Big Bill Bissonnette's International Jazz Band -
1997: "Live In Concert - 1st Half"
JazzReview.com - Internet Publication
Many years have passed since the first edition of Big Bill Bissonnette's
International Jazz Band back in 1964. The original front-end featured
Kid Thomas Valentine and Emanuel Paul from New Orleans, British clarinet
star Sammy Rimington, and Big Bill on trombone. The rhythm section of
New Englanders Bill Sinclair, Griff Griffith and Dick McCarthy pulsed
along with British drummer Barry "Kid" Martyn. It was such a
great band that it took Bissonnette 33 years to come up with the second
The 1997 Internationals showcase British players Sarah Bissonnette, Pat
Hawes and Dave Brennan. The American side of the big pond features Bill
Bissonnette, George Probert, Fred Vigorito, Clint Baker and the late Anthony
"Tuba Fats" Lacen. With the possible exceptions of Clint Baker
and Sarah Bissonnette, most buyers of Jazz Crusade albums will be familiar
with the musicians on this session. Engineer Dave Bennett recorded the
band in Upton, England during a 1997 tour.
Dippermouth Blues kicks off the first volume and shows off the power of
the octet and then West End Blues places emphasis on the dexterity of
individual players. While cornetist Fred Vigorito will not replace Satchmo,
this is a memorable version of a tune that is sacred to fans of vintage
jazz. Vigorito is one of the most honest horn-men in the New Orleans style.
Pat Hawes wrote the colorful liner notes for these CDs and his romping
piano style is felt throughout this concert. Hawes is a great "hot
style" player and you'll also enjoy his Jazz Crusade album "That
Salty Dog." Fans of the "Frisco" style of jazz will know
all about reedman George Probert and drummer Clint Baker. Probert has
been on the scene since the fifties and he's recorded with Kid Ory, Bob
Scobey, George Brunis and Ward Kimball. Drummer Clint Baker is a multi-instrumentalist
who plays banjo, drums, trombone, clarinet, guitar and bass. He has worked
with Jim Cullum, Leon Redbone, Rosemary Clooney and Dan Barrett.
Wrapping up the rhythm section are banjoist Dave Brennan and "Tuba
Fats" Lacen. Dave Brennan leads his own jazzband in England and was
one of the pioneer performers at the renowned Bude Jazz Festival. Anthony
"Tuba Fats" Lacen played his final bar at Tipitina's with his
Chosen Few Brass Band on January 9, 2004. He died days later at the age
of 53. Nobody loved New Orleans more than Tuba Fats. He was, in my opinion,
the ultimate street musician. His Jazz Crusade album "Street Music"
is essential to any collection of Crescent City music.
There are certainly some highlights on the International Jazz Band concert.
The audience favorite, judging by the applause, was the Ellington medley
of Mood Indigo and Creole Love Call. Leader, Big Bill Bissonnette's muted
solo is especially impressive. Fine work by both reed-players and Vigorito
make this a special track. Dancers will love Saxawoogie, an all-out barnburner
giving everyone a chance to have fun and show their stuff. This rehash
of "Kid Thomas Boogie Woogie" swings for almost nine minutes
of happy laid back action. The two saxes do a helluva job on this riffin'
number behind Pat Hawes' rollicking piano.
My wife is an ardent fan and collector of Just a Closer Walk and loves
the version on this disk. Her undisputed favorite is a thirty-year-old
New Orleans rendition by Bob French. Savoy Blues receives special treatment
by the band. The tune has always been a staple of all the British bands
but is often ignored on this side of the ocean. There's some very good
jazz to be heard on Big Bill Bissonnette's latest release.
- Richard Bourcier
Boxell's Jazz Website - New Zealand
To those of the British/Scandinavian persuasion of New Orleans jazz,
just remember your scripture and 'Be bold, be strong; for the Lord your
God is with you'. Despite being an Anglo-American band BBB & his International
Jazz Band play in a very contemporary American New Orleans style and thus
it has a hard driven sound that is not often found in Britain and Scandinavia
where New Orleans jazz so often equates to the more conservative Ken Colyer
inspired style. Just don't be afraid, for although it may not be quite
what you are used to, it is fun to listen to and very exciting.
