Woody 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.