Sunday, September 23, 2007

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? - GHB Records

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?

1991 GHB Records BCD-300

CD Listing:
1. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
2. Up The Lazy River
3. Ain't She Sweet
4. Blues For Ziggy
5. Alice Blue Gown
6. Basin Street Blues
7. Honeysuckle Rose
8. When The Saints Go Marching In

Special Thanks To Owen Bradley. Bobby Bradley
Recorded By Smokey Lawrence
Cover Design: Robert Nowicki / New Orleans

Pete Fountain. Clarinet, Leader
Merle Koch, Piano
Bunky Jones. Bass
V.J. Bourgeois. Drums

Liner Notes:

"Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?"

To the casual observer, the clarinet might initially appear to be subservient to the glamorous and gleaming trumpets and trombones. On closer analysis, the little woodwind assumes a far more important role in the "front line" of a traditional jazz band. Like File' powder spices a gumbo, the clarinet is capable of bringing out the true flavor of the music.

The clarinet's varying tonal and emotional qualities can weave wonderful effects. In its lower register the horn exudes a mellow warmth; it's middle range produces sensuous slurs and swooping explorations. Climbing into it's higher frequencies, it can soar eloquently to a lofty brilliance. Inexplicably, the city of New Orleans has produced an impressive succession of great jazz clarinetists since the turn of the century when Lorenzo Tio's E Flat clarinet cut through the street noise as the Excelsior Brass Band marched in the Vieux Carre.

Pete Fountain is the latest, and by far, the most successful, of the lengthy dynasty of New Orleans clarinet titans. He has held the scepter for many years and his popularity in New Orleans is tremendous - he could easily run for mayor - and be elected! I remember the first time I heard Pete Fountain. It was on a 78 RPM recording sent to me back in 1949 by the late Dr. Edmond Soutane II, a well known New Orleans physician and socialite who loved his city's music. The recording was "Cooking' With Atomized General Gas" - a radio commercial for the local gas company. The music was played by a group of young musicians called the Basin Street Six and featured a sixteen-year-old clarinetist, Pierre Dewey LaFountaine, Jr. The youngster demonstrated a flowing authoritative style that reflected a strong Irving Fazola influence. It was evident that this very talented youth was destined to achieve fame and fortune. say, is history.

This music was recorded by sound engineer Smokey Lawrence on July 22, 1983 before a small audience at Michele's Silver Stope, Merle Koch's saloon in Nevada's historic mining town, Virginia City. Working inventively within the intimacy of the quartet format, the Pete Fountain horn is heard at its maximum potential. The late Merle Koch, whose relationship with Pete Fountain dates back to 1959, provides an ideal piano accompaniment. Although Koch was unable to read music, every solo here is a gem. He had a unique style that gracefully blended the diverse textures of Bob Zurke & Jelly Roll Morton.

By devoting ten minutes each to four very familiar numbers, Pete Fountain's flowing inventiveness meets the challenge as he creates personal and highly expressive versions of these very familiar tunes. His elaborate exploration of Fats Waller's well known Honeysuckle Rose reveals harmonic and rhythmic variations that even Fats had never envisioned. When the Saints Go Marching In, certainly the most overworked of the traditional "war horse" tunes, gallops at a fresh pace, and establishes a new standard by which the gospel inspired song can be judged. We have heard Up A Lazy River umpteen times, but the elusive beauty of Sidney Arodin's swinging little melody has never been so impressively showcased. While Basin Street ran approximately northeast to southwest through the streets of old Storyville, Pete Fountain's version approaches the Spencer Williams standard from every possible direction and unleashes a varying sequence of moods and modes from funky to fervent - including a brief "Rhapsody in Blue" reference.

Drawing from a wide spectrum of musical hues, Pete shifts adroitly from the warm titian tone that enervates Ain't She Sweet? to a brooding cerulean mood on Blues For Ziggy, a variation on the venerable "Tin Roof Blues." (the moniker, "Ziggy," by the way, is Pete's nickname for his beautiful gold keyed clarinet.) Merle Koch's name, unfortunately, has fallen through the cracks of jazz history. Throughout his career, he maintained a low profile. He disdained publicity and never pursued fame or personal gain. He was completely dedicated to his music and preferred the slower pace and intimacy of his little saloon to the bright lights of more popular venues. Merle's death in 1987 was almost unnoticed and rippled few waves of despair in the jazz world. this CD is part of an obscure legacy that, hopefully, will eventually emerge to properly illuminate Merle Koch's name.

Richard "Bunky" Jones brilliantly handles the bass role and "V.J." Bourgeois, who died last year, plays very supportive drums. These veterans of the big band era are vital adjuncts to the quartet's pulse. Jones spent thirteen years at the Silver Stope playing beside Marle Koch and his many guest artists who appeared there. Jones' taunt manner of shaping a bass line adds a surging vitality most evident on Up A Lazy River and Honeysuckle Rose.

"V.J.'s" admirably simplistic approach to the music keeps an effusive (never obtrusive) rock-steady beat. Listen to the delicacy of his rhythmic counterpoint to Fountain's melodic lead on In My Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown, and his empathetic foundation for the swinging solos by Fountain and Koch on Up A Lazy River. I doubt very much if Pete Fountain Knows What It Means To Miss New Orleans - he seldom leaves his hometown. When he fulfills the important jazz engagements that occasionally take him to many parts of the world, he carries with him the vibrant spirit of the Crescent City that emerges joyously from the jewelled bell of his horn. Fortunately, for all of us, Smokey Lawrence was on hand when Pete Fountain visited his friend Merle Koch in Virginia City back in 1983; as a result, "Ziggy's" glorious sounds have been faithfully captured for release on this CD.

- Floyd Levin

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