Beloved local musician remembered by many

// Jazz keyboardist and accordion player Ken Olendorf passed away at 77

  • Olendorf

Kenneth Roberts Olendorf, husband, father and highly gifted musician unexpectedly passes away while performing on Oct. 21. He was 77 years old.

“I’m really going to miss him. He was an amazing pianist,” friend and bandmate Don Miller said. He met Olendorf when he auditioned for his band several years ago.

“I remember he sat down and played the fire out of that piano,” Miller said. “He sat down and wished you had a whole band of musicians like him.”

Olendorf was born in Libertyville, Ill. on Oct. 1, 1934, to James W. and Gertrude R. Olendorf. His love for music began as a young child. In fact, his first professional job was at the age of 15, with his father’s band. He played in the Army Special Services from 1957 until 1959, performing throughout Europe, and finally settling back to civilian life in Illinois. In 1966, Olendorf moved his young family to Washington.

Olendorf was a respected and sought after musician in the jazz community, an accomplished recording artist, and considered by many to be the premier keyboardist and accordion player in the Pacific Northwest. He has performed all over the world, including the U.S., Europe and Africa. He played with such notables as Bob Hope, Clark Terry, Donald O’Connor, Bobby Vinton, The Ink Spots, Bobby Burgess and Cissy King, Woody Woodhouse, Fred Greenwall, and for Queen Elizabeth’s birthday celebration in Egypt. Olendorf was the co-founder and former president of the Northwest Accordion Society.

Olendorf was an educator and artist who taught both privately and as a professor at Pierce Community College, where he taught History of Jazz and Music Theory. He taught and worked with some of the area’s most outstanding musicians during the last 40 years, including his son, Brian. Olendorf and his son released their album, “Brian and the Lion” in 1998 and the two went on to record many more albums together.

“He was a way better than average piano player,” fellow musician Gary Aleshire said. He met Olendorf about 35 years ago when they were playing various gigs in Olympia.

Aleshire remembers Olendorf’s great sense of humor, commenting that he had “quips and comments about everything.”

Although Olendorf was a celebrated talent in the area, Aleshire said he never let his talent get to his head.

“Some people with talent can have an ego, but Kenny didn’t have that,” he said. “He was a beautiful person and was kind to everyone.”

Olendorf is survived by his beloved wife Barbara of Seattle, son Brian (Kathy) Olendorf of Issaquah, daughter Kendra (Donald) Mich’l of Las Vegas, as well as eight loving grandchildren, Brooke Burns, Mya Olendorf, Christopher Olendorf, Kenneth Olendorf, Emily (Justin) Burgess, Abigail File, Cameron Mich’l, and Mason Mich’l.


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