Tag Archives: Michael P. Zirpolo

A DEEP STUDY OF SWEE’ PEA

Strayhorn

Jazz scholar Michael Zirpolo, who created the rewarding biography of Bunny Berigan, has also written a fine study of Billy Strayhorn for the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors (IAJRC)  Journal.  It’s not a simple reiteration of biographical information;  rather, the essay covers the early years of the Strayhorn / Ellington musical association (1939-1942), and it disentangles to a large degree, who wrote what in those years, Duke or Billy, or Duke and Billy.

With characteristic generosity, Mike wants to make his Strayhorn piece, ten thousand words long, available to any interested readers — no fuss, no muss, no cost.  You may email Mike at mzirpolo@neo.rr.com and he will send it to you in PDF form for you to read at your leisure.

A portrait of the jazz scholar:

Zirpolo

And while you’re reading the latest Zirpolo opus, listen to the Billy Strayhorn Orchestra (directed by Michael Hashim) here.  Are you going to their November 20 concert?

May your happiness increase!

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OUR HERO, BUNNY BERIGAN: TALKING WITH MICHAEL P. ZIRPOLO (October 20, 2013)

Michael P. Zirpolo, Mike to his friends, hails from Ohio — and has devoted himself to the admiring study of trumpeter / singer / bandleader Bunny Berigan.  About a week ago, we met for the first time in person, fittingly at The Ear Inn, where Mike and clan got to hear The EarRegulars for that Sunday, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Joe Cohn, and Pat O’Leary, do what they do so well.  Before the evening’s frolic, Mike and I had a short video conversation about the man we admire so, the gloriously memorable Mr. Berigan:

To learn more about Bunny and especially Mike’s book, MR. TRUMPET, visit    here — and you can also find out more about a new compact disc on the Hep label, SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN’, of live 1937-39 Berigan performances that he has made possible.  And here are my posts on the book and the disc.

May your happiness increase!

ETSY MEETS TD, FRANK, BUNNY, BUDDY (1940)

That’s Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Buddy Rich, and John Huddleston, caught by a fan at Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook in 1940.  All of them — or their signatures — can be yours here!

Thanks to hot man Chris Tyle for pointing me to this rare piece of paper, and to Berigan scholar / biographer Michael P. Zirpolo, who says  it’s authentic, based on calligraphy.

May your happiness increase.

“A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL: THE LIFE OF LORENZ HART,” by GARY MARMORSTEIN

The biographer’s chosen task is either difficult or impossible.  Any competent researcher can amass a proliferation of facts, beginning with the subject’s grandparents and concluding with the coroner’s report.  The more public the biographical subject, the easier the task, apparently.

But although readers want to know the facts of the subject’s many lives — creative, philosophical, emotional, quotidian — the questions we want answered are deeper.  I think we ultimately want to know what it felt like to be the person under scrutiny; why did he behave as he did; what choices did he make; what drove him?  And since most of us are puzzles even to ourselves, the answers to these questions are often beyond our reach.

These speculations are the result of my reading A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL: THE LIFE OF LORENZ HART, by Gary Marmorstein (Simon and Schuster), just published.  Marmorstein does several things very well.  For one, he has taken stock of everything written about Hart — a fourteen-page bibliography and hundreds of endnotes.  He is admirably diligent and more thorough than the two Hart biographies that proceeded this book.

The book moves along at a swift pace, although Marmorstein has chosen often to show that he is as clever as his subject, as witty, as colloquial — often adopting his own version of Thirties slang, where a man gets punched in “the kisser” and a failing business goes “flooey.”  I wish his editor had told the author that referring to the troubles Richard Rodgers had with his collaborator as “Hart-aches” was not wise.  That same editor might have limited Marmorstein’s usage of “must,” as in “Larry must have reacted with a jolt” when watching the sound film THE JAZZ SINGER when there is no evidence to support the speculation.

To his credit, Marmorstein is more candid than his predecessors, although he does not dwell on scandal-mongering.  He is fair to Hart’s collaborator, Richard Rodgers, who on one hand tried to protect Hart from himself and on the other, referred to him as “the shrimp” while Hart was alive and “that little fag” twenty years after Hart’s death.  And where there is room for speculation, Marmorstein painstakingly balances opposing narratives.  In these things, A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL seems ideal.

