The Jazz Crusade Catalog

The Jazz Crusade: The Inside Story of the
Great New Orleans Jazz Revival of the 1960s


Big Bill Bissonnette’s
best-selling book:
The Jazz Crusade

342 fully indexed pages,
60 photo portraits
50 pages of memorabilia,
complete discography
includes 16 track CD:
"The Best of the Jazz Crusade" (JCCD-3050)

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The Jazz Crusade - an excerpt
from Chapter 11 - "George Lewis"

"George's most vivid recollection was one he had told me before. It was the story of the murder of Evan Thomas. Evan was one of the best, and most powerful, trumpet players in Louisiana. He didn't often come into New Orleans, playing mostly in Texas and western Louisiana. He was so renowned that he frequently used Bunk Johnson as his second trumpet player. One night in 1933 Bunk and George were playing a dancehall job with Evan in Rayne, Louisiana. Evan was drunk out of his mind, as he often was, and flirting with the ladies in the hall. Suddenly, in George's words:
'This man comes out of the audience waving a razor in his hand. He starts cursing Evan for flirting with his wife. Evan sober up just like that, man, and jumps off his chair and grabs me by the shoulders and holds me up in front of him to protect himself. This man jumps up onto the stage and reaches right around me and cuts Evan's throat with that razor. I feels Evan's hot blood squirt all over the back of my head. I screams and Evan dropped me on the floor and goes running out into the street. I was so scared, man, I couldn't move. There was blood, so much blood, I didn't even know if I was cut or not myself. Evan, he die right there in the street.'
As George concluded his account of the event, we sat transfixed looking at him. All the terror he must have felt shown forth from his eyes as if it was happening right there in the room with us. I still feel the eeriness of it as I sit and write about it now, over twenty-five years later."


Reviews for:
The Jazz Crusade: The Inside Story of the
Great New Orleans Jazz Revival of the 1960s

King Jazz Review—British Internet Jazz Magazine

I was delighted for more than one reason to be given the opportunity to review “The Jazz Crusade” book by Big Bill Bissonnette. The Bissonnette story starts about a young white American boy living in Connecticut, USA, who had a dream of wanting to become an up-to-date jazz drummer. Little did Bill Bissonnette, as he was then known, know that he would go on to make history when musical tastes changed for him, as was directed and influenced thoughtfully by a colleague on becoming acquainted with the Southern Louisiana, olden days black American jazz musician’s kind of music.
Drafted into the Army at San Antonio, Texas, the nearest posting to New Orleans of his choosing that he would get. Whilst residing as a rookie in the South he achieved a good measure of success gained with the help from both a local newspaper reporter and, also one from home, both nicely plugging the merits of a jazz radio programme that was started at the barracks by this fledgling army recruit using his record collection sent to him from home. The radio station was approved, both by the KEEZ-FM radio station manager in San Antonio and with the recruit’s Army Commander on the thought that it would promote good community relations in the base camp.
With a great deal of disappointments and setbacks over his many successful achievements, starting off with a few more weeks in visiting New Orleans in the South, Bill Bissonnette with tenacity, enthusiasm, and most of all determination, started out from his home in Connecticut on the East Coast of America, stretching out to California on the West Coast, taking in Montreal, Canada to the north, where it was the dancing that did it for New Orleans trumpeter, Kid Thomas Valentine when playing in one of the Bissonnette bands entitled, “The International Jazz Band”, unwittingly setting out the parameters for band-leader Big Bill on the road to becoming THEE man of the New Orleans 1960s jazz revivalist movement in the USA.
The book’s well-written narrations, with no-punches-pulled relates about his crusading movements of wanting to record for posterity and the archives, which having writ – it most sincerely deserves national recognition, as many of the aging New Orleans musicians, who were vastly dying out, faster than he could possibly imagine with his limited resources and the life-times left in those old-timers that would be as proven - be impossible to do so.
There are sad moments – for example, the disappointment of not being able to record Billie and DeDe Pierce, singer and trumpeter family team, their live concert performances for his Jazz Crusade record company that the Hartford Courant newspaper reporter had printed of the gig at the Rocking Horse pub in East Hartford, and a session at Moose Lodge Hall, Stamford, elsewhere, having been published by the New York Times.
In his moments of gladness among others he recalls when in the 1964-65 years, Jazz Crusade won the Jazzology Jazz Poll for Traditional Jazz with his Easy Riders Jazz Band. Also another one I’d say, was his appearing at Earthquake McGoon’s club managed by Turk Murphy at the time in San Francisco, California, was of a gig played there - always in mind.
Among the 50 or so veritable, authentically recalled chapter events written in the book, the descriptive one, titled “The Mouldy Five”, which is of on how one of his jazzbands fell apart, reads with emotion in a gentlemanly styled manner.
The Jazz Crusade book has 60 top-class photographs in 4 sets of 15 with photographer credits; it has 50 select Memorabilia pages; 50 CD Album Cover Sleeves of the Bissonnette principle ongoing recordings, and overall, it has 340 pages including indexes of artists plus names of 150 old time New Orleans styled jazzers, including 10 famous names, Louis Armstrong among them, dedicated to those jazz artists gone before them, and a list of songs and discographies.

