FONTANA 1928 - 2003
Fontana, Trombone legend of the World!
This page is updated:
April 29, 2021 6:54 PM
July 18, 1928, Monroe, Louisiana - d.
October 9, 2003, Las Vegas, Nevada
(Carl's daughter) wrote to René Laanen
Vegas, 09 October 2003
dad passed away Oct 9th at 12:50 pm.
He died peacefully and not in pain. I am so sad......and
yet I am so happy that he is free from this terrible disease
that has kept him prisoner for these past 3 years. I know
he is in heaven having a huge jam session with all his old
friends and his family.
Please let all of his friends and fans know that he passed
away peacefully listening to his music playing in the background.
I believe that is what he needed to let go. All his children
were near. I am doing alright...It is hard to write....Just
be happy for my dad that he can be free to do anything he
wants to now...he is free.
My father thanks everyone as do I for caring so much...Thank
you for being a voice for me and for my dad. Thank you so
very much! You all have opened up my heart in a special way...I
am truly grateful.......God bless!
4933 W. Craig Road #246
Las Vegas, Nv. 89130
world has lost a legend.
Thank you Carl for sharing your marvelous trombone talents
the rest of us.
Bass trombonist/Author - Trombone Page of the World
the son of band leader/saxophonist/violinist Collie Fontana, in whose
band Carl played during his teen years. Unlike many young musicians
in the '30s and '40s who opted to go right from high school into touring
musical groups, Carl attended the two-year school in his home town
(now University of Northeast Louisiana) and then transferred to LSU
where he received his Bachelor's degree and finished nearly all of
the requirements for a Master's as well, before receiving a phone
call from Woody Herman that eventually led to a three year stint with
the Third Herd in a trombone section that included the Green brothers,
Urbie and Jack.
Independent, 11 October 2003
Carl Fontana Outstanding jazz trombonist
Charles Carl Fontana, trombonist and bandleader: born Monroe,
Louisiana 18 July 1928; married (two sons, one daughter); died
Las Vegas 9 October 2003.
an odd fact that all the really outstanding jazz trombonists
were very low on ego. Carl Fontana, perhaps the most gifted
player of his time, certainly was. He played potent and dazzling
music in such a facile way that it was rather like Leonardo
da Vinci sawing off a length of picture on demand.
first surfaced in 1951. The Woody Herman band was playing
at the Blue Room in New Orleans when its virtuoso trombone
soloist Urbie Green had to return to New York for three weeks
when his wife gave birth. A young local musician hired as
a temporary replacement arrived in the band room. "Can
I help you?" asked the tenor player Dick Hafer. "I'm
here to replace Urbie Green," said Fontana. "You're
here to replace Urbie Green?" repeated Hafer, as the
band musicians roared with sardonic laughter.
an hour or so later, their jaws dropped as Fontana ripped
off a series of agile and eloquent solos that instantly announced
him as a challenger to the crown of Jay Jay Johnson, the trombonist
who dominated the era. From then on, Fontana never looked
back and no one has ever challenged his supremacy. His several
disciples approached his speed and technical agility, but
no one ever matched his sublime streams of improvisation.
was so impressed that when Urbie Green returned he kept Fontana
in the band. The young man abandoned his studies for his master's
degree and toured with Herman for the next two years.
when Fontana was a child, his father, Collie, had walked into
the house and placed a box in front of his son. "What's
that?" asked Carl. "It's what you're going to play,"
his father told him, opening up the trombone case. The Fontanas
lived in Monroe, Louisiana during the Depression (Carl was
born there in 1928) and Collie supported his family by working
as a plumber and by playing violin and saxophone in a band
he inherited from another leader.
joined the band and worked in it throughout his high school
days as well as playing in the school concert orchestra. Fontana
was always an athletic man and his first loves as a boy had
been football, basketball and baseball. "Dad and I had
a few run-ins about whether I was supposed to be playing music
jobs on the weekends or playing ball in some tournament or
other. He won all the arguments."
man of imposing stature, Fontana was a benign and amusing
companion when I interviewed him in Florida some years ago,
but he could be intimidating when he felt like it. Many years
ago, one of the sidemen in one of the big bands had been making
unwanted suggestions to some of the other musicians' wives.