But Hart would not have been an easy subject under the best of circumstances, and the facts and myths of his brief life lend themselves to mythologizing.  One such encapsulation of Hart’s hectic, creative, unhappy life is as (in Marmorstein’s coinage) the “lovelorn dwarf.”  Hart was short, under five feet, and although he made and permitted jokes about his height, it was apparently not something he accepted, and it added to his perception of himself as irredeemably physically unattractive.

Hart was a gay man in a profession where homosexuality was more common, but he seems not to have had long-term emotional attachments  He kept no diary and had a habit of disappearing — at night and other times.  Biographers before Marmorstein have speculated where Larry Hart got to, and with whom . . . but all the people who might have told us stories are dead.  Commendably, Marmorstein shuns ancient homophobic formulations, suggesting that Hart drank himself to death because his sexual preference made him miserable, or that Hart chose to be gay because he was unattractive to women.

Any book about Hart also must record his alcoholism, which ultimately contributed to his early death.  But Hart was also incredibly creative — not just in terms of writing new lyrics for show after show, but being someone who could go off with an envelope and pencil and create two new choruses of lyrics while others were taking a break.  (Hart’s creativity makes the author’s choice of title somewhat strange, ill-fitting.)

I was eager to read A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL in hopes that it would be a satisfying synthesis.  What would its author make of the combination of Hart’s creativity and unhappiness?  What was it like to be a man in public view who thought of himself as unattractive?  What was it like to be a gay man who wrote memorable paeans in praise of heterosexual romance, to be sung in public by men to women and vice versa?  What might this book tell us about Hart’s apparently self-destructive behavior?  Having recently read and admired Michael P. Zirpolo’s MR. TRUMPET, his biography of the alcoholic genius Bunny Berigan, dead at 33, where Zirpolo successfully puts forth plausible explanations of Berigan’s drinking, gently and ruefully, I hoped that Marmorstein would do the same and more.

Alas, the book ultimately is only a collection of engaging anecdotes in chronological sequence.  One can learn what the Hart’s housekeeper and cook, Big Mary Campbell, said to Josephine Baker.  One can read how Hart would not let anyone else pick up the check.  One could buy Hart an overcoat in the boys’ department of Wanamaker’s.  We learn the name of the nurse who might have been at his deathbed.

Famous loyalties — Hart for Vivienne Segal — and emnities — Rodgers and Hart versus George M. Cohan — are entertainingly delineated here.  And the book rolls on, page after page, year after year, show after show, from Hart’s lyrics in summer camp to his final words on his deathbed, “What have I lived for?”  But the reader, closing this well-documented book, may feel that Hart, elusive in life, took his secrets with him.

Ultimately, Mary Cleere Haran’s rendition of THIS FUNNY WORLD sums up Hart far better for me — searching, wise, grieving — than Marmorstein’s book:

May your happiness increase.

NEW BUNNY BERIGAN DISCOVERIES!

Some researchers, having completed a massive project, never want to think about the subject again.  Not Michael P. Zirpolo.  His research into the life and music of Bunny Berigan didn’t come to a halt once his excellent biography, MR. TRUMPET, was published.  (For an enthusiastic review of that fine book, click here.)

No, it seems as if Mike put on his miner’s hat — the one with the lamp — and went into the archives, determined as he could be to make sure the world could hear more of Bunny’s playing, singing, and his great band.

But first — some Berigan music from 1937 — a famous Disney song, HEIGH-HO, with a vocal by Gail Reese, a tenor saxophone solo by George Auld, astonishing trumpet by Bunny and entrancing drumming by Dave Tough:

Now for the delightful news, courtesy of the MR. TRUMPET website:

FLASH!…I have found at least 25 previously unissued aircheck and other recordings made by Bunny Berigan in the years 1936-1939 in the Berigan archive at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have also found approximately a dozen other aircheck and other recordings in this cache that were issued many years ago on the Shoestring label with absolutely no remastering or clean-up done on them. These recordings were made by either the Harry Smith Recordings studio, by Brunswick Records, or as a part of the “Modern Rhythm Choruses” demonstration recordings made by Berigan in March of 1939. (All of these recordings were part of Berigan’s private record collection, which included many commercial recordings by other bands, and orchestras, including many “classical” recordings. It appears that Bunny had very broad taste in music. Most of the commercial records in his collection still had stickers on them from a record store on Broadway near 52nd Street where he bought them.)

