Thursday, October 3, 2013

Waxing Nostalgic:Bunny Berigan/The Great Dance Bands of the 30s and 40s

Continuing our series of standout LPs of my youth,is this great collection featuring the best of Bunny Berigan's 1937/8 band. Originally RCA LPM-2078.
I recently enjoyed Michael Zipuro's exellent Bio. of Bunny, Mr. Trumpet(Scarecrow Press) . In his foreward he mentions this LP making an impression on him as a youngster,as it did to me. The lovely cover art also made an impression on a 10 year old jazz fan,showing Bunny in front of his band surrounded by dancers  and singing into an overhead mike (taken from a famous photo).
I had heard Bunny's classic, I Can't get Started and his enduring solos on Tommy Dorsey's Marie and Song of India, but hadn't heard much of Bunny's own big band from this period.
Along with Bunny's amazing trumpet flights I discovered what a fine,swinging band he had with exellent arrangements and soloists.
Here are my current impressions of the tunes I first listened to over 50 years ago.

I Can't get Started (8/7/37)-There's not much more you can add to this brilliant swing concerto for trumpet. Bunny used a similar arrangement for his 1936 small band version. His pianist and arranger Joe Lippman fleshed the earlier chart out with full band chords to back Bunny's opening cadenza and his brilliant flights following his vocal. Bunny uses the whole range of the horn thruout ending on a high Eflat ala Louis.
His vocal is also very charming(ably backed by George Wettling's brushwork). Bunny had a light,mellow tenor voice and phrased like he played his horn also an homage to Louis. This cut and The Prisoner's Song were part of an RCA Swing Symposium featuring the top bands playing extended 12' 78 performances.

Caravan(8/18/37) - Another perennial in Bunny's book arranged by Lippman. There is fine reed work featuring clarinets and Mike Doty's bass clarinet along with Bunny's wonderful opening and closing growls stating the melody. Doty was a fine leadman and veteran of the Joe Haymes, Phil Harris and Tommy Dorsey bands.

Jelly Roll Blues (11/22/38)-The Jelly Roll Morton classic gets a novel swing arrangement by Glenn Osser.
Clarinets state the melody at the beginning and end bookended by a brilliant Bunny solo using some of Louis' drama. Low and Middle register playing on the first chorus followed by a classic flight into the High register over stops. Bunny returns muted for the melody reprise. A classic Bunny solo.

Swanee River(5/13/37)- A Larry Clinton chart and another that Bunny played on many broadcasts and live dates. Along with Bunny's driving muted passages we get some wild, booting tenor by young Georgie Auld.
He would soon mature into a more big-toned stylist but his early work with Bunny is a delight.
You can also hear Bunny's driving lead trumpet-he was a consumate lead man.Bunny played a lot of lead in the band, but also had the veteran Steve Lipkins on lead and Benny Gooman's capable brother, Irving on 2d trumpet.

Never Felt Better,Never had Less(4/21/38)-This Glenn Osser chart shows the Berigan band's swinging way with a pop tune(a musical clone of Never say Never Again). Ruth Gaylor takes the pleasant vocal-she sang with Hudson-DeLange and later Hal McIntyre. Bunny takes a muted spot and leads the brass on the rideout. Miss Gaylor and Kathleen Lane were Bunny's best vocalists.

Trees (12/23/37)- See our earlier post on 8/30/08. Another classic solo,not as grandiose as Can't get Started but a great showcase of Bunny's drama and range on the trumpet. His impassioned solo goes from a low F (a fake note he lips) up to a high F all within one chorus. Bunny also leads the brass on the first chorus and rides the band home after Auld's tenor spot. This is Bunny at his very best. 

The Prisoner's Song (8/7/37).- One of Bunny's most popular instrumentals was the flip side to Can't get Started on the Swing Symposium set. The original arrangement by Dick Rose wasn't very popular with the band,but was eventually turned into more of a 'head' chart.
Unfortunatly, the LP version is edited omitting Bunny's opening growls and the band's first chorus. However we can enjoy Bunny's 3 fantastic choruses including that masterful descending line and his high note rips.
Also heard are Auld's kicking tenor, Joe Dixon's agile,rhythmic clarinet -he came over from Tommy Dorsey and was one of the outstanding soloists in the early Berigan band-and Sonny Lee's trombone. Lee was a veteran player(born 1904) who had worked with Frank Trumbauer, Isham Jones and Artie Shaw. He played lead and jazz,was a gifted improviser and had a neat muted sound using a felt hat. On live dates, Bunny would open up this chart-the June 26,1938 Magic Key radio broadcast has a five minute version with many inspired solos.

