JAZZ SCENE U.S.A. #10
THE PETE FOUNTAIN SEXTET
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1962
CBS TELEVISION CITY, LOS ANGELES, CA
Commentary © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved
His name was originally Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, Jr., and he was born on White Street between Dumaine and St. Ann in a small Creole French frame house that sat right on the street in New Orleans. His father later changed his own name to Peter Dewey Fountain, and Junior followed suit.
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 the phonograph records of first Benny Goodman and then Irving Fazola. Early on he played with the bands of Monk Hazel and Al Hirt. With his longtime friend, trumpeter George Girard, Fountain founded The Basin Street Six in 1950.
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. In an interview, Fountain said he left Welk because “Champagne and bourbon don’t mix.”
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 quintet was made up of his studio recording musicians, Stan Kenton‘s bassist Don Bagley, vibeist Godfrey Hirch, 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.
Source: Wikipedia entry for Pete Fountain
The Pete Fountain Sextet: Pete Fountain, clarinet; John Probst, piano; Bobby Gibbons, guitar; Godfrey Hirsch, vibes; Morty Corb, bass and Jack Sperling, drums.
Host: Oscar Brown, Jr.
Executive Producer: Steve Allen
Producer: Jimmie Baker
Director: Steve Binder
Associate Producer: Vince Cilurzo
Associate Director: George Turpin
Technical Director: Jim Brady
Lighting Director: Leard Davis
Audio: Larry Eaton
Art Director: Robert Tyler Lee
Production Assistant: Penny Stewart
Jazz Consultant: Leonard Feather
Title Films: Grant Velie
Cameras: Bob Dunn, Ed Chaney, Gorman Erickson, Pat Kenny