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New Bunny Berigan discoveries

July 16, 2012

By Micheal Steinman
Re-post from his blog “Jazz Lives”

Some researchers, having completed a massive project, never want to think about the subject again.  Not Michael P. Zirpolo.  His research into the life and music of Bunny Berigan didn’t come to a halt once his excellent biography, MR. TRUMPET-The Trials, Tribulations and Triuphs of Bunny Berigan, was published.  (For an enthusiastic review of that fine book, click here.)

No, it seems as if Mike put on his miner’s hat — the one with the lamp — and went into the archives, determined as he could be to make sure the world could hear more of Bunny’s playing, singing, and his great band.

But first — some Berigan music from 1937 — a famous Disney song, HEIGH-HO, with a vocal by Gail Reese, a tenor saxophone solo by George Auld, astonishing trumpet by Bunny and entrancing drumming by Dave Tough:

Now for the delightful news, courtesy of the website: http://bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com/

FLASH!…I have found at least 25 previously unissued aircheck and other recordings made by Bunny Berigan in the years 1936-1939 in the Berigan archive at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have also found approximately a dozen other aircheck and other recordings in this cache that were issued many years ago on the Shoestring label with absolutely no remastering or clean-up done on them. These recordings were made by either the Harry Smith Recordings studio, by Brunswick Records, or as a part of the “Modern Rhythm Choruses” demonstration recordings made by Berigan in March of 1939. (All of these recordings were part of Berigan’s private record collection, which included many commercial recordings by other bands, and orchestras, including many “classical” recordings. It appears that Bunny had very broad taste in music. Most of the commercial records in his collection still had stickers on them from a record store on Broadway near 52nd Street where he bought them.)

The technicians at the University of Wisconsin are currently digitizing these previously unissued or once issued Berigan recordings. When they are done, they will send me the digital copies so I can positively identify and date the performances. I will also listen to these digital copies for quality of sound. Visually, the acetate disks on which these recordings were made appeared to be in very good condition. However, until I have heard the dubs, I will not be able to comment on how these recordings sound.

Although there will undoubtedly be copyright issues to be dealt with before these recordings can be issued, I will do everything in my power to see that these recordings are cleaned-up, remastered, and issued with appropriate liner notes. These recordings are the property of the University of Wisconsin, and I will work with the University to see that all revenue generated from their sale will go into a restricted fund at UW-Madison to pay the costs to have the various materials in the Berigan archive curated. At least that is my hope.

I will keep you posted on all developments.

FLASH #2!…The digital copies of the University of Wisconsin Bunny Berigan recordings arrived a couple of days ago. There were three full CDs, each containing about 15 tracks. I listened to all of them in one sitting, and am absolutely delighted with almost all of these either previously unreleased or once released recordings. The sound on most of them is extremely good. Many tracks have sensational sound. The playing of the Berigan band on those from mid-1937 is very good; the band’s playing about a year later is excellent, and the live tracks from the fall of 1938, with Buddy Rich on drums, are extremely exciting. These will be the ONLY live recordings of the Berigan band with Buddy Rich, if we can get them cleaned-up and issued. Bunny’s playing on these recordings ranges from good to magnificent.

I am in the process of organizing these recordings, providing each with either an absolutely accurate date/location or an approximate date/location, and will then add as much relevant info about each track as is necessary to put it into its proper context. I hope to begin posting on this website all info about these recordings as soon as I am able. I will undoubtedly be doing this in stages because of the number of recordings involved, so you will have something like a developing saga to follow here.

I can now say without any hesitation that the number of previously unissued Berigan recordings in this cache is at least 25, making it the largest find to-date of such recordings. This is a major development for Berigan fans!

More to follow…

THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN BUNNY BERIGAN FILMS and RECORDINGS

On May 14 and 15, 2012, I was at the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison doing research regarding films and recordings where Bunny Berigan appears. I was vaguely aware of what films were there, but had no idea of what recordings were there. What I found will be of great interest to Berigan aficionados. Here is a summary of what I found.

FILMS

I was able to view a 16 millimeter film, which I had previously thought contained a home movie of Bunny and his band that had been taken by arranger Andy Phillips while the Berigan band was appearing at Kennywood Park, just outside of Pittsburgh, in May of 1939. A part of that film strip, about a minute and a half or two minutes long, did in fact contain scenes of Bunny and his father, Cap Berigan, walking and posing at Kennywood. It also contained scenes of a bandstand, presumably the one at Kennywood, and of the Berigan band, including vocalists Danny Richards and Wendy Bishop, in action. Bunny directed the band quite enthusiastically, and moved around in front of it quite a lot while doing so. I say “presumably at Kennywood” because the next stop on the Berigan itinerary then was in Detroit, at Eastwood Gardens, and the bandstand scenes could have been shot there as well. However, I am going to suggest that it is more likely that all scenes of Bunny and his band on this film strip were taken at Kennywood.

