Jazz writer Stanley Crouch dies at 74

Stanley Crouch
(Photo: African American Literature Book Club)

One of the most recognizable jazz writers of recent decades, Stanley Crouch, died on September 16th, he was 74. In 1979 he renounced the black nationalist ideas that had influenced him in early life and embraced the philosophy of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray that black culture is inseparable from American culture. Through this perspective he sometimes butted heads with other public intellectuals.

After being part of the avant garde of jazz as a drummer in his early career he later attempted to restrict the definition of the music within recognizable limits. His ideas were a primary inspiration for Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and others who have worked to preserve a straight ahead conception of jazz rooted in the Black aesthetic.

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Crouch was heavily involved in Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary, with an eye to reclaiming the early Black heroes of jazz, like Louis Armstrong, for a younger generation. The Essentially Ellington school band competition, one of the most successful JALC projects, reflects the lifelong devotion that Crouch had to Ellington as the pinnacle of what jazz could be.

Stanley Crouch became a cultural critic for The Village Voice in 1975, eventually being published in nearly all of the major magazines and newspapers. His Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989, is considered a classic of jazz writing. He also published a biography of Charlie Parkers early years, rooting him in the Kansas City swing scene.. Most importantly he wrote a number of stinging essays that have shaped the arguments about jazz, and at times how it was played, over the last 40 years.

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