RIP Howard Bulson

Howard Bulson, a legendary Seattle lounge piano player whose career spanned four decades, died Monday after a short fight with cancer.

Bulson was known for his encyclopedic song knowledge and spot-on accompaniment of both amateur and professional singers in local bars. He was 72.
The musician has been sick for months, friends said, but only recently was diagnosed with the disease. For decades, he'd been a staple in the former Queen Anne watering hole Sorry Charlie's.
As recently as one month ago, he still played his usual nighttime open-mic gigs at Martin's Off Madison in Capitol Hill and the Dexter & Hayes pub overlooking Lake Union.
Friends reported the cause of death as pancreatic cancer. Longtime friends and fans said Bulson's death is a huge loss for Seattle's music community and nighttime culture.
"Howard was probably Seattle's most gifted accompanist," said Martin Palmer, owner of Martin's Off Madison, a piano bar where Bulson often played four nights a week. "He was incredibly patient. It didn't matter if you were a professional or amateur, he'd always work with you and make you sound better.
"He'd tell you what key you needed to be in."
Tributes are being planned for May 12 at Martin's and May 23 at the Triple Door. Friday, Palmer said, would have been Bulson's 73rd birthday.


I once sang Neil Diamond's Play Me with Howard. It was the most enjoyable bar activity I ever participated in. Howard went to High School with my father, when I first introduced myself to him, he saw my father's face in mine, and knew it immediately. He was fun to watch, and always very giving to those who he allowed to sing next to him. I'm sad I can no longer go and see him play or possibly, if the courage through a glass permitted, allowed to sit next to him and belt out a song.


Kate Shimazaki said…
Howard was a close friend of my mom's when I was growing up. I knew that sometimes my mom went to Howard for advice when I was being difficult. He was always very kind and seemed genuinely interested in me when our paths crossed.

During the thirty-some years since my childhood, I studied music, and became a "classically trained" singer. One day, visiting Seattle for the first time after several years away, I found my way to Sorry Charlie's to "surprise" Howard, who hadn't seen me since I was about eleven..

I sat and sipped a well drink, and stared at him until he finally asked me if he knew me. I affirmed that that he did know me from the past but I didn't identify myself. Eventually Howard asked me if I wanted to sing. I came to the piano, and started to sing a song that had been a signature tune of my mom's. Three notes into the song, Howard knew that I was Joyce's daughter, but he didn't look surprised at all.

As a singer, I love an accompanist whom I can not surprise. Howard was such a great performer as a soloist... a talented artist.... a beloved friend to many.