Bunny Berigan started out in Hal Kemp's orchestra in 1930 and soon moved on to become one of the most sought-after studio musicians in New York in the early 30s. After playing with among others the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey, he formed his own band in 1937. Five years and several different band lineups later, he died at the age of 33 as a consequence of his severe alcoholism.
Bunny is often mentioned as one of the greatest trumpeters of the jazz and swing era, up there with Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. As such, jazz aficionados have sought out and reissued almost every note that he ever recorded. The recordings featured here come from a Shoestring LP produced by Bunny Berigan researcher Cedric "Bozy" White.
White and partners worked for decades on a mammoth bio-discography of Berigan's life, but the work was never published before White died. Drawing heavily on this material, Michael P. Zirpolo published the enjoyable Mr. Trumpet – The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan in 2011. The book website features several rare clips of Berigan recordings that I urge you to check out, in particular 'Moten Swing', recorded live in 1938.
Back to the featured tracks from the Shoestring LP, which are in very poor audio quality. First we have the only known recording of the song 'Savoy Jump', live from Hotel Sherman in Chicago in 1939. It was written by trombonist Ray Conniff, but he had just left Berigan's band when this recording was made. Like many other Berigan alumni, Conniff later joined Artie Shaw, and the song was recorded as 'Just Kiddin' Around' in 1941 – this song is well known to lindy hoppers. Bunny's band played at the Savoy Ballroom several times and often in battles with the Savoy Sultans, hence this song's style and title.
For the trumpet solos, I quote the liner notes of the LP: "The TRUMPET SOLO titles were cut by BUNNY (and by 27 other top jazzmen) for a series of books called 'Modern Rhythm Choruses' (which, as recently as a year ago , could still be purchased at the local music shop). The same 10 titles were cut by all the jazzmen but these 4 titles by Bunny seem to be all the recorded evidence that has been preserved. Bunny takes some exceptional liberties with these old standards, and he is as good here as you will hear, with ideas fresh and inventive." Through the heavy noise we can enjoy five song snippets with Bunny's beautiful playing throughout.
Discographical data from The Jazz Discography by Tom Lord:
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra: Bunny Berigan, Johnny Napton, Jake Koven, Joe Bauer (tp) Al Jennings, Mark Pasco (tb) Gus Bivona, Don Lodice, Charles DiMaggio, Larry Walsh (reeds) Joe Bushkin (p) Tommy Moore (g) Mort Stuhlmaker (b) Paul Collins (d)
Broadcast, "Panther Room, Hotel Sherman', Chicago, July, 1939
Bunny Berigan: Bunny Berigan (tp) Buddy Koss (p) Jack Maisel (d)
New York, autumn 1940
China Boy (Retake)
LP source: Bunny Berigan – Volume 2 (Shoestring 101)