Sweet Mary Cat & their North American Friends: Time to Dance
Jazz Gazzette - Internet publication
When Bill Bissonnette goes to New Orleans he never returns empty-handed.
When I wrote in a CD review in our previous edition that we were waiting
now for the results of his April 2002 recordings in New Orleans, I didn't
expect to hear them so soon. Because of what Bill had written me about
this session, I had high expectations, but this is even better than I
had hoped for. What amazes me is how three people from France, one from
New Orleans, two Canadians and two guys from Connecticut manage to step
into a studio and, in one session, record enough excellent material to
fill almost two CDs. OK, they have been playing together in the past a
couple of times, 3/4 of the rhythm section has been working and recording
together several times in the last couple of years, but still...A three
piece front line improvising together is already a serious accomplishment.
Add a fourth horn and it becomes a small miracle if they end up with the
integrated and harmonious ensembles we have here. "Time To Dance",
they couldn't have chosen a better title. This is REAL New Orleans dance
music, a kind of music we seldom hear today since the music, most of the
time, has lost its functional character. This was an additional challenge,
this was not just a jazz session but a New Orleans jazz dance session.
I wonder if there were any dancers that day in George Buck's Audiophile
Studio, but I can easily imagine them. All the tempos, without an exception,
invite to dance.
In this French-American/Canadian connection Jacques Gauthé could
be seen as the "trait 'union" (hyphen) between the two groups.
Born in France but living in New Orleans for many, many years, a student
of Bechet and an exceptionally fine musician, he was the right person
in the right place at the right time. His playing on all three instruments
is in the great Creole tradition of the city he became a part of. Marie
Dandrieux, her husband Christian Genin, and Jean-Pierre Alessi are all
members of "Sweet Mary Cat"(Marie is leader of that band), one
of the few French bands playing in the authentic New Orleans style. Christian
plays a firm, warm lead trumpet, is no slouch with mutes and shows more
than a few traces of the great Kid Thomas Valentine. Marie is a remarkable
drummer with a great sense of dynamics. I had heard a lot of good things
said about Jean-Pierre. They were right. We can add him to the list of
great players in the Manny Paul tradition, together with people like Brian
Carrick, George Berry, Patrick Tevlin and Sören Sôrenson. I
don't need to introduce the Americans and Canadians on this CD for the
readers of this magazine. Their recorded efforts have been reviewed many
times and you already know how highly I think of them. For Big Bill this
was a special occasion: it was the first time since his bypass operation
some time ago, that he took up his old trombone again. In his liner notes
he doesn't hide that he was more than a little bit nervous about it. He
shouldn't have been! His simple, unadorned and heartfelt playing has lost
none of his quality. This is New Orleans trombone the way I like to hear
Close your eyes, imagine you're in New Orleans somewhere in the forties
at the house of a rather rich family (otherwise they couldn't afford a
band of this size!), there is a party going on for someone's anniversary,
a wedding or any other celebration. The band starts to play
and immediately the dance floor is filled with dancing couples (in those
days dancing was mostly done by couples!).
Big Bill introduces "I'm With You Where You Are", a song associated
with Kid Ory. He never recorded it in a studio, but it figures on several
1949 broadcastings by the band. It's a haunting little melody that will
stick in your head for days to come. The tempo is ideal for dancing, the
playing completely relaxed. It doesn't take much imagination to hear the
shuffling of the dancing feet. Jacques proves that you can be a pupil
of Bechet, play the soprano and still sound completely original. In danger
of being accused of sacrilege, I would even say that he knows better to
integrate the fish-horn in a New Orleans ensemble than the old master,
just because he doesn't have the need to dominate. A special quality of
this band is that there is almost always some other horn behind the
soloist. Listen for instance to the lovely saxes behind the pianist when
he plays the bridge
On "My Little Girl" Bill takes the vocal and I can almost see
him standing up (we're back in the forties now, you know where) using
megaphone or just his hand cupped at his mouth, shouting the lyrics to
be heard. Jacques follows on clarinet with a lyrical statement. Then
Jean-Pierre proves what I just said about him. On his second chorus someone
is using a slapstick, just like Tom used to do behind Manny
Paul. Great! Reide solos again and then we get some marvellous ensemble
playing, a drum break and a coda.