Best of Jazz Crusade CD album

The deluxe edition of The Jazz Crusade book, ISBN 0-9632297-0-2 published by Special Request Books includes a Compact Disc of fifteen tracks totalling 72:28 playing time chosen by Big Bill Bissonnette himself as being the best of the recordings pertinent to his book.
The CD album’s fifteen tunes has seven different New Orleans styled drummers, on it, there is Sammy Penn on five of them, Art Pulver on three, Alec Brigard on two, Cie Frazer; Barry Martin, Mitisue Yano, all 3 of them, playing on one each, with drummer Big Bill on the other two tunes. Big Bill plays trombone on eleven tunes, and, on another tune trombonist Louis Nelson plays. Big Jim Robinson plays trombone on four tunes trebling on Bugle Boy March with protégé Bissonnette and Tsunetami Fukuda. The two black American New Orleans musicians Alvin Alcorn and Paul Barnes’ vocals in harmonising talk singing on Bourbon St Parade is unique.
Any top-class KJR scat-tapping jive dance dancer will shine if done in the way that Sister Kate can shimmy the Pete Bocage style as heard sung on this track by Victoria Spivey. The Kid Thomas Boogie-Woogie track is like riding the majestic Flying Scotsman steam locomotive, such as recalled on the railway lines between London and Edinburgh, lovingly, listening to its riff movements, and the Emanuel Paul quivering and shakings saxophone tone, simply has to be much in kind to a satisfied woman’s ecstatic, rapturous, craving shouts of delight.
I recall being sad, OK disappointed, when the George Lewis, New Orleans styled clarinettist Sammy Rimington, then with UK trumpeter Ken Colyer Revival Jazzmen, who in doing his last gig with trumpeter Bill Brunskill at The Lord Napier, Thornton Heath, Croydon, England, which I attended, left the UK for the USA, enthrals me with his performance here on the Uptown Bumps track. To hear him playing with Kid Thomas Valentine, Big Jim Robinson, Captain John Handy, and, Sammy Penn, on trumpet; trombone; tenor sax and drums respectively is out of this world for me, how great they all are in playing this number on the 3rd of December 1965, in the Bissonnette “December Band” at Moose Lodge Hall, Stamford, Connecticut, USA, which was in effect recorded on a celebration party date to welcome clarinettist Rimington from his homeland to join the Bissonnette Easy Riders Jazz Band, in America.
“Take a train and ride to Atlanta. Make it baby. She will never know. Make it soft and low. Behind the kitchen door”, are lines in the song Make Me A Pallet On The Floor sung by Carol Leigh, a discovery singer by Big Bill, whose sensual, sultry voice when listened to - coming over in one of the lines sounding as – ‘make a baby’ – which repeats itself eight times consecutively with Carol varying tonal emphasis on it which wonderfully makes one, in fact me, feel passionately for her and the song. Standing alone, this CD album becomes priceless - it is an item of American musical history to be treasured and savoured by all of the States – in America.
- Ian King


Jazz Beat Magazine - U. S. A. REVIEW - - - U.S.A.

The following is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the August 1992 edition of Jazzbeat Magazine:
Big Bill Bissonnette had his own counter-culture experience in the 1960s. It had nothing to do with the Haight-Ashbury or other popular notions of that era in American history. No. Bissonnette spent that decade at the forefront of the push to bring a facet of American culture that had been on the fringes not only towards the mainstream but also, and more importantly, to keep it alive. The cause was New Orleans jazz. The crusader was a young Connecticut Yankee in love with the music of New Orleans and in this intensely personal and refreshingly frank documentary of his experiences, Bissonnette describes his seven year battle against the odds.
The book is a chronological survey of Bissonnetle's "Jazz Crusade," which included the record label of the same name, a variety of bands, most notably the "Easy Riders" and the numerous tours whereby Bissonnette would import and feature musicians from New Orleans including Kid Thomas, Jim Robinson, Sammy and Captain John Handy. We are taken behind the scenes and exposed - warts and all.
This is a narrative journey through Moose Lodges, taverns, restaurants and border crossings. We are torn of triumphs and disasters, of graciousness and pettiness, of cutthroat club owners and fellow crusaders willing lo lend a hand. Bissonnette pulls no punches.
And perhaps most important are Bissonnette's descriptions of his personal relationships with the musicians of New Orleans, of his hero's. Those descriptions - from the folksy wisdom of Kid Thomas [for example when he asks a waitress at an expensive JFK airport restaurant, I’d like to see the chicken that lay's these $3.00 eggs!), to the somewhat hilarious conniving of Creole George Guesnon, and most memorable, the bittersweet tales of the relationships with his mentors Big Jim Robinson and Sammy Penn - serve to shed light on what we have already established of their personalities through their art.
Disposing with rhetorical flourish in favor of a bare bones account throughout is in keeping with Bissonnette's philosophy of jazz history - that words can't do justice to the art. This emotional music form is too complex to be reduced to mere sentences on a page. The music and the musicians truly live, according to Bissonnette, through the recordings; it's the recordings that matter: If you think Punch Miller is really dead," he asks, "1 suggest you put on the recording we made that night at McGoon's. Does that sound like a dead man lo you? As his music lives, so does he." If that's the case, considering the compact disc accompanying this book and the fact that many of the Jazz Crusade LPs are still available through GHB Records, then in some measure Bissonnette won the battle, you can put on a record and the Jazz Crusade vigorously rolls on.
The accompanying CD, The Best of the Jazz Crusade, features over 72 minutes of recordings made by Bissonnette over the seven years described in the book and includes several previously unissued titles.
Highlights include "Uptown Bumps" by the December Band featuring Kid Thomas, Big Jim, Capn’- John Handy and Sammy Rimington, and the final selection, "Down by the Levee" which has an incredibly spirited vocal by Punch Miller.
Some might find fault with Bissonnene for the perhaps unnecessary use of dialect in quoting the musicians, especially since he is admittedly piecing together conversations from memory. Still others might find that his frankness in some areas crosses the line. But this is, as he says, his own story. You can't fault Big Bill Bissonnette for his sincerity or his honesty, both in his dedication to the Jazz Crusade and the retelling of that period in this book.
- John Pult


Musician Magazine - U. S. A. .A.

