“Afternoon in August”
Composed and arranged by Bill Stegmeyer.
Recorded by Billy Butterfield and His Orchestra for Capitol on November 10, 1947 in New York.
Billy Butterfield, trumpet, directing: Archie Johnson, Bob Peck and Jack Stametz, trumpets; Keith Butterfield and Ray Jenkins, trombones; Bill Stegmeyer, first clarinet and alto saxophone; Earl Pearson, alto saxophone; Art Drelinger, tenor saxophone; Norman Elvin baritone saxophone; (All saxophonists double on B-flat clarinet except Elvin, who doubles on bass clarinet.) Mickey Crane, piano; Hy White, guitar; Sam Bruno, bass; William “Cozy” Cole, drums.
Charles William “Billy” Butterfield (1917-1990) was one of the most brilliant and versatile trumpeters to emerge from the swing era. He had a bright, full, ringing trumpet sound, great range, power and technique, and he could read and play any music at sight. These qualities made him a top-echelon first trumpet player. In addition, he could play good and sometimes great jazz. Starting in the mid-1930s and for the next five-plus decades, Butterfield was a welcome addition to any band he chose to play in.
He was born in Middletown, Ohio, which is about 35 miles north of Cincinnati. Billy’s father was a musician who had “been at school with the American cornet virtuoso Frank Simons, and it was arranged that Billy went to Simons for lessons. He stayed with the same teacher (Simons) for almost two years,”(1) thus acquiring an excellent technical foundation for his trumpet playing. Billy then commenced matriculation at Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky, where he began studying medicine during the day, and playing in the campus dance band at night. His aptitude for music gradually overwhelmed his aptitude for medicine, and he dropped out of college to join a territory band in Lexington led by an ex All-American basketball player, Andy Anderson. The band was nothing special, but even in 1935, Billy Butterfield’s trumpet playing was.
As fate would have it, bandleader Bob Crosby, and his bassist/arranger Bob Haggart were passing through Lexington in early 1936 when the car they were driving broke down in that city. While repairs were being done, Crosby and Haggart went to the Joyland Park Ballroom outside of Lexington to see what was going on there. The Anderson band was playing that night. Young Billy Butterfield’s trumpet playing was several levels higher than the playing of the rest of the band. Crosby and Haggart introduced themselves and asked Billy if he would like to join the Bob Crosby band. He said he would be delighted to. They said they would get back to him.
Months passed, and Billy moved from the Anderson band to the Cleveland-based Austin Wylie band, another territory group, but a good one, that counted many well-known musicians who would go on to success in the swing era as alumni, including: Artie Shaw, Tony Pastor Jack Jenney, Claude Thornhill, Vaughn Monroe, Joe Bishop, Nate Kazebier, Spud Murphy and Bill Stegmeyer. At some point in mid-1937, the ever-alert Haggart, while on tour with the Crosby band near Pittsburgh, heard the ringing sound of Butterfield’s trumpet on a remote radio broadcast of the Wiley band emanating from Pittsburgh. He and Crosby then began a lobbying campaign touting Butterfield to Gil Rodin, the actual leader of the Crosby band. (See below.) Eventually, in the late summer of 1937, Rodin hired Butterfield. Billy found on his arrival however that the band had existed for a couple of years with only two trumpets. He would be the third. There was no third trumpet book. Gradually, Butterfield created a third trumpet book to play, and the new arrangements coming into the Crosby repertoire had three trumpet parts. Billy, who could play first trumpet as well as jazz solos, fit in nicely. (Above left: Young Billy Butterfield listens as his section mate Yank Lawson play a solo in the 1937 Bob Crosby band.)
Butterfield quickly became a favorite performer with both the musicians in the Crosby band (2), and the audiences that came to hear that band. After the departure of trumpeters Yank Lawson and Charlie Spivak to join Tommy Dorsey’s band in mid-1938 (3), Butterfield’s profile in the Crosby band rose ever higher. Bob Haggart composed and arranged an original tune as a showcase for for Billy’s trumpet, “What’s New,” in 1938. The tune was originally called “I’m Free,” and had no lyric. The great lyricist Johnny Mercer tried to write a lyric for “I’m Free,” but failed. Eventually, Bob Crosby’s older brother Larry, who was his younger brother Bing’s manager, got a hold of “I’m Free” and asked Johnny Burke to write a lyric for it. He did so, but in the process changed the title of the tune to “What’s New.” Bing recorded the song as “What’s New,” and it quickly became a semi-standard.(4)
The Crosby band prospered in 1939, being featured on CBS’s Camel Caravan on a different night than Benny Goodman. This meant higher weekly salaries for everyone in the band, including Billy Butterfield. But by the end of 1939, Butterfield was looking for different musical challenges.
