Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Pete Fountain * Plenty of Pete * Coral Records (CRL 757424) * 1963

Side One

After You've Gone
Medleya. Stardust b. Is It True What They Say About Dixie 
c. When The Saints Go Marching In d. Dixie
Don't Be That Way
On The Sunny Side Of The Street

Side Two

Just One Of Those Things
Stranger On The Shore
Jazz Me Blues
Blue Skies

Pete Fountain, clarinet
Jack Sperling, drums
Morty Corb, bass 
Godfrey Hirsch, vibes
Bobbie Gibbons, guitar 
John Propst, piano

Rigid traditionalists (perhaps more than a little intimidated by Pete's virtuosity) dismiss Pete Fountain as tainted by styles beyond the borders of the Crescent City. Conversely, modernists (perhaps jealous of his emotional connection with audiences) dismiss him as too traditional. Albums like this, however, reveal Fountain for what he was: a jazzman very much of his day and age, fusing the old seamlessly with the new; respecting the traditions of his native city while moving them forward.

Plenty of Pete is first and foremost one of those clear, crisp nightclub sets he was so adept at shaping, and perfectly in the line of his earlier small combo albums for Coral. Listeners familiar with Pete Fountain's New OrleansAt the Bateau LoungePete Fountain's French Quarter, and Pete Fountain's Music from Dixie will find themselves once again at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn on Bourbon Street, sipping a drink in the cool air conditioning. It's also one of Pete's more outward looking albums of that era, paying homage to Benny Goodman in particular by featuring a number of tunes directly associated with the King of Swing, beginning with 'After You've Gone.'

'After You've Gone' is one of those tunes that was lodged permanently in the jazz clarinet canon by Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra, from there influencing a young Benny Goodman, who went global with it, using the tune as a small group show piece from the mid-1930s throughout the rest of his career. Fountain's version is based substantially on Goodman's, but the execution, tempo, and head arrangement are uniquely Fountain-esque, with lilt, drive, and virtuosity all his own.

After a medley that includes 'Stardust' and a couple of standard New Orleans tunes ('Is It True What They Say About Dixie?" and 'The Saints') we're back in Benny's territory with a smooth version of 'Don't Be That Way.' Side One wraps up with a cool, subtle, take 'On the Sunny Side of the Street', Godfrey Hirsh's vibes setting the table perfectly each time for Pete's main course. 

Side Two opens with 'Just One of Those Things', the band moving very much like other modern jazz ensembles of the early '60s, then taking on Acker Bilk's smash hit 'Stranger on the Shore.' I'm not sure if this is the first example of an American clarinetist covering a British clarinetist's tune (there had of course been plenty of trans-atlantic influences among other song writers earlier than this), but it's certainly a very successful one. Pete and the boys give their own Gulf Coast take, adding some walking up-tempo choruses after the theme, in nice contrast to the original.

The album closes out with satisfying versions of 'Jazz Me Blues' and 'Blue Skies', demonstrating the permanent value of both numbers in the repertoire.

As I continue to survey these classic albums (this is my seventeenth Pete Fountain album reviewed on The Jazz Clarinet to date)  I'm astonished by the lack of reissues. To my knowledge, other than tracks which have been reissued on compilation albums, Plenty of Pete remains available only on the original vinyl, if a collector can procure a copy. I firmly believe that the jazz Pete and his groups produced--especially in the early 1960's--was as good as any recorded. In some ways, his work even exceeds the more critically touted modernists. If the public was given the chance to hear this beautiful music again in its original context, who knows what renaissance might be spurred? C.S. Lewis once mused that his age might be one day remembered as that of Tolkien and Wodehouse, rather than Lawrence and Joyce. As time progressed, he turned out to be more prophetic than the scoffers imagined. What if the '60s, someday, are similarly remembered as much for Fountain as Miles? They'd have to be re-released, of course, but the amount of beauty and joy to be found here ought to be enough to inspire such a project. Is there really so much beauty and joy in the world that we can afford to leave any of it behind?

Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Medallion
(Eric Seddon Collection)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Pete Fountain with Phil Zito * Dixieland Express * Columbia (CL 6110) * 1950

Side One

Bob Cats
Bye and Bye
Original Dixieland One Step

Side Two

She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain
Zito's Zag
Clarinet Marmalade
Tulane Swing

Phil Zito and his New Orleans International City Dixielanders

Phil Zito, drums
Pete Fountain, clarinet
George Girard, trumpet
Joe Rotis, trombone
Roy Zimmerman, piano
Emile Christian, bass

In the last months of 1949, a nineteen year old Pete Fountain went into the studio to record with Phil Zito's band, the somewhat wordily named New Orleans International City Dixielanders. Until someone tells me otherwise, from the research I've managed, these appear to be the first commercial recordings of Pete Fountain.

Impressively, Pete was already a mature New Orleans style player--in fact,  he was beyond what most players reach in terms of the technical demands of this music. To perform this style effectively, a clarinetist needs a commanding sound in all registers--one that can cut through trumpet, trombone, and rhythm section with equal polyphonic strength, all while maintaining a good tone and intonation. Most clarinetists fall short in one or more of these categories. Beyond that, the clarinetist must maintain excellent rhythmic drive, playing firmly in the groove of the beat, and swinging effectively. Because the clarinet is the fleetest instrument on the front line, with the largest tesitura, arpeggiating the chord structures and outlining the harmonies is often a primary task. In short, the clarinet's role, like all others in a New Orleans style band, has specific demands rhythmically and harmonically. Fountain, by age 19, was already master of these aspects--forming rococo embellishments to the melodies at times, harmonizing George Girard's trumpet leads at others, creating altissimo obligatos at climaxes--all while making sure not to step on anyone else's line. He was also a strong soloist, featured throughout this album from the very first chorus on 'Bob Cats' forward.

This is a short, ten-inch LP, featuring only eight numbers which average somewhere around two minutes and fifty seconds or so per tune. That means there isn't much musical 'stretching out' in terms of soloing here. Indeed, most of these numbers sound like previews--we're left to imagine what the band sounded like live when they really took off from these templates and let it rip.

Highlights include Pete's work on 'Bob Cats', and his obligato playing on the opening of 'Bye and Bye' followed by his uptempo comping and chorus. This recording of 'Bye and Bye' is particularly interesting in that it attests to the influence of George Lewis, which Pete was to cite later in his career. While Faz and Benny were his most dominant influences, Pete often talked about the importance of sitting in with Lewis: this early recording is probably the most eloquent example of the fruits of that relationship. Pete was already the more technically adept player, and would go on to musical projects beyond the abilities of Lewis, but the focus on soul, the spiritual, and tradition was to play an important and decisive part in Fountain's art throughout his career.

The rest of this band is excellent--truly complimentary musicians for Pete, and an excellent example of Hot Jazz, New Orleans Style, Dixieland or whatever you want to call it. The polyphony is there, the groove, the mastery of their instruments. The only complaint: there isn't more of it. Fortunately Pete was to spend a long lifetime adding recordings for us...

