Al Hood, who fostered experimental jazz, dies at 67

Alastair "Al" Hood, a Seattle pianist and composer who fused his early classical training with jazz bebop and mentored the city's avant-garde music scene in the 1970s and 1980s, died Friday (April 25) of lung cancer at his home. He was 67.

"His music was intellectual, very challenging, technically difficult to understand," said Mr. Hood's daughter, Joanna Hood, a professional viola player and music teacher at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. "It's not easy listening. It's hard to tell there's a tune ... like going into a club and sitting down at the table and there's no chair there."

Mr. Hood propagated his unorthodox style as a jazz instructor, privately and at Seattle Central Community College.

In one of his chalkboard lessons, for example, he drew things that belonged on a welcome mat: a plastic daisy, a dead bug and a cigarette butt. Then he asked his students to improvise music to that theme.

"I think he very much thought music was something that happened in the moment," said daughter Kiki Hood, a conductor and singer. "He felt performers should go with their instantaneous instincts. In his pieces, you might have a very short written-out section, or none at all."

Born in Portland, Mr. Hood graduated from Lewis and Clark College and received a master's degree from the University of Washington.

Friends and family said Mr. Hood's early heroes were jazz pioneers Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. But he liked Beethoven just as much, they said.

In the 1960s, Mr. Hood was one of the featured composers of the New Dimensions in Music group, which encouraged contemporary, classical styles, but also incorporated theater, jazz dancing, projected light shows and multicultural percussive instruments like gongs.

Mr. Hood taught during the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1978, he released "Not Quiet Rite," one of the first experimental jazz albums to come out of Seattle.

"It presented the idea that there was something else going on other than a commercial scene in Seattle. It was adventurous," said one of his former students, Gary Bannister, who now books artists at Jazz Alley. "Al became a focal point. If you were interested in playing that kind of music, you needed to know Al."

In the late 1970s, Mr. Hood began touring with Michael Davenport, who is now artistic director for Tacoma New Music and head of Alea Publishing and Recording. In 1997, they released a critically acclaimed album, "Friends."

Davenport remembers that Mr. Hood tempered his eccentricities — he loved rubber frogs — with serious work. For example, Mr. Hood took the concept of "serial composition," a European style that reinterpreted the traditional rules of harmony and melody in classical music, and applied it to jazz.

"It was completely unique in this area," Davenport said. "Nobody was doing that around here at all."

After extended stays in San Francisco and Europe, Mr. Hood returned to Seattle about 15 years ago. He started working in the University Book Store's textbook section to make ends meet.

He kept his brand of music alive with other local jazz diehards in his tiny third-floor University District apartment above the Neptune Theatre. For years, they met every Tuesday night to rehearse and bang out their theories and ideas on his piano.

During his life, he often wrote music for his children.

"He was always in the moment, what you were doing now, not what you did yesterday," said son, Paul, also a musician, "whether it was your life or your music."

In addition to his children, Mr. Hood is survived by his ex-wife, Charlotte Hood of Edmonds; and his brother, Douglas, of Portland.

Services have not been planned, but the family is thinking about combining a jam session with Mr. Hood's other passion, baseball.

Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or