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Say it ain’t so – Rob Perry retires as Jazz Alley manager

Justin Steyer

I’ve known Jazz Alley manager, Rob Perry, for almost 30 years.  At the end of July, Rob will retire from that job and I will join the many, many Jazz Alley habitués who will miss him.  In fact, though I sort of envy Rob for getting to retire while he’s still good-lookin’, we’re all gonna miss his presence at the club a lot.

Way back it the 80’s, before I came to KPLU, I worked for a short-lived commercial jazz station called KJZZ and was a fixture at Jazz Alley in the University District, often visiting the club several nights a week. It was during that period of time that I got to know Rob and his boss, Jazz Alley owner, John Dimitriou.

When the club’s doors were open, John was often at work in the office, but Rob was always ‘on the floor,’ making sure his customers were getting what they paid for – a great night of jazz, food and drink.  Rob was the guy everybody got to know as “Mr. Jazz Alley,” though I don’t think he ever actually got saddled with that, or any other, sobriquet. 

Just call him 'Rob'

His charm and personable nature led everyone to just call him ‘Rob’ and all of us felt as if he was our friend.  And he was. That was Rob’s great accomplishment as the manager of Jazz Alley; he truly likes people and everyone who ever walked into Jazz Alley and encountered Rob was made to feel special.

Over the past 27 years Rob has left Jazz Alley on a few occasions to pursue other career interests, but he’s always come back. During the times he was gone, Jazz Alley still provided the same high-quality service and entertainment but it wasn’t the same without Rob. When he returned, all was right again in the world of Jazz Alley regulars.

Unlike my colleagues here at KPLU, all of whom also love Rob Perry, I’ve actually had the opportunity to work for him.

Working for Rob

A few years ago when I was (ahem) ‘between jobs,’  John and Rob were kind enough to let me work at The Alley as a part-time receptionist, coat-hanger-upper, reservation-taker, patron-seater … whatever the evening required.  John hired me but Rob was my boss so I got to see him ‘backstage’, as it were.  And let me tell you, Rob Perry is a great guy to work for. He’s clear about what he wants, solves problems immediately and fairly and still manages to make you feel special, even though you’re working for him.  (Actually, it often seemed that he solved problems before they happened which, to me, was sort of eerie.) My brief time as his employee has only deepened my already high regard for him.

I suppose I could rattle on about Rob’s attributes and contributions but when I boil it all down there is really one big reason why he’ll always have a place in my heart. He was good to my mom, Irene Morrison. She’d loved jazz since she was a girl. When she moved to Seattle and started going to Jazz Alley fairly regularly, she was in heaven. And Rob treated her as if she was heaven-sent. Every time she came to the club, Rob would come up with a big smile on his face and say, “Irene, we’ve missed you,” and give a hug and a kiss.

Toward the end of her life when it became more difficult for her to get around, Rob always made sure Irene was seated somewhere that made it easy for her to come and go. And he’d always come by the table to make sure she was being properly looked after by her server … and me.

Big shoes to fill

So, although I know that Jazz Alley will always provide me with a wonderful night on the town, it’s not going to be the same without Rob.  It’ll continue to be one of the world’s best jazz clubs but part of the reason for that will be that whoever steps into Rob’s position will have to attempt to live up to the example and the standards that he’s set over the past few decades.

Now,  let me change tense a little and speak directly to Mr. Perry as I wrap this up:  Rob … from me to you ... thanks for all the good times I’ve had in your company and in your club.

And thanks for being so nice to Irene.

Nick Morrison is KPLU’s Production Manager and also serves as a fill-in host on KPLU’s jazz and blues programs.

We stopped by the club to talk with Rob about his retirement, and the many memories from the past 25+ years:

Nick began working at KNKX as a program host in the late 1980’s and, with the exception of a relatively brief hiatus, has been with the station ever since. Along with his work as a Midday Jazz host, Nick worked for several years as KNKX’s Music Director. He is now the station’s Production Manager and also serves as a fill-in host on KNKX’s jazz and blues programs.