NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Another New Orleans musical legend is off to that great jazz band in the sky. Clarinetist Pete Fountain passed away Saturday morning at the age of 86 according to a family statement. The iconic jazz great was one of a kind, an original amongst originals. He oozed New Orleans jazz and for six decades he was one of the pied pipers of Dixieland Jazz.
Born Pierre Dewey LaFontaine Jr. on July 3rd, 1930 in New Orleans, Fountain started playing music after a doctor suggested he play an instrument to help with his weak lungs. By the age of nine, he started playing the clarinet and began studying the works of Benny Goodman and Irving Fazola. By the time he hit 16, Fountain formed his first band and was performing on the streets of the French Quarter. Bourbon Street would become one of his famous homes and would join the chorus of jazz greats permeating the city's clubs, including one of his early band-mates, the legendary Al Hirt.
Fountain would eventually join Lawrence Welk's band in the late 50's giving up the straight laced big band sound for his true calling, New Orleans Jazz. Pete credits his time on the Welk show with giving him national recognition and driving sales of his albums to gold status.
After his time on the show he returned to New Orleans and joined the "Dukes of Dixieland." Pete would eventually strike out on his own and over the decades would record dozens of albums. No song personified Pete more than "Closer Walk With Thee" and no one could make it sound like Pete especially live.
Through the years, Pete would perform at a number of clubs with his named attached. He and friend Al Hirt, who also had his own Bourbon Street club, were friendly rivals, they record together on many occasions, even working together for a pest control company while making ends meet before hitting it big in the music business. Check out this classic pairing of Pete and Al:
Pete's love for Mardi Gras was like no other and he started the "Half-Fast Marching Club" and through the decades performed along the parade route leading the start of the Mardi Gras parades Uptown. He marched until he could no longer but that did't stop him from being part of the festivities as he rode along in a trolley-style parade float. Nothing felt more like the beginning of Mardi Gras than seeing Pete in front of the "Half-Fast Marching Club".
Fountain was a mainstay at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, his last performance there was in 2013. Through the years, Pete performed nationally on the "Tonight Show", for sitting presidents and for Pope John Paul II's visit to New Orleans in 1987.
Nothing sounds more like growing up in New Orleans than hearing Pete's clarinet playing "When The Saints Come Marching In" or "Amazing Grace". His sweet sounds bring up so many memories of walking the streets of the French Quarter or the riverfront.
Along the way he mentored and influenced so many, none more than Tim Laughlin who for years has picked up where Pete left off.
Laughlin posted the following on Facebook, Saturday morning:
Pete Fountain : July 3, 1930 - August 8, 2016 The Music world has lost a faithful steward.
The Jazz World has lost a most unique story-teller.
I lost a dear friend.
Heaven now celebrates another joyful soul for their own.
Humanity is eternally richer for the life of Pete Fountain.
I'll miss you, boss.
Pete's greatest love, though, was for his wife Beverly, who he was married to for 65 years. They had two sons and a daughter, Kevin, Jeffrey and Dahra.
Fountain was New Orleans and he will be missed by so many, thankfully we have his beautiful music to remember him by. Thanks Pete, New Orleans and the world will always love you!