Labeled a fat-toned Dixieland clarinetist with commercial appeal, Pete Fountain was influenced by Benny Goodman and Irving Fazola. His first professional job was in New Orleans in 1949, playing clubs before joining Phil Zito and Basin Street Six in 1950. In late 1956, Pete joined Al Hirt, leading the group for a while.
Hired by Lawrence Welk in mid-1957 for appearances on Welk's television show, Pete Fountain found success. Featured weekly on the Welk show, Pete Fountain became popular among listeners who cared little for jazz. He was also featured on Welk's albums. At the height of hispopularity in 1959, Pete Fountain left Welk to return to New Orleans and form his own combo. He became a major attraction in that city, opening his own club, The French Quarter Inn, where he performed through most of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Over the years, Pete Fountain has performed around the world, gaining international success via concerts and albums. To millions, Pete Fountain is the bright young man who brought the clarinet back as a popular sound during the late 50s, when a whole new generation rediscovered its sweet, melodic music.
DERIVED FROM THE COMPLETE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC AND JAZZ 1900-1950
c 1974 By Roger D. Kinkle. Published by Arlington House.
The Best Of PETE FOUNTAIN Vol. 2
New Orleans, the Crescent City on the winding, murky Mississippi River, is perhaps more of a mood than a place.
One walks its narrow streets feeling, smelling and almost tasting its old-timey ambience, a palpable, inescapable atmosphere unlike that of any other city in North America.
You amble over to Beauregard Square, at St. Peter and North Rampart streets, which for more than a century was known as Congo Square. Here male and female slaves were sold and traded to owners of nearby plantations. And at other times the area was the frenetic scene of festivals and odd "voodoo" ceremonials in which "imported" blacks from Africa participated. Today, the stylish Municipal Auditorium seating 12,000 persons is immediately behind the historic square and also well within walking distance is the overwhelming Superdome, a massive structure almost too large to comprehend at first sight.
New Orleans sometimes is called "The Paris of America" because of its original settlement by the French - in 1718 - and because of its distinctive French Quarter -the Vieux Carre - which is maintained today much as it looked when it was founded by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, at a time when only the Houma Indians called it their home.
Many extraordinary musicians have come out of these old buildings. And with them came jazz.
Musicologists trace the art back to the slaves and through the many marching bands, solo pianists and, in the World War 1 era, the pioneer small combos which eschewed the then-popular music of Herbert, Romberg and Friml, preferring their own compositions, many of them based on blues progressions handed down from less polished black musicians through the decades following the War Between the States and emancipation.
And thus did Buddy Bolden, Joseph "King" Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Oscar "Papa" Celestin, Claiborne Williams, Alphonse Picou, Freddie Keppard, Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, Johnny and Warren "Baby" Dodds, Bunk Johnson, Lorenzo Tio, Jr., George Bacquet and so many others burst forth as musicians of quality, musicians who, with others, of course, became the unknowing architects of a new music.
What they played was handed down to yet another generation, young whites absorbing the style and concept of the blacks.
Pete Fountain came along much later, influenced by the black tradition and white New Orleans jazz as well.
Born in 1930 in New Orleans, Pete Dewey Fountain, Jr., grew up with his ears constantly attuned to records and radio broadcasts.
He enjoyed them all, Oliver, Armstrong, Bechet, Morton and, before he was a teenager studying clarinet, the popular big dance bands of Benny Goodman and Bob Crosby in particular.
Goodman was - and to many, still is - the most gifted jazz clarinetist in the world. And in the Crosby band was the relatively unknown Irving "Fazola" Prestopnik. Both artists influenced young Fountain's growth as a musician. Perhaps Barney Bigard's solos with Duke Ellington also figured.
With the years, Fountain's abilities improved. Soon he was leading his own combo in the Crescent City. He was successful enough to attract Lawrence Welk's attention and in 1957 he joined the North Dakota accordionist, making his home in Los Angeles and being featured on Welk's inordinately popular series of Saturday night ABC-TV programs.
Long plagued by the taunts of fellow musicians, the conscientious Welk was making a determined attempt to upgrade the quality of his music. He succeeded, of course. And his acquiring the talents of Fountain had something to do with it.
Under Welk's sponsorship, Fountain taped his first records, for the old Coral label.
They were successful musically and in the nation's disc/ tape market; Fountain found himself a celebrity.
And although America's musical tastes had shifted to rock 'n' roll, and many of the once-dominant big bands disappeared, Pete remained true to his Louisiana heritage.
He headed up a delightful little dixieland hot combo within the Welk ensemble and taped dozens of danceable tracks for albums and singles on Coral. In 1959, he abruptly departed the Welk organization in Los Angeles and returned to New Orleans.
"I was home again," he says. "But I am grateful to Welk. He made it all possible."
The "all" Pete refers to means well-paying engagements throughout the U.S. and a tour of Europe. Fountain and his group played concerts, dances and clubs, appealing to many Welk fans who knew nothing of and cared little for jazz. They simply liked his personality, and the sounds he served up so effortlessly.
Coral, a division of Decca Records, continued to record Fountain and his sidemen regularly. Charles Bud Dant personally toiled as Pete's understanding, helpful producer. A musician himself, Dant collaborated with Fountain in composing numerous songs, three of which are featured in this package. They are the dixie-styled "Walking Through New Orleans," "01' Creole" and "March to Peruna" onsides two and four. Two additional tunes, "The Second Line" and "Bourbon Street Parade" were conceived by their Crescent City friend, drummer Paul Barbarin (not Barbarian as spelled on the back cover).
As the tonearm slowly moves through the grooves of this pair of LPs, the knowledgeable listener detects Fountain's admiration of his idols. On the lazy-tempoed things like "Maria Elena," "It's Been a Long, Long Time" and "Moonglow" the fat, big-toned sound of the late Fazola is apparent. On the brighter instrumentals like "Just One of Those Things" and "Blue Skies" Fountain approaches the sure-fingered brilliance of Goodman.
And surely one detects flashes of Barney Bigard's low register in many of Pete's solos.
Fountain opened his own night club, the French Quarter Inn in the colorful Vieux Carre, and performed there almost every night for the better part of a decade.
And now, as he approaches his fiftieth year, Fountain has slowed his activities and become downright choosey about his engagements.
But more than any other musician on the scene, he typifies the true New Orleans musician. The city has undergone vast change as the twenty-first century looms. But a visitor still can stroll the byways with impunity - Bourbon Street, the Cabildo, Pirates Alley, Madame John's Legacy at 632 Dumaine, the Napoleon House on Chartres, Casa Hove on Toulouse, the Pontalba buildings, Royal Street, Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, Ursuline Convent, Canal Street, St. Charles Avenue, all redolent with the odors of chicory coffee, nutty pralines and steaming bowls of Creole gumbo.
Pete Fountain is as vital a part of that scene as was King Oliver. For he, like Oliver, continues to reflect the old days when jazz was new.
- DAVE DEXTER, J R.
Mr. Dexter, author of the recent book "Playback" and copy editor of Billboard Magazine, for more than 40 years has written about and produced records by America's most popular musicians, singers and orchestras.