Ronnie Pierce
1928 - 2018
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Ronnie Pierce

1928 ~ 2018

Ronnie Pierce, musician, passed away October 28 at age 90. Son of Eddie Calvin Peirce and Florence May Peirce (nee Booth), in Lake Forest Park, Ronnie took to music early and studied with saxophone master Johnnie Jessen, who taught him "open throat" technique to produce a rich tone equaled by few other Seattle reed players. At age 15 Pierce joined the Musicians' Association of Seattle, Local 76 of the American Federation of Musicians, and began his professional career, playing reeds in the orchestras of Stanton Patty, Byron Scobey, Vern Mallory, Bumps Blackwell, Frank Roth, and many others. He also worked in the pit band at the Palomar Theater, one of the nation's last vaudeville houses, backing Sarah Vaughn, Billy Eckstein, the Mills Brothers, and an array of comedians who gave Ronnie a lasting love for vaudeville humor. In the 1950s and sixties Pierce remained a first-call player in dance orchestras and show bands, and 1962 he opened the Vault, a popular downtown night spot, which he operated until 1974. Thereafter he worked musical jobs of countless variety from Seattle to Key West and "everywhere in between," and was a popular teacher and mentor to generations of Seattle musicians. Ronnie Pierce loved to play and he loved to play for people; with his beautiful tone and phrasing, his infectious laugh, and his eternally youthful outlook, he brightened the lives of thousands -- "laughing and scratching all the way."

Ronnie Pierce is survived by sons Brent, Greg, Harry, Mark, and Rock; daughter Susan Hathaway; and four grandchildren. Funeral services Sunday, November 18, 3 pm, at Evergreen Washelli Cemetery, 11111 Aurora Ave. N., and memorial wake and concert-jam Monday, November 19, at the Columbia City Theater, 4916 Rainier Avenue S., 6 pm-midnight.

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Published in The Seattle Times on Nov. 18, 2018.
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22 entries
November 12, 2019
Just some thoughts
These, just reflecting on Dr. Jazzs own quotes, as I remember them so well.

Ronnie: Its to the gig, and loving it!
So many gigs together, so many plansto do a recording with our boys back in Boston, him on alto sax for Lover Man. We had planned this for 2018. Then, wed get back to Seattle for the full session.

So many Imagine back in 1974, when I was playing at the Ballard Elks Club with my cousin Roy Smith on organ, when in walked a most interesting fellow (with a watch cap and hair chunk sprouting out the top), who introduced himself in the most wonderful (Ronnie) way, to say he had read my posted advert on the board of a 39th Ave coffee house asking for players to maybe form a Dixieland band. Well, the staid Norwegian audience was shocked to see such a character there! But, Ronnie was an Elk! (As was my Dad, whom Ronnie always loved.) We hit it off, to say the least, and eventually after rehearsal sessions in his (in)famous Vault on 2nd Avenue, we became the Salmon City Seven. Lots of fun after that!

The gig for Ronnie was so much. It was his life, as all know, not to mention his dedication to all the students whom he has mentored and inspired. After so many gigs with all the greats in Seattles storied history and beyond, and with many of us all on the home front (like John Holtes Swingland Express, in the 1970s, and Mickey Martin, his dear friend), he and his great musicianship have been justly recognized in the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame.

As to other gigs, Ronnie became a close friend to many visiting jazz personalities. He would shepherd the likes of Stan Getz, and Freddie Hubbard, to and from the airport and hotel, developing long-lasting friendships. One day, Ronnie asked me if Id like to meet up with that great trumpeter. Really?!, I cried. Yes. We had a great afternoon with Freddie, who was a complete gentleman. Later at the jazz club, we sat in the front row, as Freddie played on student-level trumpet and flugel (his horns has been delayed in shipment), but who could ever tell? On another date, Ronnie and I sat in front of the Charles Mingus band, and Ronnie spoke of an aura he saw around Mingus. It was captivating.

Ronnie: Straight ahead, and strive for tone.
What a player! His rich tone on clarinet, his great alto lead in big bands, his pure flute. His total dedication to sound! Even as a brass player, I know his conceptions of breath, support, and airstream are true and memorable, great parts of his teaching approach. I concentrate on them every time I play. I particularly love his clarinet tone, so woody, so beautiful, so real.

Ronnie: Really?...Well, actually
He had a laser beam focus on truth. He could see through phonies a mile away. He could tell the real from the fake, from the genuine to the gimmitrey (gimmickry) as he would say. His disarming way could lure a phonie into revealing himself, without the latter even knowing what happened. But then, all appeared quite normal.

Talking with Ron was always an adventure. He was really the master of stream-of- consciousness dialog. He would easily go from past (exquisitley remembered!) to present, to future, and back again, seamlessly and without pause. But, youd always get the feeling that he was moving on to some point, only distantly grasped by me at the outset. Then, hed move you down onto that point so gently, quietly. This is a form of discourse that borders on genius, I think.

One other thing occurs to me: his incredible magnetism. I cant recall how many times when in a restaurant, say, that hed engage a waitress. Well, that was it! Shed be totally focused on him, even if he were 60 years her senior. What a guy!

