Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2008 Jimmy Lunceford Legacy Honoree Hank Crawford Jamming With The Angels...

VIDEO: Wild Flower

VIDEO: The Peeper

February 3, 2009
NY Times

Hank Crawford, whose fluidly emotional saxophone solos as a sideman for Ray Charles led to a long career as a leader of jazz and soul bands and a lengthy discography for Atlantic, Kudu and Milestone Records, died Thursday at his home in Memphis. He was 74.

The cause was complications of a stroke he had in 2000, his sister Delores said.

Beginning in the early 1960s, when Mr. Crawford was music director for Charles’s big band and also recorded on his own as a bandleader, he was best known as an alto saxophonist who melded a wailing blues style to the melodic and rhythmic exigencies of modern jazz, funk and soul. He proved an especially flexible musician over the decades as styles of popular music swiveled hither and yon.

A sampling of his recorded tracks from the ’60s and ’70s would encompass, say, “The Peeper,” a bluesy swing number reminiscent of the Duke Ellington tunes he first listened to at home as a child; “New York’s One Soulful City,” an example of the rhythmically funky if melodically saccharine sounds of some television themes of the ’70s; and “I Hear a Symphony,” a soulful disco cover of the 1965 Supremes hit.

But Mr. Crawford’s distinctively piercing sound remained constant, a forceful and urgent plaintiveness that was rooted in the blues and delivered with a preacher’s fervor. In addition to working with Charles, over the years he was an arranger, co-leader or sideman for blues masters of several different stripes, among them Eric Clapton, Etta James, B. B. King and Jimmy McGriff.

“He has a rich, throbbing tone and a way of phrasing like a blues singer,” Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times in 1986. “Mr. Crawford’s solos are artfully shaped, but they convey a naked emotionality.”

Bennie Ross Crawford Jr. was born in Memphis on Dec. 21, 1934, into a large family and “a jazz and gospel household,” as Delores Crawford described it in a phone interview Monday. A pianist who played in church, he attended Manassas High School, an incubator of musical talent with alumni including Jimmie Lunceford and Isaac Hayes. Among Mr. Crawford’s own schoolmates were the future jazz notables George Coleman, Harold Mabern and Charles Lloyd.

Mr. Crawford’s father was a truck driver who badly wanted to play the saxophone but did not have the chops; still, he contributed to the history of music.

“He was a confused saxophone player,” Ms. Crawford said. “But he brought a saxophone home with him from the Army, and put it in Hank’s hands.”

Mr. Crawford was given his nickname as a teenager by some fellow musicians who thought he sounded like a local saxophonist named Hank. He attended Tennessee State University in Nashville and was just short of a degree when Ray Charles came to town and offered him a gig in his band playing baritone sax.

Mr. Crawford played baritone on several of Charles’s records, including “Ray Charles at Newport” and “What’d I Say.” During his years with Charles, the saxophone section also included David (Fathead) Newman, with whom he later collaborated frequently, and Leroy (Hog) Cooper. Both Mr. Newman and Mr. Cooper also died in January.

Mr. Crawford, whose first marriage ended in divorce, was a widower. In addition to Delores Crawford, he is survived by two brothers, Danny and Ceylon; three sisters, Shirley, Marva and Alma; a son, Michael; a daughter, Sherri; and a granddaughter. All live in Memphis.

By Bob Mehr
Memphis Commercial Appeal

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The evocative, blues-influenced playing of Memphis jazz great Hank Crawford colored the saxophonist's own albums and the work of many others, most notably Ray Charles.

Born and raised in Memphis, Bennie Ross "Hank" Crawford Jr. was a childhood prodigy who first flashed his musical gifts in church.

As a student at Manassas High School, he was a member of the school's band, The Rhythm Bombers. Manassas proved a hothouse atmosphere: Mr. Crawford's classmates included future jazz greats George Coleman, Harold Mabern and Charles Lloyd.

Mr. Crawford died Thursday at his home. He was 74.

Delores Crawford said her brother had been in declining health for the past year, dealing with the long-term effects of a stroke he suffered in 2000.

Although Mr. Crawford made a return to the stage in 2003, he had not performed publicly in several years.

In the late '40s and early '50s, Mr. Crawford was part of the thriving Mid-South dance band scene, serving as a member of outfits led by Ben Branch, Tuff Green, Al Jackson Sr. and Ike Turner, and backing up then-fledgling artists like B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland.

After high school, Mr. Crawford moved to Nashville, where he studied music at Tennessee State University and cut R&B records on the side. It was in Nashville that Mr. Crawford first crossed paths with Ray Charles. He joined Charles' band in 1959 and eventually became its musical director before leaving to form his own sextet in 1963.