This is the International Jazz Band's second edition; the first being
in 1994. Big Bill himself roars away on trombone as only he can, Fred
Vigorito stands out, as always, as a brilliant hot trumpet player, George
Probert mixes and matches soprano and alto sax, and Sarah Bisonnette (nee
Spenser) completes the front line on tenor and baritone sax. The back
line comprises of ex-Colyer pianist Pat Hawes, Dave Brennan wearing his
fingers out rhythmically on banjo, joined by Clint Baker on drums and
Tuba Fats on, well, tuba of course.
Big Bill favors the 4:4 set up, whereas I am wary of it as too often the
clarinet and sax clash. Well this time it can't happen, because there
is no clarinet! This then leaves the question of how the two sax players
get on. Very well actually, where they do occasionally trip on each others
toes seems to be where Sarah is on tenor and George on alto, so maybe
it is the two instruments being tonally close to each other that is the
problem rather than the players ability to weaves round each other. To
hear how well the two get on together you could listen to 'Exactly Like
You', 'I Can't Escape From You' or 'Savoy Blues'. There is one tune, however,
which for me has them really getting out of line: 'Saxawoogie'. I found
the dueling saxes just a might too much for both my taste and ears. I
would like to say at this point just how much I felt that Sarah had matured
since the days when she lead the La Rue Conte Marching Band. There are
times when she is still rather 'busy', but she has moved away from the
constant 'spiraling' style she had with La Rue Conte. George, of course,
is an old hand and I particularly appreciated his solo break on 'Careless
Love' which demonstrates the power of the soprano sax once it is cut free
from the shackles of excessive vibrato.
There is a lot here to listen to and enjoy from the raucous to the mellow;
from the stirring to the maudlin (Tuba Fat's wife had died just before
the tour and the medley 'Just a Closer Walk With Thee/West Lawn Dirge'
is dedicated to her memory by Big Bill - just how Tuba managed to play
after that I don't know, because if it were me I would have been tasting
tears in my mouthpiece). Poor Tuba fats, a man with talent and personality
to match his size, died earlier this year (2004) and in some ways these
could be regarded as memorials to him, even though he isn't featured as
such. Come on; buy this CD and walk on the wild side - be bold be strong!
- Geoff Boxell
Just Jazz - British Jazz Magazine
Live jazz festival recording is a minefield of problems because many
bands go 'over-the-top' and indulge in circus antics, tempos and histrionics
and also because of the difficulty of getting a good balance of both the
overall band sound and individual instruments. Big Bill Bissonette overcame
the first problem by hand-picking for his 1997 International Touring Band
a group of not only talented but also highly experienced musicians who
in the main could and would avoid the temptation to 'go circus'. The second
problem he overcame by having an engineer in the form of Dave Bennett
who was able to get a fine balance and keep it throughout a hectic 'club'
type evening - not en easy task. >From the first few choruses of the
opener 'Dippermouth Blues' we know that here we're in for a treat of an
evening. This first is an up-tempo romp in which all the participants
leave their musical calling cards by taking choruses demonstrating not
only their style and talents but also the moods
they're in for the evening. They set the pattern for over two hours of
sometimes thoughtful, sometimes blue, sometimes romping very high quality
jazz during which interest never falters. Take the second title for example
- cornet man Fred Vigorito (he runs his own 'Galvanised Jazz Band' at
home in Connecticut and one time had Woody Allen guest with him) essays
Louis Armstrong's amazing work on the original 'West End Blues' and brings
it off almost note perfectly but without this being a slavish copy. Fred
adds his own twists and character to this great piece making it a super
All the participants add their own unique magic and rather than take you
through all the tracks let's look at each contribution.. Fred Vigorito
is authoritative with a fine tone. He occasionally punctuates his work
with emphatic emotional 'flares' a little like Kid Thomas and in general
provides both a sensitive, understanding lead with interesting creative
solos. George Probert - on soprano and also saxes - a one-time stalwart
of both the Kid Ory and Firehouse Five bands in America is full of original,
sometimes startling ideas and when given the chance propels the band in
