Tip Jar
Search this site
Frisco Jazz CDs
Broadcast Awards
NY Festivals 2014
Gabriel Award 2011
Gabriel Award 2009
Gabriel Award 2004
Golden Reel 2003
Golden Reel 2002
Golden Reel 2001
Alguire, Danny
Armstrong, Lil Hardin
Armstrong, Louis
Bagatelle jazz bar
Bardin, Bill
Bales, Burt
Basie, Count
Bearcats archive
Bechet, Sidney
Beiderbecke, Bix
Berigan, Bunny
Berkeley Jazz Houses
Berry, Byron
Blumberg, Jerry
Bolden, Buddy
Bruce, Bobby
Burp Hollow tapes
Butterman, Ted
Carter, Benny
Casa Loma Orchestra
Cattolica, Vince
Chace, Frank
Cheatham, Doc
Christian, Charlie
Christmas Jazz
Clancy Hayes Archive
Clayton, Buck
Club Hangover Archive
Club Hangover Rarities
Coleman, Bill
Colman, Bunky
Cowboy Jazz
Dane, Barabara
Dart, Bill
Ellington, Duke: Live
Ellington, Duke: Tribute
Erickson, Bill
Erickson, Bill: Archive
Ekyan, Andre
Farey, Ev - Bay City JB
Fitzgerald, Ella
Goodman, Benny
Goodwin, Jim
Goudie, Frank Big Boy
Goudie in Paris 1924-39
Goudie's Paris
Goudie's San Francisco
Goudie, Frank: Music Pt 2
Goudie, Frank: Music Pt 3
Great Pacific Jazz Band
Halloween Jazz
Hampton, Lionel
Handy, WC
Hayes, Clancy
Helm, Bob
Hines, Earl Fatha
Holiday, Billie
Honeybucket tapes
Jazz Guitar Pioneers
Johnson, Bunk
Johnson, James P.
Joplin, Janis: Jazz tapes
Lang, Eddie
Larks Club tapes
Lashley, Barbara
Lyttelton, Humphrey
McDonald, Stan: Programs
McDonald, Stan: Bio
McDonald, Stan: Bonus
Men of the Blues
Mielke, Bob
Misc Topics I
Misc Topics II
Monkey Inn Gang I
Monkey Inn Gang II
Morton, Jelly Roll
Murphy, Spud
Murphy, Turk
Napier, Bill
Nods Taproom
Noone, Jimmie
Oakland Swingin' A's Jazz Band
Oliver, Joe King
Ordinary, The tapes
Oxtot, Dick
Oxtot Golden Age JB
Piano & Boogie Kings
Pier 23 tapes
Pioneer Village
Price, Sammy
Reinhardt, Django
Rose, Wally
Russell, Pee Wee
Scheelar, Earl
Scheelar tape archive
Shaw, Artie
Sissle, Noble
Skjelbred, Ray
Smith, Bessie & Rainey, Ma
Smith, Jabbo
South, Eddie
South Frisco JB archive
Stanton, PT '50s-'60s
Stanton, PT 1970s
Strickler, Benny: Frisco
Strickler, Benny: Tulsa
Spanier, Muggsy
Teagarden, Jack
Violin Jazz
Waller, Fats
Washboard Rhythm Kings
Watters, Lu
West Coast Trad Jazz
Williams, Clarence
Women of Jazz
Women of Jazz (AUDIO)
Yerba Buena Jazz Band
Yerba Buena archive
YBJB Phil Elwood
Young, Lester
Radlauer books
Writing and Essays

Soaring with

In the late '30s his masterful horn soared above the finest bands. 

An outstanding trumpet player of the Swing era who was best known for his hit recording of “I Can’t Get Started.” 

One of the first to play the trumpet equally well from top to bottom, Bunny successfully fused the extroverted power of Armstrong with the nuanced tone palette of Bix.