The following is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the December 1992 edition of Musician Magazine:
The Connecticut-based author caught the New Orleans jazz bug in the '50s. A decade later his activism made a difference: He imported legends for local concerts - as a musician he played with them too - - and recorded them for his own record label. The reminiscences and anecdotes are bittersweet; this crusade was a race against time. Proving that death lost after all, the Jazz Crusade includes a 72 minute CD drawn from Bissonnette's catalog. Some 60 pages of photos further make this labor of love a multimedia bonanza.
- Scott Bier


IAJRC Journal - U. S. A.

The following is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the Fall issue of the International Association of Jazz Record Collector* Journal.
Although never too high on the priority list of most seasoned collectors -- those who prefer their New Orleans jazz as originally played by Oliver, Morton, Armstrong, Dodds and Bechet -- there is a still faithful, albeit small, faction of comparative latecomers who continue to support the type of revivalist music for their own conversion to jazz. This is the music initially recorded during the first New Orleans Revival of the early '40s, but which did not flower into national consciousness until the '60s, with the emergence of Preservation Hall and the publicity attending this populist happening. Bunk Johnson had been dead for some time, but there were still a lot of other old-timers left down there who had remained somewhat active through the years. Admittedly, most were not of the caliber of Bunk, whose own status in the overall hierarchy is still a matter of dispute, but many of them were able to play. Even more important, they were "authentic" New Orleans jazzmen, for the most part unsullied by legitimate training on their instruments, professional experience outside of local parade band and dance hall employment, or even curiosity about subsequent developments in jazz since, say, the Armstrong records of the mid '30s. When they veered from their standard repertoire of blues, marches, and spirituals, it was usually to play jazzed up versions of old sentimental pop tunes or juke box hits for the '40s, the last "new" songs they had learned. Rarely, if ever, did any of them attempt to play the more challenging, complex compositions of Oliver, Morton or Armstrong.
The decade of the '60s was a particularly bad one for jazz in general. Not only did we suffer the deaths and diminution of productive abilities of dozens of acknowledged giants, but we also had to contend with the growth in popularity and ultimate takeover of the pop music industry by rock and its various spin-offs. And if that were not enough there was also emerging from the underbelly of modern jazz a radical terrorist movement known as the avant-garde. Is it any wonder, then, that a large number of younger jazz lovers, particularly those not conversant with the recorded classics of the giants, would be attracted to the mystique of the noble, untainted, primordial Afro-American jazzman?
Bill Bissonnette, a middle-class white kid from Connecticut, became entranced rather early in life with the sounds of the first New Orleans Revival. Already a drummer, he next "took up" trombone, and then, in the manner of enthusiastic novices the world over, he formed an amateur group which he called the Easy Riders Jazz Band. This book is his story, the account of his career as a bandleader, promoter of gigs, concerts, and tours, and producer of the Jazz Crusade label. Bill has done a remarkable job of reconstructing the history of his band, but, even more significantly, he also offers us an almost day lo day record of his working and social relationships with such renowned New Orleans figures as Kid Thomas Valentine, Creole George Guesnon, Emmanuel "Manny" Paul, George Lewis, Billie and DeDe Pierce, Paul "Polo" Barnes, Capn' John Handy, Kid Sheik Colar, Josiah "Cie" Frazier, Louis Nelson, Alec Bigard, Albert Burbank, Punch Miller, Alvin Alcorn and, especially, Bissonnette's own stylistic idols, Sammy Penn and Big Jim Robinson.
Obviously, this book is not for everyone, but I found it especially fascinating to read his reminisces of the often clashing, sometimes humorous personalities of these many old musicians whom most of us know only through records or the occasional Preservation Hall touring group. Along the way, Bill also had the opportunity to work with or meet some white guys, such as the fine British George Lewis disciple Sammy Rimington, who played with the Easy Riders for a time, British-born but New Orleans-based drummer Barry Martvn, and from the period when the band was in California, Turk Murphy, Lu Waters, Clancy Hayes and the seemingly inescapable Firehouse Five Plus Two. Bissonnette's brief comments on These passing encounters are also of interest. 1 found particularly revealing his personal endorsement of the FF +2 and that band's reedman, George Probert, whom he referred to as "my favorite soprano sax player, Bechet notwithstanding." Up to this point in the book, Bissonnette had taken every opportunity possible to downgrade "white dixieland" players in general, so it came as quite a surprise to discover this first of severaI instances of critical inconsistency. Could it be that this highly subjective, unguarded effusion was simply a case of pleasant first-hand memories overpowering objective judgment? Or more seriously, does it suggest that Bissonnette may never have had the taste to distinguish between genuine art and mere entertainment and good fellowship? Elsewhere in the book, he states that his biggest regret as producer of Jazz Crusade was in having missed the opportunity to record clarinetist Israel Gorman. Who knows? Perhaps under his artful direction, this most unfortunate player might have been able to salvage the ignominious reputation he earned through his earlier appearances on record, especially the 1962 Punch Miller album upon which his hopelessly out of tune, strangulated mutterings and shrieks constitute the worst tonal atrocities ever perpetrated on this noble instrument in all of jazz history, Wilton Crawley and Fess Williams notwithstanding.
Understandably, his own basic band, the Easy Riders, was exclusively white, but the guest stars hired for their concerts and tours were invariably drawn from the favored pool of Pres Hall regulars or what Bill calls the "New York Transplants." In other words, urbanized black jazzmen with backgrounds in swing who, although competent soloists, lacked the skill of New Orleans ensemble playing. On one occasion in 1964, he even hired Bud Freemen to appear with his band. A professional as always, Freeman most likely did his best just to get through the night. But while driving the star tenor man back lo New York after the concert, Bill and Bud got into a discussion of national politics during which the Easy Rider unfortunately let it slip that he was a supporter of Barry Goldwater. Needless to say, Bud was not. Silence then reigned until the end of the trip. Upon reaching his destination, Freeman was asked if he would like a return engagement with the Connecticut-based trad band. Bud responded with a polite but emphatic, probably Cambridged -intoned, "No, thank you." According to the way he tells this story, Bill still seems to believe that this rejection was only because of a political disagreement - "Bud was the quintessential 'New York Liberal" - but 1 think differently. To be mired in the relentlessly fevered, chugging cacophony of a banjo-ridden, semi-pro trad band all night is hard enough for any swing musician to take, but especially so for a creative artist of Freeman's sensibilities. And when compounded by an assault of Right Wing rhetoric, and all that implies, it goes beyond anything a reasonable man can be expected lo endure. As I interpret the anecdote, it was simply a case of intellectual insult being added to an already indefensible musical injury.
In addition to a well-reproduced collection of 60 photo portraits by Don Moore, Andrew Wittenborn and Ed Lawless, the book also contains a 38 page Jazz Crusade discography and a 15 track, 72 minute CD of selections from that catalog. Fortunately, these serve as handy reference documents of the playing of many of the musicians Bissonnette recorded. By itself, this otherwise unobtainable CD, which includes six previously unissued titles, would normally cost about half the price of the book, so this is obviously a very good deal for those interested in both the period and the style of music.
- Jack Sohmer


