“Well, Git It”
Composed and arranged by Sy Oliver.
Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra for Victor on March 9, 1942 in Hollywood, California.
Tommy Dorsey, trombone, directing: Ziggy Elman, Chuck Peterson, Jimmy Blake, Mannie Klein, trumpets; George Arus, Dave Jacobs, Jimmy Skiles, trombones; Freddie Stulce, lead alto saxophone; Henry J. “Heinie” Beau, alto saxophone and clarinet; Don Lodice and Mannie Gershman, tenor saxophones; Bruce Snyder, baritone saxophone; Milton W. “Milt” Raskin, piano; Clark Yocum, guitar; Phil Stephens, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
The story: One of the most colorful characters of the swing era was trumpeter Harry Aaron Finkelman, known professionally as Ziggy Elman. He was born on May 26, 1914, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Elman’s father, who was of Russian-Jewish heritage, was among other things, a part-time cantor and klezmer violinist. Young Harry absorbed these influences early, and they became a part of his musical personality. A natural musician, Ziggy Elman could play, in addition to trumpet, violin, trombone, and the woodwind instruments. His family moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey when he was a child, and by age fifteen he was playing at Jewish weddings and in nightclubs. As he grew into manhood, he began to fuse elements of Louis Armstrong’s jazz style to his strongly klezmer-influenced playing, the result of which was a highly individual musical identity. He began working for Alex Bartha, who led the house band at the ballroom on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1932. It was here that Benny Goodman heard him in 1936, and quickly hired him. By this time, he had added many elements to his playing style, including a fine jazz sense and great volume. (At left, Ziggy Elman in 1936, shortly after joining Benny Goodman’s band.) With fellow trumpeters Chris Griffin and Harry James, he was a part of Goodman’s famous “biting brass” trumpet section in the years 1937–1938. From 1939 to mid-1940, Elman gained prominence as Goodman’s principal trumpet soloist, and as the leader of a band of Goodman sidemen on Bluebird records.
From late August 1940 until early 1943, Elman was the featured trumpet soloist in Tommy Dorsey’s band. (At right – Ziggy Elman solos with Tommy Dorsey’s band in 1941. The trumpeter to his right who is visible is Chuck Peterson. The drummer in the foreground is Buddy Rich.) By this time, he had developed a brash, colorful, swaggering style that was immediately identifiable. Elman served in the army in World War II, and returned to Dorsey after leaving the military. He also led his own big band after World War II, but it was unsuccessful. He settled in Hollywood thereafter, working as a freelance in the early 1950s. Illness slowed down his career considerably in the late 1950s, and he died on June 26, 1968, in Van Nuys, California.
Trumpeter Chuck Peterson (pictured at left) was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1915. He spent a part of his childhood in Hearne, Texas. He returned to Detroit, where he attended high school, where he played French horn and trombone in the school band. He studied journalism and worked for a time for a Detroit newspaper. In his teens, he began playing trumpet, working with a number of bands in the Detroit area. He worked with Hank Biagini in 1936, and joined Artie Shaw’s “new music” band in 1937. He remained with Shaw through 1939, and became a pillar of strength in that band in one of the best trumpet sections of the swing era, with John Best and Bernie Privin. Peterson gradually became a master of the high register of the trumpet, and also excelled at playing with a plunger mute.
After Shaw left his band at the end of 1939, Peterson worked for a time with Tony Pastor (whom he had worked with in the Shaw band), and then joined Tommy Dorsey in early September 1940. He was a part of the great Tommy Dorsey 1940-1942 band, leaving TD to join Woody Herman in mid-1942. He served in the military during World War II. After the war, he did work with a few touring big bands for a time, but eventually returned to Detroit. He worked there until his death on January 21, 1978. (The photo to the right was taken in 1941, and was used in an advertisement for trumpets.)