Soaring with Bunny Berigan Pt. 1A.mp3
A STUDY IN BROWN  --  Bunny Berigan Orchestra, 4/38
NOTHIN' BUT THE BLUES  --  Gene Gifford Orchestra 5/35
BLUES  --  Bunny  Bergian and his Boys, 12/35
KING PORTER STOMP  --  Benny Goodman Orchestra, 7/35
SOLO HOP  --  Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, 4/35
I’M COMING VIRGINIA  --  Bunny Berigan and his Blue Boys, 12/35
SWING MISTER CHARLIE  --  Bunny  Bergian and his Boys, 2/36
I CAN’T GET STARTED  --  Bunny Berigan and his Boys, 4/36
THE BUZZARD  --  Bud Freeman and his Windy City Five, 4/35

Soaring with Bunny Berigan Pt. 1B.mp3
THE BLUES  --  Radio Broadcast Session, 3/36
SWEET SUE  --  Radio Broadcast Session, 3/36
BUGLE CALL RAG  --  Radio Broadcast Session, 3/36
BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra,  3/38
ROSE ROOM  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra,  3/38
WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra,  4/38
DEVIL’S HOLIDAY  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 4/38
PANAMA/I CAN’T GET STARTED  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 1939

“Benny Goodman, with one of his inferior bands, finally arrived at the [1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco] and drew great crowds of what were known as hep-cats.  It was the era of the big bands, and if you’d heard his greatest, the one with Bunny Berigan (playing with pitcher of gin under his chair) you were ahead of the game.”

--  Herb Caen, The Best of Herb Caen: 1960-1975, Chronicle Books, 1991, p. 68

Soaring with Bunny Berigan Pt. 2A.mp3
CHICKEN AND WAFFLES  --  Bunny Berigan and his Blue Boys,  2/36
YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME  --  Bunny Berigan and his Blue Boys,  2/36
THE BLUES  --  A Jam Session at Victor,  3/37
HONEYSUCKLE ROSE  --  A Jam Session at Victor,  3/37
SHANGHAI SHUFFLE  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 4/38
BLACK BOTTOM  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 5/38
(A SKY OF BLUE) AND SO FORTH  --  Bunny Berigan and the Rhythmakers, 6/38
JELLY ROLL BLUES  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 11/38
BLUE LOU  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 1/37
MAMA, I WANT TO MAKE RHYTHM  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 9/37

Soaring with Bunny Berigan Pt. 2B (mp3)
CANDLELIGHTS  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 11/38
DAVENPORT BLUES  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 11/38
SUGAR FOOT STOMP  --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 1939
I’VE FOUND A NEW BABY  --  Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, 8/40
I CAN’T GET STARTED   --  Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra, 8/37

A Musician's Musician

Berigan was a tall, handsome, dark-haired Irishman adored by Big Band audiences and deeply admired by fellow musicians.  More than 600 recordings are evidence of his brilliant talent, ability to make a tune his own and remarkable mastery of trumpet throughout its range.  Sadly, despite his successful high profile career during the 1930s, Berigan died in the early 1940s from alcoholism.

Berigan was a charming, popular and well-loved musician.  Not only a trumpeter but an occasional singer as well.  He was a charismatic stage personality.  By all accounts the experience of hearing him live was electrifying, revelatory, and described as ‘life-changing.’  Those who did hear him said words failed to describe his sound -- that you had to be there to experience the magic.

Bunny was held in high respect, even awe, by his fellow musicians.  For instance Louis Armstrong said, “To me, Bunny can’t do no wrong in music,” and Berigan’s skills were often compared favorably to Satchmo’s.  Benny Goodman described his solos as, “a bolt of electricity running through the whole band . . . he just lifted the whole thing.”

As Jazz was maturing in the late 1920s a clear dichotomy arose in trumpet style and musical conception between the bravura, extroverted sound of Louis Armstrong, versus the more introverted, nuanced manner of Bix Beiderbecke.  Berigan’s unique achievement lay in fully blending and synthesizing these two tendencies into his own personal vocabulary:  
    * Like Armstrong, he was capable of maintaining powerfully expressive virtuosity through a wide range of timbre and dynamics. 
    * Yet like Bix, he tailored his playing to serve the musical material while incorporating a subtle lyricism that had originated with Beiderbecke.  

Berigan  uniquely fused these diverse stylistic elements with his own fine harmonic sensibilities into a distinctive, uninhibited personal voice.  This synthesis is best heard in his eloquent and masterful interpretation of “I’m Coming Virginia.”

Bunny Berigan - I’m Coming Virginia (mp3)

 Big Band Era Superstar

Oddly, while Berigan should be best known for his superb trumpet playing, it’s his vocal rendition of “I Can’t Get Started” for which he’s best remembered.  In 1936 something about the lyric caught the mood of the times, with its references to having tea or dinner with Greta Garbo or Franklin D (Roosevelt), settling revolutions in Spain and flying around the world in a plane.  Even though he was hardly a great singer and only rarely sang, Berigan’s low key, plaintive hit has entranced listeners ever since.

Bunny Berigan - I Can’t Get Started (mp3)

It seems that many successful Big Band instrumentalists thought they could run a band . . . or were urged to it by friends, fans, promoters or record companies.  Most failed financially even if they succeeded musically and Berigan was no exception to the rule.  It’s sad too, because Bunny was particularly ill-equipped to run a band: his management was lax, he didn’t run a disciplined organization and the whole enterprise became a non-stop drinking party.  

Berigan’s band had few big-name musicians.  However he did have one in particular who’s not well enough known: George Auld, a Canadian-born, Coleman Hawkins-inspired tenor saxophonist.  Though Auld’s tone and attack defy description his sax solos brought a bright energy and lightness to the band before he moved on to join Artie Shaw and then Benny Goodman.  (Incidentally, Auld was much later heard prominently on the soundtrack of the 1977 film, “New York, New York” in which he also appeared.)

Though Bunny’s band sounded great and his musicians were happy, he was bankrupt in three years.  Nonetheless much exciting music (and frankly, some not so exciting) came out of Bunny’s orchestra.  At its best the band had a drive equal to the high-profile outfits, thanks in part to various drummers: Johnny Blowers, George Wettling, Dave Tough and Buddy Rich.  Some fine records and very good broadcast transcriptions of his orchestra remain.

The impressive list of his employers, colleges and band mates over the years tells us Berigan was in constantly high demand by the Dorsey brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, Artie Shaw, Frankie Trumbauer, Red Norvo, Andre Kostelanetz, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, CBS and NBC radio, Columbia, Decca, Victor and Brunswick record companies.

When the swing-era magazine Metronome asked its readers in 1936 to vote for their favorite musicians, they elected trumpeter Bunny Berigan.  A subsequent jam session at Victor Records placed him among fellow All-stars’: Tommy Dorsey, guitarist Dick McDonough, drummer George Wettling and Fats Waller.

Parallels with Bix

There are odd, even spooky, parallels between the lives of Bunny Berigan and Bix Beiderbeke:  

  * Both died from alcoholism at a young age.

  * Both were from the upper Midwest: Bix from Iowa, Bunny from Wisconsin next door.

  * Each worked for a while in the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

  * They even played together once on a gig, though Bix was pretty far gone by that point.

Jazz writer Richard Sudhalter who has examined the music of Bunny and Bix in detail points to musical similarities between them, some obvious, others rather subtle:

 * The use of 'ghost notes.'

 * Lengthy concentrations of eighth notes played with a bell-like attack.

 * And melodic lines that encompass more than one contrapuntal part.

Clearly Berigan felt a deep kinship with Bix.  He was the first to record Beiderbecke’s little-known impressionistic compositions six years after his death, “Candlelights” waxed in 1938 being the most successful.

Bunny Berigan - Candlelights (mp3)

Killed by Alcohol

Drunk or sober his playing was incomparable. Nonetheless, alcohol eventually killed Bunny.  Besides making him unreliable and turning a usually likeable fellow into a 'mean drunk.'  Drinking undermined his employees (employers) confidence and his ultimate potential for success.

After dissolving his orchestra Berigan worked in others, most notably Tommy Dorsey’s.  But his alcoholism deteriorated, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, and there were ‘incidents’: falling off stage or passing out on the bandstand.

By the early '40s Berigan was physically wasted, suffering all the horrifying symptoms of late stage alcoholism:  edema, tremors and delirium.  His old friend Tommy Dorsey was with him when he died in June 1942 . . . at age 33.

A Soaring and Innate Grandeur

The unique freshness and distinct style of his music endures.  Bunny’s music was not always calculated primarily to impress, but best serve the musical narrative.  Each phrase, note, flourish or effect focuses your attention more on the music than the player. 

He was a brilliant talent, fusing together in his own style the bold, brash extroverted power of Louis Armstrong with the reflective nuanced sensitivity of Bix Beiderbeke, while demonstrating excellent strength, tone and power throughout the entire range of the trumpet.

For over a decade, and nearly 600 recordings before his death in 1942, Bunny was one of the finest, most consistently inspiring trumpet talents of his generation, white or black. 

Author Richard Sudhalter points to his “innate grandeur of conception, lending a sense of inevitability to whatever he plays.”  Whatever he played, Berigan soared, taking the music to a higher level.  He awed fellow musicians.  In the many decades since his untimely passing Bunny Berigan’s trumpet has continued to soar through musical skies.