Stanley Crouch, Towering Jazz Critic, Lifeless At 74 : NPR


Stanley Crouch, photographed throughout The New College for Jazz and Up to date Music’s Beacon Awards Gala on Feb. 27, 2006 in New York.

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Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan by way of Getty Picture

Stanley Crouch, photographed throughout The New College for Jazz and Up to date Music’s Beacon Awards Gala on Feb. 27, 2006 in New York.

Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan by way of Getty Picture

Stanley Crouch, the lauded and fiery jazz critic, has died. Based on an announcement by his spouse, Gloria Nixon-Crouch, Stanley Crouch died on the Calvary Hospital in New York on Wednesday, following practically a decade of great well being points.

Crouch was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 14, 1945. He learn voraciously, watched the Watts riots up shut, took up jazz drums, revealed Black Nationalist poetry, led guerilla-theater troupes and taught literature at Pomona Faculty, all earlier than transferring to New York in 1975 and turning into a cultural critic on the Village Voice. His first assortment, Notes of a Hanging Decide: Essays and Opinions, 1979-1989, is a traditional of American letters, with disquisitions on various matters like Jesse Jackson, filmmaker Ousmane Sembene and painter Bob Thompson, earlier than wrapping up with a panoramic diary of the Umbria Jazz Competition in Italy. The amount acquired large play, was a finalist for the Nationwide E book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and established Crouch as a drive to be reckoned with. Later books included a novel, Do not the Moon Look Lonesome?, which acquired a detailed learn from John Updike within the New Yorker, and a well-received biography, Kansas Metropolis Lightning: The Rise and Occasions of Charlie Parker. His many honors included a MacArthur Basis “genius” grant and a NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.

After publicly renouncing Black Nationalism in 1979, Crouch strove to position himself within the custom of Ralph Ellison and, particularly, Albert Murray, thinkers by which the concept of embracing Blackness and embracing American-ness grew to become one and the identical. Crouch felt he was extending Ellison’s and Murray’s work when attacking vital artists, equivalent to Spike Lee and Toni Morrison, for “doing the race factor.” On the similar time, Crouch fought for what he thought of a Black aesthetic in jazz, and his 2003 JazzTimes essay “Placing the White Man in Cost” pairs neatly with Amiri Baraka’s well-known 1960 polemic, “Jazz and the White Critic.” His outsized opinions have been rendered in scalding, pugilistic prose – he even acquired a fame for being prepared to actually struggle somebody for arguing with him.

Unsurprisingly, Crouch grew to become some of the controversial commentators round, the form of critic everybody had an opinion about, even when they’d by no means significantly engaged together with his work.


Within the 2000s, I got here to know Stanley properly, learn his full collected essays (on the time, I made a decision The All-American Pores and skin Sport was his finest ebook total, with a fabulous central part commemorating Ellison as “the Oklahoma Child” and reward for a trio of ladies, Barbara Probst Solomon, Martha Bayles, and Jackie Kennedy) and studied his relationship to jazz up shut.

It is standard for a memorial, equivalent to this one, to be stuffed with platitudes and customarily respectful in direction of the departed. However the passing of Stanley Crouch is not any event to be bland.

Black Codes

There’s the music of jazz, and there is the textual content about jazz. It is all the time been a fancy and unsatisfying relationship. The great (and white) guitarist John Scofield apprenticed with nice Black musicians; Scofield informed me just lately, “The Black musicians fully bypassed critics. That was ‘Whitey’ stuff: what did the critics know?”

In the course of the nice postwar period of small-group jazz, profitable Black musicians mentored worthy younger musicians into the career, with out a lot interplay with the critics by some means. (Some inscrutable type of inner gatekeeping stored giving notable abilities a correct likelihood.) However, finally, increasingly more phrases in regards to the artwork penetrated into the music itself. Because of the rise of jazz schooling within the ’70s, the market was flooded by fundamental tutorial manuals coming from white establishments that had no racial consciousness in anyway. On the similar time, novice critics discovered avant-garde jazz a lot simpler to have fun in print than music rooted in additional conventional values.

