“‘T’Aint So Honey, ‘T’Aint So”
Composed by Willard Robison; arranger unknown, possibly Dick Rose.
Recorded by Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra for Thesaurus Transcription Service on August 8-9, 1938 in New York.
Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet, directing: Steve Lipkins and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Nat Lobovsky and Ray Conniff, trombones; Mike Doty, first alto saxophone; Joe Dixon, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clyde Rounds and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick Wharton, guitar; Hank Wayland, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
After the Thesaurus transcription recording session of June 27, 1938 in New York, the Berigan band returned to the road, settling on July 4 at the Raymor Ballroom in Boston. This was drummer Johnny Blowers’s last night with the band. He had gotten a very good financial offer from Ben Bernie, who after a period of retirement, was returning to the music business with a swing-oriented band. (Among the other sidemen Bernie recruited then was trombonist Lou McGarity, who would go on to star with Benny Goodman.) After the gig that night, Bunny threw a surprise going-away party for Blowers, who overindulged, missed the train back to New York, and almost blew the job with Bernie before it started. Regardless, Bunny had secured the services of another drummer: Buddy Rich.
Bernard “Buddy” Rich, perhaps the most technically astonishing drummer in the history of jazz, was born on September 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were vaudeville performers, and almost from infancy Buddy was onstage performing with them. His prodigious drumming talent manifested itself when Buddy was only eighteen months old. This led to a very successful vaudeville career for Rich, which lasted through his childhood years. By 1937, he began his career as a jazz drummer, first with Joe Marsala, then in 1938 with Bunny Berigan. Rich’s big break came when he joined Artie Shaw’s band at the beginning of 1939. With Shaw, his stunning drumming technique was first put on display before a national radio and movie audience. From Shaw he went, in late 1939, to Tommy Dorsey, who featured him as a soloist almost as much as Gene Krupa was featured in his own band. His tenure with Dorsey lasted until 1945, although he did serve in the Marine Corps during World War II. After World War II he led his own big bands with modest success in the late 1940s. He worked for many bandleaders in the 1950s and into the 1960s, including Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, and most notably, Harry James. He also worked extensively with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic, and on his own with small groups. In 1966, Rich formed a big band, which he led with considerable success, until his death. Rich was helped immeasurably in this endeavor by television personality Johnny Carson, who was an amateur drummer, a personal friend, and an idolator. Rich appeared on Carson’s Tonight Show dozens of times from the 1960s to the 1980s. In addition to his virtuoso drumming, Rich would easily trade witticisms with Carson. Rich also had an explosive temper and the sidemen in his last bands took delight in surreptitiously recording his rages to band members within the confines of the band bus. Buddy Rich died on April 2, 1987, in Los Angeles, California. (Above right: Buddy Rich in 1938, and left: a few years later.)
Berigan’s featured tenor saxophonist, Georgie Auld (shown at right), later related how Rich got into the Berigan band:
“Y’know I met Buddy when I was 14 and he was 16, which means we knew each other for 54 years. I got him in Bunny Berigan’s band and I got him in Artie Shaw’s band. He and I both lived in Brooklyn. Bunny was looking for a drummer, he was upgrading the band at the time, and I said ‘there’s a buddy of mine that’s a genius behind the drums but he can’t read a note of music.’ Bunny said ‘well, that’s no good.’ In those days we played theaters and we usually had 5 acts of vaudeville. He said, ‘What’s gonna happen when we play a theatre and we get a dance act or something and he can’t read music?’ I said, ‘He’ll do more without reading than any 30 drummers you get that can read.’ Then Bunny said, ‘All right let him sit in for a tune.’ The exact same thing happened with Artie Shaw.” (1)
Rich joined the Berigan band at Manhattan Beach in New York City. Bunny’s guitarist/vocalist Dick Wharton remembered the gig, and Rich’s impact on the Berigan band: “Manhattan Beach was an amusement park with an open-air bandstand next to Coney Island. Johnny Blowers had just left and Georgie Auld was Bunny’s contact for enticing the young Buddy Rich away from Joe Marsala and persuading him it was a great opportunity for him. Buddy was loud from the very start and Bunny would have to insist on his cutting down the volume. But Bunny apparently liked the rhythmic ‘figures’ Rich played and had Buddy’s ‘licks’ worked into some of the arrangements.” (2) The Berigan band, with their new drummer, played at Manhattan Beach for one week, closing there on July 11. Buddy Rich began to slowly settle in and learn how to drive a big band.
After the Manhattan Beach stand, they played one-nighters west to Michigan, including one at the Queen’s Ball for the National Cherry Festival at Traverse City, Michigan on July 13.(3) (Above left. the Berigan band onstage at the Traverse City gig. Visible rear: Hank Wayland and Buddy Rich; front: Dick Wharton, Georgie Auld and Irving Goodman.) They opened on Friday July 15, at the Fox Theater in Detroit,(4) for a one-week engagement. This was a very important engagement at a major theater. Success here would (and did) mean serious money for Bunny.
