The Seattle jazz community will gather Wednesday, March 14, to remember jazz lion Chuck Metcalf, who died in January of neuroendocrine cancer. He was 81.
The Seattle jazz community is gathering Wednesday at the New Orleans Restaurant to celebrate one of its own — bassist Chuck Metcalf.
A onetime sideman for vocalist Anita O’Day and saxophonist Dexter Gordon — and a fine composer — Mr. Metcalf was one of Seattle’s top jazz musicians. He died in January of neuroendocrine cancer. He was 81.
Born in 1931 in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mr. Metcalf moved to the Northwest in 1946, graduating from Highline High School and studying architecture at the University of Washington. Music, however, was always in his blood. As a student, he jammed at the Annex, a temporary building where musicians gathered, and his house on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast became a legendary jazz hot spot.
“I had the whole Stan Kenton band over to my pad in 1951 or ’52,” he said in an interview for the book, “Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle.”
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Mr. Metcalf played on Seattle’s lively Jackson Street scene, snagging a plum job at the Black Elks club in 1951.
While still in school, he married fellow student Joni Swartz, who later enjoyed a career as the popular Seattle vocalist and pianist Joni Metcalf. Mr. Metcalf had a thriving architecture business — The Seattle Times recognized him in July 1960 for designing the Home of the Month — and he never intended to become a professional musician.
“He couldn’t hold back the music,” said Joni Metcalf. “It kept drawing him out. And so it won.”
In the 1960s, the Metcalfs moved to a 12-room house in Madrona that also became a Seattle jazz haunt. Mr. Metcalf also helped found the Seattle Jazz Society in 1966.
“He was Mr. Jazz in Seattle,” recalled saxophonist and trumpeter Jay Thomas. “They would have party/sessions and invite the musicians that were at the Penthouse [an old Seattle jazz club].”
Saxophonist Dan Greenblatt, who worked in Mr. Metcalf’s octet in the late ’80s and early ’90s, described him as “a real community builder.”
Mr. Metcalf left Seattle for San Francisco in 1972, was based in New York and Holland for a time, then came back to Seattle in 1985. In the mid-’90s, he moved back to San Francisco, where he retired in 2011.
Mr. Metcalf worked with an impressive array of musicians, including Mark Murphy (with whom he recorded), Joe Venuti, Frank Morgan, Ernestine Anderson, Mose Allison, Benny Goodman and George Shearing. He was elected to the Earshot Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.
Chuck and Joni Metcalf divorced in 1960, remarried in 1962, then divorced again.
“He was my closest friend,” said Joni Metcalf. “We just couldn’t live together.”
Mr. Metcalf is survived by three children — Sarah, 58, of Idaho; Stephen, 56, of Seattle; and Matthew, 53, of Olympia — and three grandchildren.
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