The other part of this film strip contains a copy of the 1936 film short where Berigan appeared with Fred Rich’s band, including many of Bunny’s colleagues from CBS. This film short is widely available, and parts of it have been posted on You Tube.

Records at the Library indicate that the Kennywood footage was spliced together with the Fred Rich film short material sometime in the 1960s. The original Kennywood film likely remained in the possession of Andy Phillips, and is now presumably in the hands of his heirs. Many still photos have been extracted from that film strip over the years, some of which now appear in “Mr. Trumpet.”

RECORDINGS

The cache of recordings I discovered can best be organized by year. There are recordings from 1937, 1938, and 1939.

1937

1-May 1, 1937 Madhattan Room, “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight ” —vocal Carol McKay

2-May 1, 1937 Hotel Pennsylvania “The You and Me that Used to Be” —vocal Ford Leary

3-May 5, 1937 New York City “Swanee River”

4-May 5, 1937 “Big John Special”

5-May 8, 1937 “Summer Night” —vocal Carol McKay

6-May 8, 1937 “You Showed Me the Way” —vocal Carol McKay

7-May 8, 1937 “Mahogany Hall Stomp”

8-May 12, 1937 “They All Laughed” —vocal Carol McKay

9-May 13, 1937 “Mr. Ghost Goes to Town”

10-May 13, 1937 “Royal Garden Blues”

11-May 29, 1937 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight” —spoken introduction by Bunny Berigan

13-June 12, 1937 Roof Garden, “Rose Room”

Hotel Pennsylvania “Peckin’”

1938

1-March 27, 1938 Paradise Restaurant, “How’d Ya Like to Love Me?” —vocal Gail Reese

2-March 27, 1938 New York City “Downstream” —vocal Gail Reese

3-March 27, 1937 “Sweet as a Song” —vocal Gail Reese

4-April 1, 1938 Paul Whiteman in “Dark Eyes”

Concert WABC-NYC Berigan appeared as a guest soloist on this Whiteman broadcast, accompanied by the Whiteman orchestra.

5-April 3, 1938 Paradise Restaurant, “It’s Wonderful” —vocal Gail Reese

6-April 3, 1938 New York City “Royal Garden Blues”

“Royal Garden Blues” is a scintillating performance which contains a superbly constructed jazz solo by Berigan, excellent solos by Georgie Auld on tenor sax and Sonny Lee on trombone, terrific drumming by Johnny Blowers, and much swing from the entire band. Bunny’s solo is additional evidence that at this time, he could play jazz as well as anybody then on the scene.

7-April 3, 1938 “Have You Ever Been in Heaven?” —vocal Gail Reese

8-April 3, 1938 “Peg O’My Heart”

9-April 8, 1938 “Am I Blue?”

10-April 8, 1938 “Let ‘Er Go”

“Let ‘Er Go,” a pop tune, which was recorded by the Berigan band in 1937 with a vocal, is played instrumentally, and romps all the way with extended solos by Berigan, Auld, Joe Dixon on clarinet, and Sonny Lee on trombone. Once again, the drumming of Johnny Blowers is excellent.

11-April 8, 1938 “Trees”

This was one of the most played numbers in the Berigan book from the time it was recorded in December of 1937 until Bunny died in 1942. The fidelity on this recording (and almost all of the others from the Paradise Restaurant) is superb and Bunny and the band perform splendidly.

12-May 26, 1938 NBC Magic Key of Radio “Somewhere with Somebody Else” —vocal Dick Wharton

13-September 24, 1938 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “Dark Eyes”:

Bunny appeared as a guest soloist accompanied by the CBS band.

14-October 5, 1938(?) Unknown location “Gangbuster’s Holiday”

This recording, (there are two diffferent takes, both of which sound like they were recorded in a studio as opposed to some remote location) and the ones noted below (*), reveal the change in orientation the Berigan band underwent in the summer and early fall of 1938 as a result of Bunny’s admiration of the style of Count Basie’s band. He began to work with the young arranger/trombonist Ray Conniff, who was then a member of the Berigan band, to create a series of arrangements on jazz tunes and originals that highlighted all of the jazz assets of the Berigan band. Consequently, these recordings present what was one of the best swing bands of the day in very congenial jazz settings. The rocking drumming of Buddy Rich and the waves of rhythmic riffs created by Conniff’s charts provide a splendidly swinging foundation for the jazz solos of Berigan on trumpet, Georgie Auld, then in his early Herschel Evans phase, on tenor sax, Gus Bivona on clarinet, and Ray Conniff himself on trombone. When playing these arrangements, the Berigan band of late 1938 was in the vanguard of swing.

