From Fats Navarro to the seminal Charlie Parker, the history of jazz is full of amazingly talented musicians who were unable to overcome their demons and ended up dying much too young. Heroin was the drug of choice for Parker and Navarro; for Bunny Berigan, it was alcohol. In a perfect world, the trumpeter/bandleader would have lived to see 80 or 90; instead, Berigan was only 33 when, in 1942, he died from pneumonia and other health problems that were brought on by his alcoholism. But even though Berigan's career was much shorter than it should have been, he went down in history as one of the finest trumpet soloists of the '30s -- and this 66-minute collection offers a highly rewarding overview of his work. Technically, the title A Melody From the Sky: 1932-1940 is misleading because the 21 selections were actually recorded from 1932-1939 instead of from 1932-1940; nonetheless, this CD has a lot going for it -- not only a wealth of first-rate performances, but also good sound quality (by 78-era standards), attractive artwork, and the insightful, comprehensive liner notes of jazz critic Scott Yanow (who assembled the collection and presents the material in chronological order). Many of these performances are essential, including "Blue Lou," "Mahogany Hall Stomp," and his sublime 1937 version of George Gershwin's "I Can't Get Started" (the hit Berigan is best-remembered for). One of the most interesting tracks is Berigan's unlikely arrangement of "The Prisoner's Song," a gem that had been a number one hit for country singer Vernon Dalhart in 1925. While Dalhart's famous version was old-time country at its most melancholy, Berigan successfully transforms "The Prisoner's Song" into an exuberant, surprisingly happy instrumental. A Melody From the Sky isn't the last word on the trumpeter's legacy, but for novices and casual listeners, this disc can be an excellent starting point.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson