Works

Traditional New Orleans Jazz, Conversations with the Men Who Make the Music, Louisiana State University Press, 2011. This is just a reminder of my book, which is available in both paperback and electronic editions from the press, Amazon and a variety of New Orleans bookstores for $22.50. Check it out.
 
The following article appeared in the Tessiner Zeitung of Locarno, Switzerland, 29 June 2007, p.22.

STEVE BLAILOCK REMEMBERS ED FRANK, “He was my total hero,” says the late New Orleans jazz guitarist

Guitarist (and banjoist) Steve Bailock (1944-2013) moved to New Orleans permanently in 1984. Among the musicians with whom he worked in those early years was pianist and arranger Ed Frank, whom he calls “my total hero.” Tom Jacobsen, a journalist from New Orleans, met with Steve BIailock a few days ago in the courtyard of the Collegio Papio. Here are some of the thoughts [Steve] shared with him.

[TJ] So you played frequently with Ed Frank? “Yeah,” answered Steve Blailock, “we worked every night together in the lobby of the Marriott [Hotel]. We had a trio: Ed and me, and Gerald Adams on bass. It got to where he called me for a lot of recording sessions. anything he was on. He was probably the quickest cat I’ve ever known. He played like Bud Powell, you know. a real strong bebop player. But he also had all those New Orleans influences too. He and James Booker were roommates. He was actually married to Booker’s sister. That was his first wife. He was so quick in so many ways. One night we were playing a gig and a guy came up and said. ‘You play really well, but why do you only use one hand when you play?’ And Ed, just like that, said, ‘gig don’t pay much.’ (laughs) He was always doing something like that. People would be talking and trying to figure stuff out, and Ed would be sitting there with a big grin on his face and he would sum it up in three words. People were boring him to death.
 


“His sister is a psychologist. Her name is Edwina. and she was probably the closest person to Ed. She’s lold me stories about when he was growing up. He couldn’t understand why people couldn’t grasp things as quickly as he did. He had a problem with that, but he would never show it. He always had this beautiful presence about him. Every time you saw him. He always made you feel good. a real supporter. I think that’s why he was loved so much. He helped so many people. He had so much to offer.

“On that second cut on my CD [Mixed Bag, 1996], ”I’ll Close My Eyes,” when we went in to record it, I played it through one time. He looked over t0 me and said, ‘You going to play it that way?’ I said. ‘Yeah, why?’ He said, ‘Cause that ain’t the way it go.’ So I told the recording engineer, ‘Let Ed play this just by himself.’ So I learned how the song really went, and we recorded it the next day. But I came in for a session another day–we were doing some overdubs and Ed didn’t tell me anything about it–and he had written this beautiful synthesized string arrangement t0 put behind it. To me, man, that’s the most beautiful thing on the session. I didn’t even ask him to do it. He just did it.

“He had tremendous obstacles going against him. We spent about two weeks together. I just stayed over at his house, and we wrote. We were doing a CD for a lady there in New Orleans. And she wanted all the music original, s0 we sat over there for two weeks and wrote it. His house was totally immaculate, with that one hand. Every pair of pants was hung up, every shoe, just everything was immaculate. And he was a single guy.

“He was funny, man. You know what he did? He went up to a guy in New York one time and said, ‘You know, you’ll never be the man your mama was.’ (laughs uproariously) Once he called his girlfriend in New Orleans and said, ‘You know what I’m doin’? I’m sitting here with a white boy with a gold tooth that plays the blues and he wanted me to go to sleep’!’ (laughs)

“He was just so quick. He could write arrangements at the drop of a hat, complex stuff, and just beautiful. Playing with him, Tom, I have never worked with anybody that played the perfect chord changes as he did. It was a perfect logic. stuff that I wouldn’t think of in a million years. It just led exactly where it should go. That was totally his, and that’s one reason why I miss him.

“People couldn’t just pick that up. It was a pure pleasure playing with Ed. Ed was there for one purpose: to make you soar. And that’s what he did. I couldn’t say enough good things about him.”

 

April 7, 2012
The following is a piece that will appear in the June issue of The Clarinet magazine. In fact, it can now be seen on the website of the International Clarinet Association as a “Preview Article,” which follows (photos omitted):

THE JAZZ SCENE

by Thomas W. Jacobsen

New Orleans Clarinetists Today: Pete Fountain

The following is the first in what I hope will be a series of occasional pieces about jazz clarinet players presently working in New Orleans. Accordingly, it seems most appropriate to begin with a brief account of the life and career of the dean of the city’s clarinetists: Pete Fountain. There is probably no more popular or highly esteemed jazz musician in New Orleans today. He has truly become a legend in his own time.