Friday, July 27, 2018

Pete Fountain's Music from Dixie * Coral Records (CRL 757401) * 1963

Bye Bye Bill Bailey
I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
High Society
(When It's) Darkness on the Delta
Song of the Wanderer (Where Shall I Go?)
Dixie Jubilee

Struttin' With Some Barbeque
Chlo-e (Song of the Swamp)
Milenberg Joys
When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)

Pete Fountain * Clarinet
Charles Teagarden * Trumpet
Eddie Miller * Tenor Saxophone
Moe Schneider * Trombone
Bobby Gibbons * Guitar
Stan Wrightsman * Piano
Morty Corb * Bass
Jack Sperling * Drums

As a general rule, any album from the early 1960s that says "Coral" and "Pete Fountain" on the cover is worth listening to, over and over again. Pete Fountain's Music from Dixie is no exception, proof of which is that several cuts from this album have been re-released many times on 'Greatest Hits' albums.

From the opening 'Bye Bye Bill Bailey' we know it's going to be a swinging time--the band sounds relaxed, comfortable, and ready to play. Fans of the raw energy of the old Pete Fountain/Al Hirt sides of the mid-1950s might wish this set wasn't mellower in comparison, but these twelve standards give us a different feel--instead of that youthful exuberance, we get the more polished, professional work the band was doing nightly at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn.

Charles Teagarden (brother of the more famous, trombone playing Jack) plays an excellent New Orleans style lead trumpet when called upon (as in 'High Society') but we've certainly moved to the model Pete was use for most of his career: a less boisterous trumpet, allowing his clarinet to take center stage. The same approach was used by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Edmond Hall in their small groups--trumpeters, even when they had the lead, were kept more mellow--often playing lead lines muted, or underlining melodies played by the clarinetists. Truth be told, Pete stayed closer to the earlier New Orleans model than most of the others--he really gives Charley the lead, without mute, while weaving his harmonies and countermelodies in true polyphonic style. In many ways Pete was unparalleled in this quintessentially New Orleans function of clarinetistry--his lines, whether closely harmonizing or in soaring obligato, were some of the finest and most diverse ever captured on recording. Because Pete has this extended band (a full New Orleans contingent), this album can alternate between intimate ballad material to uptempo street beats and swing--sometimes shifting back and forth between those poles in the same tunes.

'Darkness on the Delta' from this album is one of my favorite renditions for the beautiful interplay between Fountain and Stan Wrightsman's piano comping. Also for smaller combo, Pete's version of 'Shine' is a real treat, for the reason that so many of his Goodman quartet inspired covers are: he makes the tune his own, resisting the temptation of playing at break neck speed. Here, and many other places, Pete demonstrates a principle of importance to any jazz clarinetist: more phrasing, more character, and more attention to groove will yield a far better result than turning a tune into 'Jazz Kroepsch' with a polka beat (we've all heard that, haven't we?) Pete was sometimes criticized by clarinetist's with less competent technique for being 'too flashy' during his career, but reengaging his actual work shows otherwise -- he rarely took extreme tempos, more frequently crafting beautiful vibrant up tempo choruses.

Pete's version of 'Chlo-e' is of very different character than Goodman's lilting big band chart. The Fountain ensemble takes a full verse before the chorus, and plays in a deep, relaxed ballad manner. Really the diversity of moods on the album us exceptional, and an indication of why his nightclub shows were so successful.

'Struttin' with some Barbeque' for the full band is another highlight--one of Pete's earlier recordings of the classic Armstrong tune. 'Milenberg Joys' shows how well old standards can be updated--a listener would be forgiven for thinking it was a relatively new tune for 1963, and it sounds pretty well timeless even now. The whole album comes to a satisfying conclusion with 'Hallelujah', which is exactly what I want to say now that this music is available once again, in downloadable reissue.

Music from Dixie captures the mature Fountain ensemble and concept--a format he would maintain for a significant portion of his career. Some of the earlier Coral albums are notable for their sheer excitement and freshness. This one is more measured, but it's a solid, professional outing of interest that never lets the listener down.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Eric Seddon's Hot Club * CD Release Party at The Bop Stop in Cleveland * Thursday August 16th

Just about a year ago, Gabe Pollack gave our band the unprecedented opportunity to play six concerts of New Orleans style jazz over a twelve week period at the BOP STOP -- arguably the best listening room for jazz in Cleveland. Three weeks from tonight, we're going to return there to celebrate our live CD pulled from those evenings--Eric Seddon's Hot Club: Bootlegs from the Bop Stop. 

I'd like to repay Gabe's faith in us with a packed house this August 16th. Tickets are only $12, and can be purchased here. 

In addition to hearing material from the new album, you'll be treated to real NOLA style hot jazz from my clarinet,  George Foley on the Bop Stop's Steinway piano, Kevin T. Richards on guitar, Gene Epstein on bass, and Bill Fuller on drums. The new CD will also be available for purchase! 

"Seddon, who has a large tone and extroverted style on clarinet...dominates the music, playing with infectious spirit and creativity within the classic format. His songs, which include a tribute to the late Acker Bilk ("Goodbye Bowler Hat"), are natural fits for New Orleans jazz bands..." 
--Scott Yanow, The Syncopated Times

Eric Seddon's Hot Club [photo: Bill Laufer]

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Pete Fountain * New Orleans to Los Angeles * Southland Records (S-LP 215) * 1956

Side One 

1. Farewell Blues
2. At the Jazz Band Ball
3. March of the Bob Cats
4. Jazz Me Blues

Side Two (*)
1. Cherry
2. Struttin' With Some Bar-B-Q
3. Home
4. Song of the Wanderer

Pete Fountain - clarinet
Al Hirt - trumpet
Eddie Miller - tenor Sax
Ray Bauduc - drums
Abe Lincoln - trombone
Morty Corb - bass
Stan Wrightsman - piano

(*) Pete Fountain And His Three Coins

Pete Fountain - clarinet
Roy Zimmerman - piano
Phil Darios - string bass/tuba
Johnny Edwards - drums

This is a relatively obscure, yet important record for Pete Fountain fans. Side One features his work in 1956 with Al Hirt's band. The four tracks recorded here by Southland Records (a local New Orleans label) were recycled six years later by Coral Records for the Pete Fountain/Al Hirt Bourbon Street album. There are significant differences, however. Anyone listening carefully to the Coral record can discern an edit to Abe Lincoln's opening trombone break in 'Farewell Blues.' The Southland original reveals that there were in fact three original breaks--an extra ten seconds of music that Coral cut for some unknown reason. The Coral edit is very puzzling, as the LP they ultimately released wasn't anywhere near full. Another difference, to my ears, is the quality of the reproductions. The Southland disc is mellower and deeper sounding--the Coral a bit high in treble and more shrill. This might just be a reflection of my copies and turntable set-up, but audiophiles will want to check the Southland recording out.