Now we are at the "bal populaire" somewhere in France with "C'est
Si Bon". We almost expect Yves Montand to sing "C'est si bon,
de partir n'importe ou, bras dessus, bras dessous, en chantant des chansons"
(It's so good to be going somewhere, arm in arm, singing songs) but there
is no vocal on this one. What we get is delicate muted trumpet, singing
clarinet and a lot of well-integrated and warm sounding ensemble playing.
Prematurely the band now plays "After The Ball Is Over". Marie
sings...and it is lovely! So sweet! She must be the "Sweet Mary"
in the name of the band. I don't know about the "Cat", but on
the drums Marie sounds more like a tiger than like a pussy-cat. Listen
to the great effect she obtains by repeating the word "after"
in the last phrase of the song. To my ears she sounds like a 21st century
Annette Hanshaw! Fine clarinet again and a short bass solo, ably backed
by the banjo. These guys know how to play together!
The ball isn't over, no way! It's now South of the border time with "Laugin'
Samba" which is strictly speaking a rumba. Bill plays an
exciting solo on the muted bone, followed by the other brass player, also
muted. Jacques' clarinet sounds very much Caribbean here (shades of Stellio!)
and Jean-Pierre swings the stars out of heaven on his tenor. In the subsequent
ensemble Christian borrows from Kid Thomas. Marie lays down an exciting
Bill is very stingy with vocals on his recordings (that's one of the points
we don't agree about, I like to hear the lyrics of a song when
they exist!) but he makes an exception here for his faithful banjo player.
The tempo is subdued and so is the sound volume of the band.
Jacques and Jean-Pierre play a lovely duet and Christian uses his mute
again. What a fine piano player Reide is!
This IS dance music. It's waltz time now! "Girl Of My Dreams"
was written as a waltz originally anyway. Colin uses his bow to great
effect. Jean-Pierre, waltzes with Christian and Jacques, on alto, with
Big Bill. It's good to hear Jacques on the alto, it's a rare occasion!
Then follows an old New Orleans favourite "Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet".
Fine solo trombone and a swinging duet by soprano and tenor sax. After
Reide's solo, Colin gets a chance to play one of his exquisite bass solos,
this one punctuated by short trombone notes.
The tempo goes down again for a laid-back, slower than usual, version
of "Dreamboat". Lovely solos by clarinet, tenor sax and muted
trumpet and by the trombone/clarinet duo. In his liner notes Bill says
that "Three Little Words" is a bitch of a tune to play and I
believe him, but I think they did a fine job on it.
It's time know for the fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, I mean the
older people, to take a rest and let the youngsters have the dance floor
for an exciting boogie-woogie that goes on for almost 9 minutes. Reide
ads another colour to his already impressive palette. He puts down some
exciting boogie playing here. Bill plays what I call a "ragmop"
solo, because it reminds me of Lionel Hampton's famous rendition of that
tune. Jean-Pierre takes the lion's share of this number, together with
Reide, and so they named it after him. The ball isn't over yet, because
there will be a volume 2. If you want to be reminded what New Orleans
dance music was all about, I advise you to add this CD to your collection.
It's a gem, all 68 minutes of it!
- Marcel Joly
King Jazz Review - Ian King
Being a past consummate dancer to New Orleans styled music, when previous
a frequenter to the Hammersmith Palais de Dance and Streatham Locarno
Ballroom, London, England, and with a sister in those days often in the
top handful of ballroom competition dancing competitors, a product of
the Aberdeen Beach Ballroom set, I can relate well to this Sweet Mary
Cat and their North American Friends - Time to Dance CD. In January 1919
the ODJB of One-Step fame and more, came to the UK appearing at the Hippodrome,
West End, London, on the same bill as the George Robey Joy Bells revue,
then visiting Glasgow and other parts in the land, they ended their stay
with a long residency at the Palais in Hammersmith - yes it's history,
but "O" me, how life then changed.
