“The Pied Piper” (1938) Bunny Berigan and Ruth Gaylor

“The Pied Piper”

Composed by Buddy Arnold and Jack Gould; arranged by Joe Lippman.

Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Victor on June 8, 1938 in New York.

Bunny Berigan, trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet; Irving Goodman, trumpet; Nat Lobovsky, first trombone; Ray Conniff, trombone; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone; Gerogie Auld and Clyde Rounds, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass, Johnny Blowers, drums. Ruth Gaylor, vocal.

The story: Recently, I found myself in Allentown, Pennsylvania on some personal business. I never thought that I would find myself in Allentown for any reason, but the crosscurrents of life sometimes carry you in directions that are quite unexpected. Allentown is a very pleasant community, and I met a number of lovely people while I was there.

Also, after having done a lifetime of research on and having written a book about Bunny Berigan, I found myself searching out a venue in Allentown where I knew that the Berigan band had played at least once, Dorney Park. One does not have too look to far in Allentown to find signs directing you to Dorney Park. Much to my surprise, I easily found Dorney Park, and am happy to report that it is alive and well, indeed it is thriving. Also, by coincidence, the family I was visiting had a connection to Dorney Park. A member of their family bought the park from its original owners, and ran it successfully for more that forty years. (It is now owned by a large corporation.) The final coincidence: I was billeted in the Holiday Inn Express directly across the street from Dorney Park. Was some cosmic force directing me to create a post about Dorney Park? (Above left: The entrance to Dorney Park as it appears today.)

The date I know Bunny Berigan and his band played at the Castle Garden Ballroom at Dorney Park was June 2, 1938. (June 2 is a fateful date. A mere four years after this one-night stand, Bunny Berigan would die at age 33.) Here is the background about what Bunny and his band were up to in late May and early June of 1938.

It is abundantly clear that from a musical standpoint, Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra were among the top swing bands in the country in the spring of 1938.They had developed an assurance as an ensemble that bordered on swagger. When they chose to, they strutted the music. The band had very good, exciting soloists, most of their arrangements now were first rate, and Joe Lippman had shown again and again that he was capable of writing special arrangements that highlighted not only his skill and creativity, but the capabilities of the Berigan band, and their virtuoso leader. Bunny himself had worked without letup for seventeen months to build every aspect of this band. He had been totally involved in assembling its person­nel and arrangements. He had constantly tried to infuse the band’s performances with his fiery jazz spirit. At last, his band had arrived at a point where to a large degree, it reflected his musical personality. He had to be pleased.

He had endured the vicissitudes of the band business more or less with equanimity, but basically entrusted business matters to others. He paid these people well, and expected that they would guide his band’s fortunes in a positive direction. To this point in the band’s history, Bunny’s management team had functioned reasonably well. Not perfectly by any means, but well. (This would soon change. A series of managerial blunders, the Great Hurricane of 1938, and a number of personal issues almost put Bunny out of business as a bandleader during the second half of 1938.) But Berigan had every reason to be encouraged about the future of his band as the summer of 1938 began.

Immediately after a May 26 Victor recording session in Manhattan, the Berigan band played for one or two nights at New York’s posh Essex House on Central Park South. One wonders how well this romping jazz band fit in there!

On Sunday, May 29, they were in a much more congenial jazz atmosphere, Harlem’s famous Savoy Ballroom. There they were to do battle with the “King of the Savoy,” Chick Webb. At this time, Webb’s band was also one of the leading swing bands in the nation, having good arrangements, strong soloists (especially Chick himself on drums, trumpeters Bobby Stark and Taft Jordan, and alto saxophonist Louis Jor­dan), and the lilting vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. (To hear what the Webb band was up to in May of 1938, listen to their recording of “Spinnin’ the Webb,” with its great Bobby Stark trumpet solo, Mario Bauza’s fiery lead trumpet, and Chick’s superb drumming. I have included a link to it below.) Coach Berigan very likely told his boys to watch themselves lest they be embarrassed by the hard-swinging Webb musicians. The consensus drawn from the throng that attended this event was that despite Bunny playing his trumpet heroically, Webb won by a whisker on his home turf. But the Berigan band had nothing to be ashamed of: it was said that nobody ever outplayed Chick Webb’s band at the Savoy.

