Crouch, Stanley 1945–
Crouch, Stanley 1945–
Born December 14, 1945, in Los Angeles, CA; married Gloria Nixon (a sculptor), c. 1990s.
Writer, playwright, columnist, music critic, musician, television commentator, and actor. Studio Watts company, 1965-67; drummer with pianist Raymond King, 1966; drummer and bandleader with various groups, including Quartet and Black Music Infinity, 1967—; Claremont College, Claremont, CA, instructor in drama, literature, and jazz history, 1969-75; Lincoln Center, New York, NY, artistic consultant and cofounder of Jazz at Lincoln Center department, 1987—; Columbia University, New York, NY, Louis Armstrong visiting professor, 2002-03. Has appeared on television and radio.
Jean Stein Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters; MacArthur Foundation grant.
Ain't No Ambulances for No Nigguhs Tonight (poems), R.W. Baron (New York, NY), 1972.
Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
The All-American Skin Game; or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1995.
Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1998.
Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2000.
The Artificial White Man: Essays on Authenticity, Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz, Basic Civitas Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to books and anthologies, including Black Fire, 1968; We Speak as Liberators: Young Black Poets, 1970; Black Spirits, 1972; The Reading Room: Writing of the Moment, edited by Barbara Probst, Great Marsh (New York, NY), 2000; Police Brutality, edited by Jill Nelson, Norton (New York, NY), 2000; and Masters of American Comics, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2005. Staff writer and jazz critic for Village Voice, 1979-88; columnist for Los Angeles Free Press, Cricket, New York Daily News, and SoHo Weekly News; Contributing editor to the New Republic, 1990—; contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker, New York Times, and Esquire. Composer of various musical pieces, including "Future Sallie's Time," "Chicago for Bobby Seale," "The Confessions of Father None," "Flying through Wire," "Attica in Black September," and "Note-worthy Lady"; albums include Now Is Another Time and Past Spirits.
Stanley Crouch has performed in many roles, among them musician, jazz critic, social critic, poet, essayist, and novelist. The first book Crouch published was a volume of poetry titled Ain't No Ambulances for No Nigguhs Tonight. In Library Journal, Sandford Dorbin maintained that the publication is "God-intoxicated" and "worddrunk." Dorbin also called Crouch "wildly uneven, as you would expect a natural poet to be." Following the 1972 collection, Crouch applied his style outside the bounds of poetry and music, discussing a variety of topics in a bold manner. "Armed with an elephant's memory and a passionate knowledge of and engagement with art (blues and jazz especially, though not exclusively) and history (American, though not exclusively), Crouch delights in slaying the dragons of convention—particularly those that guard the sometimes-insular world of black intellectuals," wrote Amy Alexander on the Salon.com Web site.
In a review of The All-American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994 a Boston Phoenix contributor called it an "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink collection" of writings. The reviewer went on to note: "There's a fine line between lyricism and luster. At least, there is for Stanley Crouch, the iconoclastic culture critic." The reviewer added: "Few writers … juxtapose their best and worst qualities as blithely as Crouch. He has a gift for courageous phrases—tightly alliterated and rhythmically risky—that ring in the ear like a great horn line. The downside is that he doesn't always distinguish real insight from glib turns of phrase." In a Booklist assessment of the same volume, Bonnie Smothers remarked that Crouch "talks a lot of interesting stuff" but "is not an easy person to relate to because he is one of those ‘in-your-face’ thinkers whose very smugness seems meant to alienate and provoke." Alexander commented: "Crouch's troublemaking reputation was made with his first essay collection, 1990's Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989, which smacked the slumbering genre of race and cultural criticism out of its 30-year torpor."