Ronnie: What did one eyeball say to the other?
He had an incredible sense of goofy humor, Vaudevillian in all respects! Are you ready? No, Im Reddies brother, Blackie! And, at the end of a gig, Bye, byeand BUY BONDS! No one else I ever knew loved to laugh so much, and found such humor in life.

Ronnie: We have to thank people in this world!
This is one of the greatest things to me, about Ronnie. His wonderful appreciation for life, and for all the myriad personalities he interacted with. All sorts of people, never any prejudices or preconceptions, a total embrace of humanity. His beautiful tribute to Buddy Catlett, the great bassist, and his dear friend, sums up Rons deep humanity, when he told me how he played My Buddy (Walter Donaldsons 1918 tune) in commemoration of that revered musician.

I think of Ronnie every time I pass an odd poster displayed in the woods as I head home to Cape Cod. With a hand-drawn heart, it says simply, Tell Someone You Love Them.

Ronnie: You are the greatest in the land.
He often said this, and not just to me. He just had the most human soul-depth of anyone Ive ever known. Perhaps inscrutable, maybe difficult, hard to fathom, often misjudgedbut to me, the greatest friend.

Dr. JazzI love you madly. We love you madly. We always will.

Your buddy
Jeff Hughes
October 25, 2019
Offering my deepest condolences to the family, may our God of all comfort give you the strength you need during this difficult time
January 10, 2019
What a treat to have known and studied with Ronnie, a master of reeds and life. I will always cherish our dinners, lessons, and Passover sedars together!

Amy Gray
Amy Gray
November 28, 2018
Me and Ronnie rockin' the Mural Amphitheater stage at Folklife 2009!
Howlin' Houndog
November 28, 2018
The Howlin' Horn Section Folklife 2009 (John Terpin-Trombone, Joey "The Saint"-Tenor Sax & Ronnie Pierce-Alto Sax)
Howlin' Houndog
November 28, 2018
The Howlin' Horn Section Folklife 2009 (John Terpin-Trombone, Joey "The Saint"-Tenor Sax & Ronnie Pierce-Alto Sax)
Howlin' Houndog
November 28, 2018
It was an honor to know and play with a legend like Ronnie. I am sad that he is gone, but glad to know he touched so many folks over his long and wonderful life.
Howlin' Houndog
November 27, 2018
Ronnie listening to his new CD at AUDIO DADDIO
Mark Lewis
November 26, 2018
Dear Ronnie, Thank you for all the great times we had. What a thrill and honor it's been. The band just won't be the same without you.
Joe Ross
November 23, 2018
Oh my what fun I had being a clarinet student of Ronnie back in 2000. One lesson Jonny Jessin stopped by to say hi and I thought this clarinet playing leads to longevity. And now you've gone away. I will say Heaven prepare for a shipment of musical gold, amen. Love ya, Mark
Mark Johnson
November 23, 2018
Just today looking through a random history
Book on seattle, at a thanks giving gathering, there you were owner of the
Vault, a jazz club and dancing club of old!
Your melodies still carried by the waves
Of your time here, and all the people you've
I will always remember you with a smile on your face a joke on your lips and a horn in your hand! Cheers!
November 21, 2018
Ronnie, we talked forever and still I am amazed that the melody lingers on in such ways never understood till this chapter of one parting and another greeting. Our friendship like a boat sails now on the sea of life because it's not just singing but the spaces all about the breath baby. Just like in life, you chose birth the day before a total Full Moon eclipse. You're a pow-factor. Now and always. Thanking you only begins my heart's language in stories making life connections, as then, as now for which I remember music filled with tunes and lyrics. Finally Autumn Leaves and Glory of Love speak in a triad with Our Love Is Here to Stay in songs to hold moments in the only way to share the spaces between the light eclipsed and the heart ringing vibes. Love to my eternal friend Ronnie -- or Jim love from Gypsy
Sue - Gypsy (Forland) Minahan
November 20, 2018
goodbye, ron--to the final gig and loving it!
November 20, 2018
ronnie has gone to his final gig and, knowing him, is loving it! goodbye, old friend.
buck evans
November 20, 2018
ronnie is on the final gig now and, knowing him, no doubt loving it. goodbye old friend!
buck evans
November 20, 2018
buck evans
November 19, 2018
Thanks for the great memories when you were playing on Block Island with my Dad, Jim Kelly and Terry Keef.. I hope you all meet up and have a great jam session in the heavens above. Lorrie Frezza Perkins
lorrie frezza perkins
November 19, 2018
Forever in my Heart ❤
November 19, 2018
The only secret humans keep is immortality -Emily Dickinson

Thank you for being such a good grandfather to Luthian, Ronnie. You will be missed and loved Eternally. I will hear your voice and laughter forever in my heart. Thank you for all the love and for your winning attitude. Love Always, Sandie
Sandie Metzger
November 19, 2018
Big part of Lofurno's success......

Keeping that dance floor "Hoppin"
November 19, 2018
Jody... Luv you Ronnie
Jody (doda day)
November 19, 2018
Goodbye is not Goodbye
Because I still love you
You will be with me forever
Even though you are in the ether.

We love you. You will be missed.
Harry Pierce
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