Mr. Crawford's recording career was distinguished and adventurous. He cut a series of critically acclaimed albums for Atlantic throughout the '60s, and later explored fusion and funk on the Kudu label in the '70s, before taking a back-to-roots jazz direction in the '80s.

Over the years, Mr. Crawford also remained an in-demand sideman, working with a range of artists including Etta James, Lou Rawls, Jimmy McGriff and Dr. John.

Although he spent much of his adult life based in New York City and touring Europe, Mr. Crawford returned to Memphis in 2000 after his stroke to recuperate with his family. He spent his remaining years splitting time between the Big Apple and his hometown.

Mr. Crawford's death comes just over a week after the passing of his longtime collaborator David "Fathead" Newman. The two horn players were, for many years, the backbone of Charles' band.

Mr. Crawford also leaves a son, Michael Crawford; a daughter, Sherri Crawford; a granddaughter, Tiffany Crawford, and six siblings. Funeral arrangements are pending.

-- Bob Mehr: 901-529-2517

By Terence McArdle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 3, 2009; B06

Hank Crawford, 74, an influential alto saxophonist and arranger who toured with rhythm and blues innovator Ray Charles and jazz organist Jimmy McGriff, died Jan. 29 at his home in Memphis. He had been in declining health after suffering a stroke in 2000.

Mr. Crawford was best known for the plaintive, bluesy quality he brought to the alto saxophone. Critics regarded Mr. Crawford as one of the best exponents of soul-jazz, a style that explored the connections of jazz to its roots in gospel music and the blues.

"You can honk or squeal on a tenor sax and get away with it," he once told jazz writer Cam Miller, "but an alto sax was meant to sing. . . . When I pick up my horn, I'm never far away from voices in the church choir I grew up with."

Mr. Crawford wrote several instrumentals for the Charles band, including "Sherry," recorded for the live album "Ray Charles at Newport" (1959). Backed by the Charles group, he recorded his first album, "The Art of Hank Crawford" (1960), the first of several he made for Atlantic Records.

Mr. Crawford left the Charles band to form his own septet in 1963 and continued to record as a leader for the next three decades. He was also in demand for recording sessions by such artists as Etta James and Lou Rawls as both an accompanist and arranger.

Bennie Ross Crawford Jr. was born Dec. 21, 1934, in Memphis. He started taking piano lessons at 9 and within a year was playing for a church choir.

Mr. Crawford took up alto saxophone while in his high school jazz band, where classmates included jazz notables such as pianist Harold Mabern and tenor saxophonist George Coleman. By graduation, Mr. Crawford was working professionally with local Memphis performers Ike Turner, B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland.

While majoring in music theory and composition at Tennessee State University in Nashville, he also led a quartet he called Little Hank and the Rhythm Kings. The group recorded a jump blues single for a small local label in 1956, with Mr. Crawford on vocals.

Mr. Crawford joined the Charles band in 1958 as a substitute for baritone saxophonist Leroy Cooper. Two years later, Charles expanded his ensemble to a big band and made Mr. Crawford its band director. On alto sax, Mr. Crawford shared the solo spotlight with tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, who died Jan. 20.

"Ray was tough, a real general, but the only thing he really demanded is that you get it right," Mr. Crawford said of Charles. "And sometimes that meant playing it so slowly, it had no tempo at all . . . no beat at all, yet it was always in time. . . . I already knew how to write [arrangements] when I was hired by Ray, but I had no idea such a natural feeling would exist between us."

His nine-year association with Atlantic Records yielded a bluesy hit that crossed over to rhythm and blues radio, "The Peeper" (1962). In an entirely different vein, he recorded an easy-listening album of standards and recent pop hits, "The Soul of the Ballad" (1963).

In the 1970s he recorded extensively for producer Creed Taylor's Kudu label and allowed others to arrange his material. Taylor, who brought guitarist George Benson and saxophonist Grover Washington to a wider audience, combined Mr. Crawford's earthy sax with layers of horns, keyboard synthesizers, strings and background voices. Jazz critics dismissed the records as commercial, and the sales proved them right.

Mr. Crawford returned to soul-jazz in later years, co-leading groups with Newman and organist Jimmy McGriff.

His wife, the former Gladys Brooks, died in the late 1990s. Survivors include two children; six siblings; and a granddaughter. Mr. Crawford said he took pride in his commercial success and his way with an audience.

"I found out as a young musician in Memphis that if you weren't reaching people, and having them pat their foot, then there was nothing happening," he told the Los Angeles Times. "So I've always played for the average listener, rather than the jazz die-hard."

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