With an unmistakable blues wail, full of emotion and poignancy, altoist Hank Crawford bridges the gap between that tradition and that of jazz more completely than any other living horn player.
Born in Memphis, TN, (December 21, 1934) Crawford was steeped in the blues tradition from an early age. He began playing piano but switched to alto when his father brought one home from the army. He claims his early influences as Louis Jordan, Earl Bostic, and Johnny Hodges. Crawford hung out with Phineas Newborn Jr., Booker Little, and George Coleman in high school. Upon graduating, Crawford played in bands fronted by Ike Turner, B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Bobby "Blue" Bland at Memphis' Palace Theater and Club Paradise.
In 1958 Crawford went to college in Nashville where he met Ray Charles. Charles hired Crawford originally as a baritone saxophonist. Crawford switched to alto in 1959 and remained with Charles' band -- becoming its musical director -- until 1963. The phrasing and voicings he learned there proved invaluable to him as the hallmark of his own sound. He also wrote and arranged a tune for Charles. The cut, "Sherry," his first for the band, was put on the Live at Newport album.
Crawford cut a slew solo albums for Atlantic while with the band, and when he formed his group, he remained with the label until 1970. He signed with Creed Taylor's Kudu in 1971 and cut a series of fusion-y groove jazz dates through 1982. In 1983 he moved to Milestone and returned to form as a premier arranger, soloist, and composer, writing for small bands -- that included guitarist Melvin Sparks, organist Jimmy McGriff, and Dr. John -- as well as large. Crawford has been constantly active since then, as a leader and sideman, recording the best music of his long career.
Crawford passed away in his native town, on January 29, 2009. (Thom Jurek, AMG)