Carl Fontana, a jazz trombonist who created a technique called “doodle tonguing” and once played with Woody Herman and Duke Ellington, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 75.
Though slowed by Alzheimer’s disease, Fontana continued to play almost until his death, said his brother, Michael “Mickey” Fontana.
Fontana called his technique “a self-defense against saxophone players.” It let trombonists play extremely fast and cleanly, said Jeremy Davis, leader of the Equinox Jazz Orchestra.
“The trombone is a different instrument after that guy,” Davis told the News-Star in Monroe, La. “He raised the bar and set the standard.”
Fontana was born in Monroe and got his start with a dance band headed by his father, Charles “Collie” Fontana, a saxophonist.
“My dad put a horn in his hand when he was about 6 years old,” Michael Fontana said. Another brother, George “Bootsie” Fontana, said, “That’s about all he ever wanted to do -- play music.”
Fontana graduated from Neville High School and was pursuing a master’s degree from Louisiana State University when jazz master Woody Herman invited him to join the Third Herd. Fontana toured with Herman, Stan Kenton and Kai Winding for several years, performing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” and at Carnegie Hall.
In 1957, he settled in Las Vegas.
“I was on the road with the alto saxophonist Al Belletto and we came to Vegas for a gig,” Fontana told the Herald of London in 1999. “I just decided to stay. I was tired of the road, and there was a lot of work back then.”
In Las Vegas, he played with Ellingson, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra.
Ken Hanlon, a music professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where Fontana gave workshops, called him a phenomenon.
“Carl at 80% is better than 99% of all living trombone players,” Hanlon said.
Fontana is survived by his two brothers, two sons, a daughter and eight grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.