The Jazz Gazette - Belgium

The following is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the October 1992 issue of Jazz-Nicnof (The Jazz Gazette). (Translated from the Flemish by Erik De Troyer)
The Jazz Crusade is the name of a book by Big Bill Bissonnette, that has been recently released in the U.S.A. The subtitle that Bill gave to his work: "the inside story of the Great New Orleans Jazz Revival of the 1960s and the musicians who created it," is more than a little bit the live story of Big Bill himself.
He really "lived" the revival. During that period he not only was the leader of his Easy Riders Jazz Band but even more important, he was the man behind his Jazz Crusade record company, a label on which several LPs appeared which we as good music lovers still consider as monuments.
In the book the cover photos of these albums are printed, besides over 60 original pictures of George, Big Jim, Punch, Sheik and others. On top of that, the book incorporates a 15 track CD of selected Crusade recordings. For some, Bill was not always the sympathetic guy and he has had his critics. . . but this book really is a must!.
- Erik De Troyer


The West Coast Rag - U. S. A.

The following is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the October, 1992 issue of the West Coast Rag:
In the 1960s, the major labels were giving up on Dixieland jazz. The field was changing to its present status, wherein Dixieland recordings are produced by artists and dedicated fans who, though they don't want to lose money, are more interested in preserving their favorite music than in earning a worthwhile return on their time and investment.
One of the pioneering independent Dixieland LP labels was Jazz Crusade, releasing about two dozen albums during the sixties, mostly uptown style New Orleans jazz played by the Easy Riders Jazz Band (a Connecticut-based group of young white musicians) augmented by guest appearances by veteran black New Orleansians. Jazz Crusade, now owned by George H. Buck, originated as the personal project of trombonist/drummer Big Bill Bissonnette. Its major contribution to Dixieland was its emphasis on recording the two most important uptown jazzmen to emerge during the sixties, trumpeter Kid Thomas Valentine and alto saxophonist Capn' John Handy.
Bissonnette, whose fanatical devotion to his music would put a mad scientist to shame, unhesitatingly sacrificed at least two marriages and much of his finances to his fevered desire to do just one more session, one more tour, with Thomas, Handy, Punch Miller, Sammy Penn, Jim Robinson and other now-revered names from Preservation Hall's heyday. In order to get the excellent Sammy Rimington as his clarinetist (a move that obviously would be short-lived because the ERJB didn't get enough work to support a full-time professional), Bissonnette, knowing the change would break up the current Rider's personnel, apparently agreed to take Rimington into his home and cover Rimington's living expenses. His only regret, he now tells us in this colorful recounting of his relationship with the musicians involved, is that he didn't make even more records.
Those of us who knew early on that we had to be Dixielanders come what may, and that we would be forever perceived by normal people as weirdos marching, as they say, to a different drummer, can easily relate to Bissonnette's obsession. Even better, he is a good storyteller, giving us via brief anecdotes a feeling that we now know personally, just a little, the likes of crusty, crafty banjoist Creole George Guesnon; jovial Penn; take-charge showman Thomas; easygoing Robinson and the others. A high point, at which few readers will remain unaffected, is Bissonnette's heartwarming story of "The Reception Brass Band."
If as 1 did, you collected the Jazz Crusades as they appeared and learned to enjoy - despite the sometimes booming/ acoustics and uneven abilities of the various side-men in the different combos the unique and stirring jazz of the New Orleans players Bissonnette admires, you will find his book irresistible. Even if you didn't, most of you will cither recognize, or better understand, the difficulties of running a Dixieland hand and producing recordings, as Bissonnrtte leads you through tales of unscrupulous concert sponsors, snowstorms on concert dates, union disputes, and the type of infighting and factionalism among Dixieland musicians and Dixieland clubs that, to this day, cripples the Dixieland community in trying to exert whatever small economic force it has.
His volume not only is chock-full of reproductions of flyers and newspaper articles regarding the events described but also comes, in the deluxe Edition, with a 72 minute CD containing fifteen tracks from Bissonnette's sessions, including six previously unreleased performances. 1 can't see why anyone interested enough to buy the book wouldn't want to hear on the CD a sampler of Bissonnette's "Great New Orleans Jazz Revival."
- Tex Wyndham


Choice - Magazine of the American Library Association - U. S. A.

