Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee Honors Hometown Legend

Community Comment May 15th – Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee

(Fox Lake) This weekend’s three-day Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee will feature the music of the St. Louis Stompers, the Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz Band Lite, Jack’s Jubilee Band, and more.  The event will be held in various locations throughout Fox Lake, primarily the Community Center and the American Legion Hall.  There will also be a Dixieland graveside service at Berigan’s grave on Saturday morning along with two Sunday morning church services featuring the St. Louis Stompers at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beaver Dam. Event coordinator Julie Flemming and a few of the musicians taking part in the event stopped by Community Comment on Tuesday to discuss the event. Jack Trowbridge of Jacks’s Jubilee Band said of the impact of Bunny’s music that “It’s so much fun and the music is wonderful it is stuff that he recorded back in the 30s and some of it is still being played today.  Many people just aren’t aware just how old some of these tunes are.” The Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee runs Friday through Sunday.


      Roland “Bunny” Bernard Berigan was born on November 2, 1908, the second son of William P. and Mary (Schlitzberg) Berigan in Hilbert, Calumet County, Wisconsin, at 5:30 AM, with Dr. H. E. Luehrs M.D. in attendance.  He died in New York City on June 2, 1942 at the age of 33.

His father worked for the railroad and was the Station Agent in Hilbert, but due to “Bunny’s health and encouragement from his mother-in-law, Bill Berigan moved his little family back to Fox Lake and continued to work in Hilbert for a time. All of “Bunny’s” extended family on both his mother’s side and his Dad’s side either lived in Fox Lake or on farms in the area.  “Bunny’s” family moved to Fox Lake in July of 1909 and lived at 524 State Street. When the eight month old “Bunny” moved he was a very sick baby with whooping cough, but under his Grandma Schlitzberg’s good care and in the spacious house and shady yard, he began to improve.  It took a number of months to restore him to good health.

“Bunny” was a great trumpet player as well as a fine violinist.  He  played in his Grandpa Schlitzberg’s Band as a kid and took lessons from the finest musicians in the Fox Lake/Beaver Dam, Wisconsin area.  He moved to Madison as a teenager and from there he made the leap to New York. In New York he had all the breaks that any musician could have had: featured spots with name bands, on the networks, his own band, recording contracts galore and movie work.  He actually led a fast-paced life, often playing in recording studios in the morning, playing live radio in the afternoon and perhaps playing with a popular orchestra in the evening.  His great love was popular music.

“Bunny” first began to attract popular and critical attention in the Hal Kemp orchestra of 1930.  In a brief twelve years he recorded with more than 50 orchestras including those of Paul Whiteman, Rudy Vallee, Freddie Rich, the Dorsey Brothers, Frankie Trumbauer, Glenn Miller, Chick Bullock, Gene Kardos, and Red Norvo.  He really began to shine brightly in 1935 when he joined the Benny Goodman band. At that time he was a pretty solid, serious-looking fellow, a characteristic not at all reflected in his playing.  Red McKenzie once made a very pertinent remark about “Bunny’s” playing “If that man wasn’t such a gambler, everybody’d say he was the greatest that ever blew.  But the man’s got such nerve and likes his horn so much that he’ll go ahead and try stuff that nobody else’d ever think of trying.”  While with the Benny Goodman band “Bunny” recorded such pieces as King Porter Stomp, Blue Skies, Jingle Bells, Goodbye and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.  Later as a member of the Tommy Dorsey band he recorded such memorable sides as Marie, Song of India, Melody in F and Spring Song. His superb trumpet was a dynamic factor in the rise to fame of both the Goodman and Dorsey bands.  He was a giant of the swing era and perhaps could even be credited with the introduction of that music to the world.

In 1936 “Bunny” set out on his own, his band making its debut at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel in April.  The Berigan star burst into full brilliance with the release of the monumental RCA Victor recording of I Can’t Get Started, an instantaneous hit and one that remains a classic today .

“Bunny” struggled with alcoholism, as did many of the musicians of the era.  The pace was grueling with the strain of one-nighters.  Band members often ended a gig, traveled many miles all night in a car, ate  breakfast (or whatever meal they called it) at 2:00 AM, and continued to travel through the night to another town where they got ready to play another engagement for the evening.  It was not uncommon for “Bunny’s” band to play for days in a row with never a break. In the last few months of his life “Bunny” was really struggling.  He returned to the bandstand of his own band just days after a siege of pneumonia, but the pace and the strain and the alcohol were all too much.  By June of 1942 the last note had sounded and the music world was shedding tears.


