LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER
There are charming, recent recordings of the six Henry-Music songs
by Allan Harris (vc) and Yan Pevsner (pn) which, like the piano rolls,
were specially produced for this project.
Everyone who knows Anthony BarnettÕs work will anticipate the highest standards of intensive research,
eloquent exposition of his accurate research and stylish, well designed presentation and
they will not be disappointed. He is to be commended for shedding new light on
an intriguing personality and his Jazz Age literary and musical milieu,
and his new book is heartily recommended.
– Bob Weir, Jazz Journal International, January 2008
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 clichˇ, Ņmusic has no colourÓ, 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 RenaissanceÕs scene of
the arts and he, in turn, was outwardly focused to want to learn about the wider world.
So it is that within the open arms of this book, the bonus is not simply the [accompanying] CD
but the reprinted sources from rare publications. In a rare kindness, Anthony Barnett not only invites you in,
he sets all his documents on the table. The result is that we get, yes itÕs true, full texts of
CrowderÕs articles and correspondence, newspaper reports [. . .] and even printed music.
Add to this a discography, a piano rollography, reproductions of labels and advertisements,
and you realize that he was significant. If only more histories would be so forthcoming.
Also included [on the CD] are 2006-recorded art songs in a recitalist manner. These are vociferously anti-racist
compositions, really music set to poetry and you can follow along with the words and musical notation in the book.
These works are rightly angry, a total reversal of the old, acquiescing, know-your-place numbers
cut for nostalgic [folk] by the Eddie South band [. . .] The vocalist, Allan Harris, is very good
and he reprises ŅBĻuf sur le ToitÓ / ŅMemory BluesÓ
– Andy Simons, IAJRC Journal, February 2008
This has obviously been a painstaking (and I suspect, expensive) labour of love . . .
There is an awful lot of material in this book and much research has obviously been done
to put as much flesh on the Crowder bones as possible, and to give him a somewhat belated
acknowledgement for his achievements. . . . as complete a record of his work as one would want.
I wonÕt pretend itÕs an easy read—its structure means it is often disjointed, and the authorÕs wish to
get as much packed into the book as possible does mean there are some painfully convoluted sentences.
Also, the many photographs are printed on the same uncoated stock as the text . . . but these are minor
criticisms. ItÕs a beautifully produced book—I love the typography and choice of paper stock—and
despite being softbound, it has the look and feel of a ŌqualityÕ publication.
. . . the sheer effort gone into producing it and the quality values inherent in its production make it excellent value.
. . . a fascinating window on a man and his piece in the larger jigsaw of two important 20th century art movements.
– Mark Berresford, VJMÕs Jazz & Blues Mart, spring 2008
. . . a gem of a literary biography on the musician friend of Nancy Cunard . . .
– David Caddy, Tears in the Fence, spring 2008
The music historian Anthony Barnett does nothing halfway, and his enterprises are never predictable.
He is a scholar—a term I do not use casually—on the subject of Jazz violin who has published extensive bio-
discographies of Eddie South and Stuff Smith. He has also done remarkable research on less famous players
(Harry Lookofsky, Ginger Smock), and published a journal devoted to violin improvisation. But
Barnett does not restrict himself to print: his AB Fable CDs are full of marvels: airshots of Stuff Smith leading a
band of Fats Waller alumni; homemade 78s of Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, and Sonny Greer jamming;
a 1966 home recording of Rex Stewart and Stuff Smith chatting and playing. Scratchy one-of-a-kind acetates are
restored carefully and annotated superbly. And all of his research is presented in lively, witty, and sharp-edged prose.
I would expect no less from a poet who has also been a percussionist with Don Cherry and John Tchicai.
BarnettÕs newest project is unusual even for him, and its lengthy title doesnÕt even begin to explain it:
Listening for Henry Crowder: A Monograph on His Almost Lost Music with the Poems and Music of Henry-Music.
