playing while he was at the peak of his powers, he could and did do remarkable things very frequently. Other trumpeters who heard less of his playing were also impressed. Jimmy Maxwell began his career as a member of Gil Evans’s band in southern California in the mid-1930s. He was a stalwart member of Benny Goodman’s trumpet section from 1939–1942, and then commenced a long and distinguished career as a New York freelance and teacher. Maxwell was at home in any musical situation, including performing with symphony orchestras, which he often did. Here are his thoughts on Berigan as a trumpet virtuoso:
I’d never heard anyone play so lyrically. It was a good deal like Louis, but it was looser. Armstrong at that point was inclining toward a more rigid, angular style. Bunny would play those beautiful, liquid solos. So fluid. By 1934, he had started to have an enormous influence on trumpet players, particularly white trumpet players. Here was somebody who played with a different feeling, but wasn’t black. I felt Bunny was one of the first bridges, taking the race out of music and playing music. He had the most gorgeous sound, and that beautiful vibrato. And everything he played had a line. It was like a melody, even if it had a lot of notes in it.
Although Berigan’s influence on white trumpet players was huge, black trumpet players also heard something special. Cornetist Rex Stewart, long one of Duke Ellington’s featured soloists, called Bunny Berigan “one of the indestructibles.” He also included Berigan among his favorite trumpeters, along with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Bobby Stark, Charlie Shavers, Bix Beiderbecke, Russell Smith, Bobby Hackett, Alvin Alcorn, and Joe Smith.
George “Pee Wee” Erwin was another marvelous trumpeter who stood in awe of Berigan’s trumpet artistry. In early 1937, it was Erwin who followed Bunny into Tommy Dorsey’s band as its featured jazz soloist. He later recalled one of his first challenges:
Tommy and Eli Oberstein, RCA’s recording supervisor, wanted another tune done to the same formula as ‘Marie’. So we went and recorded ‘Who’ the same way, with me taking a full-chorus solo out of Jack Leonard’s vocal. When we got there, I asked Freddy, the recording engineer, where Bunny had stood when he played that chorus into a standard RCA 44-ribbon mike. He showed me a point approximately thirty feet away from the microphone. Thirty feet! Well, when we recorded ‘Who,’ I stood about fifteen feet away—and I was known in those days for a big tone! You could never fully appreciate the tone he had, and the power, unless you stood in front of his horn and heard it. He hit a note and it was just like a cannon. I’m not talking about volume, but his sheer body of sound. He used a Bach #7 mouthpiece, which is relatively deep. In other words, he was one helluva strong man.
Bunny Berigan was highly regarded and much respected by all his colleagues for his improvisational and inventive, natural ability, his intriguing stylization and phrasing. His sound, not necessarily classical or schooled, but, paradoxically, perfect for jazz, was big and fat in the low register and powerful up high and I do mean high. For he didn’t pop in a very high note now and then just to impress anyone, but if his innovative ideas and advanced configuration of the moment took him up there, he would play up there, interestingly and courageously. He always played with lots of heart, and musicians, especially trumpet players, loved to hear him play, sober or otherwise. (Manny Weinstock, a trumpeter who worked with Berigan at CBS).
There was more to the Berigan mystique than his masterly and inspired trumpet playing. Bunny also had about him a personal charisma, a physical presence that was at once commanding and memorable. Joe Bushkin, the pianist who worked with Bunny’s small group on Manhattan’s Fifty-second Street in 1936, with his big band in 1938–39, and again with him in Tommy Dorsey’s band in 1940, explained it this way: “Look, if you could have seen him there onstage in a white suit, with his blonde hair and penetrating gray eyes, holding that shiny gold trumpet—well, if that didn’t knock you over when he started to play, ain’t nothing gonna knock you down.”
Here is the reminiscence of a young man twenty years old to a Berigan appearance in a theater in 1938:
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.
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!
Trumpeter Irving Goodman (younger brother of Benny) later reflected on his time as a member of Bunny Berigan’s band:
Like everyone else, I was crazy about Bunny. He was with Benny for only a short period, but whenever he was present it was another story. There haven’t been many guys who could electrify Benny, but Bunny was certainly one of them. As a leader, he was great to work for. The whole band would do anything he wanted. It was like a real happy family. His attitude was so great too. Like when we played the boondocks, where it didn’t really count. Bunny never let up—he gave it everything he had. Another thing, he never acted like he was anything special. Maybe he didn’t think he was. Music occupied his mind a lot, and he seemed to be able to inspire everybody to play a bit better than they ordinarily could. The way he beat off a tempo, and the sound he produced, got under our skins. It was so much fun some of us were pretty near willing to work for nothing, and sometimes it nearly came to that!