The following is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the November 1992 issue of Choice, the magazine of the American Library Association.
In the 1960s, traditional New Orleans jazz was "revived" and popularized in "kitty halls" such as Preservation Hall. "Big" Bill Bissonnette kept a steady flow of traditional New Orleans veteran musicians coming to his native Bridgeport, CT., and then to California in the '60s to play along with his own Easy Riders Jazz Band and to record on his Jazz Crusade record label. This book is a strange mix. Between chapters of narrative are numerous poorly reproduced newspaper articles and promotional materials from the events described. Yet there are four sections of fine clear photographs of most of the the musicians mentioned in the book, included is a discography of the Jazz Crusade record label, some of which is now being re-released. The album covers for all of the Jazz Crusade recordings are also reproduced. Included in the "deluxe edition" is a compact disc with the best of these record sessions. The narrative is at times engrossing, but it would be much more valuable historically if the focus were more on the New Orleans players and less on Bissonnette and his cohorts in Connecticut. This volume is certainly not intended to be scholarly, but the author's tone and the lack of careful editing are sometimes troubling. For large collections or those with a special emphasis on traditional New Orleans jazz.
- K.R. Dietrich, Ripon College


Jazz Hot - France

The following is the complete, unedited English translation of the review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appears in the December 1992 issue of Jazz Hot. (translated by Michel LaPlace)
Bill Bissonnette, a student of Jim Robinson and Sammy Penn as well as a friend of Kid Thomas, had been from 1964 to 1969 a key man of the so-called Revival movement during those years. A musician converted to the expressive sounds of the old players from New Orleans, he was crusading to preserve their memory. To do so, his tours often mixing some old timers to musicians from his major band, the Easy Riders Jazz Band, were also in principle the occasion to make a recording session for his own label Jazz Crusade. Bill's book describes the evolution of his bands, details these recording sessions (now the property of George H. Buck) and most of all makes portraits of the musicians that evidently he loved with sincerity (Kid Thomas, Jim Robinson, Sammy Penn, Capt. John Handy, Paul Barnes, Kid Sheik, Billie and DeDe Pierce, etc.). It is not a book of musical analysis, but an emotional work. The photos are beautiful and a CD gives a musical illustration of the content of the book. It is for people who have a heart.
- Michel LaPlace


The Jazzogie Journal - France

The following is the complete, unedited English translation of the review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appears in the Jan/April issue of the Jazzogie Journal, (translated by Paul Boehmke)
Just before the appearance of our previous Journal, we received from Bill Bissonnette an exceptional surprise, and I thought I'd talk about it a bit in this edition. After further rumination, I decided this event merited more, so I wrote an entire article.
Well!! He has written a history of the tours and records he made with New Orleans musicians in the 1960s. During this era, while proprietor of the "Jazz Crusade" record label (which he created), he frequently led bands featuring the "Old Ones" of the Crescent City such as George Lewis, Kid Thomas, Emanuel Paul, sometimes playing trombone, sometimes playing drums. Many of the records he made during this period were done "live" at concerts while on tour.
The famous series JC-2001 to JC-2019 contains a number of morsels that are incomparable and unforgettable. All of the fans of B. C. Blues (a disco in Lyon, France - ed.) understand what I'm trying to say. For everyone else I can only recommend listening at home. I know that if they can't dance the Rock (a dance similar to the U.S. Hustle which is danced to the Jazz Crusade recordings at B. C. Blues -ed.) already, they'll want to sign up for dancing school!
These records don't leave you untouched. They are not just dance music - they are the dance itself. And they are recorded exactly as they sounded in those days. The reason for this is simple: the old musicians of New Orleans participated in the creation of the music at the turn of the century and everything that has happened since can be traced to these originators.
Jazz Crusade represents a meeting of these jazz greats with young whites who were bitten by the music, such as Bill himself, Sammy Rimington and Barry Martyn. Listening to these morsels gives one a true sensation of hearing real black music superbly mixed with the passion and enthusiasm of the young whites, creating in the process blues, rags, boogies, waltzes, beguines, etc. This variety truly shows that the music was created to enliven all sorts of events from dances to funerals. Big Bill's eighteen vinyls from this period are testimony to the idea, using the best musicians living at this time in Louisiana.
The French, unfortunately, have a tendency to believe that New Orleans music begins and ends with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. To all who think this, I can only advise them to listen to JC-2001 to JC-2019 and then let me know what they think. I don't pretend this is the summit of all jazz, but this style of music is the source from which all styles derive.
There are certainly other labels on which one can find such good recordings; especially G.H.B. founded by George Buck in 1948. It continues to edit and re-release classic rarities, including much of the work of Big Bill.
A list of these re-issues is found in Bill's now famous book, The Jazz Crusade. Four hundred pages long, it not only tells the story of tours and records but also includes photos of album covers and musicians, and a complete discography. Best of all, it comes with a CD of the best selections of the epoch, some of which have never before been released. Reassure yourself, these and more will be forthcoming from George Buck. . . and on CD to boot! Good reading. Good listening.
- Rene Chalandon