I had never heard of Crowder or his music, but that is the point. The most superficial way to explain Crowder
as a fit subject for BarnettÕs investigations is that Crowder (1890–1955), a Jazz pianist, singer, and bandleader,
recorded with Eddie SouthÕs Alabamians in 1927–28. The Ņalmost lostÓ of BarnettÕs title first becomes
comprehensible when we learn that all discographies prior to 2000 incorrectly stated that Antonio Spaulding was
the pianist on these Victor sessions, unwittingly erasing Crowder in his two most accessible musical appearances.
But this is not simply a book about ŅfindingÓ Crowder, a Jazz legend; readers should not hope to discover a
homegrown Tatum, for Crowder was a capable player and improviser on the basis of the limited evidence we possess.
But his pianistic talents are only a small part of his portrait and of this book. No other study justifiably intertwines
Ezra Pound and the singer Bee Palmer (ŅThe Shimmy QueenÓ), Jelly Roll Morton and Nancy Cunard, Samuel Beckett
and Sidney Bechet (a felicitous although unlikely pairing). Crowder, the book reveals, was more than
a little-known African-American musician and sideman whose band Morton fronted for a 1927 tour. He and Cunard
had a seven-year relationship, with Crowder the inspiration for and a contributor to her 1934 Negro: An Anthology.
Henry-Music, a tantalizing part of BarnettÕs title, was a 1930 folio of poems by Cunard, Richard Aldington,
Beckett, and others, with musical settings by Crowder. He is thus a tangential but intriguing figure—someone
who visited Pound in St Elizabeths Hospital—in the cross-continental modernist culture of the period.
BarnettÕs book contains everything knowable at this distance about Crowder: a forty-page biographical profile,
an itinerary of the places he played, press clippings, many photographs, reproductions of letters, record labels, drawings,
articles written by and pertaining to Crowder, the poems and musical settings in Henry-Music, a discography of recordings
and piano rolls and more. Crowder was, it should be said, a fine prose writer: his ŅHitting Back,Ó published in Negro,
should be far better known. And—sensibly and graciously—the book has its own CD, broad in scope but exceedingly
relevant, containing not only the thirteen 78 sides on which Crowder plays and sings, but the half-dozen 1926 piano rolls
he made (restored and played on modern equipment), new recordings of CrowderÕs compositions—sung beautifully by
Allan Harris, and four sides by orchestras with whom Crowder was associated although he did not play on these sessions.
Here, I can imagine readers muttering their version of poet Philip LarkinÕs Law of Reissues, which (paraphrased)
is ŅIf you havenÕt heard of this musician or these recordings before, he or they canÕt be worth your interest,Ó
which is amusing but reductionist and illogical. Crowder himself is not the sole subject of BarnettÕs book,
although his life, alternating between highly illuminated and shadowy, is. It isnÕt one of those pretentious books
about ŅMy Search for Some Famous RecluseÓ where the authorÕs ego becomes the subject. This book
and the accompanying CD provoke philosophical stirrings on the chord changes of ŅWhat can and cannot
be known about anyoneÕs life?Ó followed by ŅHow can anyone assemble—properly and doing justice
to the subject—the posthumous fragments of evidence anyone will leave behind—to make some valid overview
of what has been lived?Ó This book may not be BarnettÕs Citizen Kane, but it awakened some of the same
concerns and speculations. Because his research is so scrupulous and diligent, his delight in fact over conjecture so
enlivening, I would like to see this book in universities—not just on the library shelves—because it is an essential text
for anyone interested in the culture of the last century and its implications. I am also certain that readers who would
profess no interest in Crowder or Cunard will delight in its perceptive, stubborn, inquiring ways.
– Michael Steinman, Cadence, April–May–June 2008
Copyright © 2008 Cadence Magazine Posted in full by Permission
Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers is one of the most attractive small independent publishing companies
in the country . . . Its history of publishing leading poets of the British Poetry Revieval . . . speaks for itself. . . .