Stanley Crouch performed drums in California with Black Music Infinity, a sadly unrecorded group with David Murray, Arthur Blythe, James Newton and Mark Dresser. Bobby Bradford was one other shut affiliate. Even at the moment, Duke Ellington was Crouch’s lodestar, maybe an uncommon obsession for a younger avant-gardist within the early ’70s. (There was most likely not every week in Crouch’s grownup life the place he wasn’t raving about Ellington to anybody in his rapid orbit.) After becoming a member of Murray and Blythe in New York, Crouch realized he wasn’t going to make it as a critical drummer (though he sounds fairly good on a 1977 dwell date in Amsterdam with Murray) and targeted on writing. For a time, Crouch booked the Tin Palace, a free-wheeling East Village membership the place Blythe, Murray, Newton, Henry Threadgill and different experimentalists rubbed shoulders with comparatively conventional gamers like George Coleman, Clifford Jordan, and Barry Harris.

A dwell recording from 1977 on which Crouch appeared.


Within the mid-’80s, simply as his profession as a author was reaching its first ascent, Stanley Crouch presided over an tried, surprising, coup d’etat. Crouch wished to return to a time when the intense Black practitioners participated within the gatekeeping. (The title of a 2000 Crouch piece within the New York Occasions says all of it: “Do not Ask the Critics. Ask Wallace Roney’s Friends.”) That was all to the nice, however one other, extra reactionary and maybe even extra business facet of his proposed revolution proved not possible to implement: defining jazz as a set object made up of standard swing, blues, romantic ballads, a Latin tinge… and never an excessive amount of else. Whereas executing this maneuver, Crouch rejected — by some lights, betrayed — his authentic peer group of Murray, Blythe and Newton, and as a substitute embraced the newest musicians intrigued by a relatively straight-ahead strategy. (Newton complained, “A stylistically dominant agenda in jazz is like bringing Coca-Cola to a five-star dinner!”)

It was a synthetic conceit to start with, and Crouch was too contrarian and combative to steer a motion. Nevertheless, he did have one vital acolyte: Wynton Marsalis, the person anointed as the most important new jazz star of the period. Marsalis studied the texts of Stanley Crouch and Albert Murray the best way he did the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. In what could have been an unprecedented occasion, a serious jazz artist really learn critics, and let these critics inform his music. (Crouch additionally contributed liner notes to the primary run of wonderful Marsalis LPs.)

Between them, Marsalis and Crouch kicked off the jazz wars of the ’80s and ’90s, an argument about custom versus innovation, a tempest in a teacup that performed out in all the key jazz magazines, in lots of mainstream publications, in bars and golf equipment all over the place – and in the long run did little or no good to anyone. (The day Keith Jarrett angrily invited Wynton Marsalis to a “blues duel” within the New York Occasions was a notable low level.) The 2001 Ken Burns documentary Jazz, which featured Marsalis and Crouch as each off-screen advisors and on-screen commentators, was the climactic battleground. Individuals who love post-1959 types related to funk, fusion and the avant-garde are nonetheless very upset about Ken Burns’ Jazz.

Nonetheless. When he began assembling the repertory establishment Jazz at Lincoln Heart in 1987, Wynton Marsalis was advocating for the primacy of the Black aesthetic at a time when the white, Stan Kenton-to-Gary Burton lineage dominated main organizations just like the Berklee Faculty of Music and the Worldwide Affiliation of Jazz Educators. The music of Kenton and Burton has super worth, however their huge institutional sway and undue affect in jazz schooling is a part of this dialogue. We would have liked much less North Texas State (Kenton’s first pedagogical initiative) and extra Duke Ellington within the combine, and Marsalis nearly single-handedly corrected our course – though Marsalis himself would give Crouch loads of the credit score. Certainly, Crouch’s long-running inner mandate to get Ellington seen as “Artist of the Century” had lastly paid off on a macro degree, and the free highschool program “Primarily Ellington” is one in all JALC‘s most noble achievements.

Crouch and Marsalis additionally strove to bury the once-prevalent concept that Louis Armstrong was an Uncle Tom, and inspired the Black working class to reclaim the jazz greats as essential to their heritage. (These able to hate on Ken Burns’s Jazz ought to preserve that perspective in thoughts.)

