As I prepared to leave Ystad, I learned that clarinetist Pete Fountain died on Saturday in New Orleans. By way of his recordings and television exposure, he became an unofficial and effective cultural spokesman for his beloved hometown and was happy to return there following his years in the 1950s with Lawrence Welk’s TV show. Despite the renown it brought Fountain, the Welk relationship was not a musical marriage made in heaven. He was happier in his Bourbon Street club than he was soloing in front of the Welk band.
From the beginning of my tours of duty in New Orleans in the 1960s and again in the late 70s, Pete made me feel welcome. He was a congenial and entertaining guy to hang out with. I used to try to persuade him to move out of his traditional-music comfort zone and make a quartet record with, say, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter and Billy Hart. He had the musical adaptability and depth to do that, but he felt that New York players in the modern jazz idiom wouldn’t accept him. He would have surprised them and, I imagine, himself. I wish it had happened.
I’ll miss Pete. For an obituary that covers his career, see this article in The Los Angeles Times. Here he is as Johnny’s Carson’s guest on NBC’s Tonight Show.
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