exciting style. Big Bill Bissonnette has a fine tone with a good gruff
sound. He knows his place in ensembles and solos well with good ideas
contributing his best and most propulsive when muted. Tuba Fats Lacen
- a stalwart of the New Orleans City music scene for generations is rhythmic
and generally quite busy with a good tone. His vocals (Careless Love and
Tiger Rag) are excellent. Pat Hawes piano work is excellent throughout
being tasteful and always rhythmic. Pat is a master of many styles and
when backing soloists tailors himself to each in turn helping them to
make the most of their opportunities. His ensemble work too adds considerably
to the overall success of the concert. Sarah Bissonette - is subdued at
first and then on later tracks reveals herself as a storming, stomping,
driving tenor and baritone exponent who would have done justice to the
Duke Ellington orchestra's backing had she ever had the chance. Her playing
is very exciting. Dave Brennan's banjo is actually rarely heard but always
felt - he lifts the band rather than relying on mere plonking! Clint Baker
on drums is excellent throughout. He listens to what's happening around
him and does the right things in the right places always providing good
time keeping and a generous dose of excitement.
Summary - in spite of the large front line and 'pick-up' nature of the
band this is remarkably well disciplined stuff even on the most roaring
stomping titles like 'Don't Give Up The Ship' which at times is as hectic
and exciting as any Jazz At The Philharmonic jam session! There's an excellent
sense of order throughout, a pleasing lack of ego displays with all the
band working for each other. In other words these are first class CDs
of exciting sometimes exhilarating jazz that make for very pleasing listening.
For me there are several tracks that I'll return to again and again. There's
one awful track however - the poor attempt of crowd-pleasing "Saxwoogie"
- forget it but remember - but for the good sense of all involved here
and Big Bill's unique ability to choose sympathetic fellow talents it
could all have been like that.
- Brian Harvey
Cadence Magazine - U. S. A. magazine
Bissonnette's model is a rough-hewn late-period New Orleans ensemble,
even when the band visits early Ellington, a 1940s Louis Jordan boogie,
and assorted pop tunes. (The breadth of repertoire is one commendable
aspect of this issue.) Admirably, Bissonnette has the courage of his convictions:
he assembled this group for a concert tour, led the band, played trombone
and sang, and issued the results on his own label. These CDs document
one concert, recorded in what was apparently a large hall - a space that
seems to have given master recording engineer Dave Bennett some trouble.
The band is uneven, with Vigorito and Hawes responsible for the best work,
but they get the worst of the recording balance. Trumpet players in this
idiom are often praised for "driving the band"; Vigorito has
to drag this group along behind him. When he is unencumbered, he is a
convincing player, mixing Armstrong flourishes with a serious hot lead.
(His work has been a bright spot on other Jazz Crusade issues.) Hawes
is, from what I could hear, an enthusiastic ensemble player, and his solos
The rest of the front line is a tangle of idiosyncrasies. George Probert
has enthusiastic fans and has recorded a good deal, but his playing points
out how hard it is to play the soprano saxophone in tune, without tonal
eccentricities or painful high notes. (Probert's work cannot compare to
that of Davern, Wilber, or Sims.) Big Bill Bissonnette, a forceful player,
can execute only the most elementary phrases, although the glissandos
on "Tiger Rag" are not beyond him. Taken alongside the work
of Big Jim Robinson, his solos might seem praiseworthy, but they would
sound amateurish in any other context. He also sings several times, a
leader's prerogative, but his vocals are difficult to enjoy. Although
he has a well-modulated speaking voice, he prefers a growly shout for
extended vocals. (In contrast, Lacen's singing on "Tiger Rag,"
its lyric content little more than "Hold that tiger!" is a model
of subtlety.) Sarah Bissonnette, whose relationship to Big Bill is never
explicated, is also not a reticent player, but her reed improvising follows
a late-1920s model, note-laden and stiff, as if Coleman Hawkins had never
recorded. The other members of the rhythm section are competent but cannot
rally the scattered forces on their own. Clint Baker (more often a bassist)
emulates Dodds and Singleton in the distracting manner of Sammy Penn.