Doctor Jazz - Belgium

The following is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the October, 1992 issue of Dr. Jazz Magazine, (translated from the Dutch by Marcel Joly of Belgium)
In this bulky book, something like 340 pages with a CD included in the back, Bill Bissonnette looks back at his adventures as the producer of the Jazz Crusade label, his friendship with Jim Robinson, his American tours - which went on for years (also a kind of Jazz Crusade) - and his love for the revival of New Orleans jazz. Bill Bissonnette knows what he is talking and writing about being a New Orleans trombonist himself. He received lessons from Jim Robinson and played with his Easy Riders all over the USA and performed with great artists like Alvin Alcorn, Victoria Spivey, Kid Thomas Valentine, Sammy Rimington, Captain John Handy, Punch Miller and others. He tells about this in his book with great verve in many short chapters.
It all starts in 1955 and continues till the late eighties. All first hand stories written in conversational style, easily readable and full of anecdotes. There is, for instance, the story about the big company RCA trying to play tricks with the small Jazz Crusade; there is the story of the same big RCA not even considering paying royalties to the musicians. It tells how George Lewis was as a person, how now and again they hit the bottle, how the December Band came about, how heavy the tours were, how Preservation Hall worked and so on.
For every lover of New Orleans jazz, no, for every righteous jazz lover with a feeling for the past, this book is a must. There are many photos and most of them I never saw before, there are less successful reproductions of posters and specific jazz magazines, a discography of Jazz Crusade (later GHB), photos of the record covers and then the CD which is a must by itself. Fifteen numbers from the Jazz Crusade vaults, six of them never issued before. On the CD are the bands of Alvin Alcorn, Victoria Spivey, Kid Thomas Valentine, Alcide Slow Drag Payageau, the Easy Riders Jazz Band, the Jazzology Poll Winners, Big Jim Robinson, the December Band, the Algiers Stompers, the New Orleans Rascals, the Mouldy Five, Carol Leigh, Captain John Handy, Sammy Penn, Paul Barnes and Punch Miller. Big Bill Bissonnette plays trombone on some tracks and drums on others. The sound is great. Thirty American dollars certainly isn't too much for a work written with such a strong love for the music and the musicians who made it.
- Wim F. van Eyle


New Orleans Music Magazine - incorporating Footnotes - British

This is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the June 1992 issue of New Orleans Music-incorporating Footnote:
This is the "inside story" of Bill Bissonnclie's own personal jazz crusade. The book's 428 pages are packed with reminiscences of over 100 musicians with whom he worked and recorded for his own Jazz Crusade label.
Two musicians dominate the book. Kid Thomas who made more recordings for Jazz Crusade than any other label, and Jim Robinson, with whom, as a man and a musician. Bill felt a particular affinity. The stories concerning Kid Thomas are particularly good and his personality, physical mannerisms and "soupbone" philosophy leap off the page.
The "crusade" starts with Bill Bissonnette's first visit to New Orleans in 1960, when, owing to racial atitudes, he discovered he couldn't have a drink with Albert Burbank at the Paddock Lounge. By the end of the decade New Orleans musicians were mixing with fans all over the world and Bill's jazz crusade was over. Having achieved most of his goals, personal events had overtaken him and he decided to quit playing.
During those years he arranged numerous tours for Kid Thomas, Manny Paul, George Lewis, Jim Robinson, Kid Sheik, John Handy, Sammy Penn, Billie and DcDe Pierce, Punch Miller, Albert Burbank, Alvin Alcorn, Polo Barnes, Alecs Bigard and Sing Miller, as well as Edmond Hall, Sutty Singleton, Jimmy Archey, Sammy Rimington, Barry Martyn and many others. The stories behind these tours tand recordings in New Orleans and elsewhere) are told in graphic detail. Perhaps a couple of musicians wouldn't have approved of some of the details that the author divulges, but Bill tells it the way it was anyway. He has a considered respect for his idols and never tries to upstage them. Knowing many of the individuals he writes about, I recognize their traits and he offers many truthful and objective observations. It is an honest book and the author readily admits his own mistakes and shortcomings.
The wheeler-dealer aspect of George Guesnon is well caught. Gayno was a lovable rogue who could take you to the cleaners if you gave him half a chance. When the recording of New Orleans musicians was gathering pace in the early Sixties, Gayno (always on the lookout to make a buck) recorded a series of informal duets and trios with friends. Bill eventually bought the tapes, but these "secret sessions" were not quite as secret as Bill indicates. I still have my copy of the handwritten catalogue that Gayno sent to potential buyers. For $35 you could purchase your own Kid Thomas or Kid Howard session!
Over the years, Bill has had his critics. There was a time when I viewed his own participation in the recording of New Orleans musicians as self-promotion. However, after reading this book, I fully accept that his motives were based on saving money in order lo record additional sessions. He didn't have to pay himself.
Bill's love for the music and New Orleans musicians is never in doubt and his initiative in producing so many fine albums earns our gratitude.
With the review copy, the author drew my attention to an incorrect photo caption. The picture of Booker T. Glass is listed as Chicken Henry and Booker T is named as the drummer with the Reception Brass Band - it was in fact, Chester Jones. Besides the 60 photographs, 57 posters and memorabilia, the book contains a Jazz Crusade discography with photographs of every album cover. As an extra bonus, the book also includes a 15-track. 72-minute CD, which is an anthology of various Jazz. Crusade sessions. These unissued tracks alone make this a collector's item.
The author's intimate association with so many musicians no longer with us makes this a fascinating read. He may have made enemies along the way (who hasn't when involved with this music?), but, more importantly, he won the trust, friendship and confidence of the New Orleans musicians. No one can take that away from him. As he slates; "I could now be harangued by George Guesnon, scolded by Kid Thomas, kidded by Jim Robinson, lectured to by Alvin Alcorn. upstaged by Eddie Sommers, fathered by Sammy Penn, mothered by Polo Barnes, preached to by Punch Miller, raise hell with Kid Sheik and finally be forced to listen to the symptoms of every disease known to man as contracted by that supreme hypochondriac Sing Miller." Bill paid his dues and this book testifies to all the fun and frustrations he had doing it. I can't imagine any reader not being absorbed, entertained and swept along by the sheer enthusiasm of this jazz crusade. Recommended.
- Mike Hazledine


