Bunny Berigan


Roland Bernard "Bunny" Berigan (November 2, 1908 – June 2, 1942) was an American jazz trumpeter and bandleader who rose to fame during the swing era. His career and influence were shortened by alcoholism and ended with his early demise at the age of 33 from cirrhosis. Although he composed some jazz instrumentals such as "Chicken and Waffles" and "Blues", Berigan was best known for his virtuoso jazz trumpeting. His 1937 classic recording "I Can't Get Started" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1975.

Berigan was born in Hilbert, Wisconsin,[1] the son of William Patrick Berigan and Mary Catherine (Mayme) Schlitzberg, and raised in Fox Lake.[2] Having learned the violin and trumpet, Berigan started his career playing with local bands as a teenager, including the University of Wisconsin’s jazz ensemble (although he never actually went to college). After first trying out for the Hal Kemp Orchestra and being rejected he joined the band in late 1929.[3] His first recorded trumpet solos were with the orchestra, which toured England and a few other European countries in 1930. He also appeared as featured soloist with bands fronted by Rudy Vallee, Tommy Dorsey, Abe Lyman, Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman.[citation needed]

Shortly after the Kemp orchestra returned to the U.S. in late 1930, Berigan, like fellow trumpeter Mannie Klein, the Dorsey Brothers and Artie Shaw, became a sought-after studio musician in New York. Fred Rich, Freddy Martin and Ben Selvin sought his services for record dates. He joined the staff of CBS radio network musicians in early 1931. Berigan recorded his first vocal, "At Your Command", with Rich that year. From late 1932 through early 1934, Berigan was a member of Paul Whiteman's orchestra, before playing with Abe Lyman's band briefly in 1934.

Berigan led his own band full-time from early 1937 until June 1942, with a six-month hiatus in 1940 as a sideman in Tommy Dorsey's band. A series of misfortunes and Berigan's alcoholism worked against his financial success as a bandleader. Berigan also began an affair with singer Lee Wiley in 1936, which lasted into 1940. The stresses of bandleading drove Berigan to drink even more heavily. Among the players who worked in the Berigan band were: drummers Buddy Rich, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Johnny Blowers and Jack Sperling; alto saxophonists and clarinetists Gus Bivona, Joe Dixon and Andy Fitzgerald; vocalists Danny Richards, Ruth Bradley and Kathleen Lane; pianist Joe Bushkin; trombonist and arranger Ray Conniff; trombonist Sonny Lee; bassists Hank Wayland and Morty Stulmaker; trumpeters Carl Warwick, Steve Lipkins and Les Elgart; tenor saxophonists Georgie Auld and Don Lodice; and pianist and arranger Joe Lipman.

Berigan's business troubles drove him to declare bankruptcy in 1939, and shortly after to join Tommy Dorsey as a featured jazz soloist. By September 1940, Berigan briefly led a new small group, but soon reorganized a touring big band. Berigan led moderately successful big bands from the fall of 1940 into early 1942, and was on the comeback trail when his health declined alarmingly. On April 20, 1942, while on tour, Berigan was hospitalized with pneumonia in Allegheny General Hospital Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, until May 8. His doctors discovered that cirrhosis had severely damaged his liver. He was advised to stop drinking and stop playing the trumpet for an undetermined length of time. Berigan did not do either. He returned to his band on tour and played for a few weeks before he returned to the Van Cortlandt Hotel where he made his home in New York City and suffered a massive hemorrhage on May 31, 1942. He died two days later in Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital, New York, at age 33.[5][6][7] Funeral services were conducted June 3 at Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in New York.[8] He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery south of Fox Lake.