“Jingle Bells” (1935) Benny Goodman with Bunny Berigan

“Jingle Bells”

Composed by J.S. Pierpont; arranged by Lyle “Spud” Murphy.

Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor on July 1, 1935 in New York.

Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Bunny Berigan, first and solo trumpet; Ralph Muzzillo and Nate Kazebier, trumpets; Jack Lacey and Red Ballard, trombones; Nuncio “Toots” Mondello, first alto saxophone; Hymie Shertzer alto saxophone; Dick Clark and Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophones; Frank Froeba, piano; George Van Eps, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums.

The story:

Bunny Berigan – 1935.

Benny Goodman and His Orchestra produced a total of eight sides at recording sessions on April 4 and April 19, 1935. The records they made at those sessions under Benny’s brand-new contract with Victor were good. But in spite of all the talent present on those recordings, and a number of fine arrangements, the whole of the performances was somehow less than the sum of the parts. I am quite certain that Benny Goodman himself had these same opinions when he listened to these records. The spark that elevates solid, professional dance music into the realm of the inspired and exhilarating was missing. Maybe that is why Benny invited the great jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden (1) to play on the April 19 session. But for whatever reason, the band with Teagarden did not sound appreciably more stimulated than it had sounded without him.

I suspect that Benny knew all along what, or rather who, might solve this problem. But he was not about to call the man whose last stint with his band had been marred (but not ended), when he fell off the bandstand, drunk(*)—at least not without some persuasion. Maybe that persuasion came when Benny listened to the records Bunny Berigan had recently made with Red Norvo. Maybe it came when Bunny subbed into the Goodman band at the Roosevelt Hotel during its brief appearance there in June of 1935 (and indeed before). Whenever or however it came, the conclusion Goodman drew was clear: drinking or not, Bunny Berigan would energize the Goodman band like no one else.

It is important to understand that in big swing bands in the 1930s, it was rare that a jazz soloist had the ability to effectively play the first trumpet parts in most arrangements. At that time, the skills required to be a good first trumpeter, excellent reading ability, perfect control of one’s instrument, a big, full sound, power when needed, and a musical feeling that allowed for appropriate interpretation of the music being played, were cultivated by players who had developed reputations as lead trumpeters. In this group were trumpeters like Charlie Spivak, Andy Ferretti, Sammy Shapiro (later Spear), and Charlie Margulis. All of these men could sit down and play a first trumpet part at sight very well. But Benny Goodman understood, even in 1934, that none of these men had the particular ability to swing an entire band with their playing because they were not jazz musicians. Bunny Berigan, of course, was above all else a jazz musician, but he also possessed the skills to be a first trumpeter. And whenever Bunny played first trumpet, his irresistible swing permeated the whole band’s playing. That is the feeling Benny Goodman was looking for.

Late in his life, Benny Goodman was interviewed about his early career, and spoke very clearly about the musical phenomenon of Bunny Berigan: “Q: Bunny Berigan was a potent force in the band, wasn’t he? A: Absolutely! You know , he drank–not so much then, or at least it wasn’t getting to him yet. But–well, you put up with certain things in certain people because of what they are. People today who follow jazz seem to have forgotten about Bunny, about just how marvelous he was. His tone, his beautiful sound and range, everything. Most of all, he had the ability to stimulate a whole band: he’d take a solo, and wow! He was so inventive that he’d just lift the whole thing.” (2)

A most vivid example of the effect Bunny Berigan’s first trumpet playing had on the Goodman band in the spring of 1935 is to be found by simply playing, in chronological order, the Victor recordings Benny made then. When you go from the gentle, lilting Irving Berlin tune “Always,” which was arranged by Horace Henderson, and was recorded on April 19, with a rather stiff rhythmic feel, to the scintillating “Get Rhythm in Your Feet,” arranged by Fletcher Henderson, and recorded on June 25, you feel as though the band had now somehow been supercharged. It swings hard from the first trumpet chair all the way down through all of the other instruments, and sitting in that first trumpet chair was Bunny Berigan. Mannie Klein, a trumpet virtuoso himself and an ardent Berigan admirer, summarized the unique effect Bunny’s playing had on a band: “You didn’t know sometimes whether he was gonna show up for a session. But when he did show up—well, nobody played with the balls and the beat he did.” (3) Another example of the difference Berigan’s huge, warm first trumpet sound, and perfect rhythmic conception, made in the overall sound of the Goodman band is to be found in the lovely “Ballad in Blue,” arranged by Spud Murphy. Irving Berlin’s classic “Blue Skies,” in a Fletcher Henderson (4) arrangement, is also indelibly stamped with the mark of Berigan, both as a first trumpeter on most of the performance, and as a perceptive, dramatic soloist whose playing so perfectly captures and enhances the mood of Henderson’s arrangement. “Dear Old Southland,” arranged by Horace Henderson, is jump-started by Berigan’s careening high-register intro, and then carried along by the irresistible swing of his lead trumpet playing.

