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Originally published Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jazz pianist Jack Perciful worked with music giants

Jack Perciful, a jazz pianist who played and arranged for swing band leader Harry James for 18 years, died March 13. Mr. Perciful had lived in...

Seattle Times jazz critic

Obituary |

Jack Perciful, a jazz pianist who played and arranged for swing band leader Harry James for 18 years, died March 13.

Mr. Perciful had lived in Olympia since 1974, where he was highly regarded for his work with the late bassist Red Kelly, among others.

The pianist, 82, had suffered from chronic lymphatic leukemia for seven years, but his health had seriously deteriorated in the last year.

Born Nov. 26, 1925, in Moscow, Idaho, Mr. Perciful started on piano when he was 7. In 1943, he was drafted into the armed forces, where he worked in a combo behind Red Skelton and served in Japan after WWII. He returned to the University of Idaho, where he completed a master's degree in music education.

After teaching briefly, Perciful pursued a music career, first in Spokane, then in Los Angeles, where he moved in 1952. During this period, he was influenced by pianists Nat Cole and Spokane native Jimmy Rowles.

"He played beautifully, in a very crisp, straightforward style," said Olympia pianist Joe Baque. "When he played something, it had meaning."

In 1956, Mr. Perciful was hired by James in Las Vegas, and subsequently recorded 25 albums with the band leader. In Las Vegas, Mr. Perciful married Dorothy Morgan, and they raised her two children, Dottie and Larry; they later divorced.

After moving to Olympia, the pianist began working with former James bandmate Kelly at the bass player's club, the Tumwater Conservatory. Mr. Perciful and Kelly shared a keen sense of humor. In 1972, they cooked up a satirical political campaign with the OWL party ("Out With Logic" and "On With Lunacy"), in which Mr. Perciful won a significant number of votes as a candidate for state treasurer.

Chuck Deardorf, in those days a student at The Evergreen State College but now director of the Cornish College jazz program, recalled Perciful as having "a great way of imparting his knowledge."

Mr. Perciful met his second wife, Kathy Mell, daughter of Tacoma trombonist Art Mell, at the club. They married in 1988.

Apart from music, Mr. Perciful's other great passion was baseball. "He watched it [on TV] all the time," said Kathy Perciful. To keep herself occupied with such a fan in the house, "I would knit sweaters during the summertime."

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Mr. Perciful was described by his wife and friends as a modest and gentle man.

"I never heard him say one word about anybody if he didn't have anything good to say," said Baque, who played duets with Mr. Perciful at the Governor's Mansion.

Mr. Perciful is survived by his wife, Kathy; his former wife, Dorothy; his stepchildren Larry Morgan and Dottie Jean Brown; six grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

A memorial will be held from noon to 3 p.m. April 27 at the Olympia Golf and Country Club, 3636 Country Club Drive N.W. (on Cooper Point Road).

Donations in his memory may be sent to the Jack Perciful Music Scholarship at SPSCC Foundation, 2011 Mottman Road S.W., Olympia, WA 98512.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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