Fontana approached him and spoke cordially. "You're leaving
this band," he said. "Whether you go out vertically
or horizontally is up to you."
was awarded a degree in musical education at Louisiana State
University in 1950 where he also played in concert and symphony
orchestras. By the time he joined Herman the following year
he had developed the unique way of combining a plump tone
with the fast-tonguing of notes that caused a re-thinking
of trombone techniques the world over.
years with Herman gave Fontana a love for the big bands that
never left him, and because he was such a proficient sideman
and a good reader for a time his talent was buried in the
ranks of the Lionel Hampton and Hal McKintyre bands.
1955 he joined the band of Stan Kenton. Kenton was under no
illusions about Fontana's talents and brought him right out
front as one of the band's major soloists. Kenton's band had
earlier been something of a pretentious monolith but by the
time that Fontana joined it had been considerably loosened
up by soloists like Zoot Sims and Lee Konitz and, more importantly,
by the arranger-composers Bill Holman, Gerry Mulligan and
against the ranks of powerhouse brass, Fontana's solos were
breath-taking. He was featured on the perennial "Intermission
Riff" but more importantly Holman wrote two specific
features for him. The first was the fluent assault course
for trombone called simply "Carl", whilst the second
was a setting of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams", which
exemplified Collie Fontana's advice to his son: "Whenever
you play a ballad, play it as if you were talking to your
Fontana had startled trombonists throughout the world, it
was only when Kenton featured him on his 1956 tour of Europe
that he conquered the general public. His modest manner at
the microphone (Kenton let him introduce his own features)
belied the pyrotechnics that followed and delighted audiences
across the continent - but not in Britain where a ludicrous
Ministry of Works ban still prevented American musicians playing
here. British fans showed their devotion by taking the boat
to Dublin where the Kenton galaxy was on glorious display.
trombonist who had made an even bigger name for himself, Kai
Winding, was able to tempt Fontana with money to join his
band, which consisted of four trombones and a rhythm section.
Then in December 1957, before moving to Las Vegas, he deputised
for Bill Harris in the Woody Herman band.
became Fontana's base, and he worked contentedly in mundane
show bands there, leaving when called on to dazzle the rest
of the world as a jazz soloist. In 1966 he toured the world
on a US State Department tour with the Herman band, coming
to London before touring in Africa for 12 weeks.
onwards he was called regularly to festivals, tours and the
newly emergent jazz parties to grace their all-star line-ups.
He worked with Benny Goodman in Las Vegas in the mid-Sixties
and became a key member of Supersax, a band devoted to re-creating
the solos of Charlie Parker, in 1973. He was in the various
bands that led eventually to the emergence of the World's
Greatest Jazz Band in 1975. Here he showed his abilities to
play convincingly in such Dixieland surroundings. "I'm
just an old bebopper at heart," he had told me in Florida.
co-led a group with the drummer Jake Hanna that recorded and
appeared at festivals in 1975 and later toured Japan. Unusually,
although he had appeared on so many recordings under other
leaders, Fontana didn't make an album under his own name until
1985, when he led a quintet that included his long-time friend
and musical associate Al Cohn.
more good exposure when, during the Eighties, he appeared
regularly on the National Public Radio show Monday Night Jazz.
By the Nineties he had retired from regular work in Las Vegas
and only toured as a jazz soloist. At this time he came to
London to play at Ronnie Scott's in tandem with one of his
disciples, Bill Watrous.
Vegas he continued to play for fun in a quintet that he co-led
with the tenor player Bill Trujillo. One night, at the end
of the evening, he turned to Trujillo and said "You'll
have to take me home. I can't remember where I live."
