Saturday, August 6, 2016

R.I.P., Pete Fountain

Pete Fountain, New Orleans clarinet legend, has passed away at the age of 86. He was a towering influence on me as a player, and I was blessed to have met him when I was still 18 years old, scuffling around for gigs in the French Quarter. His encouragement and inspiration have kept me going, and will keep me going for a lifetime.

Towards the end of his life, thanks to the encouragement of Greg Harrison, I corresponded with Pete for the first time since I'd met him two and a half decades ago, sharing how much I appreciated his work over the course of his long career--what his playing meant to me, and what his encouragement had meant to me as a young man. Of all players, he's the one I'm compared to most often, as much for our physical appearance as our playing, I imagine.
At least once a month or so, someone in an audience will come up to me and say "You remind of Pete Fountain." It's always a great honor, for me, as I've always felt he was one of the last of the real jazz clarinet greats--those with a big booming sound, and virtuosic, liquid technique. Along with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Jimmie Noone, and very few others, he truly mastered our extremely difficult instruments...and not a gig goes by that I don't show my lineage in one way or another, using language that I picked up from albums of his. Anyone who has ever heard me play "Tin Roof Blues", "The Sheik of Araby", or "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" has undoubtedly heard Pete's influence. No matter how much I make those tunes my own, there's no way I could unlearn what Pete showed me about them (and no way I'd want to unlearn it). 
Here are some things Pete sent me...some of them are now on display in my studio, some of them I take out now and again and wear for gigs. On Mardi Gras I always wear Pete Fountain "Half Fast Walking Club" Mardi Gras beads in honor of him, and people have sometimes mistaken the figures on the beads for me. It is a great honor to carry on the tradition he was such an important part of. My love and prayers go to Pete and his family today. God Bless Pete Fountain. One of the greatest has gone home. 




3 comments:

Drummer said...

I'm not a clarinet player...but a drummer. But I grew up listening to Pete's records, saw him on Larry Welk and always appreciated his tone, his technique and ability to really swing and improvise great solos. Just found out he passed and just wanted to mention my feelings to someone who actually plays and appreciates Pete. Thanks for your post.

Drummer said...

I'm not a clarinet player...but a drummer. But I grew up listening to Pete's records, saw him on Larry Welk and always appreciated his tone, his technique and ability to really swing and improvise great solos. Just found out he passed and just wanted to mention my feelings to someone who actually plays and appreciates Pete. Thanks for your post.

Andrew Whiteford said...

Thanks for your personal appreciation of Pete, Eric. he was a big influence on me as a player - we can perhaps save an analysis of how to get the Pete Fountain sound for another day, and just listen to and enjoy some of his music to remember him..-Andy-