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Bunny Berigan: Still Swingin’ & Jumpin’ at the Mills Music Library

Bunny Berigan, 1939 in Jacobs Beach, CT. (Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Mike Zirpolo, bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com)

Bunny Berigan, 1939 in Jacobs Beach, NY.
(Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Mike Zirpolo, bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com)

Mike Zirpolo spent 50 years fascinated with tragic and talented jazz trumpeter of the swing era, Bunny Berigan. In 2011, Zirpolo turned the fascination into a book about Berigan, who died at age 33 due to a savage combination of cirrhosis and alcoholism. While researching photos for the book at UW—Madison’s Mills Music Library, Zirpolo made an exciting discovery: Berigan’s personal set of radio transcription discs, never commercially released, of live shows broadcast over the radio.

“Many band leaders paid a professional recording studio to make copies of what was going out over the airwaves, including Bunny,” Zirpolo said. “Mostly they did this to listen to how the band was performing, or even just as a personal memento.”

While the folks at Mills always knew these discs were in the collection, it was Zirpolo who understood their significance. Among Bunny Berigan fans, these recordings were considered long lost. This was like opening a 75-year-old time capsule from Berigan.

Matt Appleby from Mills Library with a Berigan disc

Matt Appleby from Mills Library with a Berigan radio transcription disc

Berigan’s discs were donated to Mills by Berigan’s daughter Joyce. The collection was a large one and mostly unprocessed. Zirpolo first came to Mills in Fall of 2010 for two 8-hour days, concerned with getting previously unpublished photos from the archives.  The staff, knowing they had someone so knowledgeable on hand who could help process the collection, allowed Zirpolo into the stacks. He spent over 15 hours in the stacks, taking note of the recordings.

“The staff were wonderful. Jeanette Casey [Director of Mills Library] and Matt Appleby [Technical Services Librarian] helped me a lot.” It was a symbiotic relationship; Zirpolo got to dive into a passion and Mills Library benefited from all the information he had. By the end of his stacks adventure, Zirpolo found around 50 recordings that, to his knowledge, were never commercially released.

Bunny Berigan collection, Mills Library, UW--Madison

Bunny Berigan collection, Mills Library, UW–Madison

After Zirpolo received copies of the recordings from Appleby, he spent about 4 months listening, cross-checking, identifying songs, identifying locations of recordings, and so on. Once he identified recordings that could be remastered for a commercial disc, he worked closely with Appleby to get the very fragile recordings into the right hands. Appleby and Zirpolo worked with Doug Pomeroy from Brooklyn, New York to remaster the recordings, who then sent the remastered recordings to Alastair Robertson of Hep Records in Scotland, a company that specializes in historical music. Hep Records released the final remastered CD in the middle of August 2013. It was a long, carefully thought out process that culminated in an excellent CD perfect for any jazz or trumpet fan.

Zirpolo emphasized, “Everyone in the library has been terrific. When I go there, I feel very much at home … Whenever I’ve asked for anything, the answer has always been yes – and you don’t know what a joy that is with limited time and limited resources!”

Swingin' & Jumpin': Broadcasts 1937-39 by Bunny Berigan, with tracks from UW--Madison's Mills Library

Swingin’ & Jumpin’: Broadcasts 1937-39 by Bunny Berigan, with tracks from UW–Madison’s Mills Library

The final product is titled Swingin’ and Jumpin’: Broadcasts 1937-1939, which is available for check out from the library. It is available for purchase online or through your favorite local music store. If you’re interested in learning more about Bunny Berigan, the Mills Music Library also has a fantastic collection with recordings, clippings, photos, and more. Head to Mike Zirpolo’s website devoted to his book, Mr. Trumpet.

You can contact Mills Music Library at (608) 263-1884 or through email. Mike Zirpolo can be reached at mzirpolo@neo.rr.com.

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