In late March of 1940, Artie Shaw, who was then living in Los Angeles, and his new bride, M-G-M starlet Lana Turner, took a honeymoon of sorts. Lana had never seen New York, but Artie was a denizen of Manhattan. So they decided to take a train trip, departing Union Station in Los Angeles, and heading to New York (via Chicago) on the Santa Fe Super Chief. When they arrived in New York, they stayed at a luxurious hotel, and spent the evenings dining in Manhattan’s best restaurants, sometimes taking in a Broadway show, then making the rounds of the dozens of venues in New York that then presented live music. Lana loved swing and jazz, and courtesy of the M-G-M dancing school, she was an excellent dancer.
At one such venue, the Ice Terrace Room of Hotel New Yorker, Artie and Lana danced to the music of Bob Crosby’s band. The de facto leader and music director of the Crosby crew was dance band veteran Gil Rodin. Artie and Gil exchanged pleasantries during the evening, but what struck Shaw most about the Crosby band was the trumpet playing of Billy Butterfield. Butterfield played some lead and some jazz solos. The sound he got on trumpet was big, yet velvety, and he had a great high register, plenty of power and tons of technique.
The next day, Shaw contacted Butterfield, and revealed that he was soon going to be doing some high-profile work in Hollywood, that would involve a movie and a network radio show, and that when he put together a band to do this work, he wanted Billy to be his first and solo trumpet. Shaw offered Butterfield more money than he was making with Crosby/Rodin. A tentative agreement was reached, and soon thereafter, Butterfield left the Crosby band, and jobbed around in New York and Chicago, waiting for Shaw’s call. It came in mid-June. (Above left: Lana Turner, Artie Shaw and Gil Rodin in the Ice Terrace Room of Hotel New Yorker. Rodin was smiling but undoubtedly wondering which of his band members Artie was planning to steal. First, Shaw took Billy Butterfield. A little later, on Butterfield’s recommendation, he took trombonist/arranger Ray Conniff.)
While he was with Artie Shaw, Billy Butterfield was featured on an arrangement of “Star Dust” that would become one of the landmarks of the swing era. Shaw’s recording of “Star Dust,” which was released in the early autumn of 1940, almost immediately became a big hit. People began to ask who the trumpet soloist on that record was. Soon enough, the musicians who worked in swing bands knew that trumpeter was Billy Butterfield. Then swing fans knew who he was. By the time Butterfield left Shaw in March of 1941, his public profile had risen dramatically.(5)
Billy Butterfield’s enormous talent as a trumpet soloist made it inevitable that booking agents would encourage him to form and then lead his own band. Unfortunately, he did this at a time when bands led by some of the greatest and most established leaders of the swing era were folding because of rapidly deteriorating market conditions. Nevertheless, Butterfield, suffering from a large dose of leaderitis, forged ahead with a good band in the years 1946 and 1947. The band ended, as so many did, due to a lack of work and a lack of money. In a conversation with historian Robert Dupuis in 1987, Butterfield dryly recalled that: “Unfortunately, my band collapsed, and General Artists, my agents, seized whatever money or royalties there were to pay uncollected commissions.” (6) Like many great musicians before him, Billy Butterfield had organized and led a good band, made fine music with it, and lost a lot of money.
Butterfield wisely decided from the beginning of his time as a bandleader to work with an arranger whose work he knew and appreciated. That arranger was veteran big band alto saxophonist and clarinetist Bill Stegmeyer. Butterfield met Stegmeyer in the middle 1930s in the campus band at Transylvania College. A bit later, they both joined Austin Wylie’s band. Eventually, Billy got Stegmeyer into the Bob Crosby band, where they worked together in 1939 and into 1940. Stegmeyer was not only a talented musician, he was a trusted friend, and he assisted Billy with many tasks while Butterfield led his own band.
The music: Bill Stegmeyer’s original composition/arrangement “Afternoon in August” is a beautiful ballad, with an interesting main melody and bridge. It appears that Butterfield recorded this tune at the time his band was about to dissolve, because he recognized that it was music of superior quality that should be preserved. (Stegmeyer is shown at right playing an alto saxophone solo.)
Stegmeyer’s arrangement is not only an excellent showcase for Billy Butterfield’s virtuoso trumpet, it is also a masterful use of the instrumentation of a slightly smaller version of a standard big band. The kaleidoscopic backgrounds he created are most provocative. After the clarinet-led reeds (with a bass clarinet in the sonic mix) play the introduction atop a richly harmonized cushion of soft open brass, this instrumental deployment supports Butterfield’s open trumpet in the first sixteen bar melody exposition. Stegmeyer plays the clarinet bridge solo, against the quiet brass with some of the horns open, others in Harmon mutes. BB returns to finish the first chorus.
The burnished brass support Billy in the next sequence, which leads to a brief solo by Stegmeyer on alto saxophone. This is followed by a lovely interaction between the open trombones, the muted trumpets and the saxophones, with Norman Elvin’s baritone saxophone anchoring this transition. Listen to how arranger Stegmeyer sets up the climax: Butterfield plays the bridge in his middle register against fluttering clarinets, descending open trombones and the baritone saxophone. Then the climax arrives with Butterfield vaulting into his brilliant upper register as the other instruments form a densely harmonized and rhythmic base for his trumpet sound against which his ringing trumpet contrasts most effectively. There is also a brief tempo acceleration in this sequence. This is masterful arranging.
