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Family and Friends Celebrated the Life of NEA Jazz Master Stanley Crouch at Minton's

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Crouch died in New York September 16 following a long illness.

Family and Friends Celebrated the Life of NEA Jazz Master Stanley Crouch at Minton's

A small group of family and friends gathered Monday at the historic Minton's Playhouse in Harlem to celebrate the life of Stanley Crouch, the 74-year old author, journalist, critic, playwright, poet and NEA Jazz Master who died in New York September 16 following a long illness.

One of the goals of jazz musicians is to have a Signature Sound - one note, and you know it's them. By the time the Los Angeles-born, New York-based Crouch made his transition, one reading of his poetic and often pugnacious prose would tell you it was written by no one buthim. In addition to his immortal words, his co-founding of Jazz at Lincoln Center was literally concrete proof of his signature send-off phrase, Victory is Assured.

"I am truly blessed to witness the love and respect that so many people showed my husband throughout his life," said Crouch's widowGloria Nia Nixon-Crouch. "Although he played the drums, writing became his music and publications were his stage. He was beloved by many, not always appreciated by some, but I believe he was respected by all, and I am grateful for that. I also am thankful to the wonderful musicians and friends who came out to celebrate Stanley with us and to Minton's for inviting us to this place that was very special to him."

No celebration of Stanley Crouch would be complete without musicians on hand to remember not only his words about jazz, but also his infinite support of or advice to performers as well as to other journalists and anyone who touched his beloved genre of choice. Among the musicians who presented musical selections and remarks were Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter, Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and President of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, which which Crouch headed for a decade; bassist and the celebration's host, Christian McBride; pianist/vocalist Jon Batiste, saxophonist David Murray, vocalist Tammy McCann;and pianist Victor Gould with his trio consisting of bassist Tamir Shmerlingand drummer Anwar Marshall.

Speakers had warm and humorous anecdotes to share. Marsalis said Crouch, his friend for over three decades, once took him to the home of the author Ralph Ellison, who decided to read a long unpublished work to them. "Stanley fell asleep and when he woke up, Ralph asked him what he thought. Stanley said 'it was fantastic.' Ellison asked him which part he liked. Without missing a beat, he laughed and said, 'I have to digest it and get back with you.' That was Stanley, he could be rude and fall asleep on you, but still be a friend who went to musicians' memorials, visited people in hospitals, sent notes of support and helped those who were struggling."
McBride said Crouch attended one of his electric concerts and afterward announced,

"'I assume you're going to fall in love with your music again, because what I just heard was a low point for you.'" On the other hand, Crouch was so enthusiastic about another concert that he hugged McBride so tightly that he couldn't breathe. "When I could finally talk, I thanked him, but realized that even a compliment from Stanley could come with a little pain."

Robin Bell-Stevens, Director of Jazzmobile and Vice President of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, opened the program welcoming family and friends that also included remembrances from Jackie Harris, Executive Director, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation; Robert O'Meally, author and Columbia University Professor; Greg Thomas, CEO, Jazz Leadership Project; Art Thompson, Advisor, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation; and Sheila Anderson, author and WBGO On-air Host. The Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, Pastor of The Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, presented the opening prayer and the eulogy. The celebration was produced by Bell-Stevens for the family.

O'Meally proclaimed, "If Stanley were a bell, the brother would still be ringing." Harris said, "The [Louis Armstrong Educational] Foundation saw its greatest growth and no longer functioned as a family foundation, but began functioning as a well-respected non-profit organization'' during Crouch's tenure as President. Anderson stated that Crouch wrote a blurb for her first book and before she went on tour, she asked him for advice. He said "to control the narrative; no matter what they ask, always connect it to something in your book even if it's the weather. And, that's what he did in life; he controlled the narrative."

Rev. Butts concluded the afternoon of memories with calling Crouch "a man who was true to himself ... who did not ever hold his tongue ... so forthright, so bold that your first reaction was to fight, but it should have been to sit down and listen ... if I could risk saying this, I would say there's a place in the Kingdom for Stanley."

A former jazz critic and staff writer for The Village Voiceand a columnist for theNew York Daily News, Crouch's writings on jazz, race, politics and culture were collected in several books of essays from his Notes of a Hanging Judgeto his Charlie Parker biography, Kansas City Lightning,and his sole novel, Don't the Moon Look Lonesome. Depending on the reader, Crouch's books were tablets of enlightenment, where the Black, Brown and Beige were in sync with the Red, White and Blue, or they were heat-seeking missiles aimed at fools he never suffered gladly.

Born on December 14, 1945 in Los Angeles, California, to James and Emma Bea (Ford) Crouch, Stanley Crouch was raised in a single-parent household. His mother had roots in East Texas. As an often-sickly child with severe asthma, he immersed himself in books and old movies. Becoming interested in jazz and poetry, he taught himself to play the drums. In 1968, he was named a poet-in-residence at Pitzer, one of the Claremont Colleges, where he would also go on to teach, prior to teaching literature at Pomona College, without a degree. He also led Black Music Infinity, an avant-garde jazz group that included future jazz luminaries David Murray, Arthur Blythe, James Newton, and Mark Dresser. In 1975, Crouch moved to Manhattan to focus on writing, and soon became a busy freelancer, giving up performing as a musician when his writing career took off.

In addition to his wife, Stanley is survived by his daughter Gaia Scott-Crouch, his granddaughter Emma Flynn White and Nia's daughter, Donyale Farrar.

"Our job as writers and thinkers in the time is how to bring about the occasions that let people have that first-person experience - or the metaphoric experience - that allows them to see human continuity as opposed to total threat, total willingness to do violence." - Victory Is Assured, Stanley Crouch -


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