“High Society” (1938) Bunny Berigan

“High Society”

Composed by Porter Steele and Walter Melrose; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded on September 13, 1938 by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor in New York City.

Roland B. “Bunny” Berigan, first and solo trumpet; directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky, first trombone, Ray Conniff, trombone; George “Gigi” Bohn, first alto saxophone, Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, clarinet and alto saxophone; Georgie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Frederick “Hank” Wayland, bass; Bernard “Buddy” Rich, drums.

The story:

On September 12, 1938, Bunny Berigan (pictured at right) and his very hot band played at a private party on Long Island. It was at this gig that clarinetist/alto saxist Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona became a member of the Berigan band. “I joined Bunny for that date, replacing Joe Dixon. There was another band at the affair, one of those society orchestras organized by Meyer Davis. We played alternating sets and there was quite a difference in the types of music!  I’d never met Bunny before that day, but he had contacted me at the Forrest Hotel in New York (actually, it was at the bar of the Forrest Hotel, which was something of a connecting point between Bunny Berigan and musicians who wanted to join his band), where the band assembled before leaving for the date. Jayne Dover (1), who had worked with ‘Gigi’ Bohn and me in the Hudson-DeLange orchestra, joined Bunny about the same time.”  Following this date, the band returned to New York for a Victor recording session the next day, September 13.

Six acceptable masters were recorded that day between the hours of 1:30–7:00 p.m. One wonders when (or if) the Berigan band had the opportunity to rehearse the tunes that were recorded. (Their life on the road was chaotic, thanks to their booking agency, Music Corporation of America (MCA.)The two new members, Bivona and vocalist Jayne Dover, had joined only the day before. Ms. Dover had three new songs to sing at the recording date. (These are details that record reviewers and critics are seldom aware of, or consider.) Legend has it that Bunny used the privategus-and-georgie party the day before to prepare the band for the recording date. However the band rehearsed the tunes to be recorded, the resulting recordings were remarkably good.

More of the band’s arrangements in the summer of 1938 were being written by Andy Phillips, especially those on current pop tunes. But Joe Lippman was still contributing many of the charts the Berigan band was recording, especially those on “special” material. His wonderful arrangement on “High Society” definitely fits into the “special” category. (At left: Gus Bivona (L)and Georgie Auld (R) are pictured as members of Bunny Berigan’s band in the fall of 1938. Photo courtesy of Gary Bivona.)bushkin-4

The music: The venerable “High Society” (composed in 1901), is recast here in the finery of swing by the Berigan band’s chief arranger, Joe Lippman. The jaunty clarinet-led reeds (probably three B-flat clarinets with Gus Bivona playing lead, and Georgie Auld’s tenor saxophone), play call and response in the first chorus with the Berigan-led brass, which play the melody, and set the stage for a series of excellent jazz solos. Check out the popping brass jump that catapults Georgie Auld into his solo.

georgie-2Auld (pictured at left) comes in with a big sigh (calling Mr. {Herschel} Evans!) on his tenor sax, to start sixteen bars of solid, rhythmically intense jazz. Young Mr. Auld had progressed light-years in his jazz playing in the eighteen months he had been in Berigan’s employ. Joe Bushkin (shown above right) swings nicely on piano (hear drummer Buddy Rich behind him), and then a fanfare by the band (Steve Lipkins on first trumpet) brings Berigan on. Here he is at his best on open trumpet; his sixteen-bar jazz solo is a perfectly constructed, flowing musical statement delivered with his usual brio and burnished trumpet tone. Ray Conniff (shown below at right) follows with some struttingconniff trombone, and then the band rocks through the exuberant out-chorus, with Berigan adding zest to the ensemble with his fiery lead trumpet playing.

“High Society” is a quintessential Berigan recording and a superb example of swing era jazz. It is one of the few Victor recordings made by Bunny that captures the irrepressible panache of the 1938 Berigan band. When this recording was made, Berigan was leading the best band he ever led, indeed one of the best of the swing era. (Many of the musicians in this band went on to have long and successful careers.) A key performer in this band was the not yet 21-year-old drummer Buddy Rich. His six-month tenure with the Berigan band, roughly the second half of 1938, was his first big-time jazz gig. Rich was a phenomenon as a drummer even in 1938. Although he would slowly alter his style of drumming zildjian-brover his career, he always had incredible technique, and immense exuberance, and a knack for imparting great rhythmic color and drive to any band he played in. That is clearly evident in his playing on this recording.

The photo of Buddy Rich at left was taken on Tuesday September 20, 1938 outside the Avedis Zildjian cymbal factory near Boston, Massachusetts. The Berigan band opened the night before at the Ritz Carleton Roof in Boston.

Digital remastering and sonic restoration of this recording by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Jayne Dover later sang with Claude Thornhill’s band as Jane Essex.

Here are some links to other great recordings by Bunny Berigan:






Here is a link to Bunny’s most memorable recording:


Here are some links to Bunny’s fine work with Benny Goodman:




Here is a great early recording with Bunny lighting up a Mildred Bailey performance:


For much more about Bunny Berigan, check out our sister blog bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com.

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