Wisconsin-bred Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan hit New York City as the Jazz Age was giving way to the Depression, and quickly established himself as one of the leading hot trumpeters in the jazz capital. Berigan possessed a huge tone, true from the top of the horn to the bottom. He could swing with the best, and proved himself not only a brilliant soloist but a solid section musician. But that ignores his most widely coveted ability: He could read a melody from a lead sheet and instantly infuse it with credible, hot feeling.
This seven-disc set focuses on the early years of Berigan’s career, when he established himself as one of the most sought-after session musicians of his time. Reissues have generally concentrated on his later recordings, and it’s easy to see why — many of the earliest performances here dwell on fairly dull pop fare of the day, and the protagonist’s contributions are often limited to playing the melody and some fills behind the vocalist, and maybe blowing a half-chorus of jazz. When the vocalists Bunny is backing are masters of tight harmony — like the ever-underrated Boswell Sisters — no one should complain, but some of these other crooners have been forgotten for good reason.
Still, there are some charming period pieces among the lesser tracks on early CDs here, and things do pick up as the hot musicians who were sidemen on the early tracks emerge as leaders on the later sessions. Listeners with a low tolerance for corn should probably approach this one cautiously, but lovers of hot trumpet work will delight at the chance to hear so much unknown work by one of the best. Mosaic releases are available by mail order only, by calling 203-327-7111 or e-mailing [email protected].