Las Vegas Sun

August 29, 2014

Currently: 100° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Columnist Jerry Fink: Fontana remembered as head of the brass

Jerry Fink's lounge column appears on Fridays. Reach him at [email protected] at (702) 259-4058.

It was standing room only at a memorial service for Carl Fontana on Tuesday afternoon, not unlike some of his gigs during the heyday of his illustrious musical career.

Even in death, the internationally admired trombonist could fill a room.

The 75-year-old legend died Oct. 9 following a two-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. A crowd estimated at 600 attended the afternoon ceremony at Palm Mortuary, 7400 W. Cheyenne Ave.

"When people found out where he was playing, the room would be packed," recalled saxophonist and band leader Marv Koral.

Koral moved to Vegas in 1956, shortly before Fontana arrived. During the next nearly half-century the friends got together frequently.

Fontana's final performances in the waning months of his career, shortly before Alzheimer's made it impossible for him to continue, were with Marv Koral's All-Stars. Fontana had been with the band since 1992.

Except for a couple of Christmas parties and an art festival, Fontana's last appearance with the All-Stars was in 2002 at the Jazzed Cafe on West Sahara Avenue. Though disease was robbing him of his memory, his mind clung tenaciously to the music buried deep in his soul.

He could play his songs perfectly, even though he couldn't find his way home.

"That was our last venue together," Koral said.

Koral was among the host of musicians and friends who attended the memorial service to pay homage to one of the greats.

During the rite, a nine-member trombone choir performed "Amazing Grace" (arranged by Bob Scann) and Benny Goodman's theme song "Goodbye" (arranged by Tommy Hodges).

Saxophonist Don Menza, from the back of the room, called out a Woody Herman quote: "If you took all the trombone players in the world and shook them up inside a giant bag and dumped the bag out, Carl Fontana would always be on top."

Following the ceremony, many of Fontana's fans gathered at the Rainbow Garden on West Charleston Boulevard to listen to jazz while they reminisced about Fontana.

A number of musicians, led by keyboardist Gus Mancuso, guitarist Joe Lano, Menza and bassist Chris Gordan, held a jam session during the evening.

Koral said one of the first times he and Fontana performed together was at the defunct Royal casino, near the Stardust.

Through the years they were in show bands together, they performed in after-hours clubs, at jazz concerts and other venues.

"We were very close friends," said Koral, who hasn't performed in recent months because of a number of ailments. "Carl was somewhat inhibited, even shy, but he had a boiling point. When that blew, it would set him off."

Fontana had a sense of humor.

"He pulled all kinds of pranks," Koral said. "Once, he put a cymbal cover over drummer Tom Montgomery's head, and Tom played the entire set like that."

Frank Leone, president of Musicians Local 369, was among those who paid their last respects to Fontana.

"There was sadness in the room," Leone, a pianist, said, "but at the same time a lot of people were relieved to know Carl no longer was suffering."

Leone and Fontana traveled together for several years with the backup band for Paul Anka. Leone was the musical director.

"Carl was my lead trombonist," he recalled. "We always had four trombonists, but only he was on the road with us. We picked up three added trombone players wherever we were.

"He always was able to raise the level of playing of the three local trombone players. Carl could take them to a level they had never been before."

Leone described Fontana as a "virtuoso on the trombone."

"He had consummate improvisational tastes and skills," he said.

Leone said Fontana was never one to seek the limelight.

"There was a certain humility that he had," he said. "He never liked the term, 'World's Greatest Trombonist.' "

But what else would you call the world's greatest trombonist?

Lounging around

The Bootlegger Bistro has celebrity karaoke. Not to be outdone, Imperial Palace has celebrity impersonator karaoke. The IP, home of "Legends in Concert," and celebrity look-alike card dealers, now is looking for tribute artist wanna-be's for a Nov. 13 contest at the sidewalk club Tequila Joe's.

Winner of the Amateur Celebrity Impersonator Karaoke Contest will receive $500 and an audition with OnStage Entertainment, producer of "Legends in Concert." The second-place winner will receive $250 in cash, and the third-place winner will receive an Imperial Palace tabletop karaoke jukebox.

Potential contestants can try out their talents at Tequila Joe's karaoke nights from 8 p.m. until midnight Tuesdays through Thursdays and 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Disco fever is back at The Nightclub at the Las Vegas Hilton. Disco Nights are held from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Dance Mania, a disco dance contest, is held at 10 p.m. on Sundays through Nov. 30.

Weekly prizes include up to $250 for first place, plus a chance to win a 12-week dance contract to perform at Disco Nights in The Nightclub. The winning couple of the final competition will also receive a weekend stay in a suite at the Las Vegas Hilton, dinner for two in The Steakhouse and $1,000 each.

Contestants must be at least 21 and dance as a couple. For rules, contact the box office at 732-5111.

Hats off to Lamar "The Hatman" Harris, the performer who has been entertaining fans at the Westward Ho's lounge for the past eight years. The vocalist manages to work hats into most of his numbers. Harris can be seen 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Sundays.

archive