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Jazz Appreciation Month: Seattle's 2021 Jazz Hero

John Dimitriou hard at work in his office at Jazz Alley
Ari Dimitriou
John Dimitriou hard at work in his office at Jazz Alley

Jazz Appreciation Month brings recognition to the art form and to the artists who produce it. But did you know there are also awards for the behind-the-scenes supporters of jazz? Robin Lloyd has the scoop from jazz journalist Paul De Barros.

(Written by Paul De Barros, edited for air and voiced by Robin Lloyd)

The Jazz Journalists Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the best use of media of all kinds to tell the story of jazz and develop new jazz audiences. Its annual jazz award season kicks off in April with recognition of local Jazz Heroes: defined as the "activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz." 

Seattle’s Jazz Hero this year is John Dimitriou, owner of the region's premier jazz club, Jazz Alley.

Like every other gathering place in the state of Washington, Seattle’s Jazz Alley closed its doors back in March 2020 when the pandemic struck and has yet to reopen. But while the stage was shuttered, John Dimitriou saw no reason why his spacious, state-of-the-art kitchen could not be put to good use.

Working with local social service agencies such as the Northwest Food Alliance and the Seattle Council of Churches, Jazz Alley has prepared and given away nearly 100,000 free meals to those in need since the pandemic began.

Community service has always been a part of his highly successful business model. When the club opened more than 40 years ago, Dimitriou fought for permission from the state Liquor Control Board to allow high school students into the club to hear the masters perform at Jazz Alley. He also started a nonprofit wing, the Pacific Jazz Institute, so those same young jazz fans could enjoy, free of charge, more than 100 Meet the Masters weekend workshops.

Dimitriou opened Jazz Alley in October 1980 and, apart from a brief hiatus in 1985, has been operating the venue ever since, making it one of the oldest jazz clubs in America.

Dimitriou grew up in a family of jazz-loving Greek restaurateurs. In the late '70s, he moved to the East Coast, where he managed Blues Alley, a now-legendary venue in Washington, D.C.

When he returned to Seattle in 1979, a club called Jazz Alley had already opened in Seattle’s University District. The owners happily sold it to Dimitriou the following year.

In 1985, Jazz Alley reopened in its present location, an area known as the Denny Regrade, where the iconic Amazon Spheres recently sprouted around the corner. Since then, Dimitriou has focused on the kitchen as much as the stage, and Jazz Alley has become the primary place for jazz in town, as well as a destination for fancy dates and high-end celebrations.

Speaking for myself, and probably many of the music staff here at KNKX, some of the best nights of my life have been spent at Jazz Alley. Congratulations to the 2021 Seattle Jazz Hero, John Dimitriou!

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.