Finally, the soloists take two and three choruses on each song, even when
they seem to have played their best ideas in the first sixteen bars.
Some will praise the rough enthusiasm of these discs as "authentic"
and "genuine," but the flaws are evident throughout. Perhaps,
as the saying goes, you had to be there. No doubt the music sounded much
better to the patrons who were elated by camaraderie and enlivened by
- Michael Steinman
Mississippi Rag - U. S. A. Magazine
Big Bill Bissonnette puts bands together with the precision of a Swiss
watchmaker. One might expect, drums being one of the instruments which
he plays with excellence, that he begins the concept of the rhythm section.
While Clint Baker is a name that is new to me, as are so many of the musicians
I have encountered on Big Bill's Jazz Crusade record label, he's got the
New Orleans Paul Barbarin style down to a T. Banjoist Dave Brennan is
another new and welcome addition to my record collection. Pianist Pat
Hawes is a player I've heard on Jazz Crusade records of yore, but I find
that I prefer him in this sort of band setting rather than when he's out
in front trying to be "the entertainer." As for the late Tuba
Fats Lacen, I regret that it took so long for our paths to cross that
I barely had time to enjoy his rocksteady bass lines and his rollicking
humorous way with a well-worn song lyric.
The horns in this 1997 edition of Big Bill's International Jazz Band are
better known to me. I own and treasure several Jazz Crusade CDs on which
Big Bill Bissonnette's way with the tailgate trombone tradition of New
Orleans is something at which I never cease to marvel. Although Sarah
Bissonnette (now Sarah Spencer, Bissonnette's ex-wife) is a reed player
I'm hearing for the first time, she is most impressive both on her own
and as part of a two-saxophone reed section in tandem with George Probert
whom I remember fondly from some vintage vinyl LPs by the Firehouse Five
Plus Two as a fine West Coast soprano player.
Yet to my ears, the driving force of the front line, as well it should
be in the New Orleans tradition, is the invigorating playing of the Galvanized
Jazz Band's cornet player, Fred Vigorito. Big Bill also shows himself
to be an entertaining singer in the style of George Brunies of the New
Orleans Brunies clan.
So, here it is, a souvenir from the final concert on the band's 1997 tour,
less than perfectly recorded in a rambunctious sounding hall in Upton,
England. Highlights? Plenty of'em. Just listen to the solid way that drummer
Glint Baker stomps behind Probert's solo on "Exactly Like You,"
or Fred Vigorito's charging lead cornet on the opening "Dippermouth
Blues." King Oliver would be proud to know he has a disciple of such
quality more than a half a century after he first played that thing. And
Big Bill's trombone work on Art Hickman's "Rose Room" is nothing
short of spectacular.
But, best of all, this is a band made up of musicians who listen to each
other and weave ensemble textures which are seamless and comfortable.
It is regrettable indeed that New Orleans blues and gospel singer Linda
Young (Mrs. Tuba Fats Lacen) did not survive cancer, but her memory lingers
on in the band's obviously heartfelt rendition of "Just A Closer
Walk With Thee" and "West Lawn Dirge," played in her memory.
