Personalities | Bunny Berigan | Thirties | Jazz & Blues

(Trumpet, vocals, 1908–42)

Rowland Bernard Berigan’s warm sound and fluent style made him a major figure of the swing era. To some extent, his alcohol-related death at 33 has unduly enhanced his legacy, lifting a solid talent to the level of tortured artist-genius. Berigan arrived in New York in 1929 and became a sought-after session player. He played in Benny Goodman’s 1935 band, leaving memorable solos on ‘King Porter Stomp’ and ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’.

With Tommy Dorsey in 1937 he scored two more classics – ‘Marie’ and ‘Song Of India’. Berigan assembled his own band and recorded his most famous showpiece, ‘I Can’t Get Started’. His solo began with a series of reflective breaks and then broke into a majestic high note statement, before falling to a low-register denouement and epilogue. Laid out with strong dramatic pacing, it shows Berigan’s debt to Louis Armstrong. In 1939 Berigan dissolved his band, rejoined Dorsey briefly in 1940, and then resumed with his own orchestra.

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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