Pete Fountain, one of New Orleans jazz most prominent figures, passed away last Saturday in his home at the age of 86, as it was informed by his son-in-law and manager Benny Harrell.

Although the cause of death has not been revealed, Fountain had undergone heart surgery in 2006 and retired from public performances in 2013.

One of New Orleans jazz most prominent figures, Pete Fountain, passed away last Saturday at the age of 86. Photo credit: News Report Center
One of New Orleans jazz most prominent figures, Pete Fountain, passed away last Saturday at the age of 86. Photo credit: News Report Center

Fountain has made appearances on at least 44 New Orleans Jazz Fest, never missing more than one per decade. He started playing at 15, when a doctor recommended his father to buy him a musical instrument to help develop his lung capacity. At first, Fountain wanted to play the drums, but his father declined after remembering the doctor’s advice.

Dixieland and jazz clarinet virtuoso

At an early age, Peter Fountain played alongside other New Orleans jazz legends such as trumpeter Al Hirt. Because he was hired to play at nightclubs, Fountain often fell asleep in class. When a teacher woke him up and found out that Fountain earned $150 per week, he wrote a letter to his mother advising him to get some sleep so he could keep working at night.

Fountain was mostly known for being a soloist at The Lawrence Welk Show on ABC, which aired for 30 years, starting in 1951. Welk had strict work rules, which forced Fountain to abstain from drinking before going on stage. One time, when Welk found out that Fountain had drunk before playing, he forced him to play five songs, one after another, trying to ridicule Fountain. But just the opposite occurred, as Fountain just kept playing better and better, so Welk finally decided to lay off Fountain’s neck.

Playing tunes for living

Fountain kept close his beliefs, so rumors about his resignation began to spread after he was apparently denied of performing a jazz version of a Christmas Carol in 1958. As he lived, Peter Fountain always let everyone know that he was interested in melodies and songs, rather than improvisation, an important discipline of jazz music.

Some of Fountain’s most popular interpretations are “Basin Street Blues,” “A Closer Walk With Thee,” “Tin Roof Blues” and “Clarinet Marmalade.”

Fountain had a long career of outstanding performances. He was invited to play at five White House state dinners, and he even played before Pope John Paul II when he visited New Orleans in 1987.

His success was driven by his desire to play, but apparently, everything else didn’t turn out quite the same for Fountain. He said that his talent was a gift from God, but that whenever he would do anything else, God would ‘zap’ him back into playing the clarinet.

Being a New Orleans native, Fountain had to deal with the loss of his home by Hurricane Katrina. Because of the damages, he lost photos and personal mementos, some of which showed him performing with Louis Armstrong. Luckily, two of his favorite clarinets survived the storm, which was almost all he cared about besides his family.

Fountain also made quite a few appearances on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, becoming a favorite of the talk show host and comedian.

Source: Washington Post