Mensa Bulletin - The American Mensa Magazine - U. S. A.

This is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the July/August 1992 issue of the Mensa Bulletin - the American Mensa magazine.
Unquestionably a collector's item, this book contains a 70 minute compact disc, "The Best of the Jazz Crusade"! As a musician, bandleader, promoter, record producer, and writer of the era, Big Bill (who hails from our Southern Connecticut chapter) has chronicled the revival of early black jazz, the beginnings of Preservation Hall, the influx of young white musicians into New Orleans, and the spread of the movement throughout the world. If names like Kid Thomas, George Lewis, DeDe Pierce and Jim Robinson mean anything to you, don't miss it.
- Tom Elliott


The Mississippi Rag - U. S. A.

This is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the August 1992 edition of The Mississippi Rag.
One of the most interesting phenomena of the New Orleans Jazz Revival of the 1960s is the extent to which the music was recorded by a succession of miniscule record labels - admittedly Atlantic and Riverside were there early and Columbia was there late, but during the time when most of the best contemporary New Orleans jazz was recorded, it was issued by the one-man labels - Icon, San Jacinto, Pearl, Center, GHB, and Jazz Crusade.
One of the most prolific of these was Jazz Crusade, run with a tremendous amount of energy by Big Bill Bissonnette - trombonist, drummer, promoter, record producer. There were twenty-three Jazz Crusade albums in all, though not all of them were produced by Bissonnette. This book is arranged in order of the various tours he promoted and covers in detail the music that was recorded and the various highlights and sidelights surrounding each session.
Bissonnette started out as a Gene Krupa-oriented drummer but fell under the benevolent influence of Big Jim Robinson when visiting New Orleans on his way home from a stint in the Army and has never been the same. He took up the trombone, organized a jazz band and began promoting tours of Connecticut with New Orleans musicians immediately upon his return, and during his period of most intense activity (1966) he was working four nights a week playing music, produced thirteen recording sessions, and organized seven tours for New Orleans musicians with members of his Easy Riders Jazz Band.
All this appears to have come with a price. The intensity with which people like Bissonnette operate is bound to rub some people the wrong way and as soon as something was working well, it fell apart in a morass of bickering. The book documents the rise and fall of two jazz clubs, two bands and several marriages, along with Jazz Crusade itself.
The period that always fascinated me was his California sojourn. I knew that he was going to take California by storm and then I never heard anything about what went on out there except the records issued by GHB about 20 years after the fact. There was some good music made but it all ended suddenly and Bissonnette dropped out of sight completely for fifteen years during which he apparently played no music.
Bissonnette is a surprisingly good writer (many musicians aren't) and his portraits of the people I knew (Kid Thomas, Sammy Penn, Big Jim) square completely with my impressions of them, which lends credence to his portraits of people I never met. And many of the stories are tremendous. New Orleans jazz abounds in characters and most of them worked for Bissonnette at one time or another. For example, Alex Bigard was one of the better drummers in New Orleans but no one would hire him because he had a reputation for occasionally going "mad" and playing so loud he'd overwhelm the band. Then Big Bill found out that the problem was his hearing aid - when the battery went dead he couldn't hear anything and would play loud enough so he could.
The book is illustrated with copies of album covers, handbills, newspaper clippings and other Jazz Crusade ephemera, plus three series of stunning photographs -which are among the best I've seen of these musicians.
There is also a complete discography of the sessions produced by Bissonnette and, best of all, the deluxe version of the book comes with a Best of Jazz Crusade CD featuring over an hour of Big Bill's hand-picked favorites, including six previously-unissued selections. There appears to be enough material in the can for several more CDs and GHB have assigned catalog numbers to some of them.
The CD is remarkably nostalgic, taking me back to my days in college when I'd eagerly buy these discs by mail from Jazz Crusade as soon as they came out. Big Bill would buy a full page in Coda to promote his new releases and world view, and I was a true believer. I dug out one of his old flyers which included a report from his Critic's Committee, which was some deal under which you could buy records for a reduced price and then report back to him how you liked them. Two of the reviewers (P. Van Vorst and B. Erdos) came out squarely against drum solos in reviewing Jazz Crusade 2017. I've mellowed a bit since then but I still don't think Bob likes drum solos.
Among the new material on the CD is a beautiful version of Down by the Levee from Punch Miller, a really 60s-ish track featuring Carol Leigh, then a San Francisco waitress, backed by Kid Thomas and John Handy, and a couple of other nice things from the California period, one with Alcom/Bames/Sing/Bigard and the other from Kid Thomas/Handy/Penn. The one thing that hit the hardest is how little of this sort of music there is now - I'd forgotten how great Cie Frazier was until I heard the track from the Jazzology Poll Winners in the great sound on this CD - there just isn't drumming like that to be had these days. The CD, which was produced by arrangements with George Buck, who owns the rights to Jazz Crusade, and the book really go well together. It's a real treat to read about a particular recording session in the book and then bring it up on the CD player and hear how it sounded.
This book is a great read - if you have any interest in Preservation Hall-era New Orleans jazz you must have this book. It's a beautiful presentation of a most interesting period in jazz. Available either in the deluxe version (with CD) or in the plain-Jane version with just the book. One of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've had in years.
- Paige Van Vorst


The Small Press Book Review - U. S. A.