Here is the review of the show that the Berigan band headlined: “Berigan blows into the Fox with his trumpet and band to keep the jitterbugs happy and it’s a lively package of talent that Berigan has with him in the stage show. Bunny’s band is plenty smooth and keeping up the festivities are the Frazee Sisters, song stars of Billy Rose’s Casa Manana, returning by popular demand, three sophisticated ladies whose knockabout antics get plenty of laughs. Sharpe and Armstrong do a very clever satire on ballroom dancing, and Ruth Gaylor and Dick Wharton sing several popular lyrics. It is sixty minutes of lively stage fare to accompany the movie, We’re Going to Be Rich, starring Gracie Fields, Victor McLaglen and Brian Donlevy.” (5)
While appearing at the Fox Theater, Bunny invited his mother and father, who lived in Fox Lake, Wisconsin to Detroit, as well as his brother Donald, who had only recently married, and Don’s new wife, Loretta. He also insisted that his wife Donna, who had been living separately from him in Syracuse, New York, her family’s home town, join this Berigan family gathering. Loretta Berigan later recalled this family reunion to Berigan biographer Robert Dupuis:
“At first Donna was not going to be there. Then she decided to come, apparently to put up a united front and welcome me as a new family member. This seemed very important for Bunny. At first it was very strained; Don and I both sensed it. Then things began to loosen up. Bunny and Donna had a few drinks and he started teasing and joking with her. She couldn’t keep from laughing. It ended up that we all had a good time. I remember wondering at the time if there was ever any down-to-earth conversation between them. It was all fun and games.” (6)
Bunny gave Don and Loretta $50 as a wedding present, which in the value of money today would be about $750. It was a generous gift, but certainly not extravagant. In the summer of 1938, Bunny was making a lot of money.
Unfortunately, there was always an unremitting counterweight pulling Bunny in another direction. While he was in Detroit, he also apparently “…visited and dined with Dr. Cliff Benson, with whom he had worked in Madison in the late 1920s. Benson was a practicing medical doctor and said ‘Bunny visited my office. He very briefly discussed his problem. I never was his medical advisor.’ Dr. Benson told Bunny that he should know the cause of his ‘shakes’ and advised him to cut down on his drinking. Dr. Benson never saw Bunny again.” (7) Joe Dixon recalled what it was like traveling with Bunny: “Bunny’s doctor, Dr. Goldberg, was telling him he had cirrhosis of the liver and if he didn’t stop drinking he wouldn’t last long. I drove his big Chrysler Imperial on the road once in a while, with him in the back seat, and sometimes he’d wake from a dead sleep all perspired and hysterical, and I’d have to head for the nearest bar or liquor store and get some brandy. He’d have to swallow at least a half a pint before he’d calm down.” (8)
The music: The song “T’Aint So Honey, T’Aint So” was written by Willard Robison in 1927 or early 1928. A memorable recording of it was made by Paul Whiteman, featuring the singing of Bing Crosby and the cornet solos of Bix Beiderbecke on July 10, 1928. Robison also made a recording of it himself on June 28, 1928. I am quite certain that this tune remained in Whiteman’s active book of arrangements for some years thereafter, including the time from late 1932 to late 1933 when Bunny Berigan was a member of the Whiteman orchestra. Robison’s 1925 song “Peaceful Valley,” was chosen by Whiteman as his first radio theme. With Whiteman’s encouragement, Robison moved to New York where he recorded and broadcast. He had his own radio show on WOR/CBS from 1931 to 1938. It was called The Deep River Hour. (At right: Willard Robison in the mid-1930s when he was a radio star.)
It seems as though people who listen to the music of the swing era in general, and the music of Bunny Berigan in particular, often forget that Berigan spent a year as a Whiteman sideman. During that time, he learned a lot about the music that was constantly being composed then for the American pop music market, and was able to meet many of the composers of that music. Indeed, during the time Berigan was with Whiteman, he was generally introduced into many of the precincts of show business, and once again learned a lot and met many notable performers. After Berigan left Whiteman’s employ in late 1933, he held “Pops” Whiteman in very high regard as a person and as a mentor. (At left: Paul Whiteman in 1933.)
After Bunny left the Whiteman organization, he returned to CBS radio as a staff musician. In that role, he encountered many performers who were then popular or who would become popular. One of these was Willard Robison. It appears that Berigan maintained some connection with Robison through most of the 1930s. In addition to “T’Aint So Honey,” Berigan had at least one other Robison song in his band’s book, “”Round My Old Deserted Farm,” which he recorded for Victor.
