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Originally published April 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 14, 2008 at 6:27 PM

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Obituary | Norm Bobrow, Seattle jazz champion

Norm Bobrow, the champion of Seattle jazz who worked with Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton and Charlie Parker, died April 13, 2008, at age 90.

Seattle Times jazz critic

Norm Bobrow, a well-known Seattle impresario and champion of Seattle jazz, died Sunday.

A disc jockey, Seattle Times columnist and singer/bandleader who presented Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, among others, Mr. Bobrow had a career in popular music and jazz that spanned seven decades.

Mr. Bobrow, 90, died of cancer, according to his brother, Mort.

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 and African-American jazz, after many visits to Harlem and Broadway.

In 1936, Mr. Bobrow's family moved to Seattle, where he enrolled at the University of Washington, and three years later, he 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 Bobrow's favorite band leader, Jimmie Lunceford. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer described Bobrow during this period as "a young visionary who believes that swing is fraught with significance." Mr. Bobrow attended the university six years, but did not graduate.

Mr. Bobrow was famous for his garrulous chatter and outgoing personality, onstage and off. He was never more comfortable than wearing a tuxedo on stage, giving an adoring introduction to the musician he was currently championing. His other passions in life included baseball and boxing.

Though the fashion of presenting jazz in a concert hall is usually credited to Los Angeles promoter Norman Granz, Mr. Bobrow presented the first formal jazz concert on the West Coast on Feb. 4, 1940, at Seattle's downtown Metropolitan Theatre (which no longer exists). The bill featured Gaylord Jones and locally popular pianist Palmer Johnson. On July 13, 1941, Bobrow 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, and as the editor of the Fort Lawton Processor, a newspaper at Fort Lawton.

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.

Mr. Bobrow also promoted Sunday jazz concerts of Seattle musicians at the Repertory Playhouse, in the University District and, later, at the Civic Auditorium (now McCaw Hall), including national stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Billy Eckstine and Woody Herman.

Always a champion 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. Other artists promoted by Bobrow included Paul Neves, Freddie Greenwell, Gerald Wiggins and Floyd Standifer.

In 1950, Mr. Bobrow started promoting bebop pianist Cecil Young, often at the 908 Club, on 12th Avenue. The quartet later went on to national tours and a popular recording. In 1952, Mr. Bobrow presented a historic concert at the Metropolitan Theatre that featured Parker, Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker.

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Mr. Bobrow loved to tell the story about how Parker first had to be dragged from the bar at the Grosvenor Hotel to the show, and then wound up spending the night in Bobrow's apartment, leaving a "goodbye" scrawled in lipstick the next morning, before Bobrow got up.

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 Fourth Avenue and Virginia, in the building now occupied by the Andra Hotel. At the Colony, Bobrow fell in love with and became the personal manager for performer Pat Suzuki; the following year he moved with her to New York, where she landed the lead in the Broadway show "Flower Drum Song."

Mr. Bobrow returned to Seattle in 1967 and began hosting an interview and entertainment show on KING-TV. He also presented concerts by local musicians at the Olympic Hotel (now the Four Seasons) and at the Broadway Performance Hall.

He married Marlene Diedrick Bobrow in 1968, and from 1978 to 1982, Bobrow and his wife co-authored "He Says, She Says," an advice column in The Seattle Times. Marlene Bobrow died in 1987.

No announcements have been made concerning funeral arrangements.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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