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Hadley Caliman
Hadley Caliman performs at the Ballard Jazz Festival Mainstage Concert.

Hadley Caliman, a renowned jazz saxophone player who lived in Cathlamet for many years, died Wednesday after a two-year struggle with liver cancer.

Caliman, 78, was performing in Seattle-area clubs as recently as Aug. 20. His album "Straight Ahead," which includes a tune called "Cathlamet," cracked the top 10 on the national jazz charts earlier this year.

Born in rural Oklahoma, Caliman moved at age 10 to Los Angeles, where he became immersed in the jazz scene. He lived around the corner from famed sax player Dexter Gordon, and Caliman himself became known as "Little Dex."

"He was like a father to me and I was like a son to him," Caliman said in a 1991 Daily News interview.

In the '70s, Caliman had a heyday in San Francisco, performing and recording with the Grateful Dead, Santana and pianist Earl Hines.

It was there he met his former wife, Jan Caliman of Cathlamet.

"He was my favorite tenor player in Freddie Hubbard's band," Jan Caliman said.

The Calimans settled in Cathlamet prior to the birth of their first son, Roger, in 1982.

"He wanted to raise his kids in the country," Jan Caliman said. Hadley became an avid gardener, but his wife recalled "he would practice at least eight hours every day."

Caliman played in Southwest Washington clubs, including at Peter's in Kelso.

"We were awestruck by this guy who played with (Carlos) Santana," said Longview drummer Willis Moss. But Caliman was humble and said he'd play whatever the other musicians chose, Moss said.

Within a few years, Caliman was commuting to Seattle regularly to teach at the Cornish College for the Arts.

He later moved to the Seattle area.

Caliman retired from Cornish when he was 70, but stayed busy performing with a big band, the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, and with his own quintet at least two nights a month at Tula's, a Seattle jazz club.

Moss arrranged a fundraiser at the Monticello Hotel featuring Caliman in June. The ballroom was packed with several hundred listeners.

"Hadley said that was once of the best gigs he ever played," Moss said.

"He's been playing pretty regularly all the way up to the end," said Roger Caliman, who is now a percussionist and music teacher in Kansas City. "He needed to play music and I think that was a big part of keeping him going."

Roger Caliman said his father didn't strive for commercial success but was pleased at how well his recent albums were doing.

"Straight Ahead" was in the Top 10 on JazzWeek magazine's national charts, the jazz world's equivalent of Billboard magazine's pop charts. In June, that album won "Jazz Album of the Year" at the Inside/Out Awards in Seattle.

Another Caliman album, "Reunion" with Pete Christilieb, was released in August and is now No. 31 on a national jazz chart.

Hadley and Jan Caliman's daughter, Harmony, died of meningitis in 2003. Caliman also had a daughter with his first wife.

Memorial service plans in Seattle are pending.

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