Billy descends back into his middle register, then soars off into the finale.
While the performance of the Butterfield band is technically excellent, there is nevertheless a rhythmic feeling in it that works against the languid, balladic nature of the music. Although Butterfield’s virtuoso trumpet playing is marvelously relaxed, the ensembles seem to lean into the beat, giving the music a slightly rushed feeling. Regardless, it is still a great performance of a fine piece of music.
For the sake of comparison, here is another performance of “Afternoon in August” by Glen Gray, made thirteen years after the original.
“Afternoon in August”
Composed and arranged by Bill Stegmeyer; Stegmeyer’s arrangement reconstructed and revised by Larry Wagner.
Recorded in the autumn of 1960 By Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra for Capitol in Hollywood.
Glen Gray, conducting: Conrad Gozzo, first trumpet: Pete Candoli, Mannie Klein, Uan Rasey, Clarence F. “Shorty” Sherock, trumpets; Milt Bernhart, Francis “Joe” Howard, Ed Kusby, tenor trombones; George Roberts, bass trombone; Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, first alto saxophone; Arcuiso “Gus” Bivona, alto saxophone and clarinet; Irving “Babe” Russin and Jules Jacob, tenor saxophones; Charles T. “Chuck” Gentry, baritone saxophone; Ray Sherman, piano, Jack Marshall, guitar; Meyer “Mike” Rubin, bass; Nick Fatool, drums.
The music continued: This performance is a great example of not simply copying the original verbaitm, but of reimagining it. Yes, this orchestra of LA heavyweight studio musicians play almost all of the notes that were in Bill Stegmeyer’s original composition/arrangement as recorded by Billy Butterfield, but they also do a lot more, and paradoxically, a lot less.
First of all, this performance is slower: it clocks in at 3 minutes and 26 seconds, whereas the Butterfield original timed out at 3:09. Those seventeen extra seconds make an enormous difference in the mood that is evoked by the music, one of relaxed serenity, which is completely congruent with music entitled “Afternoon in August.” Second, arranger Larry Wagner, who reconstructed this music from the Butterfield Capitol record, removed some of the more complicated (though quite lovely) backgrounds in Stegmeyer’s original arrangement. That results in this performance having a less cluttered feeling, which also adds to the tranquil mood. Third, this newer performance has the band phrasing in a most gentle, legato fashion, as opposed to the on or ahead of the beat performance by the Butterfield band.
The trumpet solos by Shorty Sherock (shown above right – 1960) are great examples of his relaxed virtuosity. Sherock tastefully employs rubato phrasing throughout his solos, which also enhances the smooth flow of the music. As a result, when the music he is playing takes Sherock into his high register, the momentary rhythmic intensity creates a sharp contrast and an emotional charge. The other solos, by Gus Bivona on clarinet and Skeets Herfurt (pictured with Glen Gray at left in 1960) on alto saxophone, are also beautifully performed, and provide instrumental colors that differ from the golden sound of Sherock’s open trumpet.
This version of “Afternoon in August” derives some of its deep harmonic richness from Wagner’s use of the four man trombone section, with George Roberts on bass trombone, in addition to Chuck Gentry on baritone saxophone.
It should also be noted that Sherock plays with less vibrato than Butterfield used on the original recording. That also adds to the overall smooth legato feel that suffuses this performance, which evokes a balmy summer afternoon, with abundant sunshine, blue skies dappled by soft white clouds, and a soft warm breeze. (Pictured at right: Shorty Sherock in the 1970s.)
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and Links:
(1) Stomp Off, Let’s Go …The Story of Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats and Big Band, (1983), by John Chilton, 209-210.
(2) One musician in the Crosby band who did not like Billy Butterfield was lead trumpeter Charlie Spivak. Spivak felt threatened by the young man who could read any music at sight and play his trumpet higher, lower, faster and louder than he could, and also play jazz effectively. Eventually Spivak left the Crosby band.
(3) The story of how Tommy Dorsey took trumpeters Yank Lawson and Charlie Spivak out of the Bob Crosby band can be found here: https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/08/04/tin-roof-blues-1938-tommy-dorsey-deane-kincaide-with-yank-lawson-johnny-mince-and-babe-russin/
(4) The Swing Era …1938-1939, (1970), notes on the music by Joseph Kastner. 56. “What’s New” got a new lease on life in the 1980s when pop singer Linda Ronstadt recorded a lush version of it with an arrangement by Nelson Riddle.
(5) To read about the marvelous showcase Artie Shaw created for Billy Butterfield’s trumpet, check out this link: https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/10/21/star-dust-1940-artie-shaw/
(6) Billy Butterfield to Robert Dupuis in an interview that took place on May 7, 1987, which Dupuis included in his biography of Bunny Berigan, Bunny Berigan .. Elusive Legend of Jazz, 267.