It was the onset of the Alzheimer's disease that was to lead
to his death.
there he moved on to engagements with Al Belletto, Lionel Hampton,
Hal McIntyre, Stan Kenton and
before becoming a permanent resident of Las Vegas. Fontana has recorded
albums with nearly every group mentioned above, plus the World's Greatest
Jazz Band, Supersax and Georgie Auld. As a leader or co-leader, Carl
has recorded albums with Jake Hanna, Al Cohn, Jiggs
Whigham, Arno Marsh, Andy
Martin and his own quartet. In the last few years, he has appeared
as guest soloist on CDs featuring Bobby Shew, Paul
McKee, Bill Trujillo and vocalist Joni Janak. Considered a virtuoso
by musicans everywhere, Fontana is not only a model for younger players,
but is also an inspiration to the other musicans who share the bandstand
right was shot by Carls friend Ed Boyer (Las Vegas bassist and photographer)
at one of the annual "76 Trombones +4" concerts at UNLV.
Fontana spent time
in the big bands of Lionel Hampton (1954), Hal McIntyre (1954-55)
and most importantly
Stan Kenton (1955-56), being well-featured
with the latter.
After playing in
Kai Winding's four-trombone
band (1956-57), Fontana moved to Las Vegas but he has emerged on
an occasional basis, touring with Woody Herman in 1966, recording
with Supersax (1973), co-leading a group with Jake Hanna (1975),
playing with the World's Greatest Jazz Band and appearing at jazz
with Carl Fontana
friend webdesigner Dale Cruse with
in 1997, Nice 'n' Easy finds Carl Fontana joining forces with another
veteran trombonist: Jiggs
Together, Fontana and Whigham form a two-trombone front line, and
they have a solid rhythm section that consists of pianist Stefan
Karlsson, bassist Tom Warrington, and drummer Ed Soph. These days,
two-trombone attacks are a rarity, and anyone who has a high opinion
of the sessions that trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding co-led
in the '60s knows how regrettable that is. So, when two skilled
trombone veterans like Fontana and Whigham get together, it is a
- (great CD's)
Frank Rosolino with Carl (photo Dennis Dotson)
Carl Fontana (source AMG) - (just a few
Stop Now! (1984)
Tribute to Stan Kenton (1987)
Candoli and Carl
Phoenix Recordings, Vol.... (2002)
at the Concord (1975)
at Concord (1975)
Autumn [Discovery] (1952)
for Herd (1967)
& Herd in 1952 (1995)
Swinger/Music for Tired... (2001)
Herman's Finest Hour (2001)
Woody Herman & The Band (2001)
Times - The Third Herd... (2003)
Band in a Jazz Orbit (1958)
a Jazz Orbit (1958)
on Standards (1953)
in Hi-Fi (1956)
Holman Live! (1996)
Birdland Broadcasts (1998)
Riff 1952-1956 (1999)
the Ernst-Merck-Halle, Hamburg, (2003)
Concepts [Bonus... (2003)
of the Crop (1996)
Greatest Jazz Band, Vol. 1 (1968)
Perkins Octet on Stage (1956)
Bill Perkins Octet
Perkins Octet on Stage [Bonus (2002)
His 80th Birthday at... (2003)
Plays Bird, Vol. 2: Salt... (1973)
Midnight: A Retrospective... (1956)
Trujillo & Carl Fontana
in Clear Water: Harpoon (1996)
Watrous & Carl Fontana (2001)
Be There (1997)
Cleveland 1957 (1994)
June 1957 (2000)
Jazz: Collector's Series... (1990)
Band Renaissance (1996)
of Jazz, Vol. 4: Big Bands (1996)
in the Night: The Johnny... (1997)
Johnny Mercer Songbook (1998)
Coast Jazz Box: An Anthology... (1998)
Dark: Jazz Ballads (1999)
Swing Classics in Hi-Fi (1999)
Béla & Various Artists
Jazz Trombone Company (1998)
American Trb Company
Up the Band (his all time best solo)
made by Robert Hackett
Bill Watrous - John Fedchock (photo John Fedchock)
Charles Fontana: July 28, 1928-October 9, 2003
Ken Hanlon, trombonist, UNLV Music Professor and 2nd director
of the Arnold Shaw Institute for Popular Music at UNLV
Fontana In the world of music, as in all of the arts, there are
only a few truly original voices that emerge in each generation,
and an even smaller number of those voices transcend their time
to become a major influence and inspiration for succeeding generations.