The technicians at the University of Wisconsin are currently digitizing these previously unissued or once issued Berigan recordings. When they are done, they will send me the digital copies so I can positively identify and date the performances. I will also listen to these digital copies for quality of sound. Visually, the acetate disks on which these recordings were made appeared to be in very good condition. However, until I have heard the dubs, I will not be able to comment on how these recordings sound.

Although there will undoubtedly be copyright issues to be dealt with before these recordings can be issued, I will do everything in my power to see that these recordings are cleaned-up, remastered, and issued with appropriate liner notes. These recordings are the property of the University of Wisconsin, and I will work with the University to see that all revenue generated from their sale will go into a restricted fund at UW-Madison to pay the costs to have the various materials in the Berigan archive curated. At least that is my hope.

I will keep you posted on all developments.

FLASH #2!…The digital copies of the University of Wisconsin Bunny Berigan recordings arrived a couple of days ago. There were three full CDs, each containing about 15 tracks. I listened to all of them in one sitting, and am absolutely delighted with almost all of these either previously unreleased or once released recordings. The sound on most of them is extremely good. Many tracks have sensational sound. The playing of the Berigan band on those from mid-1937 is very good; the band’s playing about a year later is excellent, and the live tracks from the fall of 1938, with Buddy Rich on drums, are extremely exciting. These will be the ONLY live recordings of the Berigan band with Buddy Rich, if we can get them cleaned-up and issued. Bunny’s playing on these recordings ranges from good to magnificent.

I am in the process of organizing these recordings, providing each with either an absolutely accurate date/location or an approximate date/location, and will then add as much relevant info about each track as is necessary to put it into its proper context. I hope to begin posting on this website all info about these recordings as soon as I am able. I will undoubtedly be doing this in stages because of the number of recordings involved, so you will have something like a developing saga to follow here.

I can now say without any hesitation that the number of previously unissued Berigan recordings in this cache is at least 25, making it the largest find to-date of such recordings. This is a major development for Berigan fans!

More to follow…

THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN BUNNY BERIGAN FILMS and RECORDINGS

On May 14 and 15, 2012, I was at the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison doing research regarding films and recordings where Bunny Berigan appears. I was vaguely aware of what films were there, but had no idea of what recordings were there. What I found will be of great interest to Berigan aficionados. Here is a summary of what I found.

FILMS

I was able to view a 16 millimeter film, which I had previously thought contained a home movie of Bunny and his band that had been taken by arranger Andy Phillips while the Berigan band was appearing at Kennywood Park, just outside of Pittsburgh, in May of 1939. A part of that film strip, about a minute and a half or two minutes long, did in fact contain scenes of Bunny and his father, Cap Berigan, walking and posing at Kennywood. It also contained scenes of a bandstand, presumably the one at Kennywood, and of the Berigan band, including vocalists Danny Richards and Wendy Bishop, in action. Bunny directed the band quite enthusiastically, and moved around in front of it quite a lot while doing so. I say “presumably at Kennywood” because the next stop on the Berigan itinerary then was in Detroit, at Eastwood Gardens, and the bandstand scenes could have been shot there as well. However, I am going to suggest that it is more likely that all scenes of Bunny and his band on this film strip were taken at Kennywood.

The other part of this film strip contains a copy of the 1936 film short where Berigan appeared with Fred Rich’s band, including many of Bunny’s colleagues from CBS. This film short is widely available, and parts of it have been posted on You Tube.

Records at the Library indicate that the Kennywood footage was spliced together with the Fred Rich film short material sometime in the 1960s. The original Kennywood film likely remained in the possession of Andy Phillips, and is now presumably in the hands of his heirs. Many still photos have been extracted from that film strip over the years, some of which now appear in “Mr. Trumpet.”

RECORDINGS

The cache of recordings I discovered can best be organized by year. There are recordings from 1937, 1938, and 1939.