After this stimulating experience, the Berigan band played a number of dance dates within about a 150 mile radius of New York City until they returned to Manhat­tan for another Victor recording session on June 8.

One of the gigs the Berigan band played during this period was at the Al-Dorn or Castle Garden Ballroom, Dorney Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania, (shown at left) on Thursday June 2, 1938. In the third volume of his monumental Benny Goodman biodiscography, D. Russell Connor included some financial data he obtained from the owners of Dorney Park that provide a very revealing insight into the realities of the band business in the spring of 1938. Dorney Park presented name bands only on Thursdays because these bands charged more on weekends and holidays.

Here is the information from left to right: band name; date of appearance; band fee (guarantee); paid/comp admissions; ticket price; profit/loss. (Multiply dollar amounts by 15 to get approximate value in today’s money.)

Hal Kemp                     (4/21)     $1,000         774/6       $1.10       $226.26-

Sammy Kaye                (4/28)       $ 750      1096/67       $1.10      $346.80+

Louis Armstrong           (5/5)       $ 800        282/82       $1.10       $516.80-

Benny Goodman         (5/12)     $1,250    1327/110       $1.10       $76.99+

Red Norvo                    (5/19)       $ 500        271/60       $0.85       $190.48-

Kay Kyser                     (5/26)     $1,000       674/70        $1.10       $328.00-

Bunny Berigan            (6/2)      After racking up losses with four out of six name bands, Dorney’s management insisted on a deal where they would pay the band a percentage of paid admissions up to $400, with no guarantee. Consequently, Bunny grossed $142.15 for this dance date. He drew 383 paid and 63 comps. The ticket price was se­venty-five cents, and the park made a profit of $12.85. This date had to have yielded less than one-seventh of the weekly Berigan band “nut,” not a good thing, but hardly unusual for a one-nighter. (Below: the parking lot at Dorney Park – 1938.)

Here is the rest of the information gathered by Connor:

Count Basie                   (6/9)        $250        342/30         $.50         $79.09-

Paul Tremaine              (6/16)        $200       165/30         $.50        $117.50-

Casa Loma                   (6/23)        $700        722/92        $1.10       $22.71+

Sammy Kaye                (6/30)        $500        319/78        $1.10       $191.10-(2)

Many conclusions can be drawn from these figures. The first and probably least speculative one is that more established bands commanded higher guarantees. Hal Kemp and Kay Kyser were by 1938 among MCA’s top grossing bands. Benny Goodman, also represented by MCA, was then riding the crest of a sponsored network radio show, a Hollywood feature film, frequent sustaining radio broadcasts, steady if not spectacular record sales, and the recently completed Carnegie Hall jazz concert. Also, MCA was then putting a vast amount of promotional push behind the Goodman band—publications everywhere contained something about Benny Goodman. BG’s career was definitely at an early peak in the spring of 1938.

By 1938, Sammy Kaye’s band, also represented by MCA, had been in exis­tence for several years. It was modeled to some extent on Kay Kyser’s and played acceptable dance music, with a lot of gimmicks along the way. People loved it. Even so, it was not guaranteed top dollar, or a hugely successful date, as the numbers from June 30 show. Louis Armstrong, who was being booked by Joe Glaser, received an excellent guarantee, but the date was a bomb for Dorney Park. Rockwell-O’Keefe’s top band in the spring of 1938 was Casa Loma. They too got a good guar­antee, but their date was also successful for the ballroom. Count Basie’s band, then also booked by MCA, was similar to Bunny’s in that it was a heavily jazz-influenced dance band, and it had existed (at least in the East) for a similar length of time. Dorney Park lost money on Basie, Kemp, Armstrong, Norvo, Tremaine, and Sammy Kaye’s second appearance. It essentially broke even with Berigan and Casa Loma. The only really successful date was the first one with Sammy Kaye. Overall, their name band program for the above-cited period was a big loser.

The interior of Castle Garden Ballroom at Dorney Park in the 1930s. This ballroom, like so many others, was destroyed by fire. That fire took place in November of 1985.

Since MCA was notorious for “block booking” its talent, that is, offering promoters a package of talent, rather than booking individual bands on individ­ual dates, their tack here could well have been “take the package and you get Benny Goodman, Kay Kyser, and Sammy Kaye. Don’t take the package and you get whatever is available.” And MCA would make sure that not too much was available. Bands like Berigan’s, Norvo’s, and Basie’s were hardly in a po­sition to negotiate: the bandleader’s overhead continued nonstop regardless of where the band played, or for how much.