Some of these [collections] are now collectors items not only for their outstanding presentation but also because,
historically, they represent a major movement forward in the history of publishing avant-garde British poetry.
Most recently Allardyce, Barnett has published Listening for Henry Crowder . . .
This outstanding publication of the life and work of the man who played alongside Duke Ellington,
became the lover of Nancy Cunard, composed settings of Samuel Beckett and visited Ezra Pound
in his St Elizabeths confinement is accompanied by a CD of original and new recordings.
– Ian Brinton, The Use of English, The English Association, spring 2008
. . . Anthony Barnett has set himself the task of recovering every scrap of information he can about this
remarkable man and his milieu. It is perhaps a slight understatement merely to say that he has been successful.
Sonabel 12010 is a very welcome addition to jazz discography.
. . . a major work of scholarship, which can only be highly recommended.
– Howard Rye, Names & Numbers, April 2008
This is a dense monograph on one of the fascinating minor characters in the pageant of early jazz.
It includes in clear order and with copious commentary [just] about everything likely to be known of
this minor but exemplary figure who lived on the edge of both jazz and modern ŅclassicalÓ music.
A very intriguing project, well conceived and finished.
– William J. Schafer, Mississippi Rag, May 2008
Generally one reads a musicianÕs biography because his or her work generates an interest
in the events of their life. In the case of Henry Crowder itÕs really the opposite;
his life story is so interesting that it makes us want to hear what his music sounded like.
When the story has been told it has usually been with Cunard as its focal point, often by authors with no understanding
of African-American music or culture. Anthony Barnett has remedied the situation with this fine little book.
Especially edifying is the accompanying CD, which allows us to hear CrowderÕs music . . .
gratifying to finally be able to hear what Henry Crowder did with the unique moment which fate presented him.
ThereÕs something quite haunting about this story and Barnett had done an excellent job of putting it all before us.
– Duck Baker, Coda, May–June 2008
Barnett does a very good job of portraying the life of a black musician in Europe
in the jazz age and of assembling the reactions of white exiles in Paris.
I have dwelt at length on the strong Beckett interest, but this short book is a cornucopia. Barnett gives an engaging
account of Crowder after Cunard, including his internment in Germany during the war and his troubled later years.
I cannot imagine anyone who has an interest in BeckettÕs poems or his development
in the 1930s not enjoying this book. The twenty-nine track CD is a considerable bonus.
– Se‡n Lawlor, The Beckett Circle / Le Cercle de Beckett: Newsletter of the Samuel Beckett Society, Fall 2008
CrowderÕs extra-musical activities in many ways eclipse his unremarkable jazz gifts.
I marvel at the fact that he was brave enough to engage in an interracial relationship during some very racially
intolerant times. . . . Barnett meticulously researched his subject and his writing is clear and concise.
Also included on the CD are new recordings of CrowderÕs compositions from Henry-Music
admirably performed by vocalist Allan Harris accompanied by Yan Pevzner.
IÕm sure there are many who will find Listening for Henry Crowder an interesting book about a
little known musician, the people with whom he was associated, and the social climate in which he lived.
– Vincent Pelote, ARSC Journal, Fall 2009
It is on Crowder the artist that Listening for Henry Crowder focuses. At the very least
this meticulously researched study will help later generations see the man in something more like
his own terms. But, in recovering CrowderÕs Ņalmost lost music,Ó Barnett gives a second life to the musician, restoring
the artist to him who previously had been inscribed as little more than a lively episode in CunardÕs colorful life and career.
BarnettÕs title is itself worth pausing over, as it reminds us that the few recordings Crowder was able to make
have hitherto been known only to a handful of zealous record collectors. Before we could listen to Crowder
some serious detective work was necessary to find the audio documents of his music.
I canÕt think of anyone else who would have been willing or able to reconstruct the shattered
traces of CrowderÕs life and career. All told, this study is as impressive as it is serious.
More than that, itÕs a book that anyone interested in Cunard and race needs to read.
– Michael Coyle, The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914–1945, 2010
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