Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan (Studies in Jazz)

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The life of jazz trumpeter Roland Bernard "Bunny" Berigan (1908-1942) resembles nothing less than an ancient Greek tragedy: a heroic figure who rises from obscurity to dizzying heights, touches greatness, becomes ensnared by circumstances, and comes to a disastrous early end. Berigan was intimately involved in the commercial music business of the 1930s and 1940s in New York City. Berigan was a charismatic performer, one of the few musicians in the history of jazz to advance the art. His trumpet artistry made a deep and lasting impression on almost everyone who heard him play, while the body of recorded work he left continues to evoke a wide range of emotions in those who hear it.

Too often writings about the Swing Era skip over the interrelationship between the music business and the music that the giants of jazz created. In Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan, Michael Zirpolo takes on this difficult task, exploring connections between the business of music and contemporary music makers and the culture of social dancing that drove it all. Through detailed research and insightful analysis, Zirpolo rectifies many heretofore misunderstood events in Berigan's life and in the Swing Era more generally.

In this panoramic examination of Berigan's personal and professional lives, Mr. Trumpet maps the great musician's role in what was a truly golden age of American popular music and jazz, offering close looks at some of his greatest performances and film work, comprehensive listings of all known broadcast recordings made by Berigan and his bands, as well as numerous previously unpublished photos of the great jazz artist.

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About the Author:

Michael Zirpolo has been a practicing attorney since 1975. He has written numerous articles and presented many times on jazz musicians and the development of jazz from 1925 to 1960. He has served as a guest on radio programs and has digitally remastered vintage jazz recordings.

Review:

Bunny Berigan was one of the magnificent jazz soloists of the 1930s. After arriving in New York from Wisconsin, his yeoman work in the recording studios and brief but significant stints with the bands of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey led to milestone recordings and enough notoriety for the star trumpeter to start his own big band. The band's failure can be attributed to Berigan's ignorance of how the business worked, and probably to his concurrent and increasingly destructive alcoholism, which led to his death at the age of only 33. This encyclopedic volume painstakingly documents Berigan's entire life and career. Zirpolo built on Robert Dupuis's commendable Bunny Berigan: Elusive Legend of Jazz (CH, Jul'93, 30-6086), and he benefits from extensive research completed since that time, particularly a collection of materials gathered by "Bozy" White. The amount of detail in Zirpolo's account may be overwhelming for a casual reader (extended notes profile many figures of the swing era), but serious fans and scholars will appreciate this definitive biography. The White materials are also scheduled to lead to a biodiscography--a discography being notably absent from the present volume. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers who are students or aficionados of jazz. (CHOICE)

A fine addition to your jazz library. (Jazz Journal)

From time to time, the opportunity comes along to praise the dedication and hard work of a respected acquaintance. This is an especially pleasant opportunity when a book exceeds the already high expectations that one may have had in advance of publication. Knowing the writer and the subject matter led me to expect nothing but the best and most informative read. However, having read and considered the contents of the work, I can enthusiastically say that I have just finished an impressive work of professional scholarship that will stand as one of the rare and essential histories of jazz and the big band era. (Examiner)

This book is, no doubt, the last word on Berigan. At 550 pages it is an impressive body of work, thoroughly researched and, befitting its subject, never dull. (Jersey Jazz)

From now on, everyone writing about the great swing and big band trumpeter Bunny Berigan will have to refer to this book. When they do, they just might realize that they should pick out another jazzman to write about: Berigan is covered. Mr. Trumpet is and will be for a long time the definitive biography of this wonderful musician. ... he has done his homework and has created a book that every Bunny Berigan fan will want to keep on their shelves for repeated readings, as well as a book that casual fans of the music of the swing years, the late '20s and '30s, will devour like a slice of lemon meringue pie. ... Mr. Trumpet takes us inside not just a man's life but a whole world that we know only superficially. It's a story worth the telling and a world worth the seeing. (Rambles.NET)