Pete Fountain was born Pierre Dewey La Fontaine Jr. in New Orleans July 3, 1930. Soon thereafter his father changed his own name to Peter Dewey Fountain, thereby modifying his son’s surname as well.

Young Pete was raised in a modest double “shotgun” cottage at 822 N. White St., between Dumaine and St. Ann Streets, one block on the lakeside of N. Broad St. It was an ethnically diverse working-class neighborhood (said to be predominantly French-Spanish-Italian) in what would today be known as Mid-City.

Fountain was introduced to jazz at a tender age. He would hear music played by the likes of Sharkey Bonano, the Prima brothers, clarinetist Raymond Burke and other top local bands while standing outside the Top Hat Club (St. Ann and Dorgenois, on the downtown side of Broad), just a few blocks from his . His father, who drove a beer truck for the Dixie Brewing Company, was an amateur musician. When a doctor recommended that the youngster take up a wind instrument because of weak lungs, he bought Pete a clarinet (at age 12). From that point on, the boy set his goal to be another Benny Goodman. Soon, however, a neighbor introduced him to the music of Irving Fazola who immediately became a second idol. His devotion to Fazola soon led to his nickname “Little Faz” among local jazz fans, and he later replaced his idol on a gig the day Fazola died. Pete inherited at least two of Faz’s clarinets. He in turn gave one of them, a Boehm model to which Faz had switched from a “half-Albert” in his later years, to his erstwhile protégé Tim Laughlin.

Fountain’s formal musical training was of limited duration by today’s professional standards. It began in public school at McDonogh 28, just a few blocks from his home. At the same time he took private lessons on clarinet at the State Band School of Music, which was run by well-known jazz cornetist Johnny Wiggs (John Wigginton Hyman, 1899–1977).

His music education continued at Warren Easton High School, where he had been recruited because of his talent. There his band instructor encouraged him to take additional private lessons with Emanuel Allessandra, a member of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. Because of work opportunities and his growing reputation as a jazz musician, Pete left school two months before graduation. With that, his formal music education came to an end. But, as he has often said, his real jazz education was gained on “The Street,” working with veteran jazzmen at the clubs on Bourbon Street.
One of his fellow students at State Band School was the fine trumpeter George Girard (1930–1957), about three months his senior. The two boys became close friends, played together, and recorded, for the first time, with drummer Phil Zito’s International City Dixielanders (1949). That band broke up but re-emerged as the Basin Street Six, a talented and tight group that made three recordings on the Mercury label in the early ’50s. Fountain and Girard also recorded with veteran trombonist Santo Pecora and his band.

While in high school, Pete had met the Assunto brothers, trumpeter Frank (1932–1974) and trombonist Freddie (1929–1966). They formed the Junior Dixieland Band, a group that won a national amateur competition sponsored by bandleader Horace Heidt in 1947. They gained celebrity status as a result of subsequent touring with the Heidt organization.

The Assuntos then formed the Dukes of Dixieland in the early 1950s, and Fountain recorded and briefly toured with that band in the mid-’50s. Despite the band’s success, he returned to New Orleans when his second child (son Kevin) was born. (Pete and his wife Beverly were married in 1951, and they have remained a team ever since.) He recorded with well-known local bandleaders such as drummer Monk Hazel and trumpeters Tony Almerico, Sharkey and Al Hirt, and he made his first recording as a leader in 1954 (Pete Fountain and his Three Coins).

But Fountain’s big break—one that would redirect the course of his career and establish his reputation for good—came in 1957 with a call from popular bandleader Lawrence Welk. He was hired as the Welk band’s jazz clarinetist for their weekly television shows from the West Coast, thereby exposing him to millions of viewers—a great many of whom immediately became fans—across the country. Pete became an overnight star.
Fountain stayed with Welk until 1959, by which time he decided that he had had enough. Like so many New Orleans musicians who leave the city to pursue opportunities elsewhere, he succumbed to the powerful magnetism of his birthplace and returned home. He did not agree with those who criticized him for “going commercial” during his Welk interlude, arguing that it had been an opportunity to introduce many people to jazz who had not been exposed to it before.

