A founder of one of Seattle's most popular, long-lived jazz groups has died. Pianist Barrie Vye, who played for over six decades with the...

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A founder of one of Seattle’s most popular, long-lived jazz groups has died.

Pianist Barrie Vye, who played for over six decades with the Rainy City Jazz Band, died Nov. 20. The immediate cause was prostate cancer, but Mr. Vye also suffered from emphysema. He was 81.

“He knew a million, billion, zillion tunes,” said vocalist Dina Blade, who worked eight years with Mr. Vye in the revue, “American Popular Songs of World War II.” “He played the old songs simply and beautifully.”

Born July 27, 1924, in Buffalo, N.Y., William Stuart Barrie Vye grew up in Vancouver, B.C., lived briefly in Oakland, Calif., then moved to Seattle in 1937. Largely self-taught, Mr. Vye fell in love with jazz at Garfield High School.

“Freddie Slack came and played ‘Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar’ and the guys I hung out with began to play boogie-woogie,” Mr. Vye recalled in a 1998 interview printed in the local music magazine Victory Review.

Graduating in 1941, Mr. Vye served on a Navy supply ship in the Pacific. In 1946, he joined two musicians he had met in the service — trombonist Jack Sheedy and clarinetist Gordy Greimes — in the After Hours Sextette, renamed the Rainy City Jazz Band in 1947. Rainy City’s other original members were Richard “Boots” Houlahan (trumpet), Lowell Richards (tuba) and Dolph Bleiler (drums).

Rainy City was the first band in the Northwest to join what became a national revival of New Orleans jazz. In 1948, the group began a regular gig at the Club New Orleans, a large dance hall near the old Longacres Race Track. The following year, the band played Winter Carnival in St. Paul, Minn., and at Chicago’s Bee Hive, receiving excellent reviews in Down Beat magazine. A Seattle reporter’s dispatches from St. Paul about the band — and Winter Carnival — were part of a campaign to convince Seattleites that they, too, should have a big annual fair. It worked: In 1950, Rainy City played Seattle’s inaugural Seafair.

After 1960, the group played only occasionally, but reunited for six months in 1975 at the Jolly Roger, on Lake City Way. Its most recent gig was two years ago.

Mr. Vye received a B.S. in 1948 from the University of Washington and worked as a salesman for Monsanto, the agricultural chemical company. He also was a stockbroker with Bache & Co. and ran his own electrical contracting business, Vye Electric.

In 1987, he retired, devoting himself to music. For 17 years, he performed with a trio at the Latona by Green Lake. The group’s last gig was three months ago.

“He was one of the very rare, really good rhythm pianists,” recalled Greimes. “He was really the best we ever had.”

Mr. Vye loved to ski, sail and cook gourmet French food.

“A whole lot of people poured their hearts out to him,” said his daughter, Sarah Vye. “When I called him, I would say, ‘Is the complaint desk open?’ He would answer, ‘The complaint desk is always open.’ “

Mr. Vye is survived by his sister, Lowell; his son, Matthew; daughter Sarah; and three grandchildren, Whitney Buschmann, Jane Alice Rasch and Maddy Rasch.

A memorial will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Latona, 6423 Latona Ave. N.E. , Seattle.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com