Michael Zirpolo's book is an immense blessing: it is the book on Bunny Berigan that we have been waiting for. Every page has a new story — funny, revealing, or sad — about this man who threw himself into his music so wholeheartedly that he played more in his brief lifetime than six or seven other (more well-behaved) musicians. But the book is also a Wicked Tempter, so beware! I have it on my kitchen table and whenever I walk by, Mr. Trumpet beckons to me. I read two pages, entranced, and I have to tear myself away by brute force to get on with the less entrancing parts of everyday life. Intoxicating, addictive, a good read, a page-turner . . . you name it. I wanted to say this now, right away, so that others could get hooked, too! (Michael Steinman Jazz Lives)

There have been intelligent articles, commentary, books, and record liner notes about Bunny Berigan in the past, but this new, panoramic biography by Michael P. Zirpolo easily surpasses all previous efforts.... Throughout the 550 pages and 25 chapters, Zirpolo provides, in an interesting narrative, all the necessary facts, and gives the work a proper and thorough context--something that has often been lacking in other book-length writings about the big bands. While as knowledgeable a swing aficionado as they come, he retains the objectivity needed to write the definitive biography of Berigan, and tells his story with understanding, compassion, and respect.

(Zirpolo) recognized the scope of Berigan's talents, the importance of his artistic achievements, and his standing in the big band business way beyond the classic recording of 'I Can't Get Started.' Significantly, he explains or corrects many heretofore misunderstood events in Berigan's life... including how Berigan became an alcoholic, why his marriage was unsuccessful, the nature of his friendship with Tommy Dorsey, and his relationship with Music Corporation of America (MCA)."

From cover to cover, Zirpolo's book has raised the jazz scholarship bar, and deserves a spot on the bookshelf along such pioneering and esteemed writers as Walter C. Allen, Whitney Balliett, John Chilton, D. Russell Connor, Stanley Dance, Chip Deffaa, Charles Delauney, Leonard Feather, John Flower, Edward F. Polic, Brian Rust, Gunther Schuller, Chris Sheridan, George T. Simon (whom, by the way, Zirpolo takes issue with for Simon's sometimes less-than-enthusiastic reviews of Berigan's talents), Richard M. Sudhalter, and Leo Walker.

Big Band Library rating: Supremely Excellent (Christopher Popa Big Band Library)


From time to time, the opportunity comes along to praise the dedication and hard work of a respected acquaintance. This is an especially pleasant opportunity when a book exceeds the already high expectations that one may have had in advance of publication....This book is the comprehensive and indispensable biography of Roland Bernard "Bunny" Berigan. The author is Michael Zirpolo.

Anyone interested in Bunny Berigan, his contemporaries, jazz and big band history will be riveted to this book from the moment that they open it. Michael Zirpolo has captured the essence of his subject. Not only does Michael's love and respect for Bunny create a very enjoyable read, his attention to detail and precision result in a most informative, thorough and balanced tour-de-force. The biography includes numerous previously unpublished photographs and a comprehensive broadcast discography.

Michael Zirpolo has captured the story of Bunny Berigan in an entertaining and informative read. I will not go on and give away all the details or the plot but suffice to say that there are revelations and surprises. My personal experience has been that with this book my understanding of an essential personality and talent of jazz and big band history has come to life in way that my superficial and anecdotal knowledge of the man from other accounts and recordings had never done justice to. I suspect that everyone else interested in the subject matter will come away feeling the same way. (Dennis M. Spragg, Glenn Miller Archive, American Music Research Center)

With Mr. Trumpet: The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph of Bunny Berigan, Michael P. Zirpolo has established himself as the major authority on this great musician. Access to the massive archive of Berigan materials that Bozy White spent a half century collecting served Zirpolo well, for he plumbed it thoroughly, compiling a definitive record of Bunny’s professional life and using quotes from published reviews and interviews with those who worked with this trumpeter and bandleader to personalize his 520-page biography of a musician whom many, musicians and fans alike, would do well to familiarize themselves with. (W. Royal Stokes)

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