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Sonny Berman

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  • Born: New Haven, CT
  • Died: New York, NY
  • Years Active: 1950s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Sonny Berman, a trumpeter who is sometimes credited as Saul Berman, is one of the names on the sad list of promising players who checked out of the jazz scene prematurely thanks to the scourge of heroin. He was only 22 when the needle did its final damage, leaving behind a smattering of solos on Woody Herman records that more than just show his potential. He also cut an album as a leader for the Esoteric label. The trumpeter got an early start with the demanding bands of Louis Prima and Sonny Dunham, among others. At 16 he was already on the road, and until finding what seemed like a perfect match with Herman in 1945, was the type of brass player every big-band leader is looking for, complete with a warm and solid tone, superb intonation in every part of the horn, and an exciting soloing style.

Berman worked with Georgie Auld, Harry James, and Benny Goodman, the latter bandleader standing out as the only guy to ever fire this particular musician. Nothing negative should be implied by this, however, since "bitchy Benny" fired many a good man; in Berman's case, like many others, the episode was contrived by first sabotaging the reading light on the trumpeter's music stand in order to make him sound incompetent. While Goodman felt excessive competition from Berman's flair, Herman was happy to make use of this talent as a kind of fuel injection system. For the truncated period that Berman was in the Herman band, much use was made of his soloing on tracks such as the superb "Sidewalks of Cuba." Some jazz references politely list the cause of Berman's death as a heart attack. New collections issued after the death of Herman himself, including live recordings, have greatly increased the scope of Berman's discography.