The four numbers themselves, especially the tunes dating all the way back to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings -- 'Farewell Blues', 'At the Jazz Band Ball', and 'Jazz Me Blues' -- are simply among the finest versions of these tunes on record. Al Hirt is in great form, blasting but with tonal depth, and carving lines that seem both contemporary and firmly planted in the New Orleans tradition. Pete was the perfect compliment to him, with his smooth refreshing clarinet sound and graceful lines. Abe Lincoln and Eddie Miller solo strongly, and most importantly, no one steps on anyone else's line. This is New Orleans style done at an exceptional level, and we can only imagine what a super-group like this might have accomplished if they'd wanted to systematically record the repertoire together (like the Dukes of Dixieland of that era were doing).

The flip side of this interesting LP features relatively rare recordings of Pete, which Dr. Edmond Souchon's liner notes declare to be the first by Fountain as a leader. I have been told (by those who know better than I could) that these recordings were made prior to Pete Fountain's exclusive deal with Leblanc clarinets--and to that end, even the cover photo seems to depict a Selmer in his hands. I'm not sure how many other recordings feature Pete on a Selmer, but some Fountain aficionado's say they prefer his work pre-Leblanc. For whatever it's worth, Pete told me that he loved the sound of Selmers, but the keywork bothered him--he preferred the sturdier keys of a Leblanc.

'Cherry', 'Struttin' with some Bar-B-Q', and 'Home' are all essential recordings for Fountain fans--typically beautiful in sound and execution. 'Song of the Wanderer',  however, might be the biggest surprise, as it features Pete on Tenor Saxophone! His style on the cut is that of a fledgling Eddie Miller or Bud Freeman, and his soloing very much in the New Orleans style, devoid of any modern jazz influence. His control of the instrument and his tone are good, and his intonation solid, so either he'd spent quite a bit of time with the instrument, or had a natural talent for the sax. It's interesting to think what he would have done on tenor, had he continued. My guess is that he missed the extended range of the clarinet. I'm undoubtedly biased, but I really think of the woodwinds the clarinet is king in New Orleans style. This number is very interesting to hear, though, if only to see the scope of Pete's talent.

All in all, an important and enjoyable album from Pete's early years.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New Logos for Eric Seddon's Hot Club

Emphasizing our New Orleans roots, we've officially updated our band logo as of today:

'Like' and follow us on FaceBook for all the latest information about gigs and recordings! 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pete Fountain * "On Tour" * Coral Records (CRL 757357) * 1961

Side 1

1. Hindustan
2. New Orleans
3. Mississippi Mud
4. San Antonio Rose
5. Manhattan
6. Isle Of Capri

Side 2

1. Swanee River Rag
2. Indiana
3. Sentimental Journey
4. I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City
5. Moonlight In Vermont
6. Chicago

Pete Fountain, clarinet 
Jack Sperling, drums
Morty Corb, bass
Stan Wrightsman, piano

Though it's not one of my favorites, this album falls chronologically into what I consider Pete Fountain's golden era of small combo recordings for Coral Records. Like Pete Fountain's New Orleans (1959) and Pete Fountain's French Quarter (released in the same year as this, 1961), 'On Tour' features Pete's Los Angeles based colleagues: Jack Sperling on drums, Morty Corb on bass, and Stan Wrightsman on piano. Contrasting the earlier albums' programs, which evoked Pete's hometown, each standard selected  for 'On Tour' is named for a different locale--perhaps as a reminder that if you couldn't make it to Bourbon Street, perhaps Pete might make it to you.

Listening to the opening track, we're reminded how young stereo technology was in 1961, as the recording engineer has a little fun towards the end of Pete's 'Hindustan' solo. He puts Pete's three note motif first on one channel, then on the next during Morty Corb's bass solo, switching Jack Sperling's drums a couple of times as well, apparently hinting at the 'touring' program of the album. Two years later, Coral recording engineers would use the antiphonal channels more effectively with Pete's I Love Paris album. It's use here in 'Hindustan' comes off as a little too cute--gratuitous rather than enjoyable. Fortunately, it was a one-time gimmick, and doesn't haunt the entire album.

In the liner notes, Bud Dant, Pete's longtime collaborator and Coral A&R man, hinted that they'd put more work into polishing this album than others, explaining that they used four sessions (in contrast to the single session for Pete Fountain's New Orleans). Apparently, because these were all head arrangements, they felt a need to refine them a bit. I'm not sure if that helped the reception of the album at the time--perhaps critics and public were looking for something very clear and clean--but unfortunately, to my ear at least, that extra time and expense resulted in an album that sounds more scripted and far less spontaneous. The grooves are just a little on the cautious side, sounding a bit measured and stiff on tunes like 'Chicago' and 'Isle of Capri.'

That aside, there is still plenty of great playing on this album. It's nice to hear Pete on some numbers he didn't ordinarily record. 'Manhattan' and 'Moonlight in Vermont' are presented with the patented Fountain sound and phrasing. 'San Antonio Rose' gives a hint of Pete's interest in Country and Western (his father's favorite genre), which he would revisit throughout his career. For fans of Pete's up tempo work, there is plenty of crisp, tight, driving soloing on 'Hindustan', 'Swanee River Rag', and 'Indiana'. So this is a very good, solid album from an important era of Pete's work. But perhaps, just as his heart was at home in New Orleans, so too, if only coincidentally, with the albums. 'On Tour' simply sounds a bit less inspired than the other, NOLA themed records. For those wanting to hear an example of Pete's playing in a looser, more free wheeling environment in 1961, I recommend Live in Santa Monica which features brilliant playing by the same group of Sperling, Corb, Wrightsman, (adding Godfrey Hirsch on vibes).  It would be interesting to know whether 'On Tour' and the Santa Monica concert were recorded during the same trip west for Pete. If so, they really demonstrate the difference between the group's studio and live work at the time. Either way, they are an interesting contrast, and both are worth having in your collection.     

Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Medallion
(Eric Seddon Collection)

Friday, July 20, 2018

Presenting Pete Fountain With Al Hirt * Bourbon Street * Coral Records (CRL 757389) * 1962

Side A

Farewell Blues (*)
St. James Infirmary
March of the Bob Cats (*)
March Through the Streets of Their City

Side B

At the Jazz Band Ball (*)
Blues on Bourbon Street (**)
Jazz Me Blues (*)
Lazy River

Pete Fountain, clarinet
Al Hirt, trumpet (*)
Eddie Miller, tenor sax (*)
Abe Lincoln, trombone (*)
Stan Wrightsman, piano
Bobby Gibbons, guitar
Morty Corb, bass
Ray Bauduc, drums (*)
Jack Sperling, drums 
Godfrey Hirsch, vibes (**)
Dave West, piano (**)
Lowell Miller,  bass (**)
Paul Guma, guitar (**)

Bourbon Street is the companion piece to another Coral record released in the same year of 1962: Pete Fountain & Al Hirt: The New Orleans Scene. It's laid out identically to The New Orleans Scene, alternating between a full New Orleans band featuring both Fountain and Hirt, and Pete's smaller night club gigging ensemble of the early '60s. It's interesting that Coral didn't release all the Al Hirt sides on one of the discs, and all of the smaller groups on another, as the small combo tunes seem to me clearly the stronger ones on The New Orleans Scene. The level of excellence on this Bourbon Street album is consistent, though, with the full Dixieland contingent swinging hard and well.

