With a modest musical talent and lots of warm personality, clarinetist Pete Fountain has become a rich man -- and for many people a symbol of the way New Orleans jazz used to be played.
His life, most of which has been spent performing in his native New Orleans, is celebrated in tonight's PBS special, "Pete," (9 p.m. on Channel 26).
It's a one-hour look at the diverse life of the 50-year-old Fountain, who's been performing for 35 years. He's interviewed and shown traveling and performing with his band, relaxing at home with his wife, children and grandchildren, drinking prodigiously with friends and realtives, fishing from a luxurious yacht and leading a colorful New Orleans parade he organized.
So, it's not the cliche-ridden rags-to-riches story of a musician to which we have become accustomed.
Though he was born in Back o' Town, a poor section of New Orleans, Fountain has enjoyed a comfortable existence all his life. But today he drinks only $20-a-bottle white wine, owns three gold-plated clarinets, lives at various times in three homes while building a fourth and leads a nine-piece band that performs only one 90-minute set a night at the New Orleans Hilton. b
In the eyes of most, he's got it made. But Fountain says he's not impressed with his music-making and acknowledges that he plays more popular music than jazz. That's pretty honest talk from a guy whose fans think he's a jazz hero. Fountain didn't set out to gain fame and fortune, and through it all has managed to enjoy life thoroughly.
The program -- most of it shot recently in Louisiana, but supplemented with black-and-white film from Fountain's days with the Basin Street Six and Lawrence Welk -- is a sympathetic look at a warmhearted man who seems to get a bigger charge out of playing with his grandchildren than playing music.