Six days later, on July 1, 1935, Berigan once again played first trumpet and marvelous jazz solos with the Goodman band at the Victor recording session that produced “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “King Porter Stomp,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” On all of these titles, the Berigan-led brass bristled. His electric presence in the Goodman band once more elevated all of these performances into the realm of instant classics.

Benny undoubtedly shook his head after this recording session, and likely said to himself over and over again: somehow I’ve got to get Berigan into my band!

The fact of the matter is that Bunny Berigan did not join Benny Goodman’s band until a couple of weeks later, after it had begun its cross-country tour. He had been, as always, very busy making records and working at CBS. He’d recorded with Glenn Miller and Smith Ballew on April 25–26; with Red McKenzie and the Mound City Blue Blowers on May 9, both on Columbia; and then with an ad hoc group led by Casa Loma’s ace arranger Gene Gifford, (with Wingy Manone as a vocalist), on May 13, on Victor. Prime Berigan trumpeting is to be found on the recordings made at these sessions.

Meanwhile at CBS, Bunny was beginning to be featured on the radio network with a group called ‘Bunny’s Blue Boys.” Drummer Johnny Williams (father of the famous film composer John Williams) recalled:

“Bunny’s Blue Boys grew out of the band at CBS. We were on the air before Bunny joined Benny Goodman and we had Jerry Colonna on trombone, Pete Pumiglio on clarinet, Babe Russin on tenor sax, Raymond Scott on piano, Lou Shoobe on bass and me on drums. Our theme was “Chicken and Waffles,” a tune that Bunny composed in a hurry for an early show. Mark Warnow, the conductor, organized a bigger group called the Instrumentalists, which added Artie Manners on clarinet and alto sax, Mike Miolla on trumpet, Vincent Maffei on guitar and Buddy Sheppard on violin. CBS usually aired the Instrumentalists in the afternoon and the Blue Boys in the morning.” (5)

This was a significant development for Bunny’s future career, because his name was now being announced over the CBS network as the leader of Bunny’s Blue Boys. This occurrence marked the gradual emergence of Berigan from being a rather anonymous (to the public) studio musician to being a readily identifiable jazz trumpet soloist. From this point on, the name Bunny Berigan would be used more and more often to tell the nationwide CBS audience that he was the trumpeter whose exciting playing they were hearing. Also, he was now being identified in the radio listings of various New York newspapers. (Below: Bunny Berigan solos at CBS – mid 1930s.)

CBS was definitely promoting Berigan: “(Headline) Hottest Man In Town—Is kept busy at CBS. His program Bunny and his Blue Boys, is heard on CBS each Tuesday at 11.45 a.m. He plays regularly in studio orchestra and is a feature of Mark Warnow’s popular band heard on CBS. Four years ago, Freddie Rich brought Bunny to Columbia. He left for a time to play with Abe Lyman, but in a year and a half he was back on CBS. Bunny likes a tune that wasn’t written to be a hot tune, but one that has plenty of pretty harmonies in it. A good hot trumpet player breaking into a sweet harmonious number, can gain by the contrast. He dislikes the ‘wah wah’ style, says it’s ‘passé.’  He says good hot music is not a lot of noise. It’s a matter of real rhythm, what we call ‘swing.’” (6)

Berigan also got a good write-up in the July 6 issue of Billboard.

Bunny and Benny – 1935.

A month before, on May 30, the famous blow–up between Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey occurred at Glen Island Casino, New Rochelle, New York. The next day, Ray Noble, now having resolved the problems he had with the musicians’ union, opened at the Rainbow Room, on the sixty-fifth floor of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center (30 Rock). Notable Noble sidemen included Glenn Miller and Will Bradley, trombones; Claude Thornhill, piano; Charlie Spivak and Pee Wee Erwin, trumpets; Bud Freeman and Johnny Mince, reeds; and George Van Eps, guitar. At around this same time, Gil Rodin (and the Rockwell-O’Keefe booking office) had installed Bing Crosby’s younger brother Bob as titular leader of the band he (Rodin) had organized and had recorded with under the name the Clark Randall Orchestra. (Bob Crosby’s place as vocalist with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra was taken by a singer with superior vocal equipment and dark good looks, Bob Eberly.) Rodin’s new band, a cooperative outfit now known as Bob Crosby and His Orchestra, was ready to begin working. (7) The swing era was beginning to take a recognizable form.

