Ol’ Pete was my first musical idol. Soon after starting clarinet in the 5th grade Grandpa started motivating me: “Maybe some day you’ll play like Pete Fountain.” Dad had a few of his records, and then I went to see him at brand new Jones Hall for my 12th birthday. I was enthralled. I spent a lot of hours playing clarinet over the next 10 years. It provided some great opportunities and many of my fondest memories from that time period.
Oh sure, my eye (and ear) wandered over the years: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, even some great classical players (Robert Marcellus playing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto is the very definition of sublime). But to this day my all time favorite album is “Pete’s Place”. I saw him several times at his club in the New Orleans Hilton and it was always a thrill. I wasn’t old enough to see him on Lawrence Welk in his early days (YouTube has a few clips) but it was great fun to watch him on Johnny Carson. He was a quiet, down to earth guy, but never without a twinkle in his eye. Johnny wasn’t awed by many, but you could tell he really respected Pete.
And of course, I never lived up to Grandpa’s hope. Cuz with Pete came The Sound. That big, round, fat sound! A sound that 99.9% of all clarinetists that ever lived would kill for. But that was Pete. Ol’ Pete. My man Pete.