Berigan, Bunny (Rowland Bernard)

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Berigan, Bunny (Rowland Bernard)

Berigan, Bunny (Rowland Bernard), well known jazz trumpeter, singer, leader; b. Hubert, Wise, Nov. 2, 1908; d. N.Y., June 2, 1942. His powerful, clearly conceived solos made him a favorite of musicians as well as the public, winning a jazz poll in 1939 with five times as many votes as his nearest competitor. His brother Don was a drummer, their mother played piano. Bunny began on violin, then switched to trumpet (continuing to double until 1927). At 13 played locally with Merrill Gwen and his Pennsy Jazz Band; during the early 1920s sat in with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in Wise. Though not a student at the Univ. of Wise, he played regularly in the college dance bands throughout his teens. He played in local bands including those led by Jesse Cohen and Cy Mahlberg (1926). Resident at The Chanticleer Ballroom in Madison with local leaders, then played in N.Y. and Philadelphia (1928). He returned to Wise, before making another trip to N.Y. to play with violinist Frank Cornwall’s Band at The Hof-brau (early 1929), then returned home again before journeying once more to N.Y. to join Hal Kemp at the Hotel Taft in the spring of 1930. He was with Hal Kemp in Europe from May until September 1930. He then returned to the U.S, and began freelancing in N.Y. prior to joining Fred Rich Orch.; during the early 1930s, he did extensive studio work, including radio and recording sessions with Benny Krueger, Ben Selvin, etc. He worked in Dorsey Brothers’ Band for the Broadway show Everybody Welcome (1931), doubled studio work and freelance work until spending summer season with Smith Ballew. He joined Paul Whiteman from late 1932 until late 1933, a month with Abe Lyman, then CBS studio work and occasional gigs with the Dorseys, Benny Goodman, etc. He played regularly with Benny Goodman from June until September 1935, left Goodman in Calif., home to Wise, then back to N.Y. to resume at CBS studios. Active as A.R.C, staff man during 1936, combining this with short spells with Red McKenzie, Red Norvo, Ray Noble, and leading his own pick-up bands. CBS work in early 1937, recording work with Tommy Dorsey, then from spring 1937 leading own big band, which bankruptcy eventually caused him to disband in spring of 1940. He was with Tommy Dorsey from March until August 1940, then formed own small band for residency at 47 Club, N.Y. Soon reverted to leading a big band, extensive touring and summer

1941 residency in Columbus, Ohio. He went to Hollywood in late 1941 to record part of soundtrack for the film Syncopation (sharing trumpet work with George Thow), then returned to big band until contracting pneumonia in April 1942. He left the hospital on May 8, 1942, and continued one-nighters until May 30th. He was a serious alcoholic, which exacerbated his condition, and he suffered a severe hemorrhage and was admitted to the N.Y. Polyclinic Hospital, where he died three days later.


B. Goodman: “King Porter Stomp” (1935). T. Dorsey: “Marie” (1937); “Song of India” (1937); “I Can’t Get Started” (1937).

—John Chilton Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter

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Berigan, Bunny (Rowland Bernard)

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