In Notes of a Hanging Judge, Crouch explores a variety of subjects ranging from feminism, black power, and the Third World to boxing, popular culture, and the movies of Spike Lee. Like Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, two other writers with roots in jazz, Crouch uses music, according to American Spectator contributor Martha Bayles, "as a vantage point to scrutinize the rest of the world." With his essays, Crouch "sets himself apart from and above the tides of current opinion," according to Deirdre English in the New York Times Book Review. The author is a severe critic of political and cultural leaders who view black Americans as the helpless victims of racist oppression. The "hanging judge" in his book title is the freebooter Henry Morgan, "who sent many of his former pirate buddies to the gallows, certain that they deserved what they got," according to Crouch, who was once a black nationalist and blames the excesses of the movement and its prominent leaders for the collapse of the civil rights struggle. He scorns black proponents of separatism, anti-Semitism, and what he sees as selfish opportunism. He considers jazz to be the musical expression of a traditional "heroic optimism" among black Americans, and he praises the historic willingness of blacks "to take the field, to do battle, and to struggle up from the sink holes of self-pity." His prescription for African American progress rejects the idea of African innocence or superiority and proclaims the need for personal responsibility, education, and reasoned debate. With these recommendations, according to English, Crouch "comes off less like a hanging judge than a knowing and anxious father figure."
Crouch is severely critical of prominent figures such as Malcolm X, the "chief black heckler of the civil rights movement," and Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), "the ghost of Pan-African nationalism past." He also attacks other notables, including novelist Toni Morrison and filmmaker Spike Lee. Morrison won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, Beloved, but is dismissed by Crouch as a writer of "portentous melodrama." Spike Lee is characterized as a "middle-class would-be street Negro" whose acclaimed and controversial film, Do the Right Thing, is a "rancid fairy tale." According to Bayles, Crouch finds Lee's "attachment to 1960s-style militance … the sentimental indulgence of a privileged youth ill-informed about the real problems of the black poor."
Though some critics denounced what they considered to be Crouch's personal attacks on various figures, many praised Notes of a Hanging Judge as insightful and refreshing. "It's rare to find both verbal virtuosity and rational coherence in the same person," noted Bayles. "For this reason alone, it's worth reading Notes of a Hanging Judge." Nation contributor Gene Seymour observed that, while one may disagree with the author, "you have to appreciate the fact that, like any good jazz player, Crouch never repeats himself or does the predictable." Seymour also noted that Crouch's "willingness to call upon a wide range of references gives his collection a supple, almost buoyant texture." Writing in Washington Post Book World, David Nicholson commented: "From politics to art to jazz to the blues to literature, Crouch covers the waterfront. Throughout, he is not only provocative but perceptive and, on more than one occasion, wise. In the end it must be said that this is the kind of book you want not merely to read, but to ponder."
In 1998 readers were given another collection of Crouch's writings, Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997. In the essays, speeches and reviews which were culled from many sources, Crouch presents "the same themes" as in previous writings, observed Bonnie Smothers in Booklist. "If a reader can push beyond Stanley's narrowly held opinions, there's gold to be mined from his hyperbolic riffs and rants." Smothers added: "Many pieces are entertaining, though disturbing." A Kirkus Reviews contributor who referred to Crouch as a "jazz guru and social/cultural critic" was impressed with Crouch's discussion of Albert Murray, Christopher Darden, and various jazz figures, but found Crouch's words on other topics to be troublesome: "Crouch sustains whole stretches of fine, sometimes expert material, but overall this ‘intellectual medley’ is wildly erratic, and its best verses rarely transcend its verbiage." In contrast, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted "Crouch's fluid style, clearly influenced by the blues and jazz he loves, keeps his prose interesting."
Crouch's fiction debut came in 2000 with the publication of Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Booklist contributor Ellen Flexman praised the novel—the story of an interracial couple of jazz musicians struggling with "race, art, success, and family," calling it a "stylish love story" and applauding the author's ability to make his prose evoke "a blues band or a gospel choir."
In 2000 Crouch's writing was published, along with the work of others, in The Reading Room: Writing of the Moment, edited by Barbara Probst; and in Police Brutality, edited by Jill Nelson. Vanessa Bush in Booklist described Policy Brutality as "a compelling reