Ronnie Pierce: 1928–2018
Seattle jazz musician Ronnie Pierce passed away peacefully on Sunday, October 28, surrounded by family and friends. In his career spanning more than seven decades, the beloved reedsman played with icons including Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Quincy Jones, and Ernestine Anderson.
An early student of sax master Johnnie Jessen, who taught him open throat technique, Pierce earned his first professional gig in 1942, playing with The Noteworthies in a series of USO shows, before working in the pit band at the Palomar Theater, one of the nation’s last vaudeville houses, backing numerous artists and comedians. A first-call player in dance orchestras and show bands from the 1950s and ‘60s, Pierce then took his love of vaudeville to open The Vault jazz club at 2nd and Union in downtown Seattle, which he operated from 1962 to 1976.
A popular teacher and mentor to Seattle jazz artists, the community is mourning the loss of this local treasure, who was old-school, hip, and had an infectious love for music and sharing it with others. On November 19, friends and family held a Celebration of Life at the Columbia City Theater, which featured a memorial concert and music jam, and plenty of stories. “Ronnie was the stuff legends are made from,” wrote Greg Williamson on Facebook of Pierce’s passing. “A player and entrepreneur since day one—he was the sheriff and a treasure (if not a scoundrel). I’m fortunate to have hosted several programs to feature him and his witty musical repartee, and the Seattle musicians who appreciated his special humor.”
Thank you, Ronnie, for all that you contributed to the Seattle (and beyond) music scene. You will be missed.