Upon his return to his home town, Fountain realized a long-held dream by opening his own club on Bourbon Street. With his newly-acquired star appeal, it became an immediate success drawing fans from all over the country. That was followed by a larger club on Bourbon Street until he opened a more posh venue in the Hilton Hotel Riverside in 1977. The latter remained his local base until 2003, when he decided that 43 years as a club owner was enough. During this period, Fountain was a frequent guest on national television talk shows (including 59 appearances on the Johnny Carson show) and made scores of records. In all, he has made about 100 recordings. Three of his albums (Pete Fountain’s New Orleans [considered by many his best], The Blues, and Mr. New Orleans), as well as one single (“A Closer Walk with Thee”), have “gone gold.” Recognition of his popularity in his hometown was reflected by the erection of a life-size statue of the clarinetist in Music Legends Park on Bourbon Street in April 2003.
With a vibrato that is perhaps the most identifiable characteristic of his big sound, Pete has been quoted, “Between Faz and Benny, I tried to come up with my own style. I tried to combine Faz’s fat mellow sound together with Goodman’s drive and technique.”
The years since then have not been easy for Fountain. Like so many along the Gulf Coast, his primary home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi—along with the entirety of its contents and memorabilia—was totally destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. This had a severe impact on his life in so many ways, not least in terms of his health. For the first time in 45 years he missed participating in Mardi Gras with his Half-Fast Walking Club (HFWC) in February 2006. In the following month he had open-heart (quadruple by-pass) surgery, from which he recovered successfully (even performing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival later in May). Loyola University of New Orleans awarded him an honorary degree that spring as well.

Nevertheless, he resumed his regular gig at the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis and was back living there in a renovated home. His last performance at the Hollywood was in December 2010. He put his property up for sale and moved back to his old home in the Lake Vista neighborhood of New Orleans, where he continues to reside today.
Pete resumed his participation with the HFWC at Mardi Gras in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and, as of this writing, 2012. The group observed its 50th anniversary in 2010, and it was an honor for me to be part of that special occasion.

Fountain and his family celebrated his 80th birthday with a festive party at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl Club in New Orleans in July 2010. The hall was filled with hundreds of his admirers, and, of course, Pete “tooted” for them.

Fountain’s health remains fragile, but he expresses no interest in retiring. Since his major heart surgery, he suffered two minor strokes and a severe case of the shingles. As of this writing, he was playing very few gigs apart from his annual appearances at Mardi Gras, French Quarter Festival (he’s played at all of them since the beginning) and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (“Jazzfest”). Tim Laughlin, Pete’s ”best protégé” (as he puts it), has always been at his side in his public performances in the last few years. “He is my man,” Pete often says publicly.

I can only say, in conclusion, that I join his many other admirers in wishing Pete the very best and looking forward to his appearance at Jazzfest 2012.

Equipment
Pete played his Leblanc France Pete Fountain model clarinet with a large 15 mm bore and gold-plated keys on some 40 albums and countless live performances. Fondly known as “Old Betsy,” he gave the instrument to his buddy Tim Laughlin in 2009, replacing it with a modified version known as the Leblanc Fountain “Big Easy” model, with an O’Brien mouthpiece and ligature. He uses M.A.R.C.A. (#2 ½ ) reeds.

For further reading
Charles Suhor, “Pete Fountain,” Downbeat 28 (1961) 20–21
Pete Fountain with Bill Neely, A Closer Walk, The Pete Fountain Story, Henry Regnery, Chicago, 1972
Nick Compagno, “A Closer Talk with Pete Fountain,” The Clarinet 20:1 (1992) 34–38
Thomas W. Jacobsen, “Tim Laughlin, Second Banana or Heir Apparent?,” in Traditional New Orleans Jazz, Conversations with the Men Who Make the Music, LSU Press, Baton Rouge (2011), 41–52
John Swenson, “A Half-Fast Walk with Pete,” OFFBEAT, April, 2011, 44–48

Selected recordings as leader/​featured soloist
Pete Fountain’s New Orleans (1959, Coral CRL 57282)
The Blues: Pete Fountain with Charles “Bud” Dant’s Orchestra (1959, Coral CRL 57284)
Mr. New Orleans (1963, Coral CRL 757440)
Pete’s Place: Recorded Live at Pete Fountain’s French Quarter Inn (1964, Coral CRL 757453)
Cheek to Cheek (1993, Ranwood RDS 1009.

Picture captions:
1. French Quarter Festival, April 2008. Pete, still in frail condition, acknowledges a warm reception from his countless admirers.
2. Pete Fountain’s boyhood home today. It is the left-hand half of the double.
3. Rock ‘n’ Bowl, July 2010. Tim Laughlin and Pete “tooting” at Pete’s 80th birthday party.
4. Same venue. Pete and wife Beverly.