Mon. Nov 28th, 2022

Chuck Deardorf (Courtesy of All About Jazz and Chuck Deardorf)
Chuck Deardorf (Courtesy of All About Jazz and Chuck Deardorf)
Northwest jazz lost one of its sturdiest pillars — and driest wits — when Chuck Deardorf, bassist and former head of the Cornish College of the Arts jazz department, died of COVID-19 on Oct. 9. He was 68.
“It came too fast,” said pianist Jovino Santos Neto, whose Quinteto featured Deardorf for many years. “He was one of the best in the world.”
Elected to the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 2010, Deardorf was a familiar face for fans, whether he was leading his own group with guitarist Dave Peterson or working as a regular member of Santos Neto’s or vibraphonist Susan Pascal’s bands. He also worked for many years with pianist Dave Peck, the late masters Bud Shank and Don Lanphere, and an encyclopedia of jazz greats including Kenny Barron, Zoot Sims, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Marian McParland and Joe Williams.
Singer-songwriter Kelly Harland, Deardorf’s wife, said Deardorf contracted COVID at the end of August and was especially vulnerable to the virus, due to a 2011 kidney transplant that compromised his immunity. In mid-September he was admitted to Virginia Mason Medical Center, where he died.
Harland and Deardorf married in 1987 and became a musical couple, with Deardorf playing on and producing her albums.
“It’s been a grand affair,” she said.
Friends and colleagues have flooded Facebook with comments.
“His sound, his feel, his soul, it was omnipresent and (he was) an absolute joy to know,” wrote Lauren Kinhan of the world-renowned New York Voices, whom Deardorf played with on Seattle gigs.
In a phone interview, Pascal said, “His soloing was so hypnotically beautiful — I mean perfect intonation, effortless phrasing, gorgeous tone, beautifully sculpted lines, humorous quotes from time to time. He’s just irreplaceable.”
Born in 1954 and raised in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, Deardorf moved west as a high school senior, graduating from Central Kitsap High School. He originally played trombone, but as a student at The Evergreen State College taught himself to play electric bass. He then took up acoustic, which he plied on the renascent Seattle jazz scene in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
“That was like graduate school,” said Deardorf in a 2003 interview, of his time as a sideman with touring stars. “If I had moved to New York, I never would have gotten the opportunity to play with that caliber of people. It was the right place at the right time.”
In 1978, Deardorf taught at Western Washington University and began at Cornish the following year, eventually serving as jazz program administrator from 1986-2000. The 2021-22 academic year was his last as a classroom teacher, though he continued to offer private instruction to Cornish students. Deardorf also taught at the Centrum Jazz Workshop in Port Townsend and was highly respected as an educator.
“Chuck set the gold standard,” said his former student Tim Carey, who now coordinates Seattle’s Jazz Night School. “As a teacher, he was coming from the place of what a bass player really does when you’re playing in the real world with high-level musicians.”
A relentless jokester, Deardorf was known for one-liners like, “I play both kinds of music: country and western.”
According to Harland, his wit survived to the end. When a palliative-care nurse came into the picture, Deardorf texted Harland: “The Next World person is going to call you.”
Deardorf left behind recordings, including two as a leader, “Perception” and “Transparence,” as well as an album co-led with Peterson, “Portal.” As a side player he can be heard with Santos Neto, Shank, Lanphere, Peck, Barron, Barney McClure, Pete Christlieb and many others.
In addition to his wife, Deardorf is survived by his son, Will Deardorf; two sisters, Barbara Benson and Susan Markey; and brother, Ray Deardorf.
The date for a public service has not yet been announced. Remembrances may be sent to the Haring Center for Inclusive Education at the University of Washington via its website: haringcenter.org.
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