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Sharing Pitt Memories

United By a Love of Jazz


Tony Fountain (A&S '70):

What do you get when you combine an African American, a Chinese American, a British American, a Greek American, and a Jewish American? Well, if all five are musically inclined and love jazz, you get one of the finest jazz quintets in Pitt's history.

Long before Facebook or MySpace, even long before the Internet, students used a much simpler social network—the 3 x 5 note card thumbtacked to a few bulletin boards around Pitt's campus. In 1968, several note cards appeared advertising for students interested in forming a jazz group. That's how this group of students came together to form the Tommy Lee Quintet, one of the most popular musical groups in Oakland and all around Pittsburgh's jazz scene. The leader of the group, Tommy Lee, was the son of a Chinese engineer, was raised in Brazil, and came to Pittsburgh when his father took an engineering position here.
The group's popularity grew steadily between 1968 and '70. Their first gig was at the Loaves 'n' Fishes coffee house in Shadyside. (As I recall, we played for free). The quintet was sponsored by the Pitt Department of Music's jazz program and played in festivals at Notre Dame and Villanova, as well as on Pitt's campus in the student union, Frick Fine Arts Building Auditorium, and Stephen Foster Memorial. The quintet, whose members included Tommy Lee on flute; Don DePaolis, keyboards; Hal Weiss, trumpet; Virgil Walters (of Carnegie Mellon University), bass; and yours truly Tony Fountain on percussion, even had the privilege of recording a session on local PBS station WQED-TV with [Pitt jazz program director] Nathan Davis, Joe Kennedy Jr., Nelson Harrison, and Mike Taylor. 

I went on to play for several years with Pittsburgh's Kenny Fisher Quintet. Although I never sought a career as a professional musician, my experience at Pitt and with the Kenny Fisher Quintet provided an appreciation of real artists as well as the diversity so necessary to bring out the best in society.