1937

1-May 1, 1937 Madhattan Room, “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight ” —vocal Carol McKay

2-May 1, 1937 Hotel Pennsylvania “The You and Me that Used to Be” —vocal Ford Leary

3-May 5, 1937 New York City “Swanee River”

4-May 5, 1937 “Big John Special”

5-May 8, 1937 “Summer Night” —vocal Carol McKay

6-May 8, 1937 “You Showed Me the Way” —vocal Carol McKay

7-May 8, 1937 “Mahogany Hall Stomp”

8-May 12, 1937 “They All Laughed” —vocal Carol McKay

9-May 13, 1937 “Mr. Ghost Goes to Town”

10-May 13, 1937 “Royal Garden Blues”

11-May 29, 1937 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight” —spoken introduction by Bunny Berigan

13-June 12, 1937 Roof Garden, “Rose Room”

Hotel Pennsylvania “Peckin’”

1938

1-March 27, 1938 Paradise Restaurant, “How’d Ya Like to Love Me?” —vocal Gail Reese

2-March 27, 1938 New York City “Downstream” —vocal Gail Reese

3-March 27, 1937 “Sweet as a Song” —vocal Gail Reese

4-April 1, 1938 Paul Whiteman in “Dark Eyes”

Concert WABC-NYC Berigan appeared as a guest soloist on this Whiteman broadcast, accompanied by the Whiteman orchestra.

5-April 3, 1938 Paradise Restaurant, “It’s Wonderful” —vocal Gail Reese

6-April 3, 1938 New York City “Royal Garden Blues”

“Royal Garden Blues” is a scintillating performance which contains a superbly constructed jazz solo by Berigan, excellent solos by Georgie Auld on tenor sax and Sonny Lee on trombone, terrific drumming by Johnny Blowers, and much swing from the entire band. Bunny’s solo is additional evidence that at this time, he could play jazz as well as anybody then on the scene.

7-April 3, 1938 “Have You Ever Been in Heaven?” —vocal Gail Reese

8-April 3, 1938 “Peg O’My Heart”

9-April 8, 1938 “Am I Blue?”

10-April 8, 1938 “Let ‘Er Go”

“Let ‘Er Go,” a pop tune, which was recorded by the Berigan band in 1937 with a vocal, is played instrumentally, and romps all the way with extended solos by Berigan, Auld, Joe Dixon on clarinet, and Sonny Lee on trombone. Once again, the drumming of Johnny Blowers is excellent.

11-April 8, 1938 “Trees”

This was one of the most played numbers in the Berigan book from the time it was recorded in December of 1937 until Bunny died in 1942. The fidelity on this recording (and almost all of the others from the Paradise Restaurant) is superb and Bunny and the band perform splendidly.

12-May 26, 1938 NBC Magic Key of Radio “Somewhere with Somebody Else” —vocal Dick Wharton

13-September 24, 1938 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “Dark Eyes”:

Bunny appeared as a guest soloist accompanied by the CBS band.

14-October 5, 1938(?) Unknown location “Gangbuster’s Holiday”

This recording, (there are two diffferent takes, both of which sound like they were recorded in a studio as opposed to some remote location) and the ones noted below (*), reveal the change in orientation the Berigan band underwent in the summer and early fall of 1938 as a result of Bunny’s admiration of the style of Count Basie’s band. He began to work with the young arranger/trombonist Ray Conniff, who was then a member of the Berigan band, to create a series of arrangements on jazz tunes and originals that highlighted all of the jazz assets of the Berigan band. Consequently, these recordings present what was one of the best swing bands of the day in very congenial jazz settings. The rocking drumming of Buddy Rich and the waves of rhythmic riffs created by Conniff’s charts provide a splendidly swinging foundation for the jazz solos of Berigan on trumpet, Georgie Auld, then in his early Herschel Evans phase, on tenor sax, Gus Bivona on clarinet, and Ray Conniff himself on trombone. When playing these arrangements, the Berigan band of late 1938 was in the vanguard of swing.

15-October 5, 1938 Roseland Ballroom, “Wacky Dust” —vocal Jayne Dover

16-October 12, 1938 (?) New York City “Moten Swing”*

In “Mr. Trumpet,” I stated that this recording was made in the spring of 1938. This assertion was based on research I did (including a statement in the White materials), about this aircheck. At the time, I had not yet heard this recording. Based on newly discovered aural evidence, I am now certain that this aircheck was recorded during the time Georgie Auld, Buddy Rich and Gus Bivona were all members of the Berigan band, which would have been between September 12, 1938, when Bivona joined, and December 15, 1938, when Auld left. The playing of all three of these soloists is plainly discernible in this performance, as is the trombone solo of Ray Conniff. I am not certain however, that this recording was made while the Berigan band was playing at Roseland Ballroom in New York City in the fall of 1938, though it could have been.

