Night Lights Classic Jazz

The Incomplete Sonny Berman

Trumpeter Sonny Berman died at the age of 21 in 1947, leaving behind only a few brilliant solos, most of them recorded with Woody Herman's big band.

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Sonny BermanWoody Herman called trumpeter Sonny Berman “one of the warmest soloists I ever had.” His sound was humorous, lyrical, and harmonically adventurous, with a penchant for bitonality. Berman died at the age of 21 in 1947, leaving behind only a few brilliant solos, most of them recorded with Herman’s big band. We’ll hear him on tracks such as “Your Father’s Mustache,” “Sidewalks of Cuba,” “Pam,” and a V-disc recording of “Don’t Worry ’bout That Mule,” as well as small-group records that he made as a leader and with Serge Chaloff, Ralph Burns, and Herman’s Woodchoppers. Some early sides with saxophonist Georgie Auld are also included in the program.

“Anybody who heard the Herman band in person will remember Sonny’s solos,” writer Barry Ulanov eulogized in Metronome after Berman’s death, “those long cadences and flattened notes piercing the wildest uptempo jazz with such lovely poignancy. There was always something poignant about Sonny, no matter what he was playing or saying, in his role as Yiddish dialectician or knocking everything down before him in his determined pratfalls.”

“The Incomplete Sonny Berman” airs September 8. Special thanks to Ira Gitler and to Tom in RI.

Photo of Sonny Berman from Roy Carr’s A Century of Jazz.

Music Heard On This Episode

Igor
Sonny Berman/Woody Herman's Woodchoppers — Woodchopper's Holiday (Cool 'n Blue, 1946)
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Igor
Sonny Berman/Woody Herman's Woodchoppers — Woodchopper's Holiday (Cool 'n Blue, 1946)
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BMT Face (excerpt)
Sonny Berman — Woodchopper's Holiday (Cool 'n Blue, 1946)
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Short Circuit
Georgie Auld — Jump, Georgie, Jump (Hep, 1944)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Taps Miller
Georgie Auld — 1940-1945 (Chronological Classics, 1944)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Your Father's Mustache
Woody Herman — Blowin' Up a Storm (Columbia/Legacy, 1945)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Everybody Knew But Me
Woody Herman — Comp. Columbia Recordings 1945-47 (Mosaic, 1945)

Notes: Herman on vocals. Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Sidewalks of Cuba
Woody Herman — Blowin' Up a Storm (Columbia/Legacy, 1946)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Pam
Woody Herman & His Woodchoppers — Comp. Columbia Recordings 1945-47 (Mosaic, 1946)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Don't Worry 'bout That Mule
Woody Herman — The V-Disc Years: 1944-1946 (Hep, 1945)

Notes: Herman on vocals. Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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They Went That-a-Way
Woody Herman — 1946 Broadcasts (Soundcraft Classics, 1946)

Notes: Midpoint music bed. Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Curbstone Shuffle
Sonny Berman/Bill Harris/Serge Chaloff — We the People Bop (Cool 'n Blue, 1946)
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Woodchopper's Holiday
Sonny Berman/Bill Harris/Serge Chaloff — We the People Bop (Cool 'n Blue, 1946)
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Introspection
Ralph Burns — The Jazz Scene (Verve, 1946)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Uncle Remus Said
Woody Herman — Comp. Columbia Recordings 1945-47 (Mosaic, 1946)

Notes: Song from the Disney movie SONG OF THE SOUTH. Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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Someday, Sweetheart
Woody Herman & His Woodchoppers — Comp. Columbia Recordings 1945-47 (Mosaic, 1946)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet. Sonny Berman arrangement.

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Nocturne
Sonny Berman/Bill Harris/Serge Chaloff — We the People Bop (Cool 'n Blue, 1946)

Notes: Featuring Sonny Berman on trumpet.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Dr. Laurin Peyton Crowder

    My favorite Berman is on Everybody Knew But Me, where he demostrates his penchant for the raised fifth in the dominant chord. And who can ever forget the whole tone scale passage in Your Father’s Mustache or the lyricism on Let It Snow.

  • F DuMez

    So marvelously talented. Everything so tasty. The trite brcame golden in his hands. Of course the arrangements of Burns and Hefti made Sonny's efforts possible.
    My favorite examples of Sonny's golden touch with the trite – “Uncle Remus Said” and “Put That Ring On My Finger”. My favorite of his lyrical beauties the wonderful little bit on “Love Me” and the tender “Pam” by Billy Bauer.
    I was fortunate to have seen Sonny with the Herd a few times in Chicago.

  • Pingback: Obscure Jazz Weirdos | Josh Millrod | Shut Up, We’re Blogging

  • Dr. Laurin Peyton Crowder

    I forgot the great Bumble Bee intro and subsequent great solo on The Sidewalks Of Cuba cup-muted Berman on Fan It. He didn't get much on those Woodchoppers cuts, but he made the best of what he got. And, even Sonny was no Bill Harris, possibly, in my view, the greatest jazz soloist of all time.

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