Remembering Chuck Deardorf

Bassist and Centrum faculty member Chuck Deardorf died of complications of COVID on October 9. Besides being an outstanding musician, Chuck was a source of wisdom and support from the time I moved to the Northwest in 1992. He was my first friend here.

Chuck and I worked together for nine years at Cornish College in Seattle, where he led the highly regarded Jazz program. Though on paper I was his boss, in reality he was my mentor, teaching me how to navigate the sometimes-rocky academic waters there. He did so with unflappable calmness and an irresistible sense of humor.

When I began working at Centrum in 2000, I continued to rely on Chuck for counsel and wisdom. Several times a year I would call him and ask for his opinion about who would be a good person to invite to fill a role as a performer, teacher or both. His advice was always spot-on.

Chuck held a unique and irreplaceable place in the history of Jazz at Centrum. He was the only person who had attended every Jazz Port Townsend since its inception in 1979. Think about that for a minute. I know I’ve thought about it a lot. The list of people he performed with on our mainstage as well as in clubs is staggering. I will miss his calm professionalism and deadpan humor before, during and after gigs.

Chuck had a quick and very dry wit. You knew he had a good one when he would slow down his delivery just a bit, turn his head slightly to the side, and then tuck his chin back at the end while he waited for you to laugh.

Ah, Chuck. You were a serious musician who made it look and sound like fun. I wish I could hear you play a little more, then afterwards you could make me laugh that way. I miss you.

Gregg Miller

Program Manager for Jazz, Chamber Music, and Choro at Centrum


“Brothers of Brass” perform on the Mainstage, at 2019 Centrum Jazz Port Townsend.  Photo by Jim Levitt

Chuck Deardorf will continue to give to me, to inspire me, to make me smile and feel energized with all of the amazing music he left behind. And I’m sure that’s the case for you, too. Perhaps like me, you also find yourself discovering new sounds, philosophies and lessons that Chuck breathed life into. He was fanatical about the things that interested him. With music alone, he wasn’t just a double bass player, he was an electric bassist. On both instruments, he was powerful and strong, always supplying the music with whatever it needed to uplift it. For years, he and I taught side-by-side at the Centrum Jazz Workshops. We always worked seamlessly when helping bass students, giving tips from the same and different perspectives. These are but a small fraction of the experiences I’m going to miss. I know that Chuck would be moved by all of the love he is being shown. I also know that he’d want us to get on with pursuing life, finding joy and making music. OK. That’s what we’ll do, Chuck, and miss you while doing it.

– John Clayton, Artistic Director of Jazz Port Townsend

Photo by David Conklin

There comes a time in most careers where age begets wisdom, and I have felt—for the past ten years during which I had the honor or knowing and working with Chuck Deardorf—that he was a deeply wise man. As a rhythm section player, Chuck was the kind of quiet leader who never required the spotlight. Rather, he knew he had it all going on—a lifetime of experience, exposure to many of the world’s top players, and a quick wit and ability to see the truth in whatever came before him. His mission clearly was to lift others around him with his generous listening and lifelong dedication to music and teaching. Chuck was never the “OG” in the room, or on the bandstand; he was taken from us far too early, but he possessed an old soul in the best of ways. I’ll always think of him with his calm and confident manner, his smile as he listened to others speak, and his absolute willingness to get things done when the situation required, musically or otherwise. I’m glad that Centrum audiences—and our aspiring young musicians—had so many years of collaboration with Chuck Deardorf. He leaves a lasting legacy of commitment to art, music, and learning that inspires us all, each and every day.

– Robert Birman, Executive Director, Centrum Foundation


If you would like to leave a personal message for Chuck or his wife, Kelly, please click here.

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