Stanley Crouch (born December 14, 1945) is an American poet, music and cultural critic, syndicated columnist, novelist and biographer, perhaps best known for his jazz criticism and his 2004 novel Don't the Moon Look Lonesome?
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Stanley Lawrence Crouch was born in Los Angeles, the son of James and Emma Bea (Ford) Crouch. He was raised by his mother. In Ken Burns' 2005 television documentary Unforgivable Blackness, Crouch says that his father was a "criminal" and that he once met the boxer Jack Johnson. As a child he was a voracious reader, having read the complete works of Hemingway, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many of the other classics of American literature, by the time he finished high school. His mother told him of the experiences of her youth centered on east Texas and the black culture of the southern midwest, including the burgeoning jazz culture centered in Kansas City. He became an enthusiast for jazz music in both the aesthetic and historical senses. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1963. After high school, he attended junior colleges and became active in the civil rights movement, working for the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee. He was also involved in artistic and educational projects centered on the African-Americana community of Los Angeles, soon gaining recognition for his poetry. In 1968 he became poet-in-residence at Pitzer College, then taught theatre and literature at Pomona College until 1975. The Watts riots were a pivotal event in his early development as a thinker on racial issues. A quote from the rioting, "Ain't no ambulances for no nigguhs tonight," was used as a title for a polemical speech that advocated black nationalist ideas, released as a recording in 1969, then for a 1972 collection of his poems.
Crouch was an aspiring jazz drummer. Together with David Murray, he formed the group, Black Music Infinity. In 1975, he sought to further his endeavors with a move from California to New York City, where he shared a loft with Murray above an East Village club called the Tin Palace. He was a drummer for Murray and with other musicians of the underground New York loft jazz scene. While working as a drummer, Crouch conducted the booking for an avant-garde jazz series at the club, as well as organizing occasional concert events at the Ladies' Fort. By his own admission he was not a good drummer, saying "The problem was that I couldn't really play. Since I was doing this avant-garde stuff, I didn't have to be all that good, but I was a real knucklehead."
Crouch befriended Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, who influenced his thinking in a direction less centered on race. He stated with regard to Murray's influence, "I saw how important it is to free yourself from ideology. When you look at things solely in terms of race or class, you miss what is really going on." He made a final, public break with black nationalist ideology in 1979, in an exchange with Amiri Baraka in the Village Voice. He was also emerging as a public critic of recent cultural and artistic trends that he saw as empty, phony, or corrupt. His targets included the fusion and avant-garde movements in jazz (including his own participation in the latter) and works of letters that he saw as hiding their lack of merit behind racial posturing. As a writer for the Voice from 1980 to 1988, he was known for his blunt criticisms of his targets and tendency to excoriate their participants. It was during this period that he became a friend and intellectual mentor to Wynton Marsalis, and an advocate of the neotraditionalist movement that he saw as reviving the core values of jazz. In 1987 he became an artistic consultant for the Jazz at Lincoln Center program, joined by Marsalis, who later became artistic director, in 1991.
After his stint at the Voice, Crouch published Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989, which gained his ideas prominence among a wide audience and was selected by The Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook as the best book of essays published in 1990. That was followed by receipt of a Whiting Award in 1991, and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and the Jean Stein Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993.
Crouch has continued to be an active author producing works of fiction and nonfiction, articles for periodicals, and newspaper columns. He is a columnist for the New York Daily News and a syndicated columnist. He is also featured as a source in documentaries and a guest in televised discussions.
In 2005, he was selected as one of the inaugural fellows by the Fletcher Foundation, which awards annual fellowships to people working on issues of race and civil rights. The fellowship program is directed by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University.
As a political thinker Crouch was initially drawn to, then disillusioned with, the Black Power movement of the late 1960s. His critiques of his former co-thinkers, whom he refers to as a "lost generation," are collected in Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989 and The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994. He has identified the embrace of racial essentialism among African-American[nb 1] leaders and intellectuals as a diversion from issues more central to the betterment of African-Americans and society as a whole. In the 1990s, he upset many political thinkers when he declared himself a "radical pragmatist". He explained, "I affirm whatever I think has the best chance of working, of being both inspirational and unsentimental, of reasoning across the categories of false division and beyond the decoy of race".
His syndicated column for the New York Daily News frequently challenges prominent members of the African American[nb 1] community. Crouch has criticised, among others, author Alex Haley, the author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots: The Saga of an American Family; community leader Al Sharpton; filmmaker Spike Lee; scholar Cornel West and playwright Amiri Baraka.
Crouch is also a fierce critic of gangsta rap music, asserting that it promotes violence, criminal lifestyles and degrading attitudes toward women. With this viewpoint, he has defended Bill Cosby's "Pound Cake Speech" and praised a women's group at Spelman College for speaking out against rap music. With regard to rapper Tupac Shakur he wrote, "what dredged-up scum you are willing to pay for is what scum you get, on or off stage."
