Paul West, an ebullient pianist, singer and humorist who entertained several generations on Seattle's lounge scene from the 1950s forward, died Monday.
Paul West, an ebullient pianist, singer and humorist who entertained several generations on Seattle’s lounge scene from the 1950s forward, died Monday.
He was 76. The cause was prostate cancer.
Though Mr. West worked much of his life as an advertising man by day, he played music by night. He was probably best known for his ’70s trio BLT — Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato — featuring bassist Rolf Johnson (son of well-known Seattle architect Sig Johnson) and vocalist Gail Clements.
Seattle’s cocktail-lounge scene — all but vanished now — thrived until the early ’80s and featured jazz-inflected soloists and combos playing music that could slide easily from background to foreground. BLT played at the Sixth Avenue Motor Inn, among other venues, across the street from the present Jazz Alley.
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A fan of bluesy pianists such as Mose Allison, Oscar Peterson and Ray Charles, Mr. West was well-respected in Seattle jazz circles, singing Allison’s “Parchman Farm” in a husky baritone and also doing a respectable rendition of hipster comedian Lord Buckley’s bit, “The Naz.”
“Paul was so literate and witty, just a very funny man,” recalled Bob Nein, who also worked in the music business and advertising. “I remember being at a New Year’s Day bowl party. … They had a couple of backs named Rogers and the announcer said something about ‘the injured Rogers.’ Paul said, ‘Injured Rogers and Fred Astaire.’ “
Born Paul Albert Rickenbacker in Hollywood (he changed his last name to accommodate club marquees, he said), Mr. West was raised in Los Angeles, New York and Oklahoma before moving to Seattle in 1948. His father was a radio announcer and his mother was a professional singer and pianist. Mr. West attended Meany Junior High and Garfield High School, where he played football and baseball and did stand-up comedy at the annual Funfest.
Mr. West graduated from Lowell High School, in San Francisco, after his family moved again, then attended San Jose State College, where he began playing professionally. Back in Seattle, in 1955, he attended Seattle University and was hired at the Colony, a famous club run by impresario Norm Bobrow. After a stint in the Army, Mr. West returned to Seattle, where he played at The Door, The Sorrento Hotel, the Roundtable Tavern and, later, the Riviera, on Lake Union.
In the early ’60s, Mr. West lived with bassist Chuck Metcalf and his wife, singer-pianist Joni Metcalf, whose Madrona house was famous for its jam sessions.
After marrying Karen Helmuth, who lived next door to the Metcalfs, Mr. West had two children, Jason and Mara, then went to work for the advertising agency, Kraft, Smith and Lowe, in 1969.
Mr. West married four times.
“The last one stuck,” said his daughter, Lindy West, whose mother, Ingrid, was married to Mr. West for almost 33 years.
Mr. West continued to work in Seattle as a pianist and ad man throughout the ’70s and ’80s, except for a five-year stay in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Mr. West went to work in corporate communications at Microsoft in 1991 and retired in 1998. He spent his retirement playing music and fixing up a second house on Hood Canal, where he installed a Steinway grand piano.
Radio announcer Jim Wilke, a longtime friend, remembered Mr. West fondly.
“He laughed as easily as anybody I’ve ever known” said Wilke. “He always had a droll story. He was one of those guys who made you feel good to be in the same room with him.”
Mr. West is survived by his wife Ingrid and three children — Mara, of Los Angeles; Jason, of Boston; and Lindy, of Los Angeles — and two grandchildren (Jason’s sons) — Paul Stefan Dima-West and Nicholas Dima-West.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or email@example.com