Big Bill had not played his instrument since his triple-bypass heart operation
eighteen months previous to when this recording session came about on
the 15th of April 2002 in the Audiophile Studio in New Orleans. The opening
number is really, really beautiful. Yes, and the honours go to this trombonist
for making it so, determined on his superb introduction break to the tune,
a tune which stretches for nearly nine minutes. From that first track,
Big Bill gained confidence in reaching the last number, the Gut Stomp
of 1943 J.P. Boogie in which one can swing to at the pleasure of James
P. Johnson, pianist and composer, reminiscent of Pine Top, Kitchen Tim
on foot-walking stomps, the power-bounding raspings - mellowed noted,
that we have all come to hear and love, can all be heard once more coming
from the Bissonnette trombone, and on the pairing "Time to Dance
- Some More" album.
To come across another jazz waltz like Girl Of My Dreams heard here in
string bass stroke three beats; one would have to walk far and wide to
come across the like of it, and it's a delight to listen and dance to.
With Rumba, Latin American dance music to Laughing Samba a spin on the
spring inlaid Ballroom floor to the voice of the Sweet Mary Cat leader
on After The Ball - fox-trotting and quick-stepping on others, all make
for a very nice, first-class, listen-able album in its entirety - and
C'est Bon to tango to in parts.
Picking out when it is either Jean-Pierre or Jacques, and on which instrument
they are playing, will be an interesting exercise for not only those acquainted
with them and their music. We also get to hear the vocals of Big Bill
and Emil on My Little Girl and I Get The Blues When It Rains respectively.
But still on my lips is I'm With You Where You Are, on which I reiterate,
that, that opening number is really beautiful, begging me perform a dignified,
sensual, Traditional jazz dance with The Girl Of My Dreams to it, even
to throw in a KJR Scat-Tapping jive for good measure.
- Ian King
Jazzreview.com: - Internet Publication
Unless you live in France or are a frequent visitor to New Orleans, you
may not know of this fine unit. Sweet Mary Cat is one of the best traditional
jazz bands in France and they can be found at major wine festivals including
the famed Beaujolais celebration. Based in Lyons, Sweet Mary Cat has been
a part of the scene for more than a decade. When on their pilgrimages
to New Orleans, the band can likely be found at Frizel's European Jazz
Pub. Jazz Crusade's owner, Big Bill Bissonnette, who is also the trombonist
for this date, arranged this session. Recorded in April of 2002 at the
Audiophile Studio by Richard Bird, the session exhibits the qualities
consistent with the venue.
On this occasion, leader Marie Dandrieux, her husband Christian "KiKi"
Genin and Jean-Pierre Alessi represent Sweet Mary Cat. The North American
Friends are in reality, Jazz Crusade's All Star Rhythm Section from many
albums, Reide Kaiser, Emil Mark and Colin Bray. Another native of France
appears in the form of clarinetist, Jacques Gauthe. Gauthe has been living
in New Orleans for many years and his Creole Rice Jazz Band is a highly
This CD is all about danceable jazz. The octet digs into their bag of
dance tunes ranging from foxtrots, waltzes, a rockin' boogie-woogie and
even a samba. Keeping with the theme of dance music, the band doesn't
try to break any speed records. That doesn't mean they aren't hot. Their
swinging take on Old Grey Bonnet will get your feet moving.
Marie Dandrieux is a rock-solid drummer steeped in the New Orleans style.
Her vocal on "After The Ball" is witty and charming. Christian
Genin's trumpet style is hot and swinging. Jean-Pierre Alessi, a powerful
reedman, comes out swinging from the first note.
Add two powerful players in the form of Gauthe and Bissonnette and the
The session begins with a fine old Kid Ory piece titled "I'm With
You Where You Are." It's one of those tunes that you'll swear you've
heard before, knowing that you have not. Happily, the band includes another
great tune from 1915, "My Little Girl." Big Bill takes the growling
vocal on the Albert von Tilzer song. The French hit, "C'est Si Bon"
by Andre Hornez & Henri Betti seems to inspire some powerful playing
by one and all. Gauthe and Genin shine on "After The Ball" with
Alessi playing wonderful harmony. Great stuff! The session ends on a high
note with J-P's Boogie Woogie featuring Jean Pierre Alessi and pianist,
Reide Kaiser. The rhythm section of Kaiser, Mark and Bray are always great.