Carl Fontana was--and is through his recorded legacy--such a voice.
a master of his art, Fontana had the Mozartian quality of impeccability.
As Mozart's scores were absent of corrections or deletions, Fontana's
mellifluous solos were unscarred by errant notes. One of the most
often heard remarks from Carl's peers has been "I've never
heard him play a wrong note."
great contrapuntalist, Carl would weave lines that served as countermelodies
to the tune, which he often did as an accompaniment to a colleague's
statement of the melody. A study of his solos demonstrates that
if all of his choruses on a tune could be simultaneously performed,
the result would be a rich multi-lined tapestry comparable to
the complex fugal compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach.
with all original voices, Carl Fontana spent little time emulating
the solo styles of other jazz performers; he quickly developed
a style that was uniquely his own. In his first recording with
Woody Herman, "Mother Goose Jumps," he gives a clear
tip of the hat to one of his great predecessors, Bill Harris,
but by his second recorded solo on "Moten Swing," he
had clearly moved on to establish his own mode of musical expression
that is by now so familiar to Fontana fans.
asked by interviewers, "Who were your major influences?"
Carl's response was usually that there was no one in particular
he tried to emulate. Among Fontana fans, there is a literal legion
of fellow trombonists who consider him to be a major influence
on their playing, often referring to him as possibly the greatest
jazz trombonist of all time. Every year that he performed for
UNLV's "76 Trombones + 4" concert, there would be a
cadre of trombonists who would travel from nearly all over the
world to perform with him and, of greater importance, hear him
weave his musical magic. The large ensemble that performed this
concert--most often numbering more than a hundred--was in large
part attributable to his presence. He is truly the "trombonist's
an interesting combination of mainstream jazz with bebop technique,
Carl had the ability to convincingly perform a variety of styles
effortlessly. His performances with the tradition-bound World's
Greatest Jazz Band and with technical wizard Don Menza are clear
demonstrations of this talent. Having developed a technique he
referred to as "doodle tonguing"--claiming he did so
as a defense against multi-noted tenor sax players--Fontana could
go toe to toe with any musician. Responding to Carl's reputation
of literally "blowing other soloists off the stage,"
pianist Nat Pierce composed "Captain Kutcha" in 1956
for the "Captain," a title that stuck with Carl for
the remainder of his career. The Kai Winding septet recorded Captain
Kutcha on a Columbia-label LP, The Trombone Sound; re-released
on CD by Collect-ibles, 2000, http://www.oldies.com.
Carl could readily sit down and write out the melodies and chord
changes to any tune, he scrupulously avoided reading chord progressions,
because he felt it interfered with his creativity. The results
he got speak for themselves; his incredible ear and sense of time
and phrasing--the things that made him a musical genius--allowed
him to conjure solo after solo, each a pearl. Although educated
at Louisiana State University, where he received a bachelor's
degree and began working on a master's before joining the Woody
Herman band, Fontana relied mostly on his natural instincts, as
most highly creative artists do.
who was loved for his great sense of humor as well as his musical
talents, had a penchant for performing little-known ballads and
used the unexpected, often "off-the-wall" tunes that
he would turn into bossa novas. It was the latter that he would
use as an outlet for his "tongue-in-cheek" wit, with
tunes like "America the Beautiful" (from The Great Fontana
album) and "If I Only Had a Brain" (on both the Live
at Capozzoli's--The Carl Fontana Quartet and Nice 'n' Easy CDs).
