Passings: Pete Fountain (1930 - 2016)

by VVN Music

New Orleans musical icon Pete Fountain died on Saturday (August 6) from heart failure at a hospice care facility in his native city. He was 86.

While most easily classified as a jazz clarinet player, Fountain's recordings were popular in a wide variety of genres including pop, creole, dixieland and honky-tonk jazz and he was one of the most recognizable of the artists out of New Orleans along with trumpet player Al Hirt.

Born Pierre Dewey Fountain, Jr., he was advised to start playing a wind or brass instrument to help in clearing up a chronic weak lung condition that he had as a child. His parents chose the clarinet and, even though he couldn't play it at first, his lungs slowly grew stronger.

Fountain learned jazz by listening to big band records and eventually played in the band of Al Hirt. In 1950, he formed his own band, The Basin Street Six, with trumpet player George Girard. When the band broke up in 1954, Pete joined the Lawrence Welk Orchestra where he played until early 1959 when Welk fired him for jazzing up a Christmas song.

Fountain signed with Decca Records and recorded 42 albums that became favorites of jazz and dixieland fans. While he was never known as a singles artist, he did place four records in the Hot 100 including a song that was adapted by many bands in the city, A Closer Walk. He also had three minor Adult Contemporary hits with Mae (1965 / #27 AC), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967 / #28) and Les Bicyclettes De Belsize (1969 / #24).

Pete opened the French Quarter Inn in New Orleans where he would often play with his own band where he would often have artists from Frank Sinatra to Brenda Lee sitting in for a set. He was also a favorite of Johnny Carson who had him on The Tonight Show 56 times.

He closed his last club in 2003 and, in 2006, had heart surgery but was well enough to play at that year's New Orleans Jazz Festival. His last show was December 8, 2010 at the Hollywood Casino.

Fountain is survived by his wife of 65 years, Beverly, two sons and a daughter.

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