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MaC-Notes: Taking my inspiration from Pete Fountain

Photo: Robert Kunst, Dec. 2015

Evan Christopher and Pete Fountain (Photo: Robert Kunst, Dec. 2015)

When we agree upon how much we will miss musicians like Pete Fountain who passed last Saturday at the age of 86, we are recognizing how much their work influenced and benefited our sense of community spirit. Pete’s remarkable consistency as a performer and as a person is a big reason he will be remembered warmly and why his example will remain something to which contemporary and future musicians can aspire.

I’m not naive about the “new” New Orleans. I know who hasn’t come back in the almost eleven years since the failure of our Federal levees in the aftermath of that 2005 hurricane. I am aware of the land grab, literal and figurative, that has seen our neighborhoods gentrified by opportunistic developers and flippers, our education system taken over by corporatized charter schools, our needs for public transportation and other services placed second to tourism infrastructure, the brazen privatization of our hospital system, a proliferation of profiteering not-for-profits, and a pseudo-entrepreneurial, faux-“sharing economy” expropriating what makes New Orleans special and unique.

Yes, when they pass, the injustices around us make our culture-bearers, whose work connects us to our city and our neighbors, missed all the more.

Musicians are arguably the best suited to reinforce our common goals and shared aspirations. In New Orleans, one reason is because musicians are so accessible. I don’t mean our ubiquity, although music being “everywhere” plays a role, as much as the fact that our best traditions invite participation and encourage unabashed, often spirited, unity. Another reason, for better or worse, is that engagement of the experiences we provide is generally very affordable. Hell, let’s be real, our work as performers and teachers often borders on charity. We are the ultimate community volunteers!

Engagement of our indigenous music can and should be more than a diversion. Hopefully, like me, you can recall a specific moment when Mr. Pete’s rich, distinctive clarinet tone and his renditions of Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” or “Basin Street Blues” evoked a connection to New Orleans. Because of his long and steadfast career, that feeling is shared by millions worldwide.

That connection is the meaning of community spirit.

Regardless of what directions conversations about our city’s future take, regardless of whose agendas are co-opting or perverting what is authentic or essential, we need to embrace the pride our best musicians inspire. Then, we need to take that inspiration and work towards the best New Orleans we can imagine.

For example, I started this column because my personal vision didn’t necessarily mean bike paths, Segway tours or a cultural landscape dictated by NIMBY neighborhood associations or our tourism companies. Each week, I attempt to share current concerns of MaCCNOwho strives for a self-representing cultural community and fights for civic policy that is conducive to vibrant, organic cultural activity. This week, an example would be encouraging stake-holders, locals and visitors alike, to voice their concerns and follow the issue of short term rentals being addressed at the City Planning Commission’s meeting.

But, this is also a good place to share news about the cultural expressions we want to protect. To this end, although I’ll be on tour in the NE, I’ll be in New Orleans in spirit on August 17th as you all take to the streets to bid farewell to Maestro LaFontaine following his funeral service at St. Louis Cathedral.

As promised in this week’s title, here’s “My Inspiration” from Pete Fountain.


Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at evan@nolavie.com.