Rockin' Roller's Jubilee (10/14/38)- is another pop tune of the day (Victor saddled Bunny with many "dogs").
Bunny and the band inject a lot of life into their version (Erskine Hawkins also covered it). Jayne Dover,another Hudson-DeLange alum does a credible vocal . Bunny and Auld have hot spots and Bunny leads the brass on the rideout.The closing sax ensemble has Clyde Round's baritone prominent-a frequent Berigan voicing.We also get a bit of Joe Bushkin's sparking piano (another future jazz star) Buddy Rich had joined the band at this time.Bunny was obviously a fine talent scout.

Frankie and Johnnie (6/25/37).- Another popular Bunny swinger that was used frequently on live dates and broadcasts. Arranged by Dick Rose the chart sports Bunny on a hot midle register solo and some more of Auld's energetic tenor. Bunny joins the brass for a kicking rideout with him way up high.

'Cause my Baby says it's So (4/1/37).- A cute pop tune covered by other bands of the day features another Bunny vocal. He sounds loose and slurry here with a bit of that charming tenor. Bunny could also scat in a manner reminicent of Leo Watson of the Spirits of Rhythm. After the vocal he comes ripping out of nowhere with a stinging high note followed by a patented series of growls and clever inversions, he returns with a melody spot over the clever coda.

The Wearin' of the Green (5/26/38).- Bunny had several swing treatments of Irish favorites saluting his heritage,this is one of the best.The Joe Lippman chart begins and ends with a fugue-like passage by the clarinets and bass clarinet. Bunny plays some strutting cup and open trumpet followed by Auld. Next is a tasty jazz spot by trombonist Ray Conniff (long before his popular "Singers") and leadman Nat Lobovsky's
Dorsey-like sweet spot.  The band takes the bridge with Bunny emerging on a scorching high F and a bit of the Campbells are Comin'. Bunny even joins the trombones on a melody passage showing off his low register before the coda. A Berigan classic!

Black Bottom (12/23/37)-.Another old favorite given a swing treatment arranged by Dick Rose. This became another of Bunny's favorites for live shows and was often opened up for extra solos.
Bunny's solo is especially inspired with snatches of Louis' Cornet Chop Suey, Weather Bird and Potatoe Head before tossing in a bit of Arkansas Traveler. We also get nice spots from Auld,Dixon(riding over band riffs),Lee,Hank Wayland's slap bass and Wettling's drums.
The rideout has Bunny up high leading the brass. A great finale to a classic album and a wointroduction to Bunny Berigan and his band at their best.
The next year (1960) RCA Camden issued a follow-up LP,Bunny. This album has many more 1937-9 gems including Study in Brown, Azure , High Society and Jazz Me Blues. It will be the subject of a future post.
The original lp was transferred to a CD with extra cuts as I Can't get Started (out of print). For a time RCA Bluebird had all of Bunny's Victor's on a 3 Volume lp set. The best place to find all of his Big Band work is on the Classics CD series.  Many of his broadcasts are available on CD.
A Bunny Berigan Anecdote
My good friend and fellow collector Ed Reynolds of Wakefield, Mass. gave us this fun story involving the Berigan band.
During the summer of 1937, Ed caught Bunny's band at Kimball's Starlight in Lynnfield,Mass. , a popular open-air dance pavilion.
Besides enjoying Bunny's superb trumpet and band he was surprised to see girl singer Ruth Bradley sitting in with the sax section between vocal features . Miss Bradley was a capable reed player, having worked with Ina Rae Hutton's "All-Girl Band".
Ed reported it was a strange and lovely sight seeing Ruth in evening gown joining the other sax section.
I'm sure she saved Bunny a big headache in dealing with a missing saxophonist!