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Originally published October 21, 2010 at 4:11 PM | Page modified October 22, 2010 at 10:27 AM

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Gary Bannister of Jazz Alley and Earshot Jazz dies at 61

Gary Bannister, a dynamic catalyst on the Seattle jazz and world music scene for more than 30 years, has died. The co-founder of Earshot Jazz, the nonprofit jazz organization, and talent booker for Dimitriou's Jazz Alley for 20 years, Mr. Bannister was a central figure in Seattle's two major jazz institutions.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Gary Bannister, a dynamic catalyst on the Seattle jazz and world music scene for more than 30 years, has died.

Co-founder of the nonprofit organization Earshot Jazz and talent booker for Dimitriou's Jazz Alley for 20 years, Mr. Bannister was a central figure in Seattle's two major jazz institutions.

"He was a person who knew as much about the music as anyone I ever met," said John Dimitriou, owner of Jazz Alley. "He will be missed by everyone."

Mr. Bannister died Monday of myelodysplasia, a bone-marrow disorder. He was 61.

During his 36 years in Seattle, Mr. Bannister produced concerts, hosted a radio show, founded a record label, taught jazz history, promoted bands, wrote reviews and ran a jazz loft. But he was known first and foremost as a passionate advocate of avant-garde and world music and of local musicians.

An obsessive autodidact and collector, he owned 5,000 LPs and as many CDs, many rare and obscure. His entire basement was filled with carefully cataloged wine. He also wrote about race cars, was a gourmet cook and collected Mexican folk art, particularly from his favorite Mexican city, Oaxaca.

"Gary was a connoisseur of the finer things in life," said his widow, Rita DeGabriele.

Born in Portland, he was raised in Longview, where he graduated from Kelso High School in 1967. In 1968, he joined the Navy and served on a supply ship in Vietnam. Discharged in 1971, Mr. Bannister moved to Seattle in 1974. He and DeGabriele met shortly thereafter, in a psychology class at Seattle Central Community College.

"He said he noticed me because I was wearing yellow platform sandals with red polka dots," DeGabriele said.

Mr. Bannister and DeGabriele became partners in 1976 and married in 1988.

In the late '70s and early '80s, Mr. Bannister wrote reviews for the magazine Victory Music and hosted a jazz radio show on the now-defunct community radio station KRAB-FM, where he also served as music director. In 1979, he began coproducing shows at the (now-demolished) Seattle Concert Theater.

Mr. Bannister's company, AuRoar produced records, including the Al Hood Quartet's, "Not Quiet Rite," considered one of Seattle's best jazz albums. In 1980, Mr. Bannister and drummer Jeff Ferguson presented concerts at a "jazz loft" called the Pioneer Square Cultural Center.

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Mr. Bannister often hosted musicians when they came to town. On one memorable occasion, the trio Air rehearsed material for its album "Air Lore" in Mr. Bannister's basement, consulting his Jelly Roll Morton records for material.

In 1984, Mr. Bannister co-founded Earshot Jazz magazine, then produced Earshot's first three concert seasons and was instrumental in the development of its annual festival.

In the '80s, Mr. Bannister taught jazz history at the University of Washington's Experimental College. He then went to work for Jazz Alley, where he made world music part of the program.

Mr. Bannister had a lifelong interest in race cars. He gathered photos and did interviews for Martin Rudow's books "Long Straights and Hairpin Turns: The History of Northwest Sports Car Racing 1950-61" and its sequel, "Weekends of Glory Volume 2 1962-1970."

Mr. Bannister is survived by his sister, Sheryl Dixon, of Longview; his widow, DeGabriele; and his first wife, Lynette Boehland, of Longview.

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

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