- Richard Bourcier
Cadence Magazine - U.S.A.
As Big Bill Bissonnette's liner notes tell us, Sweet Mary Cat is a trad
jazz band from France. They're joined by a variety of like-minded players
including Bissonnette himself, in his first recordings after a triple
by-pass operation. While the trombonist nearly apologizes for the potential
of lessened power on his instrument, he needn't have worried. SMC plays
charming Dixieland, almost in a riverboat style, with an emphasis on danceable
rhythms and Bissonnette's playing suits their easy camaraderie well. On
the opening I'm With You Where You Are and Blues for Jimmy [vol. 2] his
solos and accompaniment are ripe with guttsy feeling. Laughing Samba,
characteristic of SMC's brand of fun, has some great wah-wah work from
Bissonnette, whose admiration of the group is clearly justified.
Gauthe, a protégé of Sidney Bechet's in the early 1950's,
adds an extra layer of richness to Alessi's reed work, while Genin's fluid,
often muted trumpet - particularly nice on I Get the Blues When It Rains
- is a graceful presence throughout the two discs. The rhythm of Kaiser,
Mark, Bray and leader Dandreaux is an easy-rolling unit that excels at
Vol.2 happily brings us more from the same session, with a nicely subdued
The Bells of St. Mary's, an eight minute Tuxedo Junction with more fine
Bissonnette, and a wild Shake It & Break It. The last four tracks
of the disc are from a 1993 gig in Lyon with Bissonnette and only Genin
from the present day SMC. The spirit of Sweet Mary Cat, though, is much
in evidence, although Vincent Hurel is a harder driving drummer than Marie
Dandreaux - at least in her studio context - Paul Boehmke brings a more
modernistic clarinet voice and Philip Harbonnier a more bluesy, rambunctious
piano. The disc ends with the humorous Big Bill's Short Number, a Roswell
Rudd-ish joke that Bissonnette claims is the only tune he ever wrote.
Good live sound on these last tracks and excellent, punchy sound on the
2002 studio sessions, and fine music all around.
- Larry Nai
Mississippi Rag [U.S.A.]
Back in the Thirties, when recordings of the Quintet of the Hot Club
of France began to surface in the United States, a noted spokesperson
for the Nicksieland jazz movement quipped, "Do we go over there and
teach them how to stomp on grapes?" We've come a long way since then
and especially since such expatriates as Sidney Bechet, Bill Coleman and
Mezz Mezzrow have emigrated. Tradixieland bands have surfaced throughout
Britain, Scandinavia and the Continent in general and in La Belle France
in particular. Witness Sweet Mary Cat, a New Orleans-styled jazz/dance
band that lives closer to old Orleans. One could well imagine drummer/singer/leader
Marie Dandrieux being burned at the stake for preferring "Bugle Boy
March" to "La Marseillaise."
Jazz Crusader Big Bill Bissonnette, world traveler that he is, found himself
in Lyon, France, in 1993. Fortunately, he found Sweet Mary Cat in concert
and also fortunately he had his trombone with him. He sat in and in 2002
arranged a rematch as several members of the band joined him and other
"North American friends" to play for dances at a local New Orleans
hotel. The next day they adjourned to the Audiophile studios and recorded
this music, which is, at one and the same time, both listenable and danceable.
Representing the European element are drummer Marie Dandrieux and her
trumpet-playing husband, Christian Genin, and reed player Jean-Pierre
Alessi as well as French born New Orleans fixture Jacques Gauthé
on clarinet and saxophone. The rhythm section is the Jazz Crusade house
band: pianist Reide Kaiser, banjoist Emil Mark and string bassist Colin
A lot of water has passed sur le pont since 1993, and Big Bill was picking
up his trombone again for the first time since his triple-bypass of yore.