There was some dangerous, loads of good, and many to argue about. What may be mentioned for positive: JALC by no means fairly pulled off Crouch’s proposed coup. All these years later, JALC stays merely part of what makes jazz fascinating right this moment. Youthful practitioners and listeners comfortably see the music as a continuum that may include something from the avant-garde harp musings of Alice Coltrane to the electrical fusion of John McLaughlin to hip-hop stylings of Robert Glasper. Crouch’s definition of jazz doesn’t dominate the dialog the best way he supposed, maybe paradoxically proving the unique level that jazz musicians and critics do not actually have a lot to do with one another.

The Hero and the Blues

Stanley Crouch’s writing about jazz was in a category of 1: technically correct, poetic and all the time highlighting African-American beliefs regarding rhythm, texture and the blues. Whereas lots of Crouch’s most critical detractors have by no means bothered to learn his work with a watch to discovering worth, most critical jazz critics working right this moment can bond over a “Stanley Crouch second,” an event when Crouch’s prose broke by and electrified their research.

Contemplating Genius: Writings on Jazz collects standalone items first seen within the Village Voice, The New York Occasions, JazzTimes and different locations. However simply pretty much as good, and definitely deserving of an anthology, are Crouch’s insightful liner notes, that are about 100 in quantity.

From Previous and New Desires (1977):

[On Charlie Haden] “His connection to the custom comes by Wilbur Ware and Percy Heath, each of whom have thick, darkish sounds. Haden is likely one of the most percussive of bassists and resonates his sound towards the ensemble with tenacity and swinging fireplace.”

From Miles Davis, Dwell on the Plugged Nickel (1982):

“[Louis] Armstrong’s quarter notes, quarter-note triplets, and lengthy tones not solely swung, they magnetized the rhythm of the entire band … Each Lester Younger and Billie Vacation heard what Armstrong had performed and created their very own identities … Deep thinker that he was, Davis tailored their creations with such originality that he invented his personal depth, a drive that might keep away from the compulsive spewing of those that shortly made bebop right into a predictable and rhythmically restricted type.”

From Introducing Kenny Garrett (1984):

“Garrett is from Detroit and performs the alto saxophone, a horn that has misplaced a lot of its place in jazz with the rise to celeb and memorable affect of John Coltrane, essentially the most imitated innovator of the final twenty 5 years. However there are those that suppose the alto was as a lot prevented as ignored, since it’s a a lot more durable saxophone to get a pleasurable sound out of, to play in tune, and to maintain underneath one’s management. As many reed gamers have mentioned, the alto is an instrument that has the stand-off qualities and the resistant fury of a stallion that dares you to interrupt him.”

The Garrett liner notes give loads of house to Garrett himself, and in some unspecified time in the future Crouch realized that quoting the musicians was the most effective methods to make his argument. Lots of the pages inside Contemplating Genius are peppered with knowledge from critical practitioners, together with a number of unlikely sources, equivalent to devoted avant-gardist Anthony Braxton:

“Anthony Braxton as soon as mentioned to me that Connie Kay ‘had fifty methods to play 4/4.’ Whereas I’m not positive that fifty is an correct quantity, the final time I heard Kay with the Trendy Jazz Quartet, on the Carlyle Lodge, he approached 4/Four time from so many angles, mixing shuffle grooves, gospel beats, and one thing from the Caribbean. He did all of this whereas taking part in with a lot management that the unmiked piano, vibraphone, and bass have been completely audible all through.”

In some instances, nice musicians could have shared their tales with Crouch just because Crouch was Black. His biography, Kansas Metropolis Lightning: The Rise and Occasions of Charlie Parker, gives distinctive insights from musicians like Gene Ramey, Buster Smith and Jay McShann, to not point out a serious contribution from Chicken’s past love and spouse, Rebecca Ruffin.

Kansas Metropolis Lighting was an important entry within the annals of Charlie Parker reception, however it might be simply shy of a masterpiece. Crouch cherished the concept of the heroic, and painted that heroism with strokes of deeply purple prose. Ultimately, Crouch’s tackle Chicken may be slightly sentimental. The same cost may be leveled at Good Morning Blues, the ebook Rely Basie wrote with Crouch’s nice mentor, Albert Murray.