Bunny Berigan joined the Benny Goodman band at Ocean Beach Pier, Clark Lake, near Jackson, Michigan, for a one-night stand there on July 16, 1935. Also joining the Goodman band there was pianist Jess Stacy. It was understood by all concerned that Bunny’s stay with the Goodman band would be temporary, lasting only until its tour ended, which would be when its engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles was over.

The music:

Lyle “Spud” Murphy

The arrangement used on Benny Goodman’s recording of “Jingle Bells” was written by Lyle “Spud” Murphy (1908-2005), a masterful though now little remembered swing era arranger who contributed many memorable scores to the early BG band. Murphy was born Miko Stefanovic to Serbian  émigré parents in Berlin, Germany. He grew up in  Salt Lake City Utah, where he took the name of a childhood friend in order to fit in better as he grew from adolescence to manhood.

The introduction consists of two four-bar segments, the second played in a higher key than the first. Note Berigan’s commanding first trumpet sound and swaggering approach here and throughout this performance. The band swings its way through the first chorus orienting the listener to this classic melody in the first 16 bars, then elaborating on it for the second 16.

Goodman appears for a bright, happy 16 bar improvisation as the second chorus begins. Murphy backs this solo sparsely with humming reeds and a few brass accents. Then it is Berigan’s turn. He plays a perfectly constructed 16 bar solo, building in the first eight with an exuberant high note at the beginning of the second eight as the climax, all delivered with Bunny’s characteristic gusto and ringing trumpet sound.

Tenor saxophonist Arthur Rollini with the Benny Goodman band.

Tenor saxophonist Arthur Rollini was in the unenviable position of having to follow Berigan. Nevertheless, his 16-bar solo is a marvelously cohesive, flowing improvisation that is absolutely first-rate jazz. Rollini, a quiet man who was an absolute master of his instruments, played in the Goodman band for five years, and seldom received the accolades he deserved for his excellent work as both a superb section player and solid jazz soloist.

The next chorus begins with a glistening segment that spots Berigan on his straight-muted trumpet playing together with Goodman’s clarinet. This is followed by a marvelous upward modulation that begins with the two trombones and the two tenor saxophones, moving up into the swirling trumpets and saxophones. The finale has Berigan’s trumpet atop the entire ensemble swinging this joyous performance to a close.

The Benny Goodman band at the Trocadero Ballroom – Elitch’s Gardens near Denver, Colorado
August 1935, about after a month after they recorded “Jingle Bells.” L-R: front: Jess Stacy, Dick Clark, Hymie Shertzer, Gene Krupa, Jack Lacey, Bunny Berigan, Bill DePew, Art Rollini, Ralph Muzzillo, Red Ballard, Allan Reuss: back: Harry Goodman, Joe Harris, Helen Ward, Benny Goodman, Nate Kazebier.

As an added treat, here are Benny and Bunny again, this time playing “Santa Claus Came in the Spring.”

The personnel is as is shown in the photo of the Goodman band at Elitch’s Gardens (8) above. The tune (both words and music) was written by Johnny Mercer, and the arrangement was done by Spud Murphy. The singer is Joe Harris.

The recordings presented in this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) One of the foremost trombonists and singers in the history of jazz, Jack Teagarden was born on August 29, 1905, as Weldon Lee Teagarden in Vernon, Texas, into a musical family. He was playing the trombone by age ten. He worked his way through myriad bands in the Texas/Southwest territory throughout the 1920s, before joining Ben Pollack in June 1928. He remained with Pollack until 1933, but during this time made many recordings with other groups. He worked with a number of bands throughout 1933, prior to joining Paul Whiteman at the end of that year. Teagarden remained with Whiteman until the end of 1938, but again took some time to make records with others, and to appear with his brother trumpeter Charlie Teagarden and Frank Trumbauer in a short-lived group called the Three Ts, in early 1937. From early 1939 until 1946, he led a succession of big bands that were either not successful, or only moderately successful. After the final demise of his big band, he led a small group for several months before joining Louis Armstrong’s All Stars from 1947 to 1951. Thereafter, he led his own small bands with considerable success until his death from bronchial pneumonia on January 15, 1964, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

