BUNNY BERIGAN by Robert Dupuis


Elusive Legend of Jazz
Email this review


 A jazz trumpeter's dream, the long-awaited (for 50 years) biography of the greatest white trumpet-player of the century. What Michigan-based jazz scholar Dupuis lacks in stylishness is more than made up for by his relentless search for the wellsprings of the Berigan horn's Irish gaiety, growls, and tone. How did Bunny Berigan (1908-42) come up with such a swinging, colossal, fat, velvety sound? Others have had a piercing or big ringing brilliance, but Berigan's tone luxuriated with cream far into the topmost register and deep into the laziest barrel notes- -and he often played that way for 70 hours a week. Dupuis says that Berigan favored his lower lip, resting the horn lightly on it, with vibrato from the jaw and diaphragm, not from pressure or from shaking the horn. The story of Berigan's life is pretty much the legend: young man with horn, beloved by all and gifted by the angels, felled by booze at 33. Some Berigan buddies deny his liquor problem. But Berigan himself, when asked how he could play so well while smashed, replied, ``I practice drunk.'' Dupuis makes a richly documented case for Berigan's genetic inheritance of alcoholism, and he movingly shows the hornplayer's supportless, pre-A.A. battle against it. During Berigan's final months, a fellow bandsman heard the cirrhotic hornman sob, ``I'm too young to die!'' Things we didn't know include his adulterous affair with snake-eyed singer and bandleader-groupie Lee Wiley. During Berigan's last days, we watch the musician hallucinate, with his horn beating off figures in a delirium. A book that belongs in every hornplayer's case, along with a picture of Louis Armstrong. (Sixteen pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8071-1648-3
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1993