One hopes that the interview tapes Crouch made with long-deceased greats are preserved and may be made out there some day. As we get additional and farther from the years when jazz was at its top, the knowledge recognized internally by the Black group — and kind of ignored by so many then-important white writers — solely takes on larger and larger significance.

Recollections of the Hanging Decide

My first sighting was at an afterparty, following the Lincoln Heart live performance Dewey’s Circle in 1992. (In a while, I discovered that this live performance, honoring Dewey Redman, was Stanley’s thought.) I acquired into the social gathering by way of Karl Berger, who was then my landlord, and in some way ended up listening to Stanley lecture a number of folks about how Frank Sinatra could not sing in tune, no less than not in comparison with somebody like Ella Fitzgerald. I cheekily broke in and requested, “Does Billie Vacation sing extra in tune than Frank Sinatra?” Stanley gave me the dirtiest of soiled seems and mentioned, “No. However no person can swing more durable than Billie Vacation.”

Quick ahead a decade later: I used to be starting to turn out to be a daily denizen on the Village Vanguard, going to many concert events, and even performing there, often. On the time, Stanley was dwelling a block away from the membership, and most of the time he’d drop in to listen to what was occurring. I seen that Stanley appeared fairly approachable. He’d speak about jazz to anyone.

Reid Anderson was gigging there with anyone else on the time. Stanley preferred Reid’s taking part in, and informed him so. Later that night time, Reid noticed Stanley paging by a jazz journal backstage. When Stanley got here to an commercial for the Unhealthy Plus, Stanley stopped quick and mentioned to the room, “These unhappy motherf******.” Reid shot again, “Hey, Stanley — that is my band.” [Ed. note: Also the band of Ethan Iverson, writer of this piece.] Stanley’s jaw dropped open in shock.

I heard about this later from Reid, after all, so the following time I noticed Stanley on the membership I joined him at a desk. I launched myself and he grunted a cold hi there. We have been listening to Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard. At one second, Mark was taking part in one thing actually summary and delightful, excessive on the horn, whereas Larry and Jeff have been holding down a groove. Stanley leaned in and informed me, “Humorous how the Black man sounds whiter than the 2 white guys.”

I gave him a deadpan look and responded, “I believed that Albert Murray mentioned that every one People have been neither Black or white, however a combination of each.”

From that second, we have been tight. For 4 or 5 years Stanley and I have been in fixed contact, endlessly discussing jazz and different issues. It was a part of the fairytale I lived, being in a profitable band, assembly my heroes, strolling the streets of New York like I really belonged there. The primary time I took Stanley to lunch, he was stopped on the sidewalk by Wallace Shawn, who mentioned one thing to the impact of, “Stanley, I cherished your newest Each day Information column and thanks for all you do.” Stanley was casually gracious and made no additional remark about random reward from a celeb. Yeah. This was actual New York stuff.

Stanley was a fantastic author, however he might need been a good larger talker. His monologues have been florid improvisations. A single immediate introduced forth a cascade of perception.

A very memorable instance involved Roy Haynes. My spouse, Sarah Deming, had additionally turn out to be pals with Stanley. (He informed me straight out, “My respect to your sorry ass elevated after I discovered how cool your spouse was.”) Stanley would discuss jazz with me and boxing with Sarah.

For a 12 months in 2007, Sarah was the New York Metropolis model attaché for Gray Goose, which meant she might expense fancy dinners, so long as her desk requested for the vodka by identify. (Discuss dwelling in a fairytale.) Sarah took us to Masa for Stanley’s birthday, the place we ate and drank like Roman emperors. We adopted that up with an unsteady stroll over to Birdland, for the second set of the Roy Haynes quartet. The music began and Stanley fell asleep, slumped over in his chair. (Honestly, in any case that meals and booze, I used to be about in that sort of form myself.)

After the primary music, Haynes went to the microphone and mentioned, “I heard Stanley Crouch is within the viewers tonight. Stanley! Come up right here and inform the viewers about how nice I’m!”