Although Robison’s songs are very often characterized as being elegiac, nostalgic, or rural, the Berigan performance of “T’Aint So, Honey” is the antithesis of those concepts. It races along at a brisk tempo, and swings mightily from its first note to its last. The arrangement, which sounds very much like middle 1930s hot, rhythmically intense swing, as practiced by bands like Chick Webb’s and Earl Hines’s, was not, in my opinion, written by any of the arrangers Bunny normally worked with in 1938 (Joe Lippman, Andy Phillips, Abe Osser). It also was not written, as best I can determine, by either Fletcher Henderson or Benny Carter, both of whom sold arrangements to Berigan then. This process of elimination leaves us with making educated guesses about who, outside of arrangers often associated with Berigan, might have written this arrangement. My non-exclusive list of possible arrangers: Dick Rose (9), Van Alexander, Fred Norman and Horace Henderson. If any of the experts who visit swingandbeyond.com have more information about this, please contact me. (Above right: Berigan in the Victor recording studio in New York with Tommy Dorsey and Leonard Joy, a Victor A and R man (producer).
This performance, which was the fifteenth (out of sixteen) tunes recorded at August 8-9 Thesaurus recording session, shows what the 1938 Berigan band was all about: excellent ensemble unity and verve, inspired solos and overall exuberance. The taut interplay between the brass (led by Berigan) and reeds in the first chorus is clear evidence of the high level of performance this band was capable of.
Bunny plays first, setting a high bar for those who follow. Notice how he constructs his solo using the middle and low registers of his trumpet, and then vaulting into his high register off a rocketing upward glissando – and this is just in the first eight bars! On the bridge, he builds additional rhythmic intensity by repeating a note multiple times (as he did so effectively in his classic solo on “King Porter Stomp” with Benny Goodman), then he saunters through the last four bars. Georgie Auld blows a hot and rhythmically intense chorus on his tenor saxophone in which he is backed by the riffing ensemble in stanzas 1,2 and 4, but only by the rhythm section on the bridge. He followed by Joe Dixon on clarinet. Once again, the pattern of backing the soloist used for Auld’s solo is repeated here, with Dixon playing smoothly at times, achieving a gliding effect. This solo is evidence that Joe Dixon was a fine jazz soloist who never really received recognition for his talent in that area. (Joe Dixon is shown at left in late 1937.)
Berigan returns for some trumpet playing that can best be described as ecstatic, yet as always, logically constructed. Listen to how he enters in his high register, then takes it down in beautifully terraced steps in the first eight bars of this solo, and then plays a variant of that in the second eight. Again and again in his playing we encounter this rather astonishing sense of structure, proportion and balance. There was definitely something mathematical in Bunny’s mentation that allowed him to play in this way, to count off tempos that were almost exact to the second in multiple takes in a recording studio, and to play pool at an almost professional level. Yet at the same time, this mathematical logic in his playing was always informed by his robust and creative musical imagination.
The last sixteen bars of this chorus spots brief returns to the solo spotlight by Dixon and Auld. The finale has Berigan first playing lead in the rocking and riffing ensemble, then soloing above it, tossing in an abstracted allusion to Ferde Grofe’s “On the Trail,” which was another melody he played often while he was a part of Paul Whiteman’s orchestra. (Above left: Berigan as a part of Paul Whiteman’s brass section – early 1933. L-R: Jack Fulton, Vincent Grande, Bill Rank, Berigan, Nat Natoli and Harry Goldfield. Whiteman is in the spotlight. The man to the right may be Norman McPherson, who played tuba in the Whiteman orchestra.)
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) Don Manning interview, cited in the White materials: July 5, 1938.
(2) White materials: July 5, 1938.
(3) Traverse City Record Eagle: Wednesday, June 29, 1938. Information provided by Carl A. Hallstrom.
(4) The Fox Theater, located at 2211 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, was built in 1928 by Hollywood film pioneer William Fox. Its seating capacity of 5,048 makes it the second largest theater in the United States. (Only Radio City Music Hall in New York is larger.) Its twin is the Fox Theater in St. Louis, which has 500 fewer seats. The Fox Theater has remained a vital entertainment venue since its opening.
(5) Detroit Free Press: July 16, 1938, cited in the White materials: July 15, 1938.
(6) Bunny Berigan Elusive Legend of Jazz, by Robert Dupuis: 161.
(7) White materials: July 15, 1938.
(8) Liner notes—The Complete Bunny Berigan, Vol. 2; interview of Joe Dixon by Richard M. Sudhalter.
(9) Dick Rose was a relatively shadowy figure in the swing era. But he was certainly a capable arranger, and he provided a number of swinging charts for the Berigan band including: “Black Bottom,” “Frankie and Johnnie,” “The Prisoner’s Song” for sure, and possibly “Mahogany Hall Stomp.”
