This is the wild card, and I’m gonna take it in the neck for writing about this guy. But hey, it’s my website and I want to put up one of my favorite jazz songs—and trumpet solos.
True, Bunny Berigan wasn’t as important in the history of jazz as some trumpeters I’ve omitted (Chet Baker comes to mind). But he wasn’t a slouch, either! And ever since I listened to I Can’t Get Started on one of my parents’ “oldies” LPs, I’ve loved that song. (Bunny is probably the first jazzman I ever heard.) Don’t get all grumpy because I’ve left off your favorite trumpeter; just tout him in a comment.
Rowland Bernard Berigan, known as “Bunny” (1908-1942), had a short life, for he couldn’t stay off the sauce. Had he lived, and not been such an alcoholic, I think he’d rank much higher in the trumpet pantheon. Berigan worked with Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman’s bands in the thirties, and then, forming his own band, produced one remarkable—and popular—song.
That song is I Can’t Get Started, recorded in 1937. It became his theme song for the five remaining years of his life. You may have heard it, as it’s one of those standards that gets replayed in movies. And it has some blazing trumpet work by Berigan at the beginning and end (and okay vocals in the middle). Wikipedia describes it like this:
“I Can’t Get Started” is the plaintive song of a man who has achieved and won everything he could hope for, except the attention of the woman he desires. It is most exceptional in that Gershwin’s lyrics break the mold for ballads: it is topical and totally dated to the headlines of the 1930’s.
The melody, true to the theme of the lyrics, starts out at a low pitch and rarely goes very far up. A moving melody line carries the descriptive lines of text, however, until it comes to the bridge, where the text turns more emotional. There the song, changing to a minor key with long held notes, borders on despondency. This song deserves on its merits to be the success which it eventually, slowly, became. . .
. . . Berigan’s recording on trumpet is a virtuoso work that defines the range of the instrument, starting in the basement and climbing finally to the stratosphere. In addition to his range, Berigan displays here a mastery of expression, of emotional nuance, beyond what most trumpet players can only dream of: he takes the song all the way from despondence to victory.
I love the dated references in the lyrics: “I’ve been consulted by Franklin D.; Greta Garbo has had me to tea. . ” etc. Here it is:
The Bunster also played solo trumpet solo (beginning at 1:37) on another big-band favorite of mine, Marie, by Tommy Dorsey:
Finally, here is one of the few video clips of Teh Bunneh, Until Today with the Freddie Rich band. Note that Berigan’s name is spelled wrong in the title. It’s thirties white big-band singing, a bit schlocky, but it’s Bunny in the flesh, with a nice solo beginning at 0:51.
So ends Jazz Trumpet Week. It’s been fun, and some time down the line we’ll take up the sax. Now that will be a hard one!