1972 Henry Regnery Company
A Closer Walk: The Pete Fountain Story
Pete Fountain With Bill Neely
Photographs from the book.
Peter Dewey Fountain, Jr. was born July 3, 1930 in New Orleans, the cradle of American music, Jazz. He was a skinny kid who spent too much time hanging around the front stoop of the Top Hat Dance Hall near his home. The Top Hat was a stronghold of Dixieland Jazz and Jazz already had a strong hold on Pete Fountain. But, oh the sounds! This was music straight from the soul. Sounds that would never be written in stone, that would always be brand new because they were purely personal. Pete heard all the greats in New Orleans and he knew he wanted to play Jazz.
After endless hours of practicing and listening to the recordings of Benny Goodman and Irving Fazola, the personal sound of Pete Fountain began to emerge and it was "Fat." By the time Pete was 16, he had already gained a reputation on the street, Bourbon Street.
Through these formative years of his musical training, Pete performed with several sensational bands. One such band was the Junior Dixieland Band which performed in the famous Parisian Room-often performing for legendary jazz men. It was a heady time of life and Pete Fountain was savoring every moment.
A few years later Pete joined Phil Zito's International Dixieland Express. They were playing the El Morocco on the street. It was there he met Beverly. She had decided very young to marry a musician and Pete had decided very young to be a musician.
Pete was performing with some of the best known jazz bands in the country--The Basin Street Six, The Dukes of Dixieland, Al Hirt--and it was great.
Until 1956...Be-Bop and Rock & Roll were the hot new sounds, and the music that Pete loved could not provide him or anybody else with a living. Jazz, in its own birthplace New Orleans, was definitely asleep. He gave up music. He had no choice. With a wife and three small children to support, music was a luxury he could not afford.
All he really wanted to do was play music. All he needed was a band, a bandstand and a place to play.
In 1957, Lawrence Welk, host of the nation's most popular television program, wanted Pete on the show, and that kind of opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. For two years, Pete was the most famous Jazz musician on television. Pete Fountain became a household name and New Orleans Jazz made a comeback that has never faded.
After two years in California, Pete came home to New Orleans. He had learned what every New Orleanian has to accept as a fact of life. you can leave New Orleans, but it never leaves you. The cuisine, the sights and the sounds.
Pete immediately opened his own jazz club in the heart of the French Quarter. His national fame and fans followed him to New Orleans which allowed Pete's club to expand, through the past 34 years, into the largest jazz club in the city.
Pete has always been considered an ambassador of New Orleans Jazz as he performs his music on guest appearances on network television and specials. Some of the highlights have been such classics as the Ed Sullivan, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Andy Williams specials. More recently his credits include A Close up of Pete Fountain, Super Bowl Saturday Night and the National Memorial Day Concert. He also performed 59 times on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show."
Pete has performed at four U.S. State Dinners by command performance for four Presidents of the United States. He has also performed for Pope John Paul II at the New Orleans Papal Mass with an attendance of over 400,000 people.
During Pete's career, he has recorded 56 albums and has been a featured performer on 44 additional albums for a total of 100 recordings. Three of Pete's albums have gone gold, "Pete Fountain's New Orleans," "The Blues," and "Mr. New Orleans." He also received a gold record for his hit single "Just A Closer Walk With Thee."
Through Pete's career he has received numerous awards and honors including a Doctorate of Music from the College of Santa Fe; he was voted the #1 Jazz Clarinetist for 13 consecutive years in the Playboy Readers Poll; he was King of Bacchus; he received an Emmy for the 1990 Super Bowl Pre-Game Music; and he was awarded the 1993 Louisiana Legends Award.
Pete has performed with music legends ranging from Louis Armstrong and Harry James to Harry Connick, Jr. Yet to this day his greatest thrill is taking the stage and performing the music he loves, watching as it works its irresistible magic on the audience. Straight to the soul.
Pete Fountain and his wife, Beverly, have three children and five grandchildren. He divides his DAYS between his family, various charitable organizations and his favorite fishing hole.