And The Piano It Sounds Like A Carnival
Howard Bulson (1935 - 2007)
Howard was a legend in this town. For something like 45 years, he led a string of sing-a-longs and open mike nights at various establishments throughout the city, long before the term "karaoke" entered the American lexicon, or "American Idol" was just a gleam in some producer's eye. During his heyday in the 1980's, he was a fixture at "Sorry Charlies", a dive bar on Lower Queen Anne, the kind of place that would have inspired David Lynch, if he'd ever walked inside. Howard could usually be found there several nights a week, but Monday's was THE night; the dark, nicotine-stained wood paneled lounge would be full-up with a veritable cornucopia of aspiring singers - along with musical theatre types, and it wouldn't be uncommon for performers at the Seattle Opera to pop in.
He was one of those amazing musicians who could sight read anything put in front of him, whether it was from a legit songbook, or a tenth-generation photocopy; he could transpose instantly, and if you didn't know your key, he'd find it for you in about two measures. Permanently ensconsed at SC's battered grand piano, boubon-and-soda balanced precariously on the edge of the keyboard, cigarette perpetually dangling from his lips, Howard could play practically any song from memory - assuming it had been written before 1968, and was, despite being known primarily for the open mikes, a masterful jazz improviser (although I've been told opera was his first love). He transcended style, and time, and age. He was popular with old-school musicians, high-brow artists, hipsters, and scenesters alike; everybody loved Howard, and Howard in turn shared his incredible talent with everyone, regardless of age, experience or ability.
I spent many nights there in the company of friends, table littered with the detritous of too many cheap drinks, and be darned if I didn't succomb to the urge once or twice myself to stand next to Howard, knees-a-knocking, while he followed me through an old Gershwin tune, making me sound a thousand times better than I could imagine.
After "Sorry Charlie's" closed down a few years ago, he was asked to make a return engagement at it's successor, the short-lived Mirabeau Room, and he also performed a couple of times a week at other locations around town, and was still relatively active until just recently, so far as I know.
He was a character, a fixture, one of those people you just assume will be around forever. He's going to be missed.
on 4:24 PM