17-October 12, 1938 “Gangbuster’s Holiday”*

NOTE: These four recordings are the only ones I have heard (to-date) where drummer Buddy Rich performed on live recordings with the Berigan band. To say that he was playing wonderfully and driving the Berigan band would be an understatement.

18-November 19, 1938 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “I Can’t Get Started” (no vocal): Bunny performed this with the CBS band.

There may be a couple of more recordings in this cache from 1938. I do believe that the private recordings referred to on page 275 of “Mr. Trumpet,” Bunny made with Joe Bushkin and Bud Freeman in September or October of 1938, are among them. However, I will have to do some very close listening before I am able to provide any worthwhile information about them.

1939

There are nineteen more recordings in this group. Unlike the recordings from 1937 and 1938, which are almost universally in excellent sound (almost all of them were professionally recorded by the Harry Smith Recording Studio), these sides are on Presto acetate disks, and have apparently been played often. Consequently, there is a good bit of surface noise and some skips on many of them. For these recordings to be issued, they will have to be worked on by an audio specialist.  Nevertheless, there is much good Berigan playing on these sides, often in short performances with a pianist who sounds like Joe Bushkin, and a drummer, who sounds like George Wettling. This trio format often suggests the sound the Benny Goodman Trio recordings. Also, there is one performance, where Lee Wiley sings “You Leave Me Breathless,” accompanied only by Bushkin, that is exquisite, among a number of other surprises.

More info later.

FLASH # 3!…Since I have posted these notices about the University of Wisconsin “new” Berigan recordings, I have had a number of inquiries about them, and requests that I make dubs of them. Since these recordings belong to the University of Wisconsin, I cannot make dubs of them, or allow copies to be made in any manner that could lead to them being bootlegged. Indeed, I can’t even appear on any media to play them, though I have already been asked to do that. I will be working with people at the University of Wisconsin to try to get these recordings cleaned-up, remastered, and issued, with relevant photos and intelligent liner notes. Unfortunately, these recordings, like the “Savory Recordings” owned by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, are in a state of limbo because of the current rather bizarre U.S. copyright laws. (Thank you Sonny Bono and the Disney Co.) In order to determine how they can be issued in conformity with the copyright laws, I will have to work with lawyers who are copyright experts. That will take time. In the meantime, I ask that Berigan aficionados around the globe be patient.

Several people have expressed some doubt that these recordings have never been issued before. I can assure you that the vast majority of them have NEVER been issued. I have had many questions about the sound quality on these recordings. Probably 75% of them are in excellent condition, with superb fidelity. The remaining 25% range in condition from good sound quality with varying amounts of hiss, some skips, etc., to a very few that may not be of sufficient quality to be issued. Finally, I have often been asked: “How was Bunny playing on them?” I can say without reservation that several of these recordings contain as good playing by Bunny as I have ever heard, and I have heard almost all of the recordings Berigan made. In short, these are remarkable recordings that must be issued.

While we are waiting for progress on the issuance of these recordings, I will be periodically uploading short excerpts from them to this website. Then you can hear for yourselves what I am talking about.

And the special treat on Mike’s Berigan website is an excerpt from that romping performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, performed at the Paradise Restaurant, New York City, April 3, 1938.  But to hear this, you’ll have to visit MR. TRUMPET (without using Google Chrome as your browser, for a variety of arcane technological reasons).

More to come!  And Mike would love feedback about these treasures: email him at mzirpolo@neo.rr.com

May your happiness increase.

“MR. TRUMPET: THE TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS, AND TRIUMPH OF BUNNY BERIGAN” by MICHAEL P. ZIRPOLO

Even people who know little of jazz or the Swing Era have probably heard trumpeter, singer, bandleader, and mythic figure Bunny Berigan (1908-42) in some context.

His Victor recording of I CAN’T GET STARTED is used in film soundtracks and elsewhere as a quick way of summoning up days gone by.  Other touchstones are Berigan’s solo on MARIE with Tommy Dorsey and on 1936 Billie Holiday sessions.