15-October 5, 1938 Roseland Ballroom, “Wacky Dust” —vocal Jayne Dover

16-October 12, 1938 (?) New York City “Moten Swing”*

In “Mr. Trumpet,” I stated that this recording was made in the spring of 1938. This assertion was based on research I did (including a statement in the White materials), about this aircheck. At the time, I had not yet heard this recording. Based on newly discovered aural evidence, I am now certain that this aircheck was recorded during the time Georgie Auld, Buddy Rich and Gus Bivona were all members of the Berigan band, which would have been between September 12, 1938, when Bivona joined, and December 15, 1938, when Auld left. The playing of all three of these soloists is plainly discernible in this performance, as is the trombone solo of Ray Conniff. I am not certain however, that this recording was made while the Berigan band was playing at Roseland Ballroom in New York City in the fall of 1938, though it could have been.

17-October 12, 1938 “Gangbuster’s Holiday”*

NOTE: These four recordings are the only ones I have heard (to-date) where drummer Buddy Rich performed on live recordings with the Berigan band. To say that he was playing wonderfully and driving the Berigan band would be an understatement.

18-November 19, 1938 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “I Can’t Get Started” (no vocal): Bunny performed this with the CBS band.

There may be a couple of more recordings in this cache from 1938. I do believe that the private recordings referred to on page 275 of “Mr. Trumpet,” Bunny made with Joe Bushkin and Bud Freeman in September or October of 1938, are among them. However, I will have to do some very close listening before I am able to provide any worthwhile information about them.

1939

There are nineteen more recordings in this group. Unlike the recordings from 1937 and 1938, which are almost universally in excellent sound (almost all of them were professionally recorded by the Harry Smith Recording Studio), these sides are on Presto acetate disks, and have apparently been played often. Consequently, there is a good bit of surface noise and some skips on many of them. For these recordings to be issued, they will have to be worked on by an audio specialist.  Nevertheless, there is much good Berigan playing on these sides, often in short performances with a pianist who sounds like Joe Bushkin, and a drummer, who sounds like George Wettling. This trio format often suggests the sound the Benny Goodman Trio recordings. Also, there is one performance, where Lee Wiley sings “You Leave Me Breathless,” accompanied only by Bushkin, that is exquisite, among a number of other surprises.

More info later.

FLASH # 3!…Since I have posted these notices about the University of Wisconsin “new” Berigan recordings, I have had a number of inquiries about them, and requests that I make dubs of them. Since these recordings belong to the University of Wisconsin, I cannot make dubs of them, or allow copies to be made in any manner that could lead to them being bootlegged. Indeed, I can’t even appear on any media to play them, though I have already been asked to do that. I will be working with people at the University of Wisconsin to try to get these recordings cleaned-up, remastered, and issued, with relevant photos and intelligent liner notes. Unfortunately, these recordings, like the “Savory Recordings” owned by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, are in a state of limbo because of the current rather bizarre U.S. copyright laws. (Thank you Sonny Bono and the Disney Co.) In order to determine how they can be issued in conformity with the copyright laws, I will have to work with lawyers who are copyright experts. That will take time. In the meantime, I ask that Berigan aficionados around the globe be patient.

Several people have expressed some doubt that these recordings have never been issued before. I can assure you that the vast majority of them have NEVER been issued. I have had many questions about the sound quality on these recordings. Probably 75% of them are in excellent condition, with superb fidelity. The remaining 25% range in condition from good sound quality with varying amounts of hiss, some skips, etc., to a very few that may not be of sufficient quality to be issued. Finally, I have often been asked: “How was Bunny playing on them?” I can say without reservation that several of these recordings contain as good playing by Bunny as I have ever heard, and I have heard almost all of the recordings Berigan made. In short, these are remarkable recordings that must be issued.

While we are waiting for progress on the issuance of these recordings, I will be periodically uploading short excerpts from them to this website. Then you can hear for yourselves what I am talking about.

And the special treat on Mike’s Berigan website is an excerpt from that romping performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, performed at the Paradise Restaurant, New York City, April 3, 1938.  But to hear this, you’ll have to visit MR. TRUMPET (without using Google Chrome as your browser, for a variety of arcane technological reasons).

More to come!  And Mike would love feedback about these treasures: email him at mzirpolo@neo.rr.com

May your happiness increase.

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