His discovery of obscure ballads led to a world-wide reputation
as the source for such material. Musicians from around the globe
would call Carl to check the chord changes or melody of an unfamiliar
song, and he could immediately supply the requested information
from his encyclopedic memory.
man of few words--except in his wittier moments--Fontana was considered
a "tough" interview by most journalists, too often giving
one-word answers to their questions. This "shy" quality
and his desire to be a home body resulted in a renown among his
fans and colleagues while leaving him largely unknown to the general
populace. Traveling not only didn't interest him, it was quite
often the deciding factor in turning down gigs. In the spring
of 1992, Carl was contacted by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Jazz
Orchestra (WDRF) of Cologne, Germany--a superb musical organization--and
offered $5,000 plus all expenses to perform two concerts with
them, one at a local jazz festival and the other at the International
Trombone Workshop in Detmold. The primary work on which he was
to be featured, along with Jiggs Whigham, was a multi-movement
composition by noted composer/arranger Jerry von Royen. At the
time, Carl insisted that I was his manager--a job for which I
was not qualified either by skill or personality--and asked me
to return a call for him to the WDRF management and tell them
$5,000 was not enough money. The offered fee was raised to $6,000,
but Carl also declined for the same reason. More calls followed
with the fee rising finally to a begrudging $9,000 with the caveat
that it would go no higher. Carl's response was to have me call
and tell them that he would not be able to make the trip. Devastated
by this information, since I was to give a research paper on Carl's
solo work in Detmold, I asked him why he was turning down such
a great offer to work with top notch musicians playing superbly
written music. His answer was, "It's too far to go, and besides,
I don't want to have to do all that reading of a new chart."
late 1991, Gerry Mulligan called Carl and told him that he was
going to re-record the music from the classic jazz album Birth
of the Cool, and would he be available for the date. According
to Carl, his reply was, "Only if I get paid as much as you
do!" Following a couple of ensuing phone calls, I was visiting
with Carl at his house and asked him if he was going to make the
recording date. He said, "No." When I asked him why
he was turning down such an historically important session, his
answer was, "It's too cold in New York this time of year."
With such refusals great fame remains elusive, but Fontana preferred
staying home where he could visit with his daughter Felicia and
two sons Mark and Scott, as well as his grandchildren, who knew
him only as "Popo."
for Fontana fans, Carl made several CDs during this last decade
that have greatly enhanced the number of recordings available
of his work. Unfortunately, he is no longer here to astound us
with his constant flow of musical inventiveness and possibly worse
yet, to no longer make us laugh. We should, however, feel extremely
fortunate that he touched our lives, that we had the opportunity
to experience firsthand true musical greatness, and that through
his recorded legacy his genius will always be there to enjoy.
Let's hope that he and his buddy Frank Rosolino keep on jamming
on the other side until we can get there to hear them once again!
recordings on the list are CDs, including reissues of LPs: Stan
Kenton: Contemporary Concepts, 1955/2002, Blue Note (Capitol)
ASIN: B000093U3X Stan Kenton In Hi-Fi, 1956/1992, Capitol CDP
7 98451 2 Stan Kenton: Cuban Fire! 1956/1991, Capitol CDP 7 96260
2 The Trombone Sound: Kai Winding Septet, 1956/2000, Collectibles
(no number) Live at Concord: The Hanna-Fontana Band, 1975, Concord
Jazz CCD-6011 Bobby Knight's Great American Trombone Company,
1978, Jazz Mark 116 The Great Fontana, 1987, Uptown UPCD27.28
Live at the Royal Palms Inn: Conte Candoli & Carl Fontana,
1994, Woofy WPCD37-1 Live at the Royal Palms Inn: Carl Fontana
& Buddy Childers, 1994, Woofy WPCD37-2 Live at the Royal Palms
Inn: Bob Cooper & Carl Fontana, 1994, Woofy WPCD37-3 Live
at the Royal Palms Inn: Carl Fontana and Steve Huffsteter, 1994,
Woofy WPCD37-6 Live at the Royal Palms Inn: Bill Perkins, Pete
Candoli and Carl Fontana, 1994, Woofy WPCD37-9 Heavyweights: Bobby
Shew Quintet with Carl Fontana, 1996, MAMA 1013 Live at Capozzoli's:
The Carl Fontana-Arno Marsh Quintet, 1997 Woofy WPCD51 Nice ?n'
Easy: Jiggs Whigham & Carl Fontana, 1997 TNC Jazz CD-1701
Live at Capozzoli's: The Carl Fontana Quartet 1998, Woofy WPCD72
First Time Together: Hungarian Jazz Trombone Company w/Carl Fontana,
1998, BMC CD 015 Live at Capozzoli's: The Carl Fontana-Andy Martin
Quintet, 1999 Woofy WPCD87 Bill Trujillo: It's Tru!, 1999, SeaBreeze
Jazz SEAB 3033 Paul McKee, 1999, Gallery CD 9704 Keepin' Up with
the Boneses: Carl Fontana & Jiggs Whigham, 2001, TNC Jazz
CD-1708 Marv Koral & the All-Stars: Live at Pierce Street
Annex, available through Marv Koral
Hanlon wrote the following short profile a few years prior to
Carl Fontana's death.