Those of us who know that music well have heard Berigan on his own, with Goodman, the Boswell Sisters, Mildred, in jam sessions and airshots.  Like Bix Beiderbecke, he became a mythic figure quickly, and people regard him with a mixture of love, admiration, and pity.

Here is a rare film clip of Bunny in summer 1936, singing and playing with the Fred Rich band:

In that performance, one hears Berigan’s astonishing adaptation of Louis — with his own sound and majesty, as well as his charming singing.  Bunny remains a monumental figure, someone who threw himself into every solo, leading the section when he wasn’t playing: someone who seems to have given his life to the music.

The other fact of Berigan’s short life is his alcoholism.  Other narratives have compressed his existence into two parallel assertions: he played splendidly and he drank himself to death.

But Michael Zirpolo’s new biography of Berigan goes beyond the formulaic.  It is a great accomplishment and an addictive pleasure.

And it’s not great merely because it contains new information on every one of its 500-plus pages.  Zirpolo had access to the lifework of Bozy White, who had been collecting information about Berigan for more than half a century.  MR. TRUMPET makes wise use of that mountain of information.  Often biographers are content to arrange their material in chronological order and unload it on the reader, who smothers under the avalanche.  This book moves judiciously through Berigan’s life — his personal entanglements, his economic mistakes, his glorious recordings — without getting bogged down in any one aspect.  Zirpolo’s book has a powerful predecessor, Robert Dupuis’ 1993 biography of Berigan, which gave us much more insight into Berigan the musician and the husband than we had had before (taking into account the subjectivity of an embittered spouse).  But with all respects to Dupuis, this is the Berigan book: I think no one will surpass it.

From the start, this book shows us someone who decided, early on, to broaden the scope of his investigations into Berigan’s life: Zirpolo is curious about not only Berigan but the musical, emotional, and financial world in which he lived.  Rather than simply lining facts up one by one, peanuts in a row, Zirpolo loves to ask HOW and WHY and (even better) IS THIS TRUE?  Many myths have attached to Berigan, and Zirpolo examines them closely.

Of course, the biography follows Berigan through his brief life as thoroughly as possible.  If a reader wants to know where Berigan was on August 8, 1938, (s)he will have a good chance of finding out not only where but what was happening: not only that, but how the events of that day stand in relation to the past and future.  One of the greatest assets of this book is the substantial number of first-hand narratives: Bozy White seems to have assiduously interviewed everyone who ever played once in a band where Bunny was present, and these recollections constantly bring human voices into the book.

Thus we have Bunny not only as the superb trumpet player, the bandleader concerned about how his band should sound, the terrible businessman, the man in thrall to alcohol, the playful, childlike individual — serious about very little except his music.

And what music!  Here is one of my favorite Berigan solos — fearless and impassioned — with Bud Freeman, Claude Thornhill, Eddie Condon, Grachan Moncur, and Cozy Cole:

Zirpolo’s book is a fine mixture of all the things I’ve mentioned, sustained by his own admiration for his subject.  The biography is never idolatrous — when Bunny does something disastrous, Zirpolo presents the facts and their consequences — but it’s always charming to see a biography where the writer, in the best old-fashioned way, loves his subject in particular, is passionate about history, and (as a useful sidelight) is thrilled by New York City, where Berigan spent so much of his life.

Even a reader who knows Berigan well will find surprises (not the least of them being rare photographs) but the novice might use this book as an introduction to the musical life of the United States in this period: endnotes give us brief biographical sketches of everyone whose path crossed Berigan’s.

As an interlude, here is a Disney song from 1938 — with a vocal by Gail Reese, two solos by Bunny (one muted, one open), and drumming by Dave Tough:

Zirpolo began this book through a childhood experience — watching his father in tears listen to Bunny’s music.  Later he learned that his father had seen the Berigan band and remembered it clearly.  One of the aspects of this book that I find most endearing is Zirpolo’s understanding that we all have deeply complicated inner lives.  So rather than decide early on to insert the facts into one conceptual framework — Berigan “the tortured soul,” the “doomed alcoholic,” a man who could never “get started,” he has watched Berigan from angles that change as the chronicle moves on.

Ultimately, the biography chronicles the triumph of Bunny Berigan: cirrhosis ended his life, but his music has its own lasting existence.  You can find out much more about Berigan and this remarkable book (including a photo gallery full of marvels) here.