The music: “Well, Git It!” is another of arranger Sy Oliver’s masterful composition/arrangements written for the Tommy Dorsey band. (To hear and read about some others, check out the “related” list at the bottom of this post.) Oliver told swing era researcher Joseph Kastner in 1970: “‘Well, Git It!’ started out to be ‘Bugle Blues,’ but when I got through, there was nothing that could be identified as a bugle, so I changed the name and the opening lines.” (1) “Bugle Blues” had a long history as a trumpet feature dating back to the decade of the 1910s. It started out as an “…old New Orleans takeoff on the Army bugle call ‘Assembly.’ It was originally called ‘Bugle Call Blues,’ but became better known as ‘Bugle Call Rag.’” Another strain was added when jazzmen tended to drop into their performances of “Bugle Call Rag” a bit of “Old Miss,” “…a piece written about 1916 by W.C. Handy about the fastest train out of Memphis.” (2) A memorable performance of “Bugle Blues” was recorded by Count Basie on July 24, 1942 featuring the trumpet of Buck Clayton and the tenor saxophone of Don Byas.
“Well, Git It!” opens with a zig-zagging four bar trumpet introduction played by Ziggy Elman. The tune proper is apparently a 16-bar blues consisting of two eight bar segments. The powerful Dorsey ensemble plays the first eight-bar segment, followed by a Chuck Peterson’s brilliant high-register trumpet for four bars. The full ensemble returns with the second eight bar segment. After a brief transition by the saxophones cushioning Tommy’s trombone, TD on open horn leads the trombone quartet in a dialog with the saxophones. A blast of brass brings TD on for a rhythmically intense sixteen bar jazz solo which shows that he was always a more capable jazzman than most people (including himself – one of the ONLY issues on which Tommy Dorsey was modest) gave him credit for.
Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra at the Astor Roof in Manhattan – May 1942. Trumpeters Chuck Peterson (back row left end) and Ziggy Elman (back row right end) are present, as is Don Lodice (playing a solo to the left of TD (who is in light suit). Heinie Beau is second from left front row, playing alto saxophone. The drummer is Buddy Rich and the pianist, Milt Raskin.
A fanfare and Buddy Rich’s paradiddles open the way for Heinie Beau’s excellent sixteen bar clarinet solo. Beau was a most versatile musician who usually played alto saxophone and clarinet in the section. He could also play the baritone saxophone and was a very talented arranger. (In the late 1940s and through the 1950s, he had success writing arrangements for musical groups of all kinds in Hollywood, and also ghosted arrangements for fellow arrangers who were overburdened with work or up against a short deadline.) Beau was not a super technician on clarinet like his predecessor in the Dorsey band Johnny Mince, or his successor Buddy De Franco, but his keen musical intelligence made up for that, and he did swing. Don Lodice follows with sixteen bars of full-bodied tenor saxophone, and then Milt Raskin, in his Basie bag, swings away in his sixteen bars. These jazz solos are very good, but their purpose is to simply keep the swinging momentum going for the big, really incredible, finale, which is a trumpet duel between Ziggy Elman and Chuck Peterson. (Peterson is shown above right.) This is one of the most iconic and memorable musical sequences recorded during the swing era.
The initial eight bar trumpet dialog has each trumpeter playing for one bar, as they start in their high register, and work their way up. Basically, Peterson can be identified as the trumpeter who plays faster and higher; Elman as the master of swagger. In the second eight bars, they joust, urged on by Rich’s vocal exhortation to GO! Elman emerges for a solo eight bars, which includes him missing a high note along the way, certainly excusable under the circumstances. This tiny fluff in no way diminishes the excitement – both of these guys were playing with huge intensity. The final eight bar segment has both trumpets playing in harmony, and of course moving up, with Peterson on top. (Above right – later in 1942 – Tommy Dorsey shouts encouragement to Ziggy Elman as he plays a trumpet solo.)
I have heard a number of truly talented trumpeters, probably ones who were more talented than Elman and Peterson, attempt to play this trumpet exchange. None have come close to creating the magic that was present on Tommy Dorsey’s recording of “Well, Git It.!”
The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
(1) The Swing Era …1941-1942 (1970), notes on the music by Joseph Kastner, 59.
(2) The Swing Era …1942-1944 (1971), notes on the music by Joseph Kastner, 61.