Bunny Berigan Biography

Rowland Bernart Berigan, 2 November 1908, Hilbert, Calumet, Wisconsin, USA, d. 2 June 1942, New York City, New York, USA. One of the outstanding trumpeters of the swing era, Berigan was heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong and at his best played with much of his idol’s attack and zest. In the early 30s he worked with numerous bands, including those of Paul Whiteman, Fred Rich, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman (with whom he was playing when the band made its popular breakthrough at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles in August 1936, the gig that launched the swing era). Berigan also worked in the studios, playing in house bands, and in 1937 formed his own big band. The band was very popular and had several hits, including a version of ‘I Can’t Get Started’ on which the leader sings engagingly and plays one of the most celebrated jazz solos of the era.

Berigan played with a full and gorgeous sound, his open horn having a burnished quality that brought added texture to his interpretation of the more melodic yet soulful tunes he loved to play. Unfortunately, he lacked discipline in his playing, which could spiral out of control, in much the same way that it was absent from his personal life. Berigan’s big band folded in 1940, by which time the leader’s drinking was severely damaging his health. He rejoined Dorsey for a while, then re-formed his own band in mid-1941. Early the following year he was taken ill with pneumonia but continued working - and drinking cheap liquor - until he collapsed at the end of May and died in June 1942.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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