Seattle jazz leader Standifer dies at 78

SEATTLE - Floyd Standifer, a mainstay of the city's jazz scene for six decades after working closely with Quincy Jones and Ray Charles in their salad days, has died at age 78 after a long battle with cancer and complications.

Standifer, known for his well-spoken, gentlemanly manner and Fats Navarro-type hard bop style on tenor saxophone, trumpet and other instruments, died Monday night at Virginia Mason Medical Center after about a month of treatment for chronic shoulder pain, a hospital nursing supervisor confirmed.

"He was such an icon," said Jay Thomas, a Standifer protege who has played jazz on the saxophone, trumpet, flugelhorn and flute on more than 60 recordings. "He's irreplaceable."

Early years

Born in Wilmington, N.C., Standifer moved with his parents, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion preacher and a schoolteacher, to Oregon in 1936 and grew up with four siblings in a one-room house on a farm near Gresham, Ore., outside Portland.

The next year he began playing drums in a Works Progress Administration band in Portland, then played tuba in a high school band and taught himself to play saxophone and trumpet.

In 1946, his father was transferred to a church in Seattle, and Standifer enrolled at the University of Washington to study physics.

He switched career paths after falling in with a circle of young jazz musicians that included Jones, Charles, singer Ernestine Anderson and bassist Buddy Catlett, who went on to play for many years with the Count Basie Orchestra.

"The weekend started on Thursday, and it didn't stop until Monday morning about eight o'clock," Standifer once recalled.

"(At one club) there was a guy name Jimmy Linegan (who) would play E-natural all night long. He kept a pistol on top of the piano ... the first thing I learned, don't ever stand next to anybody in a raid ... because you never know what'll end up in your pocket."

In 1959, Jones invited Standifer, Catlett and pianist Patti Bown, also from Seattle, to join a big band in Europe.

Standifer stayed briefly in New York after the nine-month tour, then returned home to his family for good.

In 1962, he played the Seattle world's fair, for which he composed a jazz liturgy, "Postlude." He recorded two albums, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" and "Scotch and Soda."

Regular work

Standifer worked regularly with violinist Joe Venuti and accordion player Frank Sugia at Christmas time in a strolling, Dickensian group sponsored by the old Frederick & Nelson department store.

He taught at Cornish College of the Arts, the University of Washington, Olympic College in Bremerton and the Northwest School, played regularly at the Pampas club, performed with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra and was a member of the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame.

His last regular performances were with a group that appeared each Wednesday night at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Pioneer Square from 1986 until last fall, when he became too ill with cancer to play.

Survivors include two children, Floyd III and Rochelle, both of Seattle, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.