Since the late 1970s, Crouch has been critical of forms of jazz that diverge from what he regards as its essential core values, similar to the opinions of the late Albert Murray on the same topic. In jazz critic Alex Henderson's assessment, Crouch is a "rigid jazz purist" and "a blistering critic of avant-garde jazz and fusion..." Of fusion Crouch wrote, "We should laugh at those who make artistic claims for fusion."
In The New Yorker Robert Boynton wrote, "Enthusiastic, combative, and never averse to attention, Crouch has a virtually insatiable appetite for controversy." Boynton also noted "Few cultural critics have a vision as eclectic and intriguing as Stanley Crouch's. Fewer still actually fight to prove their points." Crouch was fired from JazzTimes following his controversial article "Putting the White Man in Charge" in which he stated that, since the 1960s, "...white musicians who can play are too frequently elevated far beyond their abilities in order to allow white writers to make themselves feel more comfortable about being in the role of evaluating an art from which they feel substantially alienated."
- Crouch is dissatisfied with the term "African-American" which he finds pretentious and unwieldy. He does not object to the term black and is glad that it lost its former pejorative sense, but especially appreciates that Negro, and even colored, encompass a broad range of skin tones.
Association with Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns
Famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has called Crouch "my best friend in the world" and "mentor". The two met after Marsalis, at the age of 17, came to New York to attend the Juilliard School. The two have shared a close relationship ever since, Crouch having written liner notes for Marsalis' albums since his debut album in 1982.
When Marsalis served as "Senior Creative Consultant" for Ken Burns' 2001 documentary Jazz, Crouch served on the film's advisory board and appears extensively. Some jazz critics and aficionados cited the participation of Marsalis and Crouch specifically as reasons for what they believed to be the film's undue focus on traditional and straight-ahead jazz.
After Jazz, Crouch appeared in other Burns films, including the DVD for the 2002 remastered version of The Civil War and the 2004 documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.
Awards and honors
|Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz|
|The Artificial White Man: Essays on Authenticity|
|Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker|
|The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994|
|Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989|
|Reconsidering the Souls of Black Folk, with Playthell G. Benjamin|
|Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives|
|In Defence of Taboos|
|One Shot Harris: The Photographs of Charles "Teenie" Harris|
|Don't the Moon Look Lonesome? (2004)|
|Ain't No Ambulances For No Nigguhs Tonight (1972)|
- Garner, Dwight (October 10, 2013). "Stanley Crouch's 'Kansas City Lightning,' on Charlie Parker". The New York Times.
- "Stanley Crouch". NNDB. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
- "California Birth Index (1905-1995)". SFGenealogy. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
- Hipwax.com: Funk
- Boynton, Robert J. (6 Nov 1995). "The Professor of Connection". The New Yorker. pp. 97–116. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation".
- "PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award". PEN American Center. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Bernstein, Elizabeth (April 15, 2005). "Giving Back" (PDF). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Then & now, I'm a Negro: The people who used that word gave it majesty", NY Daily News
- Author unidentified (January 30, 1995). "The 100 Smartest New Yorkers". New York Magazine, vol. 28, no. 5, p. 41.
- Crouch, Stanley (1995), The All-American Skin Game; or, The Decoy of Race, Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-679-44202-8.
- Crouch, Stanley (April 12, 1998). "The Roots of Alex Haley's Fraud". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Lamb, Brian (May 12, 1996). "The All-American Skin Game, or the Decoy of Race". Booknotes. C-SPAN. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Crouch, Stanley (April 25, 2011). "Nation in love with minstrelsy: Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, Snoop Dogg and struggle to define blackness". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Crouch, Stanley (May 23, 2011). "Cornel West is an expert showman but nothing more: The lead huckster of the Ivy League's takedown". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Watts, Jerry Gafio. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. New York: New York University Press. p. 203. ISBN 0-8147-9373-8.
- Crouch, Stanley (March 12, 1997). "Fatal Attraction: Rappers & Violence". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Crouch, Stanley (27 May 2004). "Some Blacks Stand Tall Against the Buffoonery". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Crouch, Stanley (23 Apr 2004). "Hip Hop Takes a Hit; Black Women Are Starting to Fight Rap's Degrading Images". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Boynton, Robert S. "The Professor of Connection: A profile of Stanley Crouch". Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Crouch, Stanley (September 11, 1996). "Tupac shows risk of being rapped up in stage life". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Henderson, Alex. "Stanley Crouch - Biography". allmusic. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Crouch, Stanley (March 2002). "Four-Letter Words: Rap & Fusion". JazzTimes. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- Crouch, Stanley (April 2003). "Putting the White Man in Charge". JazzTimes. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Wynton Marsalis - Pulitzer Prize for Music". The Achiever Gallery. American Academy of Achievement. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Wynton Marsalis - Credits". allmusic.com. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Jazz". PBS.org. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved September 4, 2007.
- Stevens, Jan. "On Ken Burns JAZZ documentary - and Bill Evans". Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- St Clair, Jeffrey. "The Aesthetic Crimes of Ken Burns: Now, That's Not Jazz". Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Stanley Crouch". Internet Movie Database. imdb.com. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Stanley Crouch". Windham–Campbell Literature Prize. February 29, 2016. Retrieved March 2, 2016.