Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Listening for Henry Crowder - A Monograph on His Almost Lost Music, with the Poems & Music of Henry-Music

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Listening for Henry Crowder - A Monograph on His Almost Lost Music, with the Poems & Music of Henry-Music

Article excerpt

Listening for Henry Crowder - A Monograph on His Almost Lost Music, with the poems & music of Henry-Music [including CD] By Anthony Barnett Allardyce Books ISBN 978-0-907954-436-1 14 Mount Street, Lewes BN7 1HL, UK; Cadence North Country, Redwood, NY, USA, www.cadencebuilding.com

In recent years, jazz historians have turned to recovering life details of lesser known artists. In many respects such effort is even more valuable to us today. Anthony Barnett has stepped further out in researching a seemingly obscure pianist and composer, but one who had a wider cultural significance during his day than many well-known jazz musicians. This is because Henry Crowder was more interested in wider Negro culture than just jazz. The old cliché, "music has no colour", is not always truth and this was especially the case back in the 1920s and 1930s, which had, in the United States, severe racial segregation and hardly any media as we would know it today.

The subject of this book had two very important missions: He wanted to enlighten any interested white folks to the Harlem Renaissance's scene of the arts and he, in rum, was outwardly focused to want to learn about the wider world. Back then, this meant Western Europe. From the 1950s jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck and John Coltrane could simply fly to any continent but in Crowder's day, the travel was harder in terms of monetary and emotional cost. His ticket to the wider world required both the dollars to do so and the personal alliance he forged with wealthy London intellect, Nancy Cunard, with whom he shared the most intensive seven years of both of their lives.

Documenting Henry Crowder has taken the author many years and, although this book is not a conventional biography, a great many facts are set out for us which correct mistakes from some previous publications. No, he wasn't a frontliner, he was a pianist and the generous audio CD attachment contains his 1926 piano rolls, later European recording sessions, and recently cut tracks of Crowder compositions by Allan Harris.

Mr Crowder was bom 1890 but, in the pre-barcode days, your age was whatever you wanted it to be. Young Henry initially wanted to appear older and the more mature man took to shaving a few years off the total. The youngster got placed in a Negro Atlanta high school, which was pretty good because most white folks didn't get that educational opportunity. Being the era of touring black male vocal quartets, Henry's singing skills got him touring New England and, after a stint at Atlanta University, he relocated to Washington, D.C. for work in, yes, brothels. This must have been a curiously demeaning life, for Atlanta, the historic Negro financial centre of the Deep South, had an entrenched African-American middle class. Ah, but then old Jim Crow ran whorehouses in the nation's capital for white men of means. But Henry was ambitious and so studied music at Howard University, a famous historically African-American institution. By the time the USA entered the Great War he led his own band and did rather well at it. By 1921 his Penn Garden Jazzers played the same venue as Duke Ellington, only Crowder it seems held down the more important Saturday nights. By the mid-1920s, the pianist ran his Alabamians band in Chicago, toured regionally to Detroit, and then helped to hold Mr Morton's Red Hot Peppers on the road in the US and Canada, the first Negro ork to by booked by MCA! One of the frustrations of those terribly limiting days is that Richard M. Jones, rather than Crowder, led some of the Alabamians into the studio. But Henry had hooked up with Eddie South and ten of their 1927 recordings are on the accompanying CD.

Crowder and South gigged in New York City, where they met Marion Harris, whom they arranged to back on her Paris dates. From there the Alabamians landed a fortunate booking at the Hotel Luna in Venice. Coincidentally, Nancy Cunard was staying there and struck up a friendship-romance with Henry. …

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