When Swing was the thing, and before Harry James married the lady with the legs, the most popular (white) trumpet player that got everyone hot under the collar was Bunny Berigan. His interpretation on “I Can’t Get Started” is still a definitive reading (which subsequently became his band’s theme) and that solo, along with his hot work during his term with Benny Goodman on “King Porter Stomp” had him being compared to Louis Armstrong in terms of power and lyricism. Unfortunately, like too many trumpet players ranging from Bix Beiderbecke to Lee Morgan, he died way too young, succumbing to cirrhosis at the age of 34. This single disc released by UK based Hep Jazz Records collects material from NYC Broadcasts, and shows what the fuss was all about.
Berigan leads an orchestra that is similar in style to Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson. Lots of call and responses between the reeds and brass, and material such as “Big John Special” and “Shanghai Shuffle” are tips of the hat to his influences. He’s got some all stars on board which includes Coleman Hawkins-inspired tenorist Georgie Auld, Joe Lippman/p, Gus Bivona/reeds, George Wettling/dr a young Buddy Rich hitting the skins on “Gangster’s Holiday,” while a Helen Forrest influenced Carol McKay sounds wonderful on “They All Laughed.” Auld gets some well deserved spotlight on a nifty “Royal Garden Blues” and stays in the pocket like Vince Mosconi during “Back in Your Own Back Yard.” As for Berigan himself, he’s able to sound wonderfully personal with an oozing vibrato on “Trees” and “Night Song,” as well as use the entire range of the horn on “Downstream.” He uses a mute to perfection on the cleverly swinging “Louisiana” and mixes well with the velvety reed section on the rhythmic “Howdja Like to Love Me”. The thing that stands out on a recording of an era like this is that what mattered most to the musicians was that each soloist “told a story”; no mindless run of notes in a thousand directions. You had 8-16 bars to say what you had to say, so make it count. These guys express things that today’s artists seem incapable of in 5 times the space. Lots to learn and appreciate here.