Highlights of this album include excellent versions of 'Farewell Blues' and 'At the Jazz Band Ball' -- warhorses from the repertoires of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the Original Dixieland Jass Band, too often covered by bands with an exaggerated nostalgia even in the late '50s and early '60s. Hirt and Fountain tear into them like they were written yesterday, with a freshness and that subtle insistence common to all great music--that sense that the performers have a need to play the music. Perhaps only Eddie Condon's bands played these numbers as well, though I'd give the nod to Hirt and Fountain, for the simple reason that Condon never recorded them with a clarinetist so strong as Pete.

Pete's small combo recording of 'St James Infirmary' is, to my mind, one of the finest versions of the tune recorded. The mood is thoroughly 'modern'...not meaning that the harmonies or melodic style were influenced by modern jazz, particularly, but that the sound and space is once again entirely without nostalgia--a mournful strength runs through Pete's classic solo, with the ensemble murmuring assent. This is one of those performances that ought to make all clarinetists pause and think about the repertoire for the clarinet, even in terms of classical music. How many composers could write such a perfect statement? Such a heartfelt movement of music? Pete carves his own musical path, with assurance and maturity here. To my mind, this music won't ever go out of style any more than Brahms will.

On Side B we're treated to a Fountain/Dant original, 'Blues on Bourbon Street', which incorporates wisps of 'The Saints' and seems an after hours gamble through the Quarter in the wee hours after closing time. 'Jazz Me Blues' reinforces the authority of the Hirt/Fountain band to interpret the earliest jazz tunes, and Pete continues his seemingly endless variations on Sidney Arodin's 'Lazy River.'

Leonard Feather's liner notes are of interest to musicology, highlighting what probably ought to be better understood--the importance of the two poles of jazz in mid-century--52nd Street and Bourbon Street.

This is an essential album.

Image result for public domain photo bourbon street

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Pete Fountain * Swing Low, Sweet Clarinet * Coral Records (CRL 57394) * 1962

Side A

Dis Ol' Train
Sing You Sinners
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Down By the Riverside
Let Me Walk Closer to Thee

Side B

Yes Indeed
Swing Low, Sweet Clarinet
If I Go to the Promised Land
I Talk to the King (Fountain, Dant, & Wrightsman)
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho

Pete Fountain * Clarinet
Dick Cathcart * Trumpet
Plas Johnson * Tenor Sax
Godfrey Hirsch * Vibes
Stanley Wrightsman * Piano
Bobby Gibbons * Guitar
Morty Corb * Bass
Jack Sperling * Drums

Gwen Johnson * soprano voice
The Jubilee Singers * Vocals/Chorus

In many ways, this album feels like a precursor to Pat Metheny's Americana inspired projects: they seem to explore the juncture between 'jazz' and other 'roots' music, investigating what broader orchestration might be used to express the type of optimism and warmth of the American heartland--specifically the Midwestern America of the 1950s and 60s. To some, these projects are anathema: they're branded as 'commercial,' 'illegitimate', a straying from purist jazz, whatever that might be.   

The musical situation is complicated by the reality that this was indeed a commercial venture. Every professionally marketed recording is, of course--but in particular these forays of Pete Fountain and Bud Dant were certainly made with the hopes of capturing the mood of a large percentage of the listening public. The present album was no exception--it included a then recent Ray Charles hit--'Yes Indeed'--even hinting in Sam Rowland's liner notes that a "single of this title would be a smash hit!"

Growing up in the Northeast, slightly past the era when this album was produced, I initially found this album outside of my tastes--in an almost identical manner that I find Metheny tunes like 'Every Summer Night' difficult to enter emotionally. There seemed something a little too bubbly and optimistic about it for me. Living in the Midwest for the last 23 years, however, has changed my perception of this music in a good way. Honestly, I never really understood the attraction to the Nashville or Memphis sounds (which influenced Pete Fountain from an early age, and found their way into many of his records) until spending years among the landscapes and people of Southern Indiana and Kentucky (not quite Tennessee, but I guess close enough to 'get it'). I found that often what we from the coasts are dismissive of--what we call unsophisticated or naive--is really heartfelt gratitude, and a unique expression of beauty not to be found in other music. Not all of Pete's records in this style strike me as having that level of beauty, but this one does--to me it's one of the best examples of this type of Americana.

The opening number-- 'Dis Ol' Train'--hits with heartland ambiance full-force, Jubilee Singers and all. If you wonder whether this album is for you, it's front loaded to help decide! Even when I was most resisted to the aesthetic, I had to admit that when Pete and Jack Sperling broke in, I was amazed at the pure joy--it's an absolutely breathtaking moment of clarinet, drums, chorus--and if we're honest, what moment is like it in music history? It's kind of, well, strangely...unique. The rest of the album unfolds with similar interest.

The title track is a cover of an earlier record by the English classical soloist Reginald Kell. When I met him in 1990, Pete told me that of all the classical clarinetists of the past, he admired Kell the most, and didn't listen to many others. He preferred Kell for his big sound and expressiveness, which he felt more akin to New Orleans jazz players. The concept seems to have been to build an album around 'Swing Low, Sweet Clarinet', the title of which was an obvious reference to the spiritual 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' (also included). All of the other numbers are spirituals, some in small combo setting, some with big band, some with the whole contingent including the Jubilee Singers. Highlights for me are 'Dis Ol' Train' for reasons mentioned above, 'Sing You Sinners' (Pete with Quintet), and a 5/4 clarinet and Big Band version of 'Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.' As with all of these Fountain/Dant concept albums, the pacing, symbolism, and choice of tunes is first rate, the album flowing seamlessly from beginning to end.

Perhaps the final chapter in my long, slow, awakening to this type of music came when I was playing a duo gig a few years back with a pianist I'd never met before the job itself. We were hired to play New Orleans style music, and he was recommended to me. In between sets we talked about our favorite recordings and he brought up this album. In fact, he said with great sincerity and emotion that it was his favorite album of all time. I was shocked--this couldn't be true, could it? A professional jazz pianist preferring this over everything else? But it was. He even had a digitally remastered CD of it, the likes of which I'd never seen or heard. His quiet devotion to this album made me take it more seriously, and I've listened to it with more open ears, mind, and heart since.

So there you have it. Is this 'jazz'? Well, sure. Some of it. Is it likely to please a jazz audience? That depends on how receptive the listener is to this type of Americana. In my opinion, we'd better be open to this sort of expression, though, and perhaps try to tap into it creatively ourselves. To push it away only diminishes our musical world.

