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Bassist Chuck Deardorf

A man wearing a blue shirt with gray hair, a beard and glasses plays an upright base in a room with red walls.
Parker Miles Blohm
/
KNKX
Chuck Deardorf plays at a KNKX Studio Session in 2015.

Seattle bassist Chuck Deardorf died this year due to complications from COVID-19. He was a familiar sight in the region's clubs, smiling and propelling the music forward while anchoring it all with impeccable time. Carol Handley remembers this beloved musician.

As a versatile bassist, on acoustic or electric, Deardorf's contribution to the music and the Northwest jazz ecosystem was deep.

As an educator, he taught at Western Washington University, served as the jazz program director at Cornish College of the Arts where he followed in the footsteps of another storied bassist, Gary Peacock.

As an active participant at Centrum Port Townsend's annual jazz festival, you could hear him jammin’ in the clubs and see him on the mainstage playing with artists including Jeff Hamilton, Julien Priester, Kenny Barron, Marquis Hill, Anat Cohen, Eric Reed and so many others. And he also taught at the Centrum Jazz Workshop as an educator and mentor.

As a mainstay and first-call bassist in the Seattle scene, he was on the stage of Jazz Alley more times than even Jazz Alley could count. That famed versatility and likability made him a favorite to work with for regional and touring artists including Marian McPartland, Chet Baker, New York Voices and Zoot Sims. If you search for "Chuck Deardorf" on KNKX.org you will also find an incredible number of studio sessions and Jazz Northwest episodes that have featured the bass player.

Chuck was elected to the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 2010. While he played with many musicians, there were several that he played with regularly. Guitarist Dave Peterson who he recorded a co-led album with, pianist Jovino Santos Neto worked regularly with Deardorf. Jovino said of him, "He was one of the best in the world."

Vibraphonist Susan Pascal was quoted in the same Seattle Times article saying of Chuck: "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."

In an article in JazzTimes, a review of Deardorf as a leader said, ”... a strong and smart bandleader...his own voice is the primary unifying factor. He is a quick, clear rhythm-section player and an articulate, interesting soloist.”

Deardorf started playing bass at 15 after putting down the trombone. He launched directly into the local jazz scene after graduating from Evergreen State. In the late '70s into the early '80s, you could see him working at Parnell’s and Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. He called that experience “graduate school.” Eager to play and learn whenever the invitation came and included paid gigs and jazz jams.

His recordings include two as a leader, Perception and Transparence, on Seattle’s Origin Records Label, as well the album co-led with Dave Peterson called Portal. As a side player he can be heard on dozens more.

Jazz reporter Paul de Barros was quoted for an earlier KNKX article, saying that "Chuck was an anchor of the jazz community; a humble, funny man who had a one-liner for any occasion," and that "Chuck was a great player, his time was as solid as a rock, his tone was beautiful. He was a huge part of the 'golden age' of live jazz in the region, and he left a plethora of talented students to carry on the Seattle tradition."

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