If a band was on the road, it was always preferable, from the bandleader’s standpoint, for that band to play a “cheap date,” that is one at less than market rate, as opposed to not playing at all. But if a bandleader did that then he under­cut the efforts of his booking agent to get the most money possible for the band. So MCA would advise their clients to take a night off rather than play a date at below market rate. While the band rested, the bandleader’s overhead continued unabated. The secret to having a financially successful band on the road how­ever, was to secure a guarantee on each date that at least covered expenses, and balance these high-risk/cost one-night dance jobs with more lucrative theater dates, which normally lasted for a week, or a split week, where a band would play in one theater for three or four days, then hop to a nearby town and finish up the week there. This usually resulted in more cash and less financial risk on the revenue side, and less transportation costs on the expense side. Also, it was essential to pull a band off of the road for periods of time and fill its engagement book with something other than one-nighters, preferably a hotel booking with sustaining radio broadcasts. Then supply would not overwhelm demand; indeed the radio exposure would strengthen demand. It was during these longer “resi­dencies” in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles that most bands also made their recordings. If a week at a theater could also be secured while a band was in one spot for a period of time, all the better. It was up to the bandleader’s personal manager to see to it that the proper balance of engagements was being maintained for his client so that revenue met or exceeded expenses.

Any band that constantly played one-night dance dates, no matter what they were paid, was on a high-risk journey that would almost always eventually lead to complete exhaustion and bankruptcy for the bandleader. Booking agencies loved one-nighters however because they got their full commission off the top of the guarantee, before the bandleader paid his expenses and got his share. They had no cash flow problems; indeed, their costs and risks were mi­nimal. The bandleader had to pay all of the costs for the band, including salaries for musicians and staff, and ex­tremely variable transportation costs, out of whatever was left over at the com­pletion of the gig. From the bandleader’s perspective, the classic MCA-de­vised business plan was extremely risky. If Bunny Berigan thought about this at all, and I suspect that he did, he undoubtedly hoped that Arthur Michaud, his personal manager, would look after his best interests in these often perilous business matters. Michaud after all had in 1937 guided Bunny in the months he was organizing and strengthening his band, and had directed its first very successful tour. At the end of that tour, Bunny was able to pay back all of the loans he had taken to keep his band going while MCA built his name, and have quite a bit left over. Unfortunately, during the spring and summer of 1938, Michaud’s attention was being stretched be­tween Tommy Dorsey’s established band and Gene Krupa’s new band, as well as Bunny’s.

On June 8, the Berigan band recorded four more vocal arrangements for Victor. In spite of some good trumpeting by Bunny, and enthusiastic perfor­mances by the band, this session represents another example of Victor greatly underutilizing a band that was capable of making remarkable music. The titles recorded that day were: “The Pied Piper,” “Tonight Will Live,” “(A Sky of Blue and You) And So Forth,” and “(How to Make Love In) Ten Easy Lessons.” “The Pied Piper” and “Ten Easy Lessons” are novelties that were sung by Ruth Gaylor (pictured at right). This recording session lasted from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m.

As one would expect, critical reaction to these records was mixed, at best. Tempo’s August 1938 issue carried this review:

“Bunny Berigan tops a small swing output from Victor this month with a tune that might have been written for him. It’s ‘The Pied Piper,’ backed by ‘Ten Easy Les­sons’ and well played the whole distance. Maybe I’m getting soft, but Ruth Gay­lor does some fine chirping and Georgie Auld really busts me on tenor sax. The kick is Bunny, however. He takes those breaks with a variety of stuff that puts him right back on top. Just remember that a lot of the stuff and things you hear today on trumpet can be traced back to Berigan.” (3)

A review also appeared in the August 1938 issue of Metronome. George T. Si­mon, as usual, had sharpened his hatchet: “Typical Bunny Berigan playing, not at all inspired either, pops up in ‘Pied Piper,’ while ‘Ten Easy Lessons’ is another one of the ‘accent the four-beat’ things. Georgie Auld, though, adds in­terest to both sides. Bunny himself ruins an otherwise pretty arrangement of ‘Tonight Will Live’ by some sloppy, tasteless high-blowing in the opening cho­rus.”(4) I have not been able to explain Simon’s ongoing negativity toward Berigan during the entire time Bunny was a bandleader.