Detail from my copy of the original LP, showing the stamp of WHLD in Niagara Falls.
There's something nostalgic about imagining this LP played over the airwaves.
(Eric Seddon Collection)


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pete Fountain & Al Hirt * The New Orleans Scene * Coral Records (CRL 57419) * 1962

Side A

St Louis Blues (*)
All the Wrongs You've Done to Me
Lonesome Road (*)

Side B

I Used to Love You
I've Found a New Baby (*)
It's a Long Way to Tipperary
Might Like the Blues (*)

Pete Fountain * Clarinet
Al Hirt * Trumpet
Jack Delaney * Trombone
Roy Zimmerman * Piano
Joe Capraro * Bass
Arthur (Monk) Hazel * Drums

(*) Stan Wrightsman * Piano
(*) Bobby Gibbons * Guitar
(*) Morty Corb * Bass
(*) Jack Sperling * Drums

This was one of the first Pete Fountain albums I heard as a kid, and certainly my first exposure to Pete in a quartet setting. The quartet tracks are pretty much responsible for my addiction to the entire New Orleans tradition of clarinet--and I'm happy to say I've never completely gotten over them. The New Orleans Scene was also my first introduction to the repertoire presented--including 'St Louis Blues', which Pete plays in the key of F rather than the more standard key of G. Back in the dark days of the 1980s, before the internet, the only 'Real Book' out there was the pirated version, and most of the tunes were bop and early fusion. To my trad-oriented mind it was filled with numbers of very little interest, but because it was the standard gig book, I did my best with it. The only way a kid like me could really learn the tunes that Pete played was to transcribe them by ear and hope to run into a band of older players who knew them. As it turns out, that method is almost as old as jazz itself, and certainly an indispensable part of a jazz musician's learning process. I didn't know that then--just desperately felt the need to play this music (which, as it turns out, is also an indispensable part of being a jazz musician, so in retrospect I was following the right path).

Anyhow, I finally did run into that band of older players who knew 'St Louis Blues', getting my chance to sit in with them. That group was the Galvanized Jazz Band, and a quick internet search reveals this fine ensemble is still gigging regularly in Connecticut. To my ear, they were a real top notch Dixieland ensemble. I was about seventeen year old, and one of the older cornet players who used to play with them occasionally heard about me. He said I should get some experience playing 'out,' offering to take me the two hours or so of highway driving to get there. So we plunged onto the highway one Fall evening, in the type of relentless lashing rain that people from Connecticut know so well. The band was playing along Long Island Sound somewhere, at one of the many seafood bars--in retrospect as perfect setting you can get in the North for New Orleans style jazz. When I finally got my chance to call a tune, I figured I'd better call something I could rip on, to really impress the guys, and one of the only Real Book tunes I'd liked was John Coltrane's 'Mr. P.C.'

"Do you play any Trane?" I asked.

"No," was the annoyed response, and a couple of the band members rolled their eyes. My mind raced.

"How about St Louis Blues?"

"Now you're talking!"

I counted off and dug into the head--in the wrong key! I was playing Pete's version, rather than the standard! The guys were so good, though, we stopped and restarted--and they all transposed seamlessly behind me. The clarinetist for the band that night was very encouraging--I'll never forget our conversation about the music. Pete's recording of this came up--he probably realized it was from this album that I'd gotten the tune.

Some albums are so full of memories of time and place, so loaded with nostalgia, that they become impossible to separate from our lives. Or maybe we don't want to separate them--realizing that if we pull this album out to dissect it, our lives will start to fray too much in those spots. I'm that way with The New Orleans Scene--it was part of the sustaining soundtrack to my life as a teen, and a more or less constant companion afterwards. If I grudgingly attempt to look at it objectively for a moment, the numbers with Al Hirt and the larger ensemble never particularly grabbed my attention--though their version of 'Panama' is still the primordial template for the tune in my mind, from that first exposure. Honestly, there are other examples of Pete in a larger New Orleans ensemble setting that seem to have more spirit and verve (particularly earlier recordings from the mid 1950s). I'd also have to admit some of his other recordings of 'I've Found a New Baby' might even outstrip this brilliant studio recording--the live version on At the Bateau Lounge is certainly in the running. Still, these eight tunes are a very solid collection some of the great standards. Pete's playing on 'St. Louis Blues,' the aforementioned 'I've Found a New Baby,' and 'The Lonesome Road' were so powerful that they hooked me for life, and probably altered my trajectory from that of a New York kid wanting to play modern jazz and swing, to a clarinetist looking south towards New Orleans for my inspiration. 

So I recommend this short, patchwork album to everyone, with the caveat that I can't objectively listen to it. It's too much of an old friend. And for all you kids out there transcribing--by all means, get after Pete's playing as much as you can. But remember most bands play 'St Louis Blues' in G. 


Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Medallion
(Eric Seddon Collection)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pete Fountain Salutes the Great Clarinetists * Coral Records (CRL 757333) * 1960

Side A

Woodchopper's Ball
Petite Fleur
Sometimes I'm Happy
When My Baby Smiles at Me
March of the Bobcats

Side B

Begin the Beguine
Me and My Shadow
Green Eyes
Let's Dance
My Inspiration

Pete Fountain * Clarinet
Charles 'Bud' Dant * Big Band arrangements & Conductor

The second of Pete Fountain's Big Band collaboration albums with Charles 'Bud' Dant (the first being 1959's The Blues), Pete Fountain Salutes the Great Clarinetists highlights Pete's gratitude towards several clarinetists who either helped shape his style, or laid the trajectory for the branch of jazz he was to contribute to in his career. Those highlighted are Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Ted Lewis, Irving Fazola, and Jimmy Dorsey. Two in particular were foundational influences on his playing: Fazola and Goodman.

The liner notes of this album, written by Leonard Feather, are more interesting than most, as they touch upon jazz history. In them, Pete draws some telling lines, helping define his artistic goals, both in the album, and as a clarinetist.

"This is my tribute to some of the great people who have been associated with the clarinet. It's not in any way an attempt to duplicate their own individual styles," said Pete regarding the album itself. This caveat functions in at least a couple of different ways. First, it seem to me the only real way any meaningful jazz tribute can happen. To copy someone else's style wholesale, parroting back performances, is really antithetical and destructive to actual jazz, which has to be a representation of the actual person playing. That's not to say that influences are bad; they're not. We all can, and in a sense should be openly expressive of those who came before us--jazz musicians are part of a living tradition of this music, after all. But the very nature of this art form demands more than reproduction or interpretation: it demands the whole of a person's expression, which by definition will end up being unique.

In a secondary sense--and this can get a bit touchy--whether we're talking about Jimmy Dorsey or Monty Sunshine (whose version of Bechet's 'Petite Fleur' probably served as the immediate inspiration for its inclusion on this album), Pete was actually far more technically brilliant a performer, and couldn't duplicate the styles of such players without the result seeming like a parody. Comparison with Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert is instructive: during the historical survey, Benny's imitation of Ted Lewis sounds like a satire, though it was clearly an homage.  Pete's strategy on this album prevents such a problem. 

