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b. July 18, 1928, Monroe, Louisiana - d . October 9, 2003, Las Vegas, Nevada

Carl Fontana, Trombone legend of the World!


Felicia (Carl's daughter) wrote to the webmaster René Laanen

Las Vegas, 09 October 2003

Dear Rene,

My 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!

Felicia Valenty
4933 W. Craig Road #246
Las Vegas, Nv. 89130

Carl Fontana

The trombone world has lost a legend.
Thank you Carl for sharing your marvelous trombone talents
with the rest of us.

René Laanen
Bass trombonist / Author - Trombone Page of the World

The Independent, 11 October 2003
Carl Fontana (Photo Las Vegas Sun)
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.

It is 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.

Fontana 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.

In performance 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.

Herman 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.

One day 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.

His son 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."

A big 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."

Fontana 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.

His two 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.

But in 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 Gene Roland.

Deployed 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 best girl."

Although 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.

An ex-Kenton 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.

Las Vegas 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.

From then 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.

Fontana 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.

He had 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.

In Las 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.

Steve Voce

Carl Fontana, 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
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.

Frank Rosolino and Carl (photo DeDe Briscoe)

Carl Fontana, (great photo from Achim Hartmann)

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 parties.
Carl Fontana (Photo Las Vegas Sun)

Jiggs Whigham 

My friend webdesigner Dale Cruse with Carl (1989)

Recorded in 1997, Nice 'n' Easy finds Carl Fontana joining forces with another veteran trombonist: Jiggs Whigham. 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 happy event.

- Woofyproductions - (great CD's)

In 1995 Carl Fontana recorded a fine album with Bobby Shew.
CD review Bobby Shew with Carl Fontana

Andy Martin
Frank Rosolino with Carl (photo Dennis Dotson) & Andy Martin with Carl Fontana

Discography Carl Fontana (source AMG) - (just a few webmaster)
Louise Baranger  Trumpeter's Prayer (1998) Trombone   
Louis Bellson  Don't Stop Now! (1984) Trombone   
Paul Cacia  Alumni Tribute to Stan Kenton (1987) Trombone   
Conte Candoli and Carl Complete Phoenix Recordings, Vol.... (2002) Trombone   
Dusko Goykovich  Belgrade Blues (2001) Trombone   
Hanna-Fontana Band  Live at the Concord (1975) Trombone   
Jake Hanna  Live at Concord (1975) Trombone   
Woody Herman  Early Autumn [Discovery] (1952) Trombone   
Woody Herman  Concerto for Herd (1967) Trombone   
Woody Herman  Scene & Herd in 1952 (1995) Trombone   
Woody Herman  Cool One (1998) Trombone  
Woody Herman  Jazz Swinger/Music for Tired... (2001) Trombone   
Woody Herman  Woody Herman's Finest Hour (2001) Trombone   
Woody Herman  Presenting Woody Herman & The Band (2001) Trombone   
Woody Herman  Standard Times - The Third Herd... (2003) Trombone   
Bill Holman  Big Band in a Jazz Orbit (1958) Trombone   
Bill Holman  In a Jazz Orbit (1958) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  Retrospective (1943) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  Sketches on Standards (1953) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  Cuban Fire! (1956) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  Kenton in Hi-Fi (1956) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  Plays Holman Live! (1996) Trombone  
Stan Kenton  Jazz Profile (1997) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  1950's Birdland Broadcasts (1998) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  Intermission Riff 1952-1956 (1999) Trombone   
Stan Kenton At the Ernst-Merck-Halle, Hamburg, (2003) Trombone   
Stan Kenton  Contemporary Concepts [Bonus... (2003) Trombone  
Stan Kenton  Concepts Era Live! Soloist   
Bobby Knight/Great Cream of the Crop (1996) Trombone  
Lawson-Haggart Jazz World's Greatest Jazz Band, Vol. 1 (1968) Trombone   
Paul McKee  Gallery (1999) Trombone   
Bill Perkins  Bill Perkins Octet on Stage (1956) Trombone   
The Bill Perkins Octet  Bill Perkins Octet on Stage [Bonus (2002) Trombone   
Flip Phillips  Celebrates His 80th Birthday at... (2003) Trombone   
Bobby Shew  Heavyweights (1995) Trombone   
Don Sickler  Nightwatch (1995) Trombone   
Supersax  Supersax Plays Bird, Vol. 2: Salt... (1973) Trombone   
Mel Tormé  Round Midnight: A Retrospective... (1956) Trombone   
Bill Trujillo & Carl Fontana  It's Tru (1999) Trombone  
University of Wisconsin  Jazz in Clear Water: Harpoon (1996) Trombone  
Bill Watrous  Bill Watrous & Carl Fontana (2001) Trombone  
Scott Whitfield  To Be There (1997) Trombone   
Kai Winding  Trombone Panorama (1956) Trombone   
Kai Winding Septet  In Cleveland 1957 (1994) Trombone  
Kai Winding Septet  Cleveland June 1957 (2000) Trombone   
Various Artists  Uptown Christmas (1984) Trombone  
Various Artists  Concord Jazz: Collector's Series... (1990) Trombone   
Various Artists  Big Band Renaissance (1996) Trombone   
Various Artists  Masters of Jazz, Vol. 4: Big Bands (1996) Trombone   
Various Artists  Blues in the Night: The Johnny... (1997) Trombone   
Various Artists  Complete Johnny Mercer Songbook (1998) Trombone   
Various Artists  West Coast Jazz Box: An Anthology... (1998) Trombone   
Various Artists  After Dark: Jazz Ballads (1999) Trombone   
Various Artists  Great Swing Classics in Hi-Fi (1999) Trombone   
Szalóky Béla & Various Artists  Hungarian Jazz Trombone Company (1998) Trombone  
Great American Trb Company Strike Up the Band (his all time best solo)

Portrait made by Robert Hackett

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