Wyatt Ruther

Raised in Pittsburgh, Ruther came to the Northwest in 1943, when he was stationed at Ft. Lewis, where he played in a special services band with Gerald Wiggins and met pianist Elmer Gill. Ruther was a trombone player at first, but after his Army stint, in 1945, he took up bass and stayed in the Seattle area to continue working at the Washington Social Club, with Wanda Brown. Ruther left Seattle for the San Francisco Bay Area in 1948 to join the Ernie Lewis band, and stayed. He subsequently worked with Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, Lena Horne and many other top jazz names. From 1971-73, he returned to Seattle to play the Olympic Hotel with the Gene Boscacci Trio. … Continue readingWyatt Ruther

Patti Bown

Initially trained as a classical pianist, Bown was an original stylist whose family disapproed of her visceral attraction to the Jackson Street and East Madison Street jazz clubs, but she found her way to the bandstand, nevertheless, taking pointers from Ray Charles and working as a teen at the Washington Social Club. Bown moved to New York City in 1955, where she became an in-demand studio player and recorded her own album for Columbia, “Patti Bown Plays Big Piano.” In 1959, she was recruited by Quincy Jones to play in the big band he took to Europe. Her compositions were recorded by Sarah Vaughan, Benny Golson and Duke Ellingtonand she recorded with Aretha Franklin and James Brown. Between 1962-1964 she served as the musical director for the bands accompanying Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. In the 1970s, Bown worked as a pianist in orchestras on Broadway and composed for film and television. She enjoyed a robust career leading a trio, as well, sometimes at the Village Gate. … Continue readingPatti Bown

Julian Henson

Considered Seattle’s most technically advanced pianist of the ’30s and ’40s, Henson was influenced by Art Tatum. Henson was born in Omaha, Neb., and raised in Portland, then Seattle, where he moved in 1932. Jimmy Rowles and Gerald Wiggins both picked up pointers from Henson and he was also highly respected by Palmer Johnson. Henson played the Blue Rose in the ’30s, left Seattle for a few years in the ’40s and came back in 1945, playing the Metropolitan Theatre on one of Norm Bobrow’s concerts, and a regular trio gig at the 908 Club. He moved to Portland in 1948. … Continue readingJulian Henson

Junior Raglin

Like Dick Wilson, Alvin Redrick “Junior” Raglin toured with Gene Coy’s Black Aces but his name began to began to appear in Seattle concert listings around 1938, in particular at the Ubangi Club and the 411 Club. He had played guitar with Coy, but switched to bass in Seattle. For a while Raglin played in a sextet with Palmer Johnson and tenor sax man Aaron Davis at the Congo Club. Raglin also played in a duo with guitarist Milt Green. In 1941, he left Seattle to replace Jimmy Blanton in the Duke Ellington band, playing and recording many of the famous Blanton solos, such as the one on “Jack the Bear.” … Continue readingJunior Raglin

Kenny Boas

An accomplished bebop pianist who studied music at Cornish College, Kenny Boas played with many of Seattle’s major figures, including Billy Tolles, Roscoe Weathers, Pops Buford, Floyd Standifer and Buddy Catlett. He was also mentored by his close friend and neighbor Ray Charles when Charles lived in Seattle. Though Boas was white, he joined the black musicians union, Local 493, partly out of frustration with Seattle’s segregated unions but also because he found he had more in common with African-American musicians. … Continue readingKenny Boas

Leon Vaughn

Born in Topeka, Kansas, Vaughn played with drummer Jo Jones as a young man and formed his own small band that played around Kansas City clubs, sometimes with bassist Adolphus Alsbrook, with whom he toured in the Eli Rice band. In 1940, Vaughn worked as a waiter on the Great Northern Empire Builder railroad, which ran from Chicago to Tacoma. Enchanted that roses were blooming in Seattle in December, Vaughn decided to move to Seattle in 1942. He played trumpet and sang with Bud Storm then joined the Al Pierre band around 1943, playing with him throughout the latter half of the ’40s. Vaughn then formed his own band that played the Basin Street, using Alsbrook and ex-Pierre alto man William Joseph. In 1948 Vaughn got a job as a site engineer at Boeing, but continued to play jazz with Pierre, Terry Cruise and Joe Gauff and his own group composed of other Boeing employees during the 1950s. … Continue readingLeon Vaughn

Leonard Gayton

Gayton was a colorful drummer and vocalist (who sang through a megaphone) on Seattle’s ’20s jazz scene. In 1926, at Garfield High School, he and Evelyn Bundy started the Garfield Ramblers. In 1929, Gayton played in the band that opened Charlie Louie’s speakeasy, the Chinese Gardens, at Seventh Avenue South and South King Street, and was arrested there in 1931 during a much-publicized federal raid. After that, he married Emma Pigford and settled down to a “respectable” life as a scion in one of the most prominent African-American pioneer families of Seattle. … Continue readingLeonard Gayton

Lillian Goode

Known as “Goody” to her friends, Lillian Goode was one of pianist Palmer Johnson’s favorite vocalists in the early days of Seattle jazz. She sang at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club, in Los Angeles, before coming to the Northwest. In 1920, she was singing with Frank Waldron at the opening of the Lodge Cafe, in Vancouver, B.C., and could be seen again with Waldron in 1936 at the Apex Club on a bill that also included entertainer Eddie Rucker. Goode was caught in a raid in 1927 while performing at an unnamed speakeasy on 12th Avenue and her name turns up again in 1931 at the Club Royale, a basement boite in the Chinatown International District, working with Joe Darensbourg and Gerald Wells. In 1933 she was at a Broadway Hall show featuring the other two top singers in town, Zelma Winslow and Evelyn Williamson and in 1937 she and Winslow appeared at the Ubangi. … Continue readingLillian Goode

Major Pigford

Pigford had the distinction of playing in three of the key bands in Jackson Street jazz history: Billy Tolles and the Savoy Boys, the Al Pierre Band and the Bumps Black Junior Band. A Garfield High School graduate, Pigford asked Frank Waldron for lessons, but the fastidious teacher said he didn’t know enough about trombone to take him on, so Pigford learned his instrument from the music teacher at Garfield, Parker Cook. Pigford gave up music in 1953 and went to work for the Pacific Northwest Theatre Association as a bookkeeper. … Continue readingMajor Pigford

Melody Jones

Born in Chicago, Jones lived in Harlem in the ’20s where she received hands-on instruction at rent parties from none other than Fats Waller and also played organ for movies at the Alhambra Theatre. After playing USO shows in the Far East during WWII, Jones moved to Seattle, where her husband’s uncle, Gus West, operated the Black Elks club and introduced her to Al Pierre, who got Melody a gig playing organ afternoons at the Showbox Theatre. Jones also played occasionally with Pierre’s men at the New Chinatown and subbed for Elmer Gill at the Black and Tan. While there, she encouraged Garcia McKee, Ray Charles’ guitar player, to bring Ray Charles to Seattle, and convinced West to give Charles his first Seattle job at the Black Elks, in 1948. Jones left Seattle for a decade, returning for good in 1956. In the ’80s, she kept the Jackson Street legacy alive with bassist Buddy Catlett at a longterm gig at Loforno’s, in Interbay, and played there until it closed, in 1993. … Continue readingMelody Jones