Trombonist Bill Evans was hired to stand by just in case Big Bill couldn't
play up to his own high standards. Not to worry. The big man came on as
strong as ever. Evans did, however, sit in on three numbers, making a
very effective three man brass section.
So much for the history. The music is excellent whether you're cutting
a rug or standing in front of the bandstand digging the sounds. The program
is varied and surprisingly free of the dixieland warhorse repertoire that
has been recorded again and again. Tunes like "Bugle Boy March"
are not in the library of every tradixieland band you're going to hear
today. Tunes like "The Bells of St. Mary's," while familiar
to most people, have seldom if ever entered the books of jazz bands. Tunes
like "Tuxedo Junction" and "C'est Si Bon" are borrowed
from other genres. Even that corny old waltz from 1892, "After The
Ball," a major hit for Sousa's band, jumps lightly in four-four time
under the beat of Sweet Mary Cat. And why the blazes hasn't every trad
band in the whole wide world got Kid Ory's old theme song, "I'm With
You Where You Are," in their book?
There are also three cuts from the Lyon concert in 1993 with Big Bill
Bissonnette and clarinetist Paul Boehmke sitting in with a Marie-less
Sweet Mary Cat (she being with child at the time), and nothing stands
still. Everyone plays even better in 2001 than they did back in '93.
This is a great jazz dance band and if they ever come to a ballroom near
your home (that's if there are any ballrooms left near your home), get
out and dance and/or sit this one out and just listen. Until then, you
need this music in your collection.
- Joe H. Klee
Just Jazz - British Jazz Magazine
You will see that seventeen of the tracks were recorded in New Orleans
last year during French Quarter Festival time, and, as with The Vintage
Jazz Band CD reviewed on page 5 in this edition of 'Just Jazz', it is
an amalgam of part of another French band supplemented by other musicians
who were in the city at that time. Nothing wrong with that, because these
additions are of unquestionable ability and add their own mark to a pretty
good session of New Orleans-style jazz.
I am pleased to say that at least they play their music with a 'bit of
balls', which is something lacking in the majority of bands in the UK
and Europe playing this style. There are those I keep hearing say about
these bands that "they play nice and gentle with a nice-laid back
approach, just like the real thing! Well, sorry folks, where did you get
that impression from? I think you should all go and re-listen to your
record collections, 'cos that's not what I have been hearing; George Lewis'
New Orleans Ragtime Band, laid back? I don't think sol!
Full marks to the lads on this recording (sorry Marie, you are an honorary
lad) for obviously having a ball when they recorded these CDs.
To close, I must mention that the final four tracks on the second CD were
recorded in a concert in Lyon, France, in 1993, and it gives you the opportunity
of hearing the original band in its entirety.
- Peter Lay
Boxell's Jazz Website - New Zealand
'After ze balls is hofer' drummer Marie Dandrieux croons and don't you
just love that accent? It sounds like something from "'ello, "ello"!
My late mother would have loved this CD. Although it is traditional jazz
all right it is played in strict tempo and the title Time to Dance' is
meant. Mum would have grabbed the old man and had him dancing round our
lounge, knocking ornaments off the shelves and laughing her head off with
exuberance. We so often forget that jazz should be danced to as well as
listened too. It is joyful music and so we shouldn't just tap our feet
we should use them to step out. Lovely stuff on this CD with a fair mix
of usual and unusual tunes. It would have been so easy for the band to
slip into dance band mode and forgotten the jazz, but they here shew their
abilities and offer you a bargain: dance music Abatis also, and at no
extra charge, jazz! The remaining tracks are the Cats at home without
Marie, who was pregnant at the time. The music is more jazz as you expect
it. BBB rates Sweet Mary cat as France's best traditional jazz band. After
hearing 'Chimes Blues' and a well wrung out 'Pagan Love Song' I can understand
Many would think that this CD is a 'parts basket' effort, using up tracks
that couldn't be fitted in elsewhere. To me it is a CD well worth having
in order to listen to first class jazzers playing in two different, but
very closely related styles on the one album. Ces't Si Bon.
- Geoff Boxell
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