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Pete Fountain
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Pete Fountain

Pete Fountain (born Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr., July 3, 1930), is an American clarinetist based in New Orleans. He has played jazz, Dixieland and Creole music.


Early life and education

His name was originally Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr.,[1] and he was born "on White Street between Dumaine and St. Ann in a small Creole French frame house that sat right on the street" in New Orleans. His father later changed his own name to Peter Dewey Fountain, and Junior followed suit.[2]

He started playing clarinet as a child at McDonogh 28. As a child, young Pete was very sickly, frequently battling respiratory infections due to weakened lungs. He was given expensive medication but it proved to be not very effective. During a pharmacy visit, Pete's father began a discussion with a neighborhood doctor who was also there shopping and talked with him about his son's condition. The doctor agreed to see the boy the following day. After a short exam, the doctor confirmed the weak lung condition and advised the father to try an unorthodox treatment: purchase the child a musical instrument, anything he has to blow into. The same day, they went to a local music store and given his choice of instruments, Pete chose the clarinet (after first wanting the drums, which his father declined per the doctor's orders). At first Pete was unable to produce a sound from the instrument, but he continued to practice and eventually not only made sounds and eventually music, but greatly improved the health of his lungs. [3]

He took private lessons but also learned to play jazz by playing along with the phonograph records of first Benny Goodman and then Irving Fazola. Early on he played with the bands of Monk Hazel and Al Hirt. With his longtime friend, trumpeter George Girard, Fountain founded The Basin Street Six in 1950.

Lawrence Welk orchestra

After this band broke up, four years later Fountain was hired to join the Lawrence Welk orchestra and became well known for his many solos on Welk's ABC television show, The Lawrence Welk Show. Fountain was rumored to have quit when Welk refused to let him "jazz up" a Christmas carol. In an interview, Fountain said he left Welk because "Champagne and bourbon don't mix."[4]

Return to New Orleans

Fountain in 1962. Fountain returned to New Orleans, played with The Dukes of Dixieland, then began leading bands under his own name. He owned his own club in the French Quarter in the 1960s and 1970s. He later acquired "Pete Fountain's Jazz Club" at the Riverside Hilton in downtown New Orleans.

The New Orleans Jazz Club presented "Pete Fountain Day" on October 19, 1959, with celebrations honoring the pride of their city, concluding with a packed concert that evening. His Quintett was made up of his studio recording musicians, Stan Kenton's bassist Don Bagley, vibeist Godfrey Hirch, pianist Merle Koch and the double bass drummer Jack Sperling. Fountain brought these same players together in 1963 when they played the Hollywood Bowl. Pete would make the trek to Hollywood many times, appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 56 times.

Fountain opened his club, the French Quarter Inn, on Bourbon Street in the spring of 1960. His group members were Oliver "Sticks" Felix on bass, John Probst on piano, Paul Guma on guitar, Godfrey Hirsch on vibes, and Sperling on drums. In no time at all major entertainers found their way there. Cliff Arquette and Jonathan Winters were there on opening night and performed their comedy routines. Over the next few years Frank Sinatra, Phil Harris, Carol Lawrence and Robert Goulet, Keely Smith, Robert Mitchum and Brenda Lee, among many others, came to the club. Many would perform with the band; and Brenda Lee's sit-in resulted in a duet record album recorded by her and Pete. Benny Goodman came to the club twice, but without bringing his clarinet.[5]

His greatest friendly rivalry was with trumpeter Al Hirt, whose club was down the street from Fountain's. They stole musicians from each other, and sometimes came into each other's clubs and played together. They were good friends who came up together and later recorded several albums together.

In 2003 Fountain closed his club at the Hilton with a performance before a packed house filled with musical friends and fans. He began performing two nights a week at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi where he had a home (later destroyed by Hurricane Katrina).

After heart surgery in 2006, he performed at JazzFest, and helped reopen the Bay of St. Louis Casino. It has been renamed the Hollywood Casino. He performed his last show at the Hollywood Casino on December 8, 2010.[6]

Half Fast Walking Club

Fountain is a founder and the most prominent member of The Half Fast Walking Club, one of the best known marching Krewes that parade in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day. The original name was "The Half-Assed Walking Club," and it was an excuse to take a "lubricated" musical stroll down the parade route. Pete changed the name under pressure exerted by the parade organizers. On Mardi Gras Day 2007, Pete again joined his Half Fast Walking Club, having missed the event in 2006 due to illness.

Musical style

Fountain's clarinet work is noted for his sweet fluid tone. He has recorded over 100 LPs and CDs under his own name, some in the Dixieland style, many others with only peripheral relevance to any type of jazz.

The distinctive Fountain sound more woody than most comes from the crystal mouthpiece he has played with since 1949. His first crystal mouthpiece was actually Irving Fazola's, given to Pete by Fazola's mother after Faz's death, because she had heard him play and noted how he played like her son. That mouthpiece was shattered on the bandstand one night when Pete had played his solo and was standing by as trumpeter George Girard played his, and Girard brought his trumpet down suddenly on top of the mouthpiece. Pete still has the shattered mouthpiece, and has also played crystal mouthpieces ever since.[7]

Fountain leads the Pete Fountain Quintett, a New Orleans French Quarter jazz band of Fountain and his Creole-style music. It has had many musicians over the years but has primarily recorded with Jack Sperling on drums, bassist Don Bagley/ Morty Corb, vibeist Godfrey Hirch and pianist Merle Kock/ Stan Wrighisman.

Awards and honors

Personal life

Fountain married Beverly Lang on October 27, 1951, and have now been married for more than 60 years. They have two sons and a daughter: Kevin, Jeffrey and Dahra.[10]


External links

de:Pete Fountain eo:Pete Fountain fr:Pete Fountain it:Pete Fountain

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