"I have to keep in mind," Pete went on with typical frankness,"that I was lucky to have an open field on my instrument. After all, when Benny Goodman came along, most of the time he had Shaw and Herman and Dorsey and others on his back; but the fellows who came up in between that period and the present--Buddy de Franco, Tony Scott and the others -- are in a different field and represent a different approach to the instrument."

To this, Leonard Feather interjects: "I would debate this last item; despite his New Orleans associations and Dixieland background, Pete essentially is a modern musician, one who has listened to jazz with ears that are as harmonically sensitive and fingers consistently agile as those of De Franco and the other contemporary stylists."

It's an interesting opinion. Buddy DeFranco was an acknowledged bebop virtuoso who had consciously left the Big Band and swing scene in the late '40s to pursue modern jazz single-mindedly. Though he'd occasionally return to that world for the sake of making ends meet, his jazz vocabulary and technique remained decidedly influenced by Charlie Parker. As a clarinetist, DeFranco was clear in interviews that he wasn't influenced or interested in the New Orleans tradition. He had been trained classically, and attracted to jazz clarinet specifically through the playing of Johnny Mince and Artie Shaw. He wasn't as openly dismissive of New Orleans style as Shaw later was (Artie claimed to have invented jazz clarinet along with Benny Goodman, suggesting everyone before them was more or less irrelevant), but DeFranco's attitude seems to have been similar.

Also at the time, and continuing to a certain extent to this day, there was already an ambiance cultural hauteur cultivated around bop and modern jazz: a pretense that it was somehow more intellectually and technically advanced than earlier jazz styles. Perhaps Feather was sensing that Pete's playing approach was just as virtuosically demanding as DeFranco's, or perhaps he felt Pete's ability to play over more contemporary rhythm sections suggested equality with modern jazz musicians. If so, he was certainly correct, and in any event, I think his point was meant to defend Fountain against condescension.

My own opinions about modern jazz and bop language are fairly well known to anyone who has read this blog for the past six years or so. I think it's a mistake to view jazz as an art in which one style supplants earlier expressions--and I think it's destructive to apply modern jazz language to all forms of jazz equally. I think we're getting to a point, perhaps because it is so conducive to conservatory pedagogy, that bop language has become a bit of an invasive species in other jazz ecosystems--we hear trad bands with bop language being used, which is kind of like thrusting Bartok  into Mozart's music. I hear bop language in gypsy jazz, smooth jazz, fusion. In one sense, it's a testimony to bop's popularity among musicians, but in another, something lyrical and expressive is being crowded out and lost.

Pete's playing, and what I think he meant by his comment, was that he had no interest in playing with bop vocabulary--he had built his clarinet style and language upon New Orleans and swing foundation, and would follow that trajectory. Significantly, unlike the modernists after him, he resisted switching to small bore clarinets--maintaining the large, commanding tone in the tradition of clarinetists from an earlier era. I've pointed out many times that the public seems to have preferred that style of clarinet, and that sound, at least in jazz.
As for this album in particular--beyond the very intriguing liner notes!--there's a lot to enjoy, but it is mostly about the arrangements.

"The orchestra," says Bud Dant, "was supposed to be built around Pete to showcase him, rather than to be integrated with him. And in the arrangements we would use a phrase or a passage here and there that might be reminiscent of the original recording, but here again there was no exact carbon copying." 

Pete's playing is solid, vintage Fountain, but perhaps not as dynamic as his playing on The Blues. He hits all of his spots and makes the tunes his own, but the stars of the show are Bud Dant, Don Bagley, Art Depew, Morty Corb, and Matty Matlock: the arrangers. Over the course of two sides and twelve tunes, they reinterpret swing era favorites for an audience in 1960. The charts all have the bright, streamlined quality of others of the era: the Elgart band come to mind, and the optimistic grace of Neal Hefti's work for Count Basie and Harry James. These are a bit broader than both, as their goal was primarily to frame Pete.

My favorites on this album are 'Sometimes I'm Happy', originally a Fletcher Henderson arrangement for the Benny Goodman band. Pete's version is arranged by Don Bagley, who masterfully weaves hints of the classic arrangement while giving it a completely different twist. Pete's statement of the melody demonstrates the importance of subtle tonal shadings for clarinetists--the meaning and nuance he brings to the simple melody carries the tune. That's apparent on all of Pete's recordings, and in many ways what sets him apart, but the simplicity of 'Sometimes I'm Happy' is also, in a way, it's difficulty. Pete shows how effective nuance can be.

'Frenesi' was such a big hit for Artie Shaw, I was skeptical anyone could reinvent it convincingly until I heard this version. Art Depew throws down a stylish cha-cha with his arrangement. It's a rare version of a creative cover that works just about as well as the original, making the listener want even more.

Another standout is Bud Dant's game plan for 'Petite Fleur.' This is a tune, like so many Bechet numbers, that seems to call out for larger orchestration, so operatic is the theme.

At the end of the day, this is a rather light album in terms of jazz. Mostly, it's a nice, refreshing listen on a hot summer day. Upbeat and romantic, it's a pretty showcase for Pete's legendary sound.

Bud Dant's words to close out the liner notes are a good reminder, though, of how important they felt the album to be to restoring the place of the clarinet in the jazz world:

"Pete hasn't only helped to bring the clarinet back in front where it should be," said Bud, "he's also managed, with his musicianship and his colorful personality, to make many new friends for jazz in general." This is context that's been marginalized in the decades since, and worth reconsidering when we think of the broad and diverse sweep of jazz music as a whole.

Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Bracelet 2015 (Eric Seddon Collection)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Pete Fountain * Mr. New Orleans * Decca (DL7-5377) * 1963

Side A

South Rampart Street Parade
Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet

The Second Line
Basin Street Blues
The Darktown Strutters' Ball
Marching 'round The Mountain

Side B

Over The Waves
Careless Love
Walking Through New Orleans
Sugar Bowl Parade
Farewell Blues
Washington And Lee Swing

Pete Fountain * Clarinet

Godfrey Hirsch * Marching Drum
Jack Sperling * Snare, Cymbal, Foot Drum
Nick Fatool * Field Drum
Paul Barbarin * Vertical Bass Drum with Brass Rim Cymbal
Jackie Coon * Trumpet
Moe Schneider, Lou McCreary, Bill Schaefer, Dick Nash, Dick Noel * Trombones
George Roberts * Bass Trombone
Bobby Gibbons * Banjo
Phil Stephens * Tuba
Morty Corb * Bass

Directed by Bud Dant

This is an unusual album, but also quite enjoyable if the listener is open-minded. It seems an experiment in tone painting--an interpretation of New Orleans street beats and parade music by a fictional marching band. That might sound odd...and, well, the music is a bit odd in a way, but that's part of its interest and charm.