I hurriedly woke Stanley and despatched him to do Haynes’s bidding. His posture straightened up as he magisterially approached the stage. In full management of the room and the mic, Stanley delivered an impromptu ten-minute lecture on the greatness of Roy Haynes. It was a flawless efficiency.

Discussing jazz with Stanley was a wonderful schooling. He had heard every little thing and knew about all of it. Once I acquired off the bandstand one time with Ben Road and Nasheet Waits as Smalls, he mentioned by the use of greeting, “F*** Lennie Tristano.” That did not imply he did not respect Tristano, although: Stanley praised Tristano, Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz in print. (When collectively, Lee and Stanley would josh with one another like no person’s enterprise.) Reasonably, Stanley was warning me to not sound an excessive amount of like Tristano in my very own taking part in, which can have been precious sensible recommendation.

There was additionally the time Stanley dissected Keith Jarrett, particularly what Stanley thought Keith actually might and could not do as a blues participant. That was an fascinating dialog. I want I might had the tape recorder going.

One other of Stanley’s passions was the cinema. Quentin Tarantino was impressed by Stanley’s perceptive evaluation of Pulp Fiction, and requested Stanley to simply accept Tarantino’s award by the Nationwide Board of Assessment. (Usually, Stanley later denounced Tarantino’s Django Unchained as, “One of many worst variations of Blaxploitation ever seen.”) After watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at BAM, I instantly referred to as Stanley, who gave me an hour-long rundown on John Ford, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin. Once more, that might have been a great one to have been recorded, though Stanley did write about John Ford and Westerns on a couple of event.

Because it turned out, most phone conversations with Stanley have been an hour. Normally, an hour-long monologue. Glenn Gould exhausted friendships by calling and speaking and speaking and speaking. A couple of individual fell asleep listening to Gould drone away on the opposite finish of the road. On this respect, Glenn Gould and Stanley Crouch have been peas in a pod.

An early interview for my weblog, Do the Math, was with Stanley in 2007. I work to supply literary paperwork: after the interview, the interviewee has an opportunity to edit the textual content and ensure they’re saying precisely what they need for the official file.

Normally, the interviewee softens their language, which is barely right. Within the second, you discuss huge; within the chilly mild of print, you tone it down.

At this level, there have been nearly 50 DTM interviews. There is just one one who made their written assertion extra aggressive than their informal dialog. I could not consider it after I acquired the textual content again – Stanley had doubled down on insults and polemic. It was an actual perception into his type. I omitted most of that stuff earlier than posting, not desirous to go down with the ship.

I am unsure why Stanley felt he wanted to be so attacking in print, particularly since his intimate dialog could possibly be so relaxed and humane. Maybe it was as a result of he was a self-made man, somebody who got here from a low rung of society and made all of it the best way to being a family identify in American arts and letters merely by intelligence and drive of will. At any price, he rang that string out, burning bridges his entire life. Unrepentant. Unbowed.

It is most likely good for everyone that he stopped producing work because the age of social media picked up its tempo. Once I raised that time to WBGO’s Nate Chinen a number of weeks in the past, Nate responded, “Yeah. Stanley would’ve been canceled extra typically than a New York Occasions subscription.”

However, I already miss having a voice within the choir that was positive to rile anyone.

After he moved into the Hebrew Dwelling at Riverdale, I visited him one final time with Aaron Diehl and Sarah. When he noticed me, Stanley instantly launched right into a dissertation on why Bud Powell was a lot larger than Oscar Peterson. For a couple of minutes, it was excellent… however then cracks started to indicate, his discuss began to run off the monitor. It was really horrible to see this nice thoughts lose its means.

Nonetheless, he was a fighter to the tip. After contracting COVID-19 within the spring, he shook it off, greedy to life for a number of extra months.

The written file will all the time be barely askew with Stanley, for when you knew him in individual, it was not possible to not love him. He was a sharp-tongued satan however he believed in humanity and in progress. He signed each correspondence together with his trademark “V.I.A.,” standing for: “Victory Is Assured.”


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