[Dixielandjazz] Swing Era Leaders

Bill Biffle bbiffle at brgcc.com
Sun Jan 2 18:09:53 PST 2005

The boss is always an SOB.  It's part of the job.  Somebody's gotta be the
guy who calls the shots, gives the orders, and collects so everyone can get
paid.  It's part of the job.

Bill Biffle
Long-time boss

-----Original Message-----
From: dixielandjazz-bounces at ml.islandnet.com
[mailto:dixielandjazz-bounces at ml.islandnet.com] On Behalf Of Steve barbone
Sent: Sunday, January 02, 2005 6:12 PM
To: Stan Brager; DJML
Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Swing Era Leaders

Stan Brager at sbrager at socal.rr.com wrote: (polite snip) partly in response
to Dick Broadie's comment about some band leaders being hard to work for,
including Tommy Dorsey.
> I've heard that the following were great leaders of swing bands to work

> Bunny Berigan (snip)

Stan, Dick & Listmates:

Following told to me by Hank D'Amico many years ago. Hank subbed a few times
in Berigan's band. Hank was giving me advice because I was forming my own
band in the 1950s. A little hazy because of the intervening 50 years, but
you get the idea. Roughly, this is what he said.

Bunny Berigan was beloved because he remained one of the boys. He never was
able to go from being a sideman to being a band leader. So, at first, the
boys in his band loved him. They got drunk together, they chased women
together, (Berigan was a voyeur) etc. He did not know how to maintain the
slightest discipline in the band. And he didn't want learn that aspect of
the music business either.

As a result, things went to hell very quickly. He was chastised by Petrillo
(as in James F., head of the national AF of M) when he owed the sidemen
money, which happened frequently. He lost a lot of really good gigs because
he drank too much, and/or pissed off the booker, or the venue. Etc, etc. And
so, eventually, his sidemen left him one by one for more stable bands and
band leaders. 

Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller may have been harder to work
for, BUT, the bands were stable and the pay was always there on time. So the
sidemen switched, even though to a man they loved Berigan.

He had lots of friends and Doctors who warned him about the perils of his
prodigious drinking, and tried to save him financially, including Tommy
Dorsey who hired him as a section trumpeter after Berigan's Band went
bankrupt, less than 3 years after it was formed. Gave him the same star
billing as Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich. But because of Berigan's
unsteadiness, drunken dives off the stand, etc., even Dorsey had to let him
go and replaced him with Ziggy Elman, about 6 months after he had hired him.

But pain in the ass to work for that Tommy Dorsey may have been, he was at
Berigan's bedside the day Bunny Bunny died a year or so later.

Everybody loved Berigan, but to no avail. All of them together, including
his devoted wife, could not save him from himself.

Steve Barbone

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