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Sunday, February 10, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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David Stetler, 79, deft drummer proud to call Seattle home

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Musician David Stetler turned down jobs playing drums for big-band leaders Benny Goodman and Spike Jones to keep his family from the hassle of a big-city musician's life.

After traveling the country during the first part of his career, Mr. Stetler decided Seattle was where he wanted to be, and the swing musician became an active and prominent part of Seattle's music scene.

Mr. Stetler died of pneumonia Monday (Feb. 4) at 79.

The Seattle native got his start in music while a student at Roosevelt High School. One of the great bandleaders of the day, Jimmie Lunceford, went to Roosevelt to hear the young Stetler play.

"In the middle of the drum solo, he broke a drumstick and grabbed another without missing a beat," said son David Stetler Jr. of Bothell.

After the concert, Lunceford invited Mr. Stetler to play with him that night, and a career began.

He toured the country in the 1940s but returned to Seattle after his first son was born.

"He told me, after traveling all over the country, 'you can't beat this place,' " Stetler Jr. said.

Mr. Stetler backed up many national acts when they were in town.

He played in the Seattle World's Fair Band and at Gracie Hansen's risqué show at the fair. He played with Latin bandleader Darryl Harpa; Pat Suzuki, the Seattle singer who starred in "Flower Drum Song" on Broadway; impresario Norm Bobrow; and dozens of other great jazz, swing and big-band musicians in all the major clubs.

His drumming style mimicked swing players of the 1930s — Gene Krupa and Jo Jones.

"Swing that makes you tap your feet and makes you want to get up and dance," said Ham Carson, who started playing with Mr. Stetler after he moved to Seattle in 1977.

"Dave was a marvelous swing drummer," Carson said. "In age, he was on the senior side, but he played like a kid."

Dave Tuttle, who played six nights a week with Mr. Stetler for more than 15 years, said his band mate was known as "one of the best technicians of the rudiments of the instrument."

Tuttle also complimented Mr. Stetler's steady beat. "You get a big group of guys playing together, and you need someone to hold them together."

And the drummer kept that beat as long as he could. The day after his last gig, a three-hour show about two weeks ago, Mr. Stetler — who had already beaten colon cancer and managed his career despite inner-ear cancer — was hospitalized.

The remaining members of the group Mr. Stetler most recently played with, the Ham Carson Quartet, will play a tribute show Thursday at the New Orleans Restaurant, 114 First Ave. S. Money from the show will go to the Stetler family.

Mr. Stetler is also survived by his wife, Joanne Stetler, and sons Mark Stetler of Snohomish, Daniel Stetler of Renton and six grandchildren.

A celebration of his life is scheduled today at the family's home. Memorial donations may be made to any charity.

Information in this article, originally published February 10, was corrected February 12. In this obituary, drummer David Stetlers wife, Joanne Stetler, was omitted from the list of survivors.

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