Here is a link to Berigan’s magnum opus, “I Can’t Get Started”:
And here are links to other wonderful examples of Bunny’s trumpet artistry with his own band:
And with Benny Goodman:
And with the Dorsey Brothers and Mildred Bailey:
And featured on the famous CBS radio show The Saturday Night Swing Club:
Finally, here is a link to the blog that everything to do with Bunny Berigan:
From all that we Berigan orchestra aficionados have read, particularly in the remembrances of sidemen, the band’s essence is represented best by its work on the road. We who lament the relative paucity of available airchecks can be grateful for the ’38 Thesaurus dates, whose under-fire, one-take-per-song conditions mimic to some degree the road environment — minus, of course, the electrical current between band and audience. “‘T’Aint So Honey, ‘T’Aint So” has always been a favorite of mine from among the band’s transcriptions, for the fact that its composer is one of my musical heroes, the great Willard Robison; for an intensely swinging arrangement that dares to be different in its conception of the piece; for the way in which which the newly-acquired Buddy Rich drives the band, as only he could; for the orchestra’s esprit de corps, and for Bunny’s utterly astonishing playing.
Willard Robison’s songs, from the ’20s onward, spoke of a time that was recent enough to have been experienced and vividly recalled — and yet seemingly irretrievably lost, which indeed makes “elegiac” the perfect word to describe the mood in Robison’s work, regardless of whether, in each individual instance, he was both composer and lyricist. His evocation of rural life, sleepy towns, rustic characters and now antiquated mores is as picturesque and affecting as anything from better known, and immensely talented, bucolic specialists Carmichael and Mercer. Mildred Bailey could be viewed as Robison’s most vocal champion, reportedly expressing her awed admiration concisely with “Willard is God!” and, more substantially, recording several of his songs, including “Harlem Lullaby”; “‘Round My Old Deserted Farm”; “Old Folks”; “Barrelhouse Music”; “Guess I’ll Go Back Home This Summer”; “Don’t Dally with the Devil”; “Little High Chairman” and “It’s Never Too Late to Pray.” In his final years, the great Jack Teagarden, recorded a beautiful album of his friend’s compositions, Think Well of Me. Peggy Lee, Paul Whiteman and, of course, the love of Bunny’s life, Lee Wiley, are also noted Robison interpreters — but it seems to me that Bunny himself should be included among these.
I think we would be safe in assuming that Bunny became acquainted with “‘T’Aint So” via the famous Whiteman recording. Though I’m sure that Bix’s stellar work would have been the focal point for him and most trumpet/cornet players, the performance has other features to recommend it, from Bill Challis’ arrangement, to Bing’s vocal, to Tram’s bassoon, which seems to be the tonal embodiment of the elderly and wise Aunt Phoebe Law. … If only an aircheck of this number from Bunny’s tenure with the band were to surface!
The Berigan horn, which always can always be characterized as uninhibited, free and visceral, is especially unrestrained in this Thesaurus performance. In addition to the “On The Trail” reference to be found in Bunny’s concluding remarks, there’s a figure in the first two bars of his bridge that, though perhaps merely an intervalic exercise, always sounds to me like a “Sidewalks of New York” quote, albeit heavily inflected. Though the mystery arranger’s dynamic vision of the song differs fantastically from the pastoral quality we find in most of Robison’s gentle pieces, the band’s exuberance in execution does suggest a joy in the discovery of a guiding philosophy, such as Aunt Phoebe’s. Both Georgie and Joe, powerfully exhorted by newcomer and prodigy-come-of-age, Buddy Rich, come on strong, never letting up for a millisecond. I’ve often suspected — but have never found verification — that Dixon was an Albert System player; his tone in his solos is particularly suggestive here. The section work from both the brass and reeds is gloriously tight and swinging.
In my opinion, Bunny’s innate architectural sense, on magnificent display in “‘T’Aint So” and perceptively examined in this blog post, is the equal of Armstrong’s, which has rightly and justly been acknowledged as flawless. It is fascinating to ponder the enigma of Bunny’s rare native gifts and artistic sophistication juxtaposed with the portrait drawn by Loretta Berigan: “[…] Bunny and Donna had a few drinks and he started teasing and joking with her. She couldn’t keep from laughing. It ended up that we all had a good time. I remember wondering at the time if there was ever any down-to-earth conversation between them. It was all fun and games.” “Who was Bunny Berigan?” we still must ask, confounded, despite our best collective efforts to gain understanding. Perhaps it’s best simply to turn up the volume, revel in the swing and immediacy of a Berigan performance — and be satisfied by the concise descriptor and title, “Miracle Man,” with its multifarious implications.