Pete Fountain, New Orleans Jazz Clarinetist

The Lawrence Welk Show: Pete Fountain Plays “The Tiger Rag”

When I was a kid in the 1960s, there were jazz musicians who I came to know. Not because I actually listened to their music, but through some popular culture osmosis. Maybe I saw them on variety shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Maybe their faces showed up on the promotional record sleeves that accompanied my sister’s Columbia Records Club collection. Names like Al Hirt, Boots Randolph–and Pete Fountain, who passed last week–were somehow, some way familiar to me.

I suppose their typically upbeat music was unobjectionable enough to thrive in a 3-network world. Like a Kraft cheese single, they were packaged for mainstream tastes. But they were all accomplished musicians.

Fountain (July 3, 1930-August 6, 2016) took up the clarinet as a kid, in part to strengthen weak lungs. From the time he was in his teens he played in New Orleans clubs. A talent scout for Lawrence Welk spotted him at Pier 600 and enticed him to move to LA, where he was a member of the Welk orchestra for a few years before returning to New Orleans.

Fountain’s fame resulted in New Orleans declaring a “Pete Fountain Day” in 1959, and he went on to perform with a number of bands and run his own clubs. He was founder of the “Half-Fast Walking Club,” a fixture of the annual Mardi Gras Parade.