(*) When I say “marred but not ended,” I mean that literally. Despite the fiasco explained below, Benny Goodman did in fact call Bunny Berigan to perform on the very next Let’s Dance radio show, the one that was broadcast on January 5, 1935. Berigan’s playing on that show was superb, and here is the evidence: https://bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com/2021/11/22/honeysuckle-rose-1935-with-benny-goodman/

The unfortunate instance of Berigan falling off the bandstand occurred on a broadcast of the now legendary NBC Let’s Dance radio show, on the New Years Eve 1934 broadcast which emanated from fabled Studio 8H in the NBC studios in what is now called 30 Rock. (Sixth Avenue between 49th and 50th. Studio 8H was soon to become the home of Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony.) Bunny, after working a full day at CBS, and then rehearsing with the Goodman band at NBC for the Let’s Dance show, celebrated a bit too much after rehearsal at Hurley’s, the bar that was in the small building (shown above left in 2022, still there though no longer a bar), adjacent to 30 Rock at 1240 Sixth Avenue on the northeast corner of Sixth and 49th. (Hurley’s was humorously dubbed Studio 1H by the many talented people who worked at NBC and patronized it.) When Berigan reported to play the Let’s Dance broadcast that evening, he unsteadily ascended and soon fell from the riser where the trumpet section of the Goodman band was to play from. Trumpeter Mannie Klein, playing in the Kel Murray band on the same show, was summoned and played the Goodman charts on the broadcast by sight-reading them. Berigan’s dependence on alcohol had increased greatly in the year 1934. He was learning how to be a functioning alcoholic through 1935.

Here is a link that will give you the flavor of Hurley’s at its height: https://www.rockefellercenter.com/blog/2017/01/10/corner-bar-could/

(2)  Lost Chords …White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, by Richard M. Sudhalter, (1999) 562.

(3) Ibid. 496.

(4) Pianist/arranger/bandleader James Fletcher Henderson was born on December 18, 1897, in Cuthbert, Georgia. He was one of the pioneering jazz/dance band leaders in the 1920s, who helped to launch the careers of many of the greatest jazz soloists of the 1920s and 1930s, including Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart, Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, and Ben Webster, among many others, who played in his bands. He also employed some of the most innovative arrangers, most notably Don Redman, from whom he and his younger brother, the vastly underappreciated arranger/pianist Horace Henderson (1904–1988), learned a great deal about how to make a dance band swing. Although Fletcher Henderson’s band was a formidable performing unit from the late 1920s into the 1930s, it was a victim of Henderson’s sometimes lax leadership, the Great Depression, and racial discrimination which barred it from many lucrative engagements. From late 1934 until 1936, he and his brother supplied Benny Goodman’s new band with dozens of arrangements on jazz originals and current pop tunes that codified swing band arranging to a large degree to that time. Henderson attempted again in the late 1930s to lead a successful band, but it was not to be. From 1940 on, he worked intermittently with groups of various sizes, achieving neither wide public recognition nor notable musical achievement. He died on December 29, 1952, in New York City after having been previously disabled by a stroke.

(5) White materials: June 11, 1935.

(6) CBS press release dated June 13, 1935, cited in White materials: June 11, 1935. The use of the term “swing” at this early date is noteworthy.

(7) Stomp Off, Let’s Go—The Story of Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats and Big Band, by John Chilton, self-published, (1983), 17–25.

(8) Here is some information about the Trocadero Ballroom and Elitch’s Gardens: https://colomusic.org/profile/the-trocadero-ballroom-at-elitch-gardens/

Here are links to some other recordings Bunny Berigan made with Benny Goodman’s band, and in one instance with a group of all-stars including BG:






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1 Comment

  1. Benny, fed up with the role of sideman in the studio and radio environment, was determined to be an orchestra leader, a position he was born to assume, and he played a great hunch in hiring Bunny (whose ability to galvanize a band Goodman had witnessed and experienced on many occasions) to give his fledgling aggregation a lift. I think we may conclude that the clarinetist, though supremely confident in his own superb musicianship, envied Bunny’s sense of structure, balance and drama, in addition to this faculty, as both soloist and section leader, for inspiring confreres and audiences alike. It has been written that Goodman didn’t always know how to communicate to his musicians the technical or expressive effects he was seeking from them; Bunny made it easy, though, as his instincts were flawless, and he had the instrumental command to make what he heard in his head materialize.

