Pete Fountain, the New Orleans-born-and-bred jazz clarinetist who go on to become a local musical icon of the Crescent City, passed away in his beloved New Orleans on Saturday morning after several years of declining health at age 86.
Mr. Fountain's manager, who happened to be his son-in-law, said that Pete passed away from heart failure. He had been in hospice care in New Orleans.
After two years as a featured performer on Lawrence Welk's ABC television network shows (1957-59), Pete returned to New Orleans and rarely left except to appear on almost five dozen Johnny Carson-hosted Tonight Shows.
When Mr. Welk offered Pete a spot in his Champagne Music orchestra, the clarinetist and his family packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
When Pete first appeared in 1957 on Lawrence Welk's Top Tunes and New Talent, he sported a receding hairline, and goatee, and glasses. It was Lawrence who told him to ditch the glasses, trim the underlip hair, and get a toupee.
Pete's outstanding performances were always among the highlights on Lawrence's two weekly ABC shows (the Saturday Dodge Dancing Party and the Monday Top Tunes and New Talent---which in 1958 moved to Wednesday and became The Plymouth Show).
When Pete left Mr. Welk in 1959, he returned to New Orleans and opened his own nightclub at 800 Bourbon Street the following year. He would eventually moved to an enlarged facility at 231 Bourbon.
Outside of his 59 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Pete rarely, if ever, left the city of his birth.
He recorded numerous record albums for Decca's old Coral Records subsidiary during the 1960s featuring his Benny Goodman and Irving Fazola-influenced style.