First and foremost, the orchestration is innovative. Fountain and Dant employed four drummers, who play simultaneously, on this record, including Godfrey Hirsch on a marching drum, though he was usually Pete's vibraphonist! Along with Hirsch are three more legendary drummers, all playing street beats together--Jack Sperling, Nick Fatool (who played with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw before Pete), and New Orleans legend Paul Barbarin (whose credentials included stints with King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Freddie Keppard, and Jimmie Noone!) The four of them create a fictional marching drum corps, generating grooves for the entire album--and while the parade that aurally suggests itself is fictional enough, the groove isn't! What these masters did with marching and field drums was pure soul.

The band is trombone heavy with arrangements tending to script the low brass, giving Pete's clarinet and Jackie Coon's trumpet room to work. Those expecting real polyphonic improvisation, like Pete's earlier recording of South Rampart Street Parade with the Village Scramblers, might be initially disappointed by the opening of this album. When I first heard this record as a teenager some thirty years ago, I had a hard time getting past the counted off feeling and block arrangement that shocked my system at the beginning. My advice, though? Please stick with it. This album has a ton of very interesting and evocative playing and writing. You just have to understand the concept, which is unique. I've said that Pete's 1959 album The Blues is symphonic in its pacing and musical material, carrying the listener through. Similarly, Mr. New Orleans is like a tone poem--part orchestrated, part improvised--to evoke a clarinetist's view of a Mardi Gras Parade.

These arrangements probably wouldn't work very easily in actual parade circumstances--the balance would be difficult. The clarinetist would have to be mic'd and probably on a float, and who knows how acoustics would be properly achieved. But they hang together as though almost through-composed, with a unity typical of Fountain/Dant projects from this era. It's worth pointing out the diversity arrangers and arrangements:

Don Bagley arranged 'South Rampart Street Parade.'

'Grey Bonnet' and 'Careless Love' were good old fashioned head arrangements. According to Leonard Feather's liner notes, 'Farewell Blues' was virtually a head arrangement, too, with a little prodding from Bud Dant, who also wrote the playbook for Godfrey Hirsch's original 'Sugar Bowl Parade', 'Walking Through New Orleans', and 'Marching Round the Mountain.'

Matty Matlock had the honor of arranging Barbarin's original 'The Second Line' (with Barbarin in the drum corps!), while also contributing charts for 'Washington and Lee Swing.'

Heinie Beau arranged 'Basin Street Blues', 'The Darktown Strutter's Ball', and 'Over the Waves'.

Pete's playing is excellent throughout. His sound is particularly mellow and full. Either the sound engineers or his set-up avoided most of the reediness that comes through on his more aggressive live album soloing of the same time period, so if you like the Pete Fountain sound that is smoothest and most mellow, this is an album you'll want to hear, even if it's also pretty loud and raucous from beginning to end. While every jazz studio recording tends to balance clarinet somewhat synthetically, this one does so more extremely in a sense--enabling Pete to play in a very relaxed manner over four pounding drummers and blazing trombones, while still being easily heard. 

Jackie Coon's trumpet playing is a real treat on this LP, especially on the beautiful classic 'Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet.' Coon evokes all the sweetness and love of the old couple in the song, celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary and taking a ride through the fields to revisit the place they first said their vows. His nuance and sound are a perfect match for Pete's, leaving us to wish we had more examples on record of the two collaborating.

For Pete Fountain fans, of great interest is to hear how he navigates these arrangements of standards, propelled by street beats rather than a drum set with a ride cymbal. I think they'll be happy with the results. He even manages to salvage a tune like 'Over the Waves' which has been played so badly by so many--Pete imbues it with charm and jauntiness, rather than saccharine vibrato.

Fountain and Dant were to collaborate on many concept albums as the years progressed--some of them truly great, some less successful. To me, this is one of the most successful, worthy of repeated listening as the years go by.

Pete Fountain Half/Fast Walking Club Mardi Gras Doubloon
(Eric Seddon Collection)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Eric Seddon's Hot Club * Go Down, Moses * Bootlegs from the Bop Stop * Marlboro Man Music * 2018

Here's a video of a spiritual included on our new album Bootlegs from the Bop Stop, available through Marlboro Man Music here (shipping to the US only). All of the recordings for this album were captured live in single takes during our Trad Jazz Invasion of Cleveland's Bop Stop in the Fall of 2017.

Eric Seddon, clarinet
Jim Davis, cornet
Kevin T. Richards, guitar
Gene Epstein, bass
Bill Fuller, drums

video by Bill Laufer/Laufer Film


Pete Fountain * The Blues * Coral Records (CRL 757284) * 1959

Side A

St. Louis Blues
Blue Fountain 
Columbus Stockade Blues
Aunt Hagar's Blues
Lonesome Road
The Memphis Blues

Side B

My Inspiration
Wang Wang Blues
Beale Street Blues
Wabash Blues
Five Point Blues
Bayou Blues 

Pete Fountain * Clarinet
Stan Wrightsman * Piano
Morty Corb * Bass
Jack Sperling * Drums

Reeds: Babe Russin, Chuck Gentry, Eddie Miller, Jack Dumont, Matty Matlock, Russ Cheever, Wilbur Schwartz, William Ulyate
Trombones: Harold Diner, Moe Schneider, Peter Lofthouse, William Schaefer
Trumpets: Art Depew, Conrad Gozzo, Jackie Coon, John Best, Mannie Klein, Ray Linn,  Shorty Sherock

Charles Bud Dant * Director

Arrangements by Bud Dant, Frank Scott, Stan Wrightsman, Art Depew and Morty Corb

The Blues was the second of four albums Pete Fountain cut for Coral Records in 1959 immediately after his departure from the Lawrence Welk Show. This remarkable sequence of records seems to have been carefully considered to document Pete's many strengths. Pete Fountain's New Orleans, for instance, is a pristine, beautifully executed Los Angeles studio album of his quartet. At the Bateau Lounge showcases another of Pete's quartets (retaining Jack Sperling on drums for both dates) in a small New Orleans club. Contrasting that atmosphere considerably, Pete Fountain Day demonstrates the quintet's power in New Orleans Municipal Auditorium (proving, among other things, that before there was Arena Rock, there was exceptionally effective Arena Jazz). Municipal Auditorium is quite a space compared to a French Quarter lounge, holding nearly eight thousand people at capacity. And unlike any of the others, The Blues -- recorded in Los Angeles almost immediately after Pete Fountain's New Orleans -- demonstrates how compellingly Pete could front a Big Band.

That a jazz clarinetist will automatically succeed as a Big Band soloist is decidedly not a given. Polyphonic New Orleans jazz (whether it's called 'Dixieland' 'Ragtime' or 'Trad')  is in many ways a different discipline than Big Band approach, and not everyone can make the adjustments necessary. Sidney Bechet, for instance, over the course of his years recording with Noble Sissle's Orchestra in the 1930s, never seemed the right fit (though in fairness, it would have been interesting had Bechet put down the soprano sax in favor of the extended range of a clarinet for those recordings).

In order for the pairing of clarinet and band to work, a few things need to come into place. Most importantly, the player needs a commanding sound, especially in the altissimo, and the arrangements must work to the advantage of hearing the clarinet shine in all registers. Those elements are evident on this LP, which is perhaps the most enjoyable of all Pete's Big Band albums.

