From Seattle comes news that Floyd Standifer died Monday night. The trumpeter, saxophonist and vocalist went into the hospital in late December for treatment of a shoulder problem. Doctors discovered that his shoulder pain came from cancer that had spread to his lungs and liver, and that his circulation was defective. Two weeks following a leg amputation, his heart gave out. He was seventy-eight.
Standifer spent most of his career in the Pacific Northwest, but musicians everywhere–particularly trumpet players–knew of him. His Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra colleague and former trumpet student Jay Thomas said today, “Floyd was always, as far back as I can remember, Seattle’s pride and joy. As a lyrical trumpeter, on a good night he had few peers.”
In a December Rifftides piece about a recent Standifer concert, I mentioned his tour of duty in the trumpet section of the great Quincy Jones band of the late 1950s and early ’60s.
On the Quincy Jones DVD in the new Jazz Icons series, Standifer solos in the trumpet section with Clark Terry, Benny Bailey and Lennie Johnson. When Jones formed the band, he hired Floyd along with two more of Quincy’s Seattle pals, bassist Buddy Catlett and pianist Patti Bown.
After the premature end of the Jones band, Standifer returned to his place as a mainstay of Seattle’s music establishment, playing trumpet, flugelhorn and tenor saxophone, and singing. Thomas recalls the late saxophonist Freddie Greenwell–another Seattle musician respected in national jazz circles–saying that he considered Standifer one of the best singers in the country.
In that December piece, I alluded to the Northwest Jazz Workshop, a sort of musicians co-op to which Floyd and I belonged in the mid-1950s. I was eighteen, struggling to become a jazz player. In a rehearsal band that mixed professionals with strivers like me, I found myself seated in the trumpet section next to Floyd. My previous big band experience involved Sousa marches. Confronted with the third trumpet part in an arrangement of Shorty Rogers’ “Elaine’s Lullaby,” I was terrified. It contained sixteen bars of chord symbols and otherwise empty space–a solo for the third trumpet. I looked at the old man next to me. He was twenty-four, ancient to someone my age. Floyd saw the look in my eyes, put his hand on my knee and said, “Don’t think about it, just play.” When it came time to cross that sixteen-bar Mojave Desert, I just played. At the end of the run-through, Floyd gave me a big smile. I have no idea what was in the solo, whether it was adequate or a disaster, but I will never forget that smile. And it is most unlikely that I will forget Floyd.
For a summary of Floyd Standifer’s life and career, read this 2002 article by Jessica Davis in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.