Clarinetist Pete Fountain, whose Dixieland jazz virtuosity and irrepressible wit endeared him to his native New Orleans and earned him decades of national television fame, died Saturday of heart failure. He was 86.
With his ready wit and infectious laugh, Fountain was the epitome of the happy New Orleanian who knew how to "let the good times roll." He was well known to television fans through his appearances on the Lawrence Welk and Johnny Carson shows. Even his blues had a happy note.
Most people did not know it but my father was an accomplished saxophonist before WWII. He injured his right hand in the war and was unable to bend several fingers. That made him put down the sax and refuse to play it anymore. “If I can’t make it sing, I don’t want to play.” He told me.
Dad knew Pete Fountain and introduced me to the great artist when I was 8 years old. I became a dedicated fan and his brand of Blues and his love of New Orleans were probably one of the reasons I fell in love with The Big Easy.
In 1982 I was in New Orleans for “business” (well, technically speaking), and I was wondering up Bourbon Street when I discovered Pete Fountain’s Club. I went in and Pete was performing in person. When he finished and started down some steps on the side of the stage, I pushed my way through the people around him and re-introduced myself. I don’t think he remembered me, but he did remember Dad. He was gracious and hospitable by nature and treated me like a long lost friend.
The start of my visits to New Orleans became enjoying a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s followed by a visit to Pete’s club to enjoy an evening of great music. Pete was often not there (he still did a lot of appearances around the country), but when he was there, he always said Hi and spent a little time with me.
He loved New Orleans and they loved him. His annual trek through the French Quarter with his "Half-Fast Walking Club" was a raucous New Orleans ritual — one he rarely missed even when he was in failing health.
I have not seen or spoken to him in years, but his passing will leave a small hole in my heart and I will miss him. I know that right this moment, the Good Lord is being entertained by Pete along with Al Hirt and Louis Armstrong, marching around heaven playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
Funeral arrangements are pending. A funeral Mass is being planned for St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. "We'll have a big jazz funeral after his Mass." his son said.
Live Long and Prosper...