Mannie Klein, a trumpet virtuoso himself and an ardent Berigan admirer, summarized the unique effect Bunny’s playing had on a band: “You didn’t know sometimes whether he was gonna show up for a session. But when he did show up—well, nobody played with the balls and the beat he did.”
Mr. Trumpet Insights
One of the most characteristic features Bunny Berigan had (in addition to his arresting blue-gray eyes), was his moustache. Trumpeters are very concerned about their embouchure, that is their lips, mouth muscles, etc., all of which are used to play the trumpet. In about 1931, Berigan began to wear a moustache, and did so for the rest of his life. In 1941, he added a trumpeter’s notch, meaning he let the whiskers below his lower lip also grow. (Today this is called a soul patch.) The subject of the benefits or lack thereof of moustaches and soul patches relative to playing the trumpet is one of great debate among trumpeters. Here is a note about that from page 38 of “Mr. Trumpet:”
“It was at about this time that Berigan began to wear a moustache. He, along with many other trumpeters, thought that a moustache would strengthen his embouchure (which is made up of the muscles in the lips and mouth that are used when playing the trumpet), and help his playing. There was not universal agreement among trumpeters about this, however. Among the trumpeters who wore a moustache were: Bix Beiderbecke, Cootie Williams, Roy Eldridge, Buck Clayton, Harry James, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, Clark Terry, and Doc Severinsen. Among those who didn’t were: Louis Armstrong, Henry “Red” Allen, Red Nichols, Muggsy Spanier, Ziggy Elman, Clifford Brown, and Chet Baker.”
John Hammond played an important role in the development of careers of many famous jazz musicians, including Bunny Berigan. Hammond produced three sessions of jazz recordings featuring Berigan in December of 1935 which show Bunny playing at the top of his skills. Also included on these sessions were Bud Freeman, Eddie Condon, Cozy Cole, Johnny Hodges and Mildred Bailey. These recordings caught the attention of many in the jazz world in the mid-1930s. Here is the note about Hammond from page 85:
“John Henry Hammond Jr. was born on December 15, 1910, in New York City into a family of great wealth and prominence. His mother was a Vanderbilt. Hammond’s activities, beginning in the early 1930s as talent scout, record producer, and writer, had a major impact on many careers in jazz, including those of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Teddy Wilson. Later, he was instrumental in launching the careers of Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. One of Hammond’s sisters, Alice, married Benny Goodman in 1942. Hammond’s activities as critic were always somewhat dubious because he was a man of extreme opinions, which he had the wealth and power to indulge. His criticisms, which were delivered as sermons from on high, often were extreme: “he’s maaahvelous,” or “he stinks.” Moreover, he was known to write criticism about artists whose music he recorded as producer for many record labels, a blatant conflict of interest. Hammond was an early and passionate crusader for racial equality, but again his arrogance often undercut what he was trying to do to bring about—racial parity. Black jazz musicians, whose work he preferred, often tolerated his meddling patiently to his face, but among themselves referred to him ironically as “the great white father.” Often in spite of himself, Hammond was a bridge builder whose efforts helped the cause of jazz and jazz musicians. John Hammond died on July 10, 1987, in Manhattan.”
The brothers Fletcher and Horace Henderson were among the pioneers in translating swing from the instrumental solos of jazz musicians to written arrangements played by big bands. Fletcher Henderson is better remembered today largely because he led an excellent band for many years starting in the 1920s, and then in the 1930 contributed many arrangements to the Benny Goodman band that BG made famous. Berigan used many arrangements by both Fletcher and Horace Henderson in his bands. Here is the note about Fletcher and Horace Henderson from page 106:
“Pianist/arranger/bandleader James Fletcher Henderson was born on December 18, 1897, in Cuthbert, Georgia. He was one of the pioneering jazz/dance band leaders in the 1920s, who helped to launch the careers of many of the greatest jazz soloists of the 1920s and 1930s, including Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart, Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, and Ben Webster, among many others, who played in his bands. He also employed some of the most innovative arrangers, most notably Don Redman, from whom he and his younger brother, the vastly underappreciated arranger/pianist Horace Henderson (1904–1988), learned a great deal about how to make a dance band swing. Although Fletcher Henderson’s band was a formidable performing unit from the late 1920s into the 1930s, it was a victim of Henderson’s sometimes lax leadership, the Great Depression, and racial discrimination which barred it from many lucrative engagements. From late 1934 until 1936, he and his brother supplied Benny Goodman’s band with dozens of arrangements on jazz originals and current pop tunes that codified swing band arranging to a large degree to that time. Henderson attempted again in the late 1930s to lead a successful band, but it was not to be. From 1939 on, he worked intermittently with groups of various sizes, achieving neither wide public recognition nor notable musical achievement. He died on December 29, 1952, in New York City after having been previously disabled by a stroke.”
More to come.