Born Charles Fontana on July 18, 1928, in Monroe, LA; died on October 9, 2003, in Las Vegas, NV; son of Charles "Collie" (a plumber, saxophonist, violinist and big band leader) and Mary Fontana; married; children: Felicia Valenty, Mark, Scott. Education: Graduated from Louisiana State University, 1950. Addresses: Record company--Woofy Productions, P.O. Box 272, Phoenix, AZ 85001, website: Website--Carl Fontana Official Website:

Many critics and musicians have called Carl Fontana "the world's greatest trombonist." Bandleaders and fellow trombonists have stated that Fontana "raised the bar and set the standard." Fontana is one of the most well-known and treasured jazz trombonists in music history. When the legendary musician died on October 9, 2003, he left a legacy of musicianship and ingenuity. His life and personality were full of genuine modesty, coupled with a desire to give back by teaching and sharing his gifts with young students and other musicians.

Fontana's biggest contribution to music was perhaps the playing technique he created, known as "doodle tonguing." According to the Monroe, Louisiana, News-Star, "It allowed trombonists to play faster and with more precision." Fontana called the technique "a self-defense against saxophone players." This groundbreaking method of playing influenced countless numbers of musicians. According to Jazzmasters, by using this technique Fontana "combine[d] a plump tone with the fast-tonguing of notes that caused a re-thinking of techniques the world over." Fontana was also well known for mixing mainstream jazz with bebop, creating his own signature swing-meets-bop style.

Born on July 18, 1928, in Monroe, Louisiana, Carl Fontana's first trombone was a gift from his father. According to the News-Star, Fontana's brother Mickey said Carl "always knew he wanted to be a jazz musician." As a teenager, Fontana played in the local big band that was led by his father, Charles "Collie" Fontana, who also worked as a plumber, saxophonist, and violinist. While in the band, Fontana worked and played school sports. After graduating from Neville High School, he enrolled at Louisiana State University (LSU). He graduated in 1950 and soon returned to LSU to pursue a master's degree in music. In between his studies, Fontana performed with the Lee Fortier Band. His first big break came when, in 1951, he filled in for Woody Herman's current saxophonist, Urbie Green. Green's wife had gone into labor at the same time the band was due to play New York's Blue Room. After Fontana filled in for him on stage the crowd went wild, and Herman asked him to join the band permanently. After just two years at graduate school, an eager Fontana left his studies to go on tour with Woody Herman's Third Herd Band. Other trombonists in the group included brothers Urbie and Jack Green.

It didn't take long for Fontana's music career to take off. In 1954 he played in a band led by Lionel Hampton, and from 1954-55 he played with Hal McIntyre. In 1955 Stan Kenton hired Fontana. Kenton, who liked to feature Fontana as a soloist, invited Fontana to record with him, and together they recorded eleven albums. Perhaps the best-known track was Fontana's trombone playing on Fuego Cubano in 1956. Soon after, Fontana departed for a European tour in Kai Winding's four-trombone band; the tour, which lasted from 1956 to 1957, garnered international attention for Fontana.

In 1957 Fontana re-teamed with Woody Herman for the International State Department Tour. He also performed for many years with Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and Kai Winding on television shows such as the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show, and also performed at Carnegie Hall. Later in 1957, Fontana decided to settle in Las Vegas, where he had been performing with greats such as Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Frank Sinatra. Every year in Las Vegas, Fontana performed in the annual trombone concerts at the University of Las Vegas, as well as at an array of festivals, tours, and all-star jazz parties.

In 1958, Fontana played his most renowned and well-known solo on Woody Herman's song "Intermission Riff." Although the tune contained only three chords, Fontana played it so skillfully that people called his performance a masterpiece. Fontana earned the nickname "Captain Kut-Cha," and he became known as a master of timing.

In the late 1970s Fontana toured Japan with bandleader Georgie Auld, and worked with the group Supersax. The group, which was signed to Blue Note Records, recreated Charlie Parker's solos, and featured Fontana and saxophonists Med Flory and Buddy Clark. He also played with the all-star group the World's Greatest Jazz Band. In 1975 Fontana took center stage again, co-leading a group with Swing drummer Jake Hanna. He made a name for himself in 1985, leading a quintet that included his longtime friend and fellow musician Al Cohn. By the 1990s, Fontana had regular gigs playing Las Vegas and touring as a soloist.

In 1985 Fontana's first major label release, The Great Fontana, featured the artist as quartet leader. Subsequently he released The Carl Fontana-Arno Marsh Quintet: Live at Capozzoli's in 1997 and The Carl Fontana Quartet: Live at Capozzoli's in 1998. On Nice and Easy in 1997, Fontana shared the lead, playing side by side with trombonist Jiggs Whigham. Later he released First Time Together in 2002, Quintet, Vol. 3 in 2002, and Conte Candoli Quintet (live) in 2003.

Although he toured extensively, Fontana always maintained close relationships with his family. He married and had three children, who currently reside in Las Vegas. Toward the end of his life, Fontana suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Carl Fontana passed away on October 9, 2003, in Las Vegas. In his later years, Fontana regularly taught clinics and master classes at the University of Nevada and other universities across the United States, including Harvard and Mississippi State College; he was also a featured soloist with the Army Blues Jazz Band. Ken Hanlon, a music professor at the University of Nevada, told the Los Angeles Times that Fontana was a phenomenon.

by Kerry L. Smith

Carl Fontana's Career

Trombonist for various bands, including Charles "Collie" Fontana and his big band, 1941-45; Lee Fortier, 1951; Third Herd, 1952-53; Lionel Hampton, 1954; Hal McIntyre, 1954-55; Stan Kenton, 1955-56; Mel Torme, 1956; Kai Winding's four-trombone band, 1956-57; Bill Holman, 1958; toured intermittently as trombonist with Woody Herman band, 1966; trombonist, World's Greatest Jazz Band, 1968; trombonist, Supersax, 1973; trombonist and band leader (with Jake Hanna), 1975; appeared with Dick Gibson's Colorado Jazz Party, 1971; recorded albums with Louis Belson (1984), Al Cohn (1984), vocalist Joni Janak (1993), Arno Marsh (1997), and Jiggs Whigham (1999); released debut album, The Great Fontana, Uptown Records, 1985; appeared at Royal Inn Hotel in Phoenix, 1993; soloist on albums featuring Bobby Shew (1995), Andy Martin (1998), Paul McKee (1999), Bill Trujillo (1999), and Bill Watrous (2001).

Carl Fontana's Awards

International Trombone Association Award, 1998.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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