Ziggy Elman (1914-68) could have been a contender but he waited too long to start his own big band. Born Harry Finkleman, he learned to play both brass and reed instruments while young. Although Elman made his recording debut in 1932 on trombone with Alex Bartha’s group, he soon settled on trumpet. His big break occurred in September 1936 when he joined Benny Goodman’s very popular swing orchestra.
For a few months Elman was BG’s main trumpet soloist although that changed when Harry James joined at the beginning of 1937. Still, Elman was part of the mighty Goodman trumpet section (which also included Chris Griffin) and had his solo spots, playing in a very similar style at the time as James.
He found a bit of fame soloing on “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon,” “Fralich In Swing,” and particularly the latter when it was given Johnny Mercer lyrics and became “And The Angels Sing” in 1939. It was Elman’s only hit record and his trademark song highlighted by his memorable klezmer trumpet solo.
At that point in time, Elman should have formed his own orchestra, but instead he stayed with Goodman until the clarinetist temporarily broke up his band in August 1940 and then Elman joined Tommy Dorsey. He was with TD (other than a stint in the military) into 1948 when he finally put together his own big band. However the big band era had ended two years earlier. Although Elman still played well, by the end of 1950 he had given up the orchestra and was doing radio work. He suffered a heart attack in 1956 when he was still just 42 and, although he lived another dozen years, other than an appearance on a Bobby Troup album in 1957, his career was over. He spent his last years working for a car dealership, running a music store, and teaching trumpet.
The two-CD set Boppin’ With Zig has all of Elman’s studio sessions as a leader other than his five early dates from 1938-39. Covering the 1947-52 period, Elman is heard at first at the head of an orchestra that included some of Dorsey’s sidemen. In addition, his big band of 1949 is featured and there are some other slightly later recordings with large ensembles.
The title of the twofer, Boppin’ With Zig, is unfortunate because, although the title cut is pure bop (with the ensemble sounding a bit like the Dizzy Gillespie big band of the time) and two other numbers have some bop (including a surprising version of “Carolina In The Morning”), all of the other music is swing. Elman never saw a need to alter his earlier style although he did develop a more personal sound as he evolved.
Most of the performances are instrumentals, there are only a few throwaways among the 53 selections (mostly ones that utilize a vocal group), and the music is both rare and swinging. While such notables as trombonists Ziggy Elmer (no relation) and Lou McGarity, clarinetist Heinie Beau, tenor-saxophonist Babe Russin, and singer Virginia Maxey help out, Elman is the main star throughout. Highlights include “How High The Moon,” “Body and Soul,” “Boppin’ With Zig,” “Zaggin’ With Zig,” “Samba With Zig,” (but not “Zig’s Polka”), “I Found A New Baby,” and “Mean To Me.” “And The Angels Sing” gets a fine remake with Elman also playing similar solos on “Please Mama” and “The Wedding Samba.”
But about that title, the sales of Boppin’ With Zig (which has generic liner notes that say virtually nothing about the music) would have benefitted from the valuable collection being more accurately called The Complete Ziggy Elman 1947-52. But no matter, this reissue is highly recommended to swing fans.