the second week of January (2000) while attending the International
Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) Annual Conference, I was
standing in line in a fast-food restaurant when the two young
college men in front of me turned around and recognized my IAJE
T-shirt. They asked me how I was enjoying the conference, which
they were also attending. I responded that I was enjoying it very
much and that I was especially looking forward to interviewing
Al Belletto, whose big band was scheduled to perform at the conference,
for a biography of Carl Fontana on which I was working.
One of the young men enthusiastically reacted with "Carl
Fontana! He's my favorite jazz trombonist. I saw him a few years
ago and had no idea who he was then, but the minute that I heard
him play I was an instant fan."
Reactions of this sort are also common among jazz professionals
and afficionados everywhere. Ask jazz trombonist Bill Watrous
who his favorite trombonist is and he will immediately answer: "Carl Fontana!" L.A. trombonist Bob McChesney was so
impressed with Carl that he wrote a method book on "doodle
tonguing," a technique invented by Fontana, in his words,
"in self-defense against tenor saxophone players." (With
doodle tonguing it is considerably easier to play rapidly and
cleanly on the trombone, thus making it easier to keep up with
pyrotechnical tenor saxophonists.) Perhaps one of the more humorous
and endearing reactions comes from trombonist/vocalist Bob Flanagan
of the Four Freshmen who has turned to me on more than one occasion
when we were listening to Carl and laughingly said, "Don't
you just hate this guy?"
Carl Charles Fontana was born in Monroe, Louisiana, on July 18,
1928, the son of band leader-saxophonist-violinist Collie Fontana,
in whose band Carl played during his teen years. Unlike many young
musicians in the '30s and '40s who opted to go right from high
school into touring musical groups, Carl attended the two-year
school in his home town (now University of Northeast Louisiana)
and then transferred to LSU where he received his Bachelor's degree
and finished nearly all of the requirements for a Master's as
well, before receiving a phone call from Woody Herman that eventually
led to a three year stint with the Third Herd in a trombone section
that included the Green brothers, Urbie and Jack.
From there he moved on to engagements with Al Belletto, Lionel
Hampton, Hal McIntyre, Stan Kenton and Kai Winding before becoming
a permanent resident of Las Vegas. Fontana has recorded albums
with nearly every group mentioned above, plus the World's Greatest
Jazz Band, Supersax and Georgie Auld. As a leader or co-leader,
Carl has recorded albums with Jake Hanna, Al Cohn, Jiggs Whigham,
Arno Marsh, Andy Martin and his own quartet. In the last few years,
he has appeared as guest soloist on CDs featuring Bobby Shew,
Paul McKee, Bill Trujillo and vocalist Joni Janak. Considered
a virtuoso by musicans everywhere, Fontana is not only a model
for younger players, but is also an inspiration to the other musicans
who share the bandstand with him. Like a great actor who brings
out the best in fellow thespians, Carl raises the bar for all
who perform with him and they in turn rise to the greater musical
Perhaps jazz chronicler and critic Leonard Feather best expresses
Fontana's place in the lineage of jazz trombonists: "Fontana
has long been regarded as the most fluid, innovative trombonist
after J. J. Johnson--a modern trombonist with exceptional technique
and ideas." In the collective opinion of his fans, while
he may produce technical fireworks on the trombone, it is his
lyrical playing that melts their hearts. The words of his dad,
Collie, best express Carl's philosophy of ballad playing: "Whenever
you play a ballad, play it as if you were talking to your best
girl." May he serenade us all for many years to come! Carl
Fontana photo by Ed Boyer.
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