  • Trumpeter Duke Heitger of New Orleans as “Guest Artist” playing with all the bands. As a youngster he became fascinated with sounds embedded in the grooves of his dad’s record collection, discs by Louis Armstrong, Bunny Berigan, Roy Eldridge, Red Allen, Bobby Hackett and Bix Beiderbecke.  While not on the road, Duke maintains a busy schedule in New Orleans, leading his own Steamboat Stompers. Duke has recorded many CDs that will be available at the Festival.
  • Bob Schulz and his Frisco Lite Band. Bob comes from San Anselmo, California and is surrounding himself with some of the best musicians in the Mid-West.  When no playing his Cornet in Wisconsin, Bob can be found playing at many Jazz Festivals around the nation.  Although he lives in California, he was born and raised in Wonewoc, WI and served as a High School Band teacher in Reeseville and Lake Mills, WI.  Bob spent quite a number of years in the Riverboat Ramblers, fondly remembered by many from Wisconsin.
  • The St. Louis Stompers Classic Jazz Band Led by Steve Lilley – Cornet. From traditional jazz tunes to swing, the Stompers attack each with vigor and gusto. Musically tight, technically astounding, laced with humor and always entertaining, they will have you calling for more.
  • Jack’s Jubilee Band Playing Bunny’s Music. Jack Trowbridge has put together eleven musicians, forming a “little BIG BAND” that will be playing tunes that Bunny played.  The tunes will be Dixieland and Swing that Bunny recorded.
  • Kaye Berigan 5Tet. Kaye Berigan has been featured at all the Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilees since 2011.  Kaye is the nephew of Bunny, but he did not listen to Bunny’s music as he grew up and became an accomplished artist on the Trumpet.  Kaye has his own brand of music and he will tell you that they do not play Dixieland.  His group remains popular at the event as they are all incredible musicians.
  • Matt Miller Trio. Matt Miller comes to the stage featuring the music of Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra plus other Jazz Standards.  Matt was the winner of the Bunny Berigan Scholarship in 1988 and this year he is one of the judges of the Scholarship being presented.  Matt plays, teaches, and supports live music.  Matt plays an electric  bass guitar and may dust off his trumpet which he played in Beaver Dam Hi
  • Dave Majcherzak will be featured for the Piano Special at 5:00 PM. Dave is both a fantastic piano player and an arranger.


  • Graveside Service. The Rev. Al Townsend will be leading the Bunny Berigan Graveside Service at the St. Mary’s/Annunciation Cemetery on Saturday morning, May 19th, at 10:00 AM.  The Cemetery is located two miles south of Fox Lake on Highway 33 where one makes a ( go east) turn on Breezy Point Road.

  • Chef In The Kitchen Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Jazz Jubilee welcomes Anthony Madison of Milwaukee back to the kitchen.  Chef Madison cooks from scratch and has prepared a tremendous choice of foods for the Festival. He will be at American Legion Friday and the Community Center Saturday and Sunday.
  • Exhibit Hall doubling as Presentation Hall. Paintings of Bunny and pictures of Bunny will be on display.  An enlargement of a picture when Bunny first played with a band in Beaver Dam.   At 8:00 PM on Saturday May 19th, the Korbel people will put on a Mixology workshop.  All are welcome to come in to see and taste what you can do with Korbel Brandy.
  • Rippey’s Triangle Jazz brings 4,000 CDs, Books and DVDs to the Jazz Jubilee. Dick Rippey and Triangle Jazz have been providing recorded music to the lovers of Traditional Jazz, Ragtime and Big Bands since 1947.  They are now the largest supplier in North America.
  • Phyllis Ger is returning to the Jubilee with her hand-crafted jewelry. Phyllis has a studio in New York and her father, Morty Stuhlmaker played in Bunny’s Band.
  • Sunday Morning Church Service. The Sunday morning, May 20th ., church service will be held at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 311 W. Mackie, Beaver Dam, WI.  The St. Louis Stompers will be the featured band for two services, one at 8:00 AM and one at 10:30 AM.  The church invites the public to join them for these uplifting Dixieland Jazz Services.

More Details.  You can find more details and how to order tickets by going to the www.bunnyberiganjazzjubilee web site.  Tickets can also be ordered by emailing [email protected] or by calling 920-928-6094.  Tickets will also be available at the door.