This is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the Sep/Oct issue of The Small Press Book Review:
The author participated in the revival of jazz in New Orleans during the 1960s which brought attention to elderly jazz masters, and a dying era of jazz, by tours of night clubs and commemorative recordings. The 70-minute CD with the book contains many of these numbers. Bissonnette, who at one time played with the trombonist Big Jim Robinson and the drummer Sammy Penn, was at the center of this Revival. In a first-person account, he narrates the work relating to the Revival; and he recounts his work and relationships with the many jazz musicians, which results in frequent, and recurring, portraits of these memorable local characters. Among them are Kid Thomas, Capt. John Handy, Alvin Alcom, Carol Leigh, and Polo Barnes. While it does not have the formality or objectivity of history, Bissonnerte's description and record of this episode in jazz history re-creates the colorful and dedicated atmosphere of New Orleans jazz in its own unique way, which jazz aficionados will find entertaining and informative. Memorabilia such as newspaper articles and posters and album covers are illustrated; many of the musicians are pictured; and songs and records relating to the Revival are listed,
- Henry Berry


REVIEW-Jazz Journal International-England

This is the complete, unedited review of The Jazz Crusade with permission as it appeared in the August issue of Jazz Journal International:
Infatuated by fundamental black New Orleans jazz, author Bill Bissonnette, trombonist, drummer, promoter and record producer, visited New Orleans for the first of many times in I960. He became the proud protégé of Jim Robinson, and was obsessed by the music he heard. Back home in Connecticut he battled to keep the original New Orleans style alive in his own Easy Riders Jazz Band, and throughout the Sixties invited a stream of outstanding New Orleans musicians to guest with him in Connecticut -- including George Lewis, Jim Robinson, Kid Thomas, John Handy, Sammy Penn and Manny Paul. Sammy Rimington left England and worked with the band for a year. Even more importantly, he set out to capture on record the unique sound of these ageing black musicians, a direct link with the very origins of jazz, whose ranks were already thinning ominously. Of this achievement Bissonnette is justly proud, as one of only a handful of men dedicated lo this at the time, including Alan Jaffe, Bill Russell, Barry Martyn, Grayson Mills, Tom Bethel, and in particular George H. Buck, still active with Jazzology Records, and with whom the author had a close business association. He regarded the promotion and aural chronicling of the music as his personal 'Jazz Crusade', the name of his own record label and of this book, which describes in readable anecdotal style his dedicated involvement as musician and promoter. His close and friendly association with the New Orleans musicians he so much admired yields shrewd and entertaining insights into their colorful personalities.
A proudly proclaimed 'mouldie fygge' - one of his groups was called ‘The Mouldy Five' - Bissonnette has focused almost exclusively on native New Orleans jazz as he discovered it still surviving in the Sixties. Not everyone of course will share the at times extravagant acclaim he accords his idols, or agree with some of his extreme views, though these can be entertaining and to say the least, controversial, 'Jazz died roughly about the time Duke Ellington did. There has been nothing recorded in decades that has added anything new... How good you are today seems to depend on how well you recreate not... create. Surprising sentiments perhaps from a mouldie fygge, and the sort of comment which fuels our One Sweet Letter page for months!
Bissonnette's achievements have been substantial and praiseworthy, and this inside account of the music and the musicians should be of great interest to lovers of New Orleans jazz. There are 60 photo portraits of good quality, and 53 pages of posters and memorabilia of surprisingly poor quality. As a big plus, however, the book incorporates a 15 track 70 minute CD of selected Jazz Crusade recordings, a novel and appealing idea which makes the overall price a very reasonable one.
- Hugh Rainey - Jazz Hot - - France


Reviews for:
JCCD-3050: The Best of the Jazz Crusade

(included in every book)

JAZZ JOURNAL - British Magazine

This is the record that was originally made up to go with Bill Bissonnette's interesting and informative book which covered the events and personalities relating to his successful efforts to bring New Orleans musicians to his home state of Connecticut (later California) and the recordings on his Jazz Crusade label which were produced as a result of that activity. As can be heard on those records, and exemplified on this selection, the men he chose to play with his heroes, members of his own Easy Riders Jazz Band, were equal to the task and the results were often excellent.
Kid Thomas was a particularly frequent and popular visitor to Connecticut, along with his long time drummer Sammy Penn, and the sessions that featured the two of them were among the most successful ~ although the Riders' own drummer is on Redwing, which is one of the highlights of this selection. Another fine track, not unexpectedly, is that by the tremendous December Band featuring the two of them plus John Handy, Jim Robinson, with Sammy Rimington, living in Connecticut at the time, doing his George Lewis impersonation to perfection. Not all the tracks, understandably, are as good as these, but none of them are less than enjoyable and, since only over just half of them were issued on the Jazz Crusade LPs, this is a very desirable CD in its own right, with or without the book. This compilation makes a pleasant introduction as well as a reminder of a most worthy enterprise during the time when such things were still possible, given a lot of enterprise and determination - as well as a lot of love of the music.
- Christopher Hillman


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