Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan (November 2, 1908 – June 2, 1942) was an American jazz trumpeter who rose to fame during the swing era, but whose career and influence were shortened by a losing battle with alcoholism that ended with his early death at age 33 from cirrhosis. Although he composed some jazz instrumentals like “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, the son of William Patrick Berigan and Mary Catherine (Mayme) Schlitzberg, and raised in Fox Lake, Wisconsin. A musical child prodigy, having learned the violin and trumpet at an early age, Berigan played in local orchestras by his mid-teens before joining the successful Hal Kemp orchestra in 1930. Berigan’s first recorded trumpet solos came with the Kemp orchestra, and he was with the unit when they toured England and a few other European countries later in 1930. Shortly after the Kemp unit returned to the U.S. in late 1930, Berigan, like fellow trumpeter Manny Klein, the Dorsey Brothers and Artie Shaw, became a sought-after studio musician in New York. Fred Rich, Freddy Martin and Ben Selvin were just some conductors who 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 late 1933, Berigan was a member of Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, before playing with Abe Lyman’s band briefly in 1934. He returned to freelancing in the New York recording studios and working on staff at CBS radio in 1934. He recorded as a sideman on hundreds of commercial records, most notably with the Dorsey Brothers and on Glenn Miller’s earliest recording date as a leader in 1935, playing on “Solo Hop”. At the same time, however, Berigan made an association that began his ascent to fame in his own right: he joined Benny Goodman’s jazz oriented dance band. Legendary jazz talent scout and producer John Hammond, who also became Goodman’s brother-in-law in due course, later wrote that he helped persuade Gene Krupa to re-join Goodman, with whom he’d had an earlier falling-out, by mentioning that Berigan, whom Krupa admired, was already committed to the new ensemble. With Berigan and Krupa both on-board, the Goodman band made the legendary, often disheartening tour that ended with their unexpectedly headline-making stand at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, the stand often credited with the “formal” launch of the swing era. Berigan recorded a number of classic solos while with Goodman, including on “King Porter Stomp,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” and “Blue Skies.”
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