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Vic Berton
born Victor Cohen
(1898 - 1951)

The word child prodigy doesn't even begin to describe Vic Berton. Vic Berton came from a
musically talented family and is said to have played in a pit orchestra when he was only seven.
His father was a professional violinist, and the bowed instrument was one of several musical
devices that the tot Berton began bumbling with at an age advanced not much further than five.
The child also tried piano and drums, mastering the latter to the point that the pit orchestra from
the Alhambra Theatre in Milwaukee hired him in 1903. He studied tympani when most kids his
age were learning tiddlywinks. By age sixteen he was playing with the Milwaukee and Chicago
Symphony Orchestras.

During the First World War Berton enlisted and played drums with John Philip Sousa's Navy
Band. After the war he returned to Chicago and played with several of the top dance bands in
the area. In the early '20s, Berton gigged around Chicago with players such as Art Kahn, Paul
Beise, and Arnold Johnson. The drummer led his own band at the upbeat Merry Gardens club.
In 1922 he wrote the song, "Sobbin' Blues" with Art Kassell with became the standard of hot
bands of the 1920s. In 1924 he formed a friendship with Bix Beiderbecke and started
managing and occasionally playing drums with the band that Bix was in at the time, the

Berton moved to New York and played with Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, the Roger
Wolfe Kahn Orchestra, as well as keeping a busy schedule as a studio session man.. By the
end of the decade Berton was considered the greatest of all Jazz drummers by many. He often
played in commercial bands that paid him a top notch salary but didn't showcase his talents as
well as they might have. His last activities before he pulled a vamoose to the West Coast was a
short stint with bandleader Paul Whiteman in 1927. He moved to California in the late 1920s
and formed his own band. The group had several successful recordings in the mid-1930s, like
"Taboo", "I've Been Waiting All Winter"and "Dardanella". In 1930 Berton was busted for
smoking a marijuana cigarette with Louis Armstrong and Frank Driggs in Culver City.

In Los Angeles, he became involved with Abe Lyman and like many players looked toward the
film studios for more regular money. Vic Berton worked at Paramount studios in the 1930's
and during one period he was the studio's musical director. He also was one of the top
percussionists with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. In the '40s, he worked as a studio
musician for 20th Century Fox, so any striking percussive effects -- for that matter any striking
or banging on anything on the soundtrack for one of this studio's films from that era -- could
well be the work of Berton. During World War II he worked as a musician with the Air Force
and returned to being a studio musician for the movies after the war. He died in Hollywood in
1951 of lung cancer.
Source: redhotjazz.com, Eugene Chadbourne; All Music Guide

Advertisement from the Melody Maker, late 1920's

Vic Berton with Red Nichols and his Five Pennies
Red Nichols, Jimmy Dorsey, Arthur Schut, Vic Berton, Miff Mole, Eddie Lang

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