Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bonaparte's Retreat - Basin Street Six - 504 Records

Bonaparte's Retreat - Basin Street Six

1988 504 Records LP.16 Mono

Side 1
1. Waiting for the Robert E. Lee
2. South Rampart Street Parade
3. Angry
4. Bonaparte's Retreat *
5. Original Dixieland One Step
6. Land of Dreams
7. Mahogany Hall Stomp
8. Royal Garden Blues

Side 2
1. Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay
2. Up A Lazy River
3. Milenburg Joys
4. Margie *
5. High Society
6. I'm Going Home
7. Farewell Blues

Liner Notes:

George Girard (trumpet & vocal*)
Pete Fountain (clarinet)
Joe Rotis (trombone)
Roy Zimmerman (piano)
Bunny Frank (string bass)
Charlie Duke (drums)

Recorded New Orleans circa 1950
Bonaparte's Retreat located on Decatur Street Nola

All tracks previously unissued with the exception of 'High Society' which has been included for completeness.

Liner Notes:
Tom Stagg

'Bonaparte's Retreat' Mike Dine
'Basin Street Six' Courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Club
Collection of the Louisiana State Museum

Tape Mastering: Charlie Crump
Jacket Design: Mike Dine
Artwork: Lion Litho
Production: Mike Dine

Sincere thanks to Charlie Crump for his Special ability in obtaining a high standard of sound quality during tape transfer from the original 1950's acetates. Special thanks to Alan Ward for his time and effort in checking that the tracks included on this album are actually unissued t, also thanks to Don Marquis of the Louisiana State Museum and finally to Tom Stagg for writing the liner notes and all his help during the production stages.

A 504 Records Production 1988 504 Records

The story of the Basin Street Six begins with a football game, or to be more precise a series of football games. In the 1940's the white kids in New Orleans were crazy over football, but pocket money was scarce making tickets hard to come by, so the youngsters would go to any lengths to gain entry. For young musicians it was slightly easier, they would group together as a band and dress up in the colours of any local or visiting team, this way they would get into the football stadiums as the 'official' band. This sometimes provided a real service as not all visiting teams could afford to bring along their own band. It was during a football game between Warren Easton High School and Bogalusa that a young clarinet player named Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr. (Pete Fountain) playing in the large and impressive Warren Easton School Band was amazed to see that Bogalusa arrived with only a three piece band. At half-time, being unable to contain himself any longer, Pete introduced himself to the rival trio, Frank Assunto (trumpet) Freddie Assunto trombone) and Willie Perkins (drums), and he was invited to join the group for the second half of the game. Of course the 'Bogalusa Band' were just a bunch of local New Orleans kids working the 'visiting jazz band' pastime.

From this first meeting Pete became good friends with the Assunto's and he would go to their home on General Taylor and Freret Streets a couple of times a week to practice and make plans for bigger ventures and to eventually forming a real band. The four youngsters concentrated on working the football games assisted by a friend Benny Christiano whose father had a pick-up truck. By decorating the truck with coloured crepe paper the same as the school colours the band would start about a block away and when they reached the Stadium they would be waved inside as the 'official' band. Of course the Stadium guards were aware of what was going on but turned a blind eye as the appearance of a band at a football game always attracted a lot of attention.

This still unnamed band played the same three or four tunes all the time, but they all listened to a lot of jazz records. Papa Jac Assunto, Frank and Freddie's dad, worked at Werlein's Music Store on Canal Street at the time, and he brought home records for the lads to listen to and learn from.

So it came to pass one summer Saturday afternoon in 1946, sitting around a picnic table in City Park, the quartet decided to quit the football games racket and start out in the jazz business properly. The lads called themselves the Basin Street Four, named after the Basin Street Blues, a popular tune associated with the old city of New Orleans. The band learned more songs and went out in search of their first gig, Pete Fountain was just sixteen years old when the Basin Street Four opened at the Carnival Lounge on Broad Street. The job lasted just two weeks, Friday and Saturday nights for just ten dollars each for both nights, but the manager of the place was just not selling enough beer to keep the band employed.

A few days later a new residency was found at The Hideaway on St. Bernard, a better class place, the band having their name written in chalk on the Jax Beer Blackboard out front. The band played three nights a week Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, the place packed every night for the two months the gig lasted. Tommy Baldaras another youngster from the Assunto's neighbourhood joined the group on guitar, the band became the Basin Street Five.

The big night spot at the time was the Parisian Room on Royal Street owned and operated by Joe Gemelli and Tony Almerico, all the guys jammed there on Sunday afternoons and the lads continually asked if they could have a spot to prove they could really play jazz. Eventually the owners gave in only on the condition that the band changed it's name, the Basin Street Five became the Junior Dixie Band.

Mixing and playing with older more experienced musicians did nothing but good for the lads, they were soon totally accepted a part of the Sunday afternoon scene and they were readily included when WWL Radio started broadcasting those jam sessions, first locally and then nationwide through the CBS network, billed as the Dixieland Jamboree.

From these Sunday afternoon sessions midweek jobs were added and then jobs all over the City. The Horace Heidt talent radio show came to town with auditions held at the New Orleans Recreation Department. The Junior Dixie Band entered the talent show and then began rehearsing in earnest adding two more youngsters to the band, Johnny Bartell on bass and Stanley Mendelson on piano.

