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Pete Fountain

Pete Fountain
Pete Fountain at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 2006
Background information
Birth name Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr.
Born (1930-07-03) July 3, 1930
New Orleans, Louisiana
Genres Dixieland Jazz, Jazz, Pop Jazz, Honky-Tonk Jazz, Pop, and Creole
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Clarinet

Pete Fountain (born Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr., July 3, 1930), is a world-renowned American clarinetist based in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. He has played jazz, Dixieland, Pop Jazz, Honky-Tonk Jazz, Pop, and Creole music.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Lawrence Welk orchestra 2
  • Return to New Orleans 3
  • Half Fast Walking Club 4
  • Musical style 5
  • Awards and honors 6
    • Singles 6.1
  • Personal life 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life and education

His name was originally Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr.,[1] was born on White Street, between Dumaine and St. Ann, in a small Creole cottage style frame house. His father later changed his own name to Peter Dewey Fountain, and Junior followed suit.[1]

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.

He took private lessons but also learned to play jazz by playing along with phonograph records of first George Girard .

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 on the 1958 Christmas show. Other accounts, including one in Fountain's autobiography A Closer Walk With Pete Fountain, indicate he in fact played a jazzy rendition of "Silver Bells" on the show that upset Welk, leading to Fountain's departure in early 1959. In an interview, Fountain said he left Welk because "Champagne and bourbon don't mix.".[2] Fountain was hired by Decca Records A&R head Charles "Bud" Dant and went on to produce 42 hit albums with Dant.

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 Hirsch, 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 Starring Johnny Carson 56 times.

Fountain opened his club, the French Quarter Inn, located in the heart of the famed French Quarter district, at 800 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 Jack 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.[3]

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 also had a home (later destroyed by Hurricane Katrina).

After heart surgery in 2006, he performed at [the] JazzFest, and helped reopen the Bay St. Louis Casino in Bay St. Louis, MS. It has since been renamed the Hollywood Casino. He performed his last show at the Hollywood Casino on December 8, 2010.[4]

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 mouthpieces he has played with since 1949. His first crystal mouthpiece was actually

  • Complete Pete Fountain recording history and discography Many photos, newspaper articles, lp liners included. Retrieved July 22, 2012
  • Pete Fountain discography MUSIC CITY: The first collaborative Music Database Retrieved July 22, 2012
  • Nick Compagno Interview with Pete Fountain circa 1994 Retrieved July 22, 2012
  • With his men Pete Fountain Day 1959
  • Live in Santa Monica
  • Pete returns for Mardi Gras after Katrina
  • Information on Pete Fountain from IMDB
  • Biography, photos Stars of the Lawrence Welk Show Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  • Pete Fountain on the Welk Show on YouTube – Pete Fountain plays "Round and Round" on the Lawrence Welk Show in this 1957 video.
  • Best of Pete FountainSample recordings

External links

  1. ^ a b Fountain, Pete, with Bill Neely, A Closer Walk, the Pete Fountain Story (Henry Regnery Company, 1972), p. 2-3
  2. ^ Compagno, Nick. "A Closer Walk with Pete Fountain". 
  3. ^ Fountain, Pete, and Bill Neely, A Closer Walk, The Pete Fountain Story, pp. 173–74; Zecher, Henry, Personal Interview with Pete Fountain, December 6, 1974
  4. ^ David Mekalian. "Dixieland Jazz – Pete Fountain Discography". Retrieved 2012-04-01. 
  5. ^ Fountain, Pete, with Bill Neely, A Closer Walk, The Pete Fountain Story, pp. 54, 63; Zecher, Henry, personal interview with Pete Fountain, December 6, 1974
  6. ^ "Louisiana Music Hall of Fame Inductees 2007". 
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ Fountain, Pete, with Bill Neely, A Closer Walk, The Pete Fountain Story, p. 77


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.[8]

Personal life

Year Single Chart positions
1960 "A Closer Walk" 93 101
"Columbus Stockade Blues" / 118
"Sentimental Journey" tag
1962 "Yes Indeed" 69 85
1964 "Licorice Stick" 115 94
"Humbug" 129
1965 "Mae" / 129 130 27
"Gotta Travel On" 129
1967 "Thoroughly Modern Millie" 28
1968 "Mood Indigo"(w/ Brenda Lee) 112
1969 "Les Bicyclettes De Belsize" 24


Awards and honors

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


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