Bunny Berigan: I Can't Get Started - JazzWax

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March 13, 2008


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mark lentine

It was 1971, and I was a 10 year-old kid from South Philly. Hockey and girls were all that existed. I showed some interest in this odd thing called "Big Band Music,' and I was encouraged by my mother, and the father of a friend to continue to listen to this odd "old stuff."
One day, my friend's dad said, "Oh I've been meaning to let you hear something." He put on a song by some guy with a funny name. "His name is Bunny Berrigan," he said, and quickly added, "listen to this," and he put on "I can't get started."
Suddenly the song came on...and the world stopped. It was as if the world itself was saying to me, "you'll never forget this moment, and you'll never forget that, at the most vague, and seemingly unimportant times in your life you can experience something sublime."
I listened as this guy with the funny name did things I didn't know could be done on a trumpet.
As the notes roller-coastered from his horn, my emotions went along for the ride. Inexplicably, as I am doing now listening to it...I began to cry. I didn't know why then...and I'm still not sure now, some three decades-plus later.
Maybe it was the bio I read as I listened to this beautiful, tortured little genius...maybe it was the fact that, for a short while, in an ordinary recording session, on an ordinary day in the ordinary life of one of the countless numbers who have tried, but ultimately failed, I heard someone soar above all pain, above all hurt, and all time, and all restraint. Or maybe, we human beings are not meant to take such beauty in one dose. Maybe that's why we are given the ordinary of everyday life, so that we can, only little at a time, experience ultimate beauty, or we run the risk of being overwhelmed.
Never before, and never since have I heard anything so simple, so beautiful, so heart-wrenching or so descriptive of the human condition. This song, this rendition, remains to me the most emotional thing ever recorded.. God Bless you, Bunny...

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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