Floyd Standifer, a founding father of Seattle's jazz community, died on Monday night, at the age of 78. As Jessica Davis so wonderfully told the story back in 2002, it was over 60 years earlier, at the corner of 21st and Madison in Seattle, when he first heard the sound of bebop. He had come to Seattle to study physics a UW, but as he told Jessica, "Once I heard bebop, that was it. The importance of physics went out the window and in went Charlie Parker."
In the decades that followed, the relationship between Standifer and Seattle grew immeasurably. Musicians came to regard him as a teacher, a mentor, a musical father, a pillar of the jazz community, an icon. The city twice proclaimed Floyd Standifer days in 1996 and 2000, and he was honored by two Mayors for his stature as a jazz man, and his contributions to the city's scene.
And Standifer held Seattle in equally high regard. As jazz writer Paul DeBarros recalls, he "had a great affection for the natural beauty and laid-back lifestyle of Seattle." And in Floyd's own words, "... the first thing you were was a human being. And it's the last thing you're ever going to be. This town allows you to do that. All that other stuff in between is just stuff that you learn to do. You're looking for someplace where life can mean something, you come here."
I'm a relative newcomer to Seattle, but the natural beauty which surrounds us, and the thriving, multi-generational jazz scene which pulsates from within are two of the city's powerful draws. From the time I arrived in 1998, references to Floyd came from every direction. From my long-time friend (and jazz mentor) Robert Wade, in conversations with new jazz friends, in music columns in both dailies and weeklies, and from the musicians I eventually met.
While I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Standifer, I do want to share a personal aside in his memory. I photograph, on a volunteer basis, the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, a fabulous cultural treasure of which he was a valued member. I donate images for a variety of purposes, including limited edition prints for donors and supporters. I never got to see, or photograph, Floyd playing with SRJO, in all their swinging, black-tie glory. But his picture was the one most requested by people who love their music. At last fall's Bumbershoot, not long before he had to put his horns down, I joined the crowd who packed in to see him at the Seattle Jazz Showcase. Clearly, Floyd Standifer didn't need a tux to personify class. Swing in peace.
Update: Jazz After Hours host Jim Wilke will devote his Jazz Northwest program (KPLU 98.5 FM) to music and memories of Floyd Standifer on Sunday, Januar 28th at 1PM PST. It will be available as a podcast after the broadcast at kplu.org.