Pony Poindexter

Raised in New Orleans, Poindexter played with Pops Buford in Oakland, Calif., and along with Ernestine Anderson joined Ernie Lewis in 1946 for a tour to Seattle, which landed them at Basin Street. Poindexter ping-ponged between Seattle and San Francisco from 1946-1958. After a stint in the Lionel Hampton band that also featured Ernestine Anderson and Quincy Jones, Poindexter played in an all-star group organized in 1952 by Billy Tolles that included trumpeter Kenny Dorham. Poindexter spent more than a year (1956-57) in the Monroe Reformatory on a charge related to drug addiction but upon release held down a steady gig at the Mardi Gras, then left Seattle in 1958. Known as “Little Pony” — the title of a Neal Hefti tune dedicated to Poindexter that was part of the Count Basie repertorie — Poindexter went on to work with Lambert, Hendrix and Bavan and Annie Ross, and made a series of albums under his own name, living at the end of his life in Europe. … Continue readingPony Poindexter

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

Quincy Jones

One of the most widely-recognized musicians in popular music and the winner of 28 Grammy Awards, Jones spent eight formative years in Seattle, where he learned to play trumpet, taught himself to arrange, toured with his first jazz band, wrote his first arrangements and befriended Ray Charles, who helped him with his early arranging. Born in Chicago, Jones came to Bremerton, Wash., with his family in 1943 and to Seattle in 1945, where Jones joined a swing band started by his classmate at Garfield High School, Charlie Taylor. Bumps Blackwell took over the band and got it gigs all over the Northwest, including a night backing up Billie Holiday. After graduating from Garfield in 1950, Jones attended Seattle University for a semester, then went to Boston, where he studied at the Schillinger school and was picked up as a trumpet player and arranger by Lionel Hampton. After forging a career as an arranger in New York, Jones drew upon three of his colleagues from Seattle – Floyd Standifer, trumpet; Buddy Catlett, bass; and Patti Bown, piano — for a big band that would be featured in a new musical in Europe, “Free and Easy.” The show bombed, but Jones stayed in Europe for 10 months, after which he became the first black executive at Mercury Records. Jones went on to write 30+ film scores, starting with the “The Pawnbroker,” in 1964, and including “The Color Purple.” He also produced Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the best-selling pop album of all time. Jones continues to promote young jazz musicians through his record company, Qwest. … Continue readingQuincy Jones

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

Ralph Davis

Raised in Chicago, Ralph Davis came to Seattle in 1942 and preceded Vernon Brown in the Al Pierre group. A stint with pianist “Barrelhouse” Smitty was followed by work with old-timer Gerald Wells and souful tenor man Floyd Franklin. Davis went on to play with Al Hickey and “Doc” Wheeler in the Jive Bombers for many years. … Continue readingRalph Davis

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

Ray Charles

Born in Florida, Charles became blind in childhood due to glaucoma. In 1948, he came to Seattle from Tampa, Fla, with a guitar player named Garcia McKee and with bassist Milt Gerrad they got a regular gig as the McSon Trio at the Rocking Chair, on 14th Avenue South. Charles later commemorated the club with one of his first recordings, “Rocking Chair Blues.” In Seattle, he began a lifelong relationship with Quincy Jones, which resulted in, among other collaborations, the landmark album “Genius+Soul=Jazz.” Invited to Los Angeles to become a solo recording act, Charles left Seattle in 1950 and by 1954 had a hit, “I Got A Woman,” followed by the smash “What’d I Say,” in 1959. Charles only spent two-and-a-half years in Seattle but credited the city’s open-minded racial approach as a big influence on his outlook, which included recording everything from country and western music to “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Charles eventually occupied the kind of status Louis Armstrong enjoyed — a black musician untethered to genre or race. … Continue readingRay Charles

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

Robert “Bumps” Blackwell

Hugely influential in Seattle and an important national record producer in early rock’n’roll (Little Richard, Sam Cooke), Robert “Bumps” Blackwell was a 1936 graduate of Garfield High School, studied music at Cornish College and began to show up on as a performer in the late ’30s, playing with Al Turay and arranging choral music for a musical. A better promoter than he was a musician, Blackwell ran a butcher shop on 23rd Avenue East and East Madison Street and led a variety of bands at the Washington Social Club, upstairs. He often had three to five bands working in various venues all over the city. His lasting contribution to Jackson Street was taking over the Charlie Taylor band that featured Quincy Jones and Buddy Catlett, which he renamed The Bumps Blackwell Junior Band and booked all over the Northwest. Blackwell left Seattle in 1950. … Continue readingRobert “Bumps” Blackwell

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