The arrangements by Bud Dant, Frank Scott, Stan Wrightsman, Art Depew and Morty Corb, while not typical of swing era writing, are certainly in the wheelhouse of late '50s, early '60s West Coast sound--direct precursors to the sort of clear, strong arrangements of Tommy Newsom and others, which would come to dominate the Tonight Show Band under Doc Severinsen for decades to come. They're extroverted at times and subdued at others, with large, sweeping gestures, leaving perfect room for Pete's rich chalumeau when necessary, and providing plenty of raucous volume for his altissimo to clear the band like a pole vaulter clears the bar at other moments.

The band itself was comprised of jazz veterans of the top ensembles of the swing era, many of whom had settled into the Los Angeles studio scene after the 1940s. There's a maturity and commitment to their playing not easily matched. 'St Louis Blues' sets the tone perfectly with hot playing from the band and dynamic altissimo of Pete at the climax. The rest of the album unfolds with the natural flow typical of Dant's skill as an arranger and producer. In fact, the remarkable flow of the various blues numbers chosen, along with their contrasting elements, gives the listener a sense of unity and diversity similar to a great symphony, with Five Points Blues on Side B functioning as a finale, and Bayou Blues (written by Pete's bass player, Morty Corb) as an epilogue or coda.

In between, however,  are plenty of numbers fans of Pete Fountain will want to hear regularly. 'Blue Fountain'--a moody, blues-noir number-- seems to have been written specifically for this album, by fellow Welk alum Frank Scott and the album's pianist Stan Wrightsman, and is a creative vehicle for Pete's singing lyricism. The other numbers show the remarkable range, formally and contentwise, of the Blues as a genre. There are marches, spirituals such as 'The Lonesome Road,' which Pete famously recorded in small combo settings as well, and ballads.  Side B leads off with 'My Inspiration,' a decided nod towards Pete's childhood hero, Irving Fazola, foreshadowing another Big Band album Pete was to record with Dant a year later--Pete Fountain Salutes the Great Clarinetists.

In terms of balance, soloing, and especially the engaging way this record pulls the listener through from beginning to end, this is a classic era Pete Fountain/Bud Dant collaboration. Highly recommended, essential listening, and a pure delight.

Pete Fountain 2015 Mardi Gras Doubloon (Eric Seddon Collection) 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Pete Fountain At the Bateau Lounge * Coral Records (CRL 757314) * 1960

Side A

Deep River
My Melancholy Baby
I've Found a New Baby
Mack the Knife
Creole Gumbo
You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me

Side B

Londonderry Air
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
After You've Gone
Gin Mill Blues
Little Rock Getaway
Blue Lou

  • Pete Fountain * Clarinet
  • Merle Koch * Piano
  • Don Bagley * Bass
  • Jack Sperling * Drums

Recorded Live at Dan's Bateau Lounge, Bourbon and Toulouse Streets

It's difficult to imagine any current musician releasing albums at the prolific rate of Pete Fountain in 1960. After the rapid succession of Pete Fountain's New Orleans, The Blues, and Pete Fountain Day, the clarinetist newly liberated from the world of Lawrence Welk and commercial music fired off his first small club live recording with Pete Fountain At The Bateau Lounge -- an astonishing fourth album in five months. Like the others in this series of Coral records, Pete is in top shape, partially because of the intense work schedule he was maintaining since returning to New Orleans. At the Bateau lounge he and the band were performing four shows a night, six nights a week, and the tightness of the ensemble show the value of that work.

Leading off the set is the traditional spiritual, 'Deep River', which had been recorded multiple times in the popular song adaptation version entitled 'Dear Old Southland' by Sidney Bechet. Contrasting Bechet's broad and heartfelt rhapsodizing, Pete ratchets up the tempo, sizzling with exuberance. While the choice of title was probably related to multiple factors, the symbolism serves to highlight the lyrics of the African-American spiritual: 

Deep river,
My home is over Jordan.
Deep river, Lord.
I want to cross over into campground.
Oh, don't you want to go,
To the Gospel feast;
That Promised Land,
Where all is peace?

The subject of homecoming--including ultimate spiritual homecoming--is therefore symbolically represented. And with Pete's crew, that means a pretty happening party.

This 'Melancholy Baby' is one of Pete's finest, and once again we hear why Pete's clarinet and Jack Sperling's drumming were so well matched. As usual when those two were in the same band, the rest of the group work around that central dialogue, Koch and Bagley gently murmuring responses.

'I've Found a New Baby', another stalwart Fountain show piece, is presented with polish, verve, and inspiration--the crowd appreciating everyone, and the intensity of the live date coming through. Sperling's drum solo, replete with double bass drums, is a high point, providing Pete with a launching pad for the ride out.

Aside from the standards on the album, we're treated to an original called "Creole Gumbo" credited to Fountain, Koch, and Bud Dant (arranger for many of Pete's big band, orchestral, and even small group numbers). It's a riff tune reminiscent in some ways of 'Struttin' With Some Bar-B-Cue' or any number of Benny Goodman sextet tunes like 'Seven Come Eleven' or 'Air Mail Special', but with a particularly Fountainesque flavor. The band obviously enjoys it, with Jack Sperling contributing a chorus of melodic drum soloing.

While I love all the cuts on this album, three from Side B stand out in particular to me. 'Londonderry Air' (Danny Boy) is the first--a medium uptempo version of the classic Irish Ballad, proving once again that anything lyrical is fit for the style of Fountain. The next is 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen.' Pete's take is intimate, reverent, but resolute. In the tradition of New Orleans clarinet that runs from Irving Fazola through Pete, there is a sweetness of sound he is able to get, matched by few others, while still retaining depth of statement. As a jazz clarinetist who in many ways specializes in Trad/NOLA style, I'm always less than impressed if the only means a player has to express depth is by becoming more extroverted. Contrasting  Pete with those whose style demands an overwrought approach is instructive: he has a far wider expressive palette, generated primarily from his tone, his attacks, and his phrasing. This is sometimes paradoxically lost on many modern jazz musicians and academics, but never on the public. And in fact, these things are perhaps even more important musical concerns for a professional than any amount of obscure harmonic analysis or rationalizing. 

'Gin Mill Blues' is my other favorite, simply because any time Pete plays a blues, I'll be listening.

This album is one of those that doesn't really transport the listener back in time, at least not me, simply because the music making sounds so valid today. It's perfect nightclub music--exuberant, relaxing, refined, intelligent, confiding, and heartfelt. Along with the others of this era that Pete cut, it's one of the finest live albums of jazz clarinet on record, perhaps the finest in a small club atmosphere. This band would outstrip most current jazz groups for professional nuance, emotion, and depth.

To my knowledge, as of this writing, while some of the tracks may have been remastered and released on compilation albums, I don't think it has ever been reissued as an entire album. My hope is that it will be soon, along with all of the early Coral masterpieces.

Autographed Portrait of Pete Fountain
(Eric Seddon Collection)