The jazz critic and writer Stanley Crouch has died. He was 74. He published widely, including essays, novels, plays and poetry – but he is best known for his music criticism. And within that jazz. He was a rigid purist. He hated hip-hop, he was in vocal opposition to rap and its tendencies to lead astray the black youth – and he got that wrong. And sounded like an old fuddy as a result. But he wrote beautifully – and his background as a drummer meant that he was one of the best music writers when it came to conveying rhythm and describing, in particular, jazz drummers.
He was passionate and articulate and wise – and a great champion of music. He was fiercely loyal, integrity was a chief concern, and he was a friend and supporter of figures like Wynton Marsalis. A champion for tradition. He is one of the key talking heads in the Ken Burns film, Jazz. You’ll also see and hear him talking about the boxer Jack Johnson in the Burns film, Unforgivable Blackness.
His book of essays, Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz is a must for fans of the genre. As his earlier tome, Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews 1979-1989. For those books alone he is an important voice and critic. But in his last significant work, one of the great biographies of Charlie Parker, he showed he was still able to brilliantly distil and display passion, knowledge, criticism and a musicality within his writing.
He was an important – if stuffy, old fashioned – voice in black writing. He wrote thoughtfully about race and black culture.
I loved Crouch’s work and loved defending him in conversations with my jazz-musician friends who saw him as the enemy. I guess we were drawing and then withdrawing to our sides. But I was always interested in his opinion. Agreeing with it was secondary. That to me is the great beauty of strong criticism and the hallmark. It’s the writing that pulls you in – feeling like your own position has been articulated is an occasion by product, not the sole reason.
Music journalism is dead. Certainly dying. And we must celebrate the heroes within it when we can. Crouch, occasionally controversial (a badge of honour when it comes to critics and criticism) was certainly one of those heroes. And toweringly influential. They say that no one builds a statue in honour of a critic. There’ll be words lined up in long columns to honour Stanley Crouch. We’ll build statues to him and of him on the page. That’s what he might have wanted.
R.I.P. Stanley Crouch