And why doesn't every tradixieland band the world over put "Climax
Rag" into their repertoire? And will "Tiger Rag" ever sound
quite the same without Tuba Fats whomping the hell out of the King of
- Joe H. Klee
Jazz Gazette - Internet Jazz Publication
One has to admit that Bill Bissonnette played and stills plays an important
role in promoting New Orleans music. Since the mid sixties, he brought
numerous musicians from New Orleans up to Connecticut to either play with
his Easy Riders or to play with 'All Star' bands such as the December
Band. He also made some very important recordings in New Orleans which
have become classics, such as the Jazzology Poll Winners, The Kid Thomas
Band with Octave Crosby on piano, etc.
After his passage at the West Coast, where he continued employing and
recording very interesting bands, such as the Bigard - Barnes - Alcorn
Band (GHB-BCD-238-239) or Kid Thomas in California with John Handy (GHB-BCD-296),
it became very quiet. In the mid 1980's, he started up a new Easy Riders
band and after visiting France, Lyon and Mâcon, and Belgium, Big
Bill became a regular at festivals, a.o. Ascona, and in clubs all over
Europe. Big Bill was back in business!
This International Band toured Europe during Spring 1997. Fred Vigorito
is the only 'original' Easy Rider present. I met Fred during a tour the
Jazz Mâcon Club had organised for Fred, Bill Sinclair and Griff
Griffith. I knew Fred from the records he made for Jazz Crusade and GHB,
but live Fred was outstanding and led the band with a great drive and
authority. He proved that he was a very great trumpet player. On these
recordings, Fred leads this band of personalities with vigour.
Big Bill is not the most technical trombone player in the world, but he
knows what he is doing and fills the holes and the gaps, like his hero,
Big Jim, used to do in so many great bands. The reed section, Sara Bissonnette
- George Probert, is a powerhouse. They keep the band rocking steadily.
Then there is the rhythm section. Dave Brennan led for many years his
own band which was known for good New Orleans music. Pat Hawes played
with the early Colyer bands and this is a guarantee for quality. Clint
Baker is an excellent time keeper.
And then there is Anthony 'Tuba Fats' Lacen. In fact, these two CD's are
a tribute to Fats and were prepared for release just before news reached
us that Fats was deceased and they were released soon after his dead.
This rhythm section swings like hell and they make from this band a great
Fred Vigorito excels on 'West End Blues', the reed section on 'Rose Room',
Big Bill on 'Exactly Like You', etc. It seems it was Big Bill's dream
to put together one day a band with musicians from all over the globe.
The musicians did not come from all over, but even if they had not played
together before this tour, they played some very fine New Orleans music
in the tradition of the best.
- Jempi De Donder
Jazz Journal InternationalBritish
I remember well when Big Bill's International Jazz Band appeared in London
in 1997, turning out to be a cohesive, well-organised group made up from
diverse elements including three from our side of the Atlantic. If the
band had a star, aside from Bissonnette himself, it had to be George Probert
who mesmerised us all with his magical playing on soprano and alto. Nevertheless
his work was entirely to the benefit of a cooperative whole, with often
brilliant trumpet dynamics from Fred Vigorito, trademark vigour and earthiness
from the leader and effective use of the lower reeds by Sara, balancing
With an excellent rhythm section featuring Pat Hawes's educated and inventive
piano, Dave Brennan's light-fingered steadiness, the huge sound of Tuba
Fats from New Orleans and the lively drumming of Clint Baker, the band
made a great reputation for itself around Europe. One recording was issued
soon after the visit (In The Gutter -JCC-3030) but this one from Upton-on-Severn,
the local New Orleans Mecca, contains no overlap of material and will
please all those who have fond memories of the band in the flesh and particularly,
no doubt, those who were at this, the band's final performance. The notes
by Pat Hawes reflect his pleasure in being part of the group, and the
sound is pretty good considering the fact that it was recorded in a marquee.
This is also a fitting tribute to Tuba Fats, an influential musician and
band-leader from the birthplace of jazz who made a lot of friends while
he was over here and has sadly died in the meantime. Whether you want
one or other of the CDs will depend on the choice of tunes, but both together
make up a fitting memento of what was, evidently, a splendid evening.
- Christopher Hillman
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