This new seven piece unit romped through their audition playing 'March of the Bob Cats'. The following week the band were on the radio show and won the first local heat, a week later in Louisville, Kentucky they lost to an all girl group singing cowboy songs, it was back to the Parisian Room and the Sunday afternoon jam sessions.

Shortly after the Assunto brothers left the band to form their own Dukes of Dixieland and George Girard and Jack Delaney joined the Junior Dixie Band. Originally Jack Delaney played trumpet with the band but learned trombone when George Girard proved how good a trumpet player he was. This revised band picked up a good paying job at Demiano's Dance Hall on Airline Highway.

Eventually the Junior Dixie Band broke up, most of the musicians hankering to play with bigger names, George Girard joined the Jimmy Archey Orchestra, Jack Delaney went with the Sharkey Bonano Band and Pete Fountain took his own group into the Famous Door on Bourbon Street using a young talented Al Hirt on trumpet.

Later Pete joined Phil Zito's International Dixieland Band at the El Morocco, Joe Rotis was on trombone, Emile Christian bass, Roy Zimmerman piano and George Girard returned to New Orleans to play trumpet, Phil Zito was on drums. This band was successful but eventually the crowds dropped off and many clubs even stopped having bands, the El Morocco job folded and the band went to Biloxi, Mississippi to play for two weeks at the Broadwater Beach Hotel. A job came through in New York but by now the guys were ready to return home to New Orleans and Phil Zito hired new musicians to go north.

It was time to form a new band in New Orleans but dixieland in 1950 was no longer popular and the Basin Street Six was created as the greatest unemployed band in the City - George Girard (trumpet), Joe Rotis (trombone), Pete Fountain (clarinet), Roy Zimmerman (piano), Bunny Franks (string bass) and Charlie Duke (drums). It was George Girard who came up with a regular two nights a week job at L'Enfants on Canal Boulevard, the band had to play dance music mostly. Bill Reed of WWL TV picked up the show as part of his dixieland revival campaign and within three months the Basin Street Six had found their niche as a funny hat band, wearing old Mardi Gras costumes, switching instruments and even dressing up as girls on occasions, a real fun band but still playing good dixieland jazz.

In fact the band was good enough to make their first recording session towards the end of the year for Circle Records. When the TV job closed, L'Enfants returned to having only a dance music policy and late in 1951 the Basin Street Six were again looking for work. Within a week the band opened at Perez's Oasis and then the Silver Slipper Club on Bourbon Street (the same building that housed the Silver Slipper Club became `Your Father's Moustache' during the 60's and 70's but now no longer exists as a jazz venue).

Soon they were playing six nights a week all over the City, the dixieland revival was in full swing. Johnny Edwards replaced Charlie Duke on drums, and a second recording session was made this time for Mercury Records, Down Beat carried a story, the band were now living like celebrities. Blaise D'Antoni, President of the Standard Fruit Company, the largest importer of bananas in New Orleans, bought the band under a ninety-nine year contract, he liked the way they clowned and played.

All the members of the band signed the contract, part of the deal being that the Standard Fruit Company continued to call the band the Basin Street Six. The band opened on a banana boat bound for Honduras, a two week cruise entertaining Mr. D'Antoni's guests. Everybody had a good time but it could not last and the ninety-nine year contract ended after three months, with everyone parting friends. Back in New Orleans the Basin Street Six played the intermission set for a Louis Armstrong concert at the Municipal Auditorium, a fitting accolade for this fine little band. A trip to the Blue Note in Chicago was reluctantly made, none of the men wanted to be away from home for long. There were periods of squabbling and it became obvious that there were feelings of discontent among the fellows, they were falling out over everything. In four years the band had always been run as a cooperative unit, no leader but this had not always been easy as George Girard was really a natural leader with a superstrong personality.

Upon returning from Chicago George quit the band to form his own group, Connie Jones replaced him for a while, Roy Zimmerman and Pete Fountain left a few weeks later. It was 1954, the Basin Street Six were no more, a chapter complete in the continuing story of New Orleans dixieland jazz.

- Tom Stagg, 1988

Acknowledging Pete Fountain and Bill Neely and 'A Closer Walk : The Pete Fountain Story' Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1972.

At the time of writing Pete Fountain who was born in New Orleans on July 3, 1930 is the only surviving member of the Basin Street Six. After the break-up of the band in 1954 he was to find fame and fortune, helped on his way by the magic of TV exposure on the Lawrence Welk Show. This led to Pete opening his own club on Bourbon Street, a great attraction for the many tourists who visited the City in their hundreds, and later a gold record award for his hit recording 'Java'.

In his early days Pete was the protege of the great Irving Fazola and was heavily influenced by Eddie Miller when he doubled on tenor saxophone. Today Pete Fountain is still a great tourist attraction at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Poydras Street although his style is far removed from his Basin Street Six days.

As far as the Basin Street Six was concerned Joe Rotis and the rhythm section were all older and more experienced musicians, George Girard only three months older than Pete Fountain was sadly to pass away on January 17, 1957 in his 26th year, his exciting driving style to be heard no more.

- Alan Ward/Mike Dine

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