Pete Fountain At Piper's Opera House
1993 Jazzology Records JCD-217
1. Dialogue Intro
2. Jazz Me Blues
3. Closer Walk With Thee
4. St. James' Infirmary
6. Sophisticated Lady
8. Wolverine Blues
9. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
10. My Blue Heaven
11. South Rampart Street Parade
Pete Fountain Clarinet
John Thomas Cornet
Eddie Miller Tenor Saxaphone
Bob Havens Trombone
Merle Koch Piano
Bunky Jones String Bass
Nick Fatool Drums
Recorded: Virginia City, Nevada 6-26-83 by Smokey Lawrence
Pete Fountain At Piper's Opera House
This is the spirited music that was heard on June 26 and 27, 1983 in Virginia City, Nevada during the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Piper's Opera House.
To commemorate the occasion, jazz was played for the only time in the historic edifice where Richard Jose, Lillian Russell, Enrico Caruso, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Harry Houdini, and John Barrymore performed.
With such stellar jazzmen as Pete Fountain, Eddie Miller, Bob Havens, and Nick Fatool together in one band, we have the basic elements from which musicians' fantasies are constructed. In short, this was a dream line-up. Happily, engineer Smokey Lawrence had the astute foresight to record these wonderful moments.
The title and texture of the opener, "Jazz Me Blues," vividly sets the scene for this program of vibrant jazz. It accurately exemplifies the true New Orleans attitude and doctrine, "Laissez les bon temps rouller" - let the good times roll!
Pete Fountain, weaving his way through several expressive choruses, provides a swinging response to the query, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" This, rightfully, is Pete signature song. His nimble exploration of the delicate melody's every possible nuance aurally defines the articulate fluency of New Orleans style clarinet playing. John Thomas' impassioned vocal and tender cornet solo compatibly reflect Fountain's tasteful approach.
"Just a Closer Walk With Thee," with Pete out in front with rhythm backing, gradually soars from the tune's reverent hymnal roots to a lofty swinging romp. He concludes with a haunting echo note that probably does not exist on the horn.
With every graceful gliss, Bob Havens reveals his unabashed devotion to the great Jack Teagarden. "Lover," and "St. James Infirmary" are reverent salutes to his mentor's inventiveness. Trombonists will deny that some of these lip-trill figures are possible! Throughout the program, Havens' flowing solos and stirring tailgate slurs create an impetus that propels the band and arouses the audience.
Eddie Miller - the name epitomizes Jazz Saxophone. When he died in 1991, Eddie left a vast musical void that seemingly will never be filled. His beautifully developed solos are always logical extensions of a tune's roots. They bloom seamlessly with majestic splendor and substantiate his pantheonic status on "Wolverine Blues." Miller's "Sophisticated Lady," clothed in his warm buttery tone, is probably the definitive version of Ellington's perfect ballad. When Eddie digs in on two choruses of "My Blue Heaven," the 66 year old tune is enhanced with youthful vigor.
Pianist Merle Koch's very impressive talents, coupled with a reclusive life style, have created the legendary aura that accompanieshis name. Eschewing appearances at major venues, he was content to play the piano in his Silver Stope Saloon in Silver City, a small Nevada mining town, where Pete Fountain recorded another highly acclaimed CD with Koch - GHB-BCD-300.
On the frolicking epic, "Wolverine Blues" he explores a facet of Morton's skills with a pile-driving solo. Merle's rompin' and stompin' on "Shine" are rhythmically enhanced by Richard "Bunky" Jones' exhilarating walking beat that authenticates the bassist's musical credentials.
Jones is among the legion of unsung jazz heroes. He worked with Merle Koch for a dozen years in Silver City until Merle died in 1987. During that stint, "Bunky" backed-up many leading jazzmen who eagerly accepted Koch's frequent invitations to play at the unique venue.
Cornetist-vocalist John Thomas is another member of the unsung clan. He also appeared with Koch for three years in Silver City. Thomas can be heard on several recordings made at the Silver Stope Saloon and on some sessions taped during the Manassas Jazz Festivals. Thomas plays a lyrical horn and adds brilliance to the ensembles. His brash vocal and the very moving cornet cadenza on "St. James Infirmary" are indications of his vast talents. He now lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
Nick Fatool's presence is felt throughout the program. With every well placed cymbal crash, with every appropriate press roll, he constantly underscores, yet never overshadows the music. His savory entire auditorium, and in some areas reached nearly twenty feet in depth. Two walls, the west and north sides, were rebuilt, and the stage floor, which had buckled badly, was repaired. Canvas was stretched and hung on the ceiling and all the walls of the auditorium, replacing the torn and tattered original muslin. The beautiful proscenium was repainted in the original design and colors and the curtains were restored.
In 1973, a grand reopening of the theatre was held as Mrs. Driggs, from then until 1985, brought the first chamber music to Piper's and the Comstock. Concerts were held on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer, and such internationally-known musicians as Aaron Rosand, John DeLancie, Kathleen Lenski, and Vladimir Sokoloff brought the finest in chamber music and solo concerts to the theatre. In addition, world premiers of several of Efrem Zimbalist Sr.'s last works were performed, Hal Holbrook appeared in his world-renowned Mark Twain Tonight in 1981, and a three-day Piper's Jazz Festival, produced by Merle Koch was staged, with such greats as Pete Fountain in performance.
Louise Zimmer Driggs is still the current owner of Piper's and in the spring of 1986 her eldest daughter, Carol Piper Marshall, assumed the mantle of Managing Director. Conceived and executed in the summer of 1986 was the idea of daily shows for the first time ever in Piper's history. The half-hour shows, twice daily, were original in nature, and incorporated dramatic and musical material actually performed at Piper's one hundred years ago. One of these was The Show Girl.
Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. and Piper's Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada, are the richest archives of Victorian music and drama, worth preserving for all history.
- Floyd Levin