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Jam Session In Connecticut by Big Bill Bissonnette

Anyone who is into New Orleans traditional jazz is familiar with Big Bill Bissonnette. Bill's interest in the music began early and, like many others, he was influenced by Gene Krupa's "drumnastics" and led a swing trio while in high school. During the summer of 1955, Bissonnette discovered pure New Orleans jazz at Jimmy Ryan's in New York. The band included the DeParis brothers, Omer Simeon and drummer Zutty Singleton. The New Orleans style captivated the teenager and was to become a major part of his life.

Bissonnette took up the trombone in the early sixties and studied with Big Jim Robinson while living in the Crescent City for a short time. Upon his return home to Connecticut, he and some like-minded friends started the Connecticut Traditional Jazz Club and a band called The Easy Riders. The club began to bring in New Orleans talent for their local concerts beginning with the George Lewis band. Other denizens of Bourbon Street came up as single acts to play with the Easy Riders including Kid Thomas, Emmanuel Paul and the British clarinetist, Sammy Rimington. Others followed and Bissonnette's personal "jazz crusade" was born.

This CD brings together a number of Connecticut musicians who were important parts of a series of Big Bill's bands over the years. Fred Vigorito was a cornetist in the early sixties version of the Easy Riders and has operated his own Galvanized Jazz Band in Connecticut since 1971. The G.J.B. is a favorite on the festival circuit and one of the most popular jazz bands in the state. It was the visit of Ron Going to his home state, that inspired this record session. The clarinetist is now a part of the California scene and plays with the Gremoli Jazz Band. He studied with the late Barney Bigard. Jerry Zigmont is an exciting trombonist who has been a regular part of Woody Allen's band in New York since 1996. He puts in frequent guest appearances with the Galvanized Jazz Band and has been featured with Doc Cheatham and Percy Humphrey. Bill Sinclair was the original pianist with the Easy Riders and has appeared with several other Bissonnette and Vigorito groups. I've always been impressed with Sinclair's free and easy style and I'm delighted to hear him on this CD. Emil Mark began his music career as a folk banjoist playing the coffee house circuit back in the late sixties. As a "sit in" player at the Connecticut Traditional Jazz Club, Emil developed a taste for the New Orleans style and since the mid nineties has been on a significant number of important recordings for Jazz Crusade. His appearances with Sweet Mary Cat, Tuba Fats, Gregg Stafford, Jacques Gauthe and Dr. Michael White are memorable and fine examples of how a tenor banjo should be played. Arnie Hyman is a veteran bassist who has been a part of the famed Red Onions Jazzband for years. Hyman has played with an enviable list of jazz stars including Omer Simeon, Max Kaminsky, George Lewis, Wild Bill Davison, James P. Johnson and the list never ends.

The studio session is informal and enthusiastic. Bissonnette's drumming echoes the sound of the late Sammy Penn. The "Penn" accents create a nice level of excitement to unusual tunes such as the old Ink Spots favorite, Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall, Love Letters In The Sand and Mexicali Rose. Vigorito's cornet shines throughout the CD but Tishomingo Blues is special. The tune really captures the spirit of some vintage sessions. The treatment in 3/4 time given to the hymn, In The Garden, is enhanced by Ron Going's beautiful solo.

The selection of material is great and it's nice to see I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket recorded in this modern age. It brought back fond memories of a 78-rpm version by Chick Bullock's Levee Loungers. The Connecticut gang does a bang-up job on the Irving Berlin song from 1936. The band takes on an uncharacteristic item in the form of Nat Cole's 1951 hit, Pretend. Some creative piano by Bill Sinclair and an inventive frontline turn an "ordinary" song into nine very interesting minutes.

The Connecticut reunion sparked an enjoyable swinging session. The guys know each other well and it shows up in the recording. Have a listen at Jazz Crusade's web page. While you are on the site, you should check out Bissonnette's book, aptly titled "The Jazz Crusade." The 340 page volume is a revealing document covering the author's immersion in the style, musicians and traditions of New Orleans. It's crammed with photos, documents and entertaing personal experiences. My copy gets frequent use as a refernce volume.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Big Bill Bissonnette
  • CD Title: Jam Session In Connecticut
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Jazz Crusade
  • Tracks: Volume 1: I Want To Be Happy; Love Letters In The Sand; Mexicali Rose; Jada; Corrine Corrina; Lonesome And Sorry; Oh Dem Golden Slippers; Im Putting All My Eggs In One Basket; Pretend; Sil Vous Plait. Volume 2: All I Do Is Dream Of You; Make Me A Pallet On The Floor; Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall; Tishomingo Blues; San Antonio Rose; Everybody Loves Somebody; My Old Kentucky Home; In The Garden; Collegiate.'
  • Musicians: Fred Vigorito (cornet); Ron Going (clarinet); Jerry Zigmont (trombone); Bill Sinclair (piano); Emil Mark (banjo); Arnie Hyman (string bass); Big Bill Bissonnette (drums).
  • Rating: Four Stars
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