    It does seem very likely that Benny enlisted old pal and frequent band mate Jack Teagarden for the April 19 session with an expectation that the virtuosic and charismatic trombonist’s singular magic would ignite the new Goodman crew. I love “You’re a Heavenly Thing,” with Big T’s entrance that sounds as if he’d just gotten a nudge from Jack Lacey to cue him, but we can’t look now at this day and view his presence as transformative. I would say that Allan Reuss’ subbing for his teacher, George Van Eps, before joining the band full-time, had more meaningful impact on the overall sound.

    One has to wonder how much actual Berigan verbal input went into that CBS blurb, but I found one sentence particularly significant: “Bunny likes a tune that wasn’t written to be a hot tune, but one that has plenty of pretty harmonies in it.” We can hear in all of Bunny’s work an exceptionally keen ear, an appreciation of good changes and an unerring sense of what notes in the chord to emphasize in his solos. I love Benny’s playing — he’s my favorite clarinetist — and I feel he had the finest band of the Swing Era as a whole, but it’s Bunny’s playing that stands out most for me on those eleven early sides in which he took part. Clarinetist and future Berigan band sideman, Joe Dixon, observed, “Bunny hit a note, and it had pulse,” and he was so right. Though he was lucky enough to work throughout the Swing Era with some of the finest drummers — Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Cozy Cole, Buddy Rich — Bunny had an internal rhythm and an unfailing sense of where the notes belonged, or sounded best, in relation to the beat. We can all hear how a different lead player changes the sound of the section on the same charts. Bunny swung the trumpets — indeed the whole band — as no one else could. Whether giving the beautiful “Ballad in Blue” the gravitas it called for or supercharging already hot material and charts like “King Porter” and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” Roland Bernard set a standard that, it could be argued, was never equaled in the BG band, despite its many great subsequent lead men.

    In contrast to meatier titles waxed during Bunny’s brief tenure with the band, the nineteenth-century holiday chestnut, “Jingle Bells” and the rather gossamer “Santa Claus Came in the Spring,” a relatively rare instance in which wordsmith Mercer supplied both lyric and music, seem rather unlikely numbers for swing treatments … but how they do in fact swing in the Goodman renditions! Great praise must go to Spud Murphy for fashioning terrific arrangements, utilizing attention-commanding intros and clever modulatory passages, as well as to the leader and Krupa for their spirited work, but it’s Bunny’s contributions, more than anything, that make these sides so memorable. From the opening notes of both “Jingle Bells” and SCCITS, the levitational effect of his lead on the rest of the trumpet section is apparent, and then we hear the whole band swinging as never before. On the former, when he steps up for his solo, it’s almost as if, having gotten the bells jingling, he wants to make an important announcement. “Now, listen up,” that four-note entrance seems to say … and then he sets the one-horse open sleigh dashing. Art Rollini’s urbane sixteen bars are the ideal contrasting follow-up. Spud’s tricky passage combining straight-muted Bunny with a clarinet choir is a slick way to transform the simple tune into a high information affair. By the end of the journey “over the fields,” the band’s had quite a workout, and it seems to have been Bunny, rather than the leader, who was cracking the whip.

    “Santa Claus …” has always struck me as a neglected gem in the Berigan discography. I absolutely love Spud’s chart, from that snazzy intro to the triumphant conclusion. The Berigan-led trumpets have muscle! The reeds in the opening chorus are beautiful, and the classic Stacy-Reuss-Goodman-Krupa rhythm section, now in place, provides snap. Vocalist Joe Harris, then soon to take over Jack Lacey’s chair in the trombone section, does better with Mercer’s “… riding along through the daffodils” etc. than I can imagine anyone else could, and his “Santy” pronunciation, now seldom encountered, has a vintage appeal today. Jess, in his first studio session with the band, displays his incomparable comping skills behind Joe’s chorus. What follows the modulation, though, is the star on top of the Christmas tree: Bunny’s tightly-muted sixteen bars! This solo, on this silly little song, is one of my all-time Berigan favorites — great ideas and phrasing and pure soul. Benny follows with a merry bridge, but he had to have been thinking, “What can I say after THAT?”

    Goodman, who grew up poor, was, we know, determined to succeed. He saw his clarinet as his ticket out of poverty. With the LET’S DANCE gig underway, he wasn’t going to let anything derail his new band, a venture that would at last reflect his musical vision and not somebody else’s. Despite the professional risk involved in hiring Bunny for a tour, I think we can safely say that Benny’s bet, in first adding Bunny to a couple of studio sessions and eventually taking him on for the trip out west, paid off handsomely. I love the Goodman band but, for me, its most exciting feature on those three important studio sessions in ’35 is easily the Berigan horn. Bunny made all the difference in the world, and the leader had to have realized it.

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