Norm Bobrow, a well-known Seattle impresario and champion of Seattle jazz, died Sunday (April 13). A disc jockey, Seattle Times columnist...
Norm Bobrow, a well-known Seattle impresario and champion of Seattle jazz, died Sunday (April 13).
A disc jockey, Seattle Times columnist and singer/bandleader who presented Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton and Charlie Parker, among others, Mr. Bobrow’s career in popular music spanned seven decades.
Mr. Bobrow, 90, died of cancer, according to his brother, Mort.
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Mr. Bobrow was famous for his effervescent enthusiasm, garrulous chatter and outgoing personality, onstage and off. He was never more comfortable than when wearing a tuxedo on stage and giving an adoring introduction to the musician.
“He’s the only guy that I remember who could get people to do things without doing it with money or fear,” recalled Seattle trombonist Dave Tuttle, one of Mr. Bobrow’s oldest friends.
“He had a great personality,” said Zollie Volchok, past president of the Seattle Sonics, who hired Mr. Bobrow to write press material. “He was interested in absolutely everything.”
Born Dec. 18, 1917, Mr. Bobrow grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn, New York, and later, in New York’s Westchester County. As a boy, he began a lifelong love affair with American musical comedy, African-American jazz and sports.
In 1936, Mr. Bobrow’s family moved to Seattle, where he enrolled at the University of Washington, and three years later started the Husky Hot Club. The club promoted swing music and in particular the band of Seattle leader Gaylord Jones, who played in the style of Mr. Bobrow’s favorite band leader, Jimmie Lunceford.
Mr. Bobrow was part of the first generation of jazz advocates to promote the music as high culture, not merely entertainment.
Though the fashion of presenting jazz in a concert hall is usually credited to Los Angeles promoter Norman Granz, Mr. Bobrow predated Granz with the first formal jazz concert on the West Coast, on Feb. 4, 1940, at Seattle’s downtown Metropolitan Theatre (which no longer exists). On July 13, 1941, Mr. Bobrow also presented Waller, who was riding his hit, “Jitterbug Waltz,” at the Moore Theatre.
In 1941, Mr. Bobrow joined the Army. He worked as program manager of the Armed Forces Radio station in Kodiak, Alaska, where he wrote a 1943 Christmas speech delivered to the troops by Ingrid Bergman.
Discharged in 1946, Mr. Bobrow began an eight-year career in radio, hosting a Saturday-afternoon show on KRSC and a morning show on KING.
Always an advocate of local talent, Mr. Bobrow actively promoted the career of then-17-year-old Seattle singer Ernestine Anderson as “the new Ella [Fitzgerald],” presenting her in 1946 at the Metropolitan Theatre. “He awakened Seattle to the music that was layin’ here,” said Tuttle.
In 1952, Mr. Bobrow presented a historic concert at the Metropolitan Theatre that featured Parker, Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker.
Mr. Bobrow loved to tell the story about how Parker had to be dragged from the bar at the Grosvenor Hotel to the show, and then wound up spending the night in Mr. Bobrow’s apartment, leaving a “goodbye” scrawled in lipstick on the bathroom mirror.
Mr. Bobrow also presented legendary saxophonist Stan Getz, after which Getz, in an infamous incident, was arrested for robbing a drugstore.
For a while in the 1950s, Mr. Bobrow, who sang and played percussion, also led his own big band in Seattle.
In 1955, Mr. Bobrow opened a popular downtown night spot, the Colony Club. At the Colony, Mr. Bobrow fell in love with and became the personal manager for performer Pat Suzuki; the following year he moved with her to New York.
The couple split up after five years, but Mr. Bobrow remained in New York working in radio, then lived briefly in Barbados, and returned to Seattle in 1968. He began hosting an interview and entertainment show on KING-TV and presented concerts by local musicians at the Olympic Hotel (now the Four Seasons) and at the Broadway Performance Hall.
In 1968, Mr. Bobrow married Marlene Diedrick Bobrow, and from 1978 to 1982, Mr. Bobrow and his wife co-wrote “He Says, She Says,” an advice column in The Seattle Times. Marlene Bobrow died in 1987.
Marlene Bobrow’s son, Dave Gleeson, recalled his stepfather teaching him a lesson about baseball — and life.
“Soon after Norm and Marlene were married,” Gleeson wrote via e-mail, “I was called out to the backyard and provided a mitt … . He promised me that if I put my face in front of the ball first … my hand and mitt would automatically be there before the ball. … . That seemed to be the way Norm lived his life — jump out in front of it, and you’ll catch it!”
Two days before he died, Mr. Bobrow was singing “Alfie” and “Nancy with the Laughing Face,” reported his brother.
“He was always a man whose cup was always full,” said Mort. “God, I’m gonna miss him.”
Besides his brother, Mr. Bobrow is survived by three stepchildren — Marty, David and Jerry Gleeson — and two step-grandchildren. A fourth stepson, Paul, preceded him in death.
Memorial service arrangements are pending.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org