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Thursday, April 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Saxophonist 'Jabo' Ward dies at 85

By Marius Nordal
Special to The Seattle Times

"Jabo" Ward
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Saxophonist Ulysses "Jabo" Ward was a highly revered and beloved figure on the Northwest jazz scene for over 60 years. He died last Saturday at age 85.

He left his hometown of Kansas City, Kan., in 1937, when his father gave him a train ticket to visit Seattle and look for work.

He joined the Merchant Marine and on one of his trips to Alaska, decided that he wanted to learn to play saxophone. The ships he served on dropped off their cargo in Alaska and returned empty, so Mr. Ward had lots of time and solitude in which to practice.

Even though he didn't play music as a teenager, Mr. Ward was exposed to the best of bluesy swing bands in Kansas City. He turned his late start into an asset by studying music so hard that he pushed past his swing-era peers and went on to absorb the more modern sounds of bebop in the 1940s.

He was a central figure in Seattle's legendary Jackson Street music scene, where from 1943 to 1950 he played six nights a week at the Union Club with bandleader Al Pierre.

Mr. Ward was an avid golfer and co-founded Seattle's Fir State Golf Club. The top of the piano in his Central District home is covered with golf trophies.

It was the after-hours jam sessions that led to his obsession with golf. He and his fellow musicians would go out in the mornings after playing music all night and play a round of golf before going to bed. Mr. Ward worked for Texaco from 1968 to 1982 and belonged to the Texaco Retiree Club, the Fir State Golf Club and Musicians Union Local 76.

Mr. Ward's music never sounded dated because he had a rare ability to play the most modern of jazz styles while retaining his Kansas City blues roots. The timeless quality of his music and warmth of his personality made him constantly in demand to play weddings and parties.

Mr. Ward is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ward; daughter Joelle Ward; stepdaughter Mel Rodriquez; and grandchildren Danté Larae Ward-Cook and Desireé Shanise Washington.

The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. today at the First AME Church at 14th Avenue and East Pine Street in Seattle. Mr. Ward will be buried in Kansas City.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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