Article By David R. Adler
Jazz Artistry Now – R.I.P. Stanley Crouch.
Kurt Rosenwinkel tweeted: “I always loved it when Stanley was in the audience at the Vanguard, his presence heard and felt with excitement and danger.”
That’s so exactly it, excitement and danger. There’s no sugarcoating it: Stanley could put people down unnecessarily at the drop of a hat, didn’t care.
He was inappropriate, his ideas sometimes dated, if not offensive. In his classic but shortsighted takedown of late-career Miles Davis, he dismissed Prince as a “transvestite” and Davis as a “borderline drag queen.”
“In his work there was a certain adamant refusal to sign on with and regurgitate what everyone else was saying. For better or worse.”— Jazz Artistry Now
His prose was vivacious as hell but it hurts to read some of it today. And yet his critical sensibility, his committed engagement with jazz and politics and his effortless transit between the two, was something I sought to emulate.
In his work there was a certain adamant refusal to sign on with and regurgitate what everyone else was saying. For better or worse.
I saw Stanley at clubs all the time but we never met until after I published a largely favorable review of his book Considering Genius. Stanley read it and emailed to thank me.
He didn’t bother raking me over the coals for my criticisms and just focused on the positive. “Thank you for being an individual,” he wrote. That in itself was a lesson. And yes, he signed off on that email, and every email thereafter, with “VIA” — Victory Is Assured.
He invited me out to brunch, just me and him, so we met I forget where in the West Village, right around the time I was getting ready to move to Philly in 2007. Again, like Kurt said: excitement and danger.
I was hanging socially with the author of Notes of a Hanging Judge, easily one of the most formative books of my early 20s. But this notorious intellectual brawler was perfectly easy to talk to.
I even had the satisfaction of bumping into an old friend in the restaurant and being able to say, “Oh, please meet Stanley Crouch.”
I remember Stanley spoke very lovingly about his family.
I talked about how I might go about insuring my CD library before I put it on the moving truck, and he seemed to take such a genuine interest — later when we said goodbye on the street he said something like, “Take care of those CDs! Get them there!”
There was a generous and caring side to him and I’m glad I experienced it the way I did.
We didn’t hang too much after that, but there were brief and meaningful encounters: he’d see me somewhere and pull me aside and tell me about a conversation he just had with Paul Berman about antisemitism — stuff like that.
One night at Birdland we were talking before a panel discussion and he introduced me to Touré by saying, “Here’s someone who knows.” That was the kind of support he gave me, a real dose of confidence when I needed it.
A few years later I saw that he had provided a jacket blurb for an important book by the great conductor Maurice Peress, the elder statesman of Queens College, in the music school where I was teaching jazz history.
So naturally our next conversation was about maestro Peress (also sadly departed). “The thing about Maurice, ya see,” I can still hear Stanley saying, “is that he knows SO much shit. Don’t blow it.”
He meant: seek Peress out yourself while you have the chance.
Which I did.
I regret not staying in contact after my move south.
He’d been ailing for a while and I should’ve reached out for that reason alone.
Knowing him was a high point of my life in New York.
I’ll never forget watching him listen with great appreciation to Brad Mehldau play “Monk’s Dream” at the Vanguard.
Or the night he made himself so at home that he practically walked on the bandstand with Joe Lovano, and Lorraine considered throwing him out.
Thank you, Stanley, for being an individual.
The Jazz Artistry Now article Stanley Lawrence Crouch (December 14, 1945 – September 16, 2020) was written by David R. Adler. Mr. Adler’s work has appeared in JazzTimes, The Village Voice, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, Down Beat, Time Out New York, City Arts, Jazziz, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, The Forward, The Sondheim Review, Fairmont Magazine (Canada), La Tempestad (Mexico), GEO (Germany), New Music Box, All Music Guide, Global Rhythm, Signal to Noise, Coda, Jewish Currents and more. He is happy to be a contributor to Jazz Artistry Now.