The Music: Although all top-notch swing bands took their music seriously, and invested it with a lot of effort and musicianship, they were never solemn about it. We must remember that these bands were comprised of of young people, and that their primary audiences were young people. When Bunny Berigan recorded “The Pied Piper,” he was 29 years old. The joy, exuberance and humor that so often are a part of the lives of young people are clearly on display in this light-hearted performance. Nevertheless, there is at the same time remarkable music happening. What Berigan does in this recording both intensifies and elevates this light-weight pop tune.

This novelty song, which is hardly a work of art, was written by Buddy Arnold and Jack Gould. Its purpose was to make people smile. How this song was placed with Bunny Berigan is unknown. One of the composers, Buddy Arnold, was only 12 years old (!) when this tune was recorded by Berigan. Arnold was by then learning to become a saxophonist, and a bit later did work with Georgie Auld’s band. Perhaps Auld was his connection with the Berigan band.(5)

Joe Lippman, Bunny’s chief arranger, was tasked with somehow making this amusing ditty work in the musical context of the Berigan band. That of course had to involve using Bunny’s trumpet prominently. So what we have here is petite and engaging Ruthie Gaylor (shown below right) singing the lyric, and Berigan interjecting passages of his improvised trumpet playing to spice things up. Bunny also spices up the short introduction, which leads into the first chorus, which is sung by Ms. Gaylor. It is in the second chorus that Berigan appears, his open trumpet sound so huge that it appears to overload the microphone. This vocal and trumpet dialog continues until the Bunny blows an upward-moving passage that springs the Berigan band into action. Stevie Lipkins is playing the first trumpet part in these sequences, which include the whole band, sans Berigan, as Bunny saves his chops for his solos in the final chorus and the coda. Georgie Auld plays a couple of tasty four bar solo spots separated by a bright ensemble passage. Then, Lippman gets some riffing exchanges going between the trumpets and the trombones to build momentum for 16 bars, creating a swinging pathway for Berigan to enter on.

Bunny Berigan plays while Joe Lippman (in background at piano) makes sure the musical setting is right.The other musician further back is trumpeter Irving Goodman.

Bunny starts his solo in a typically risky manner by somehow squeezing or glissing the pitch of a note lower (and then repeating it), before easily moving into a higher register. People often ask why Berigan made so many mistakes when he played his trumpet. The answer in part is that he was constantly trying things that are risky. In fact, his trumpet style was built on these risky embellishments, which included glissandi, slurs, scoops, rips, half-valve effects, lip vibrato, growls and rasps. Many of these devices are present in his playing on “The Pied Piper.” Also on display are his lovely warm open trumpet sound in all registers, his acute sense of musical form and drama, and above all, his irresistible, joyous swing.

Bunny’s singing associate from the Famous Door jazz club on Manhattan’s 52nd Street had it right when he said: “If that man wasn’t such a gambler, everybody would say he was the greatest that ever blew. But he’s got such nerve, and he loves his horn so much that he’ll go ahead and try stuff that nobody else would ever think of trying.” Berigan the gambler lost on occasion. But more often, he won. Posterity is richer for that.

The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

(1) Berigan’s manager, Arthur Michaud, undoubtedly was involved in this deal. In the spring of 1938, he was experimenting with various ways to get the bandleaders he represented (Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan and Gene Krupa), more work than other MCA booked bands. Most of Michaud’s gambits put the risk of an unsuccessful booking on the bandleader, not on the venue owner. This approach was costly for bandleaders, and eventually abandoned.

(2) Benny Goodman—Wrappin’ It Up, by D. Russell Connor, Scarecrow Press Inc. (1996), 17–18.

(3) White materials: June 8, 1938.

(4) Cited in the White materials: June 8, 1938.

(5) Another novelty song written by Buddy Arnold and Jack Gould, “(How To Make Love In ) Ten Easy Lessons,” was also recorded by the Berigan band on June 8, 1938.

Links: Here is a link to a great recording by Chick Webb made in the spring of 1938:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/10/24/spinnin-the-webb-1938-chick-webb/

For much more about Bunny Berigan, check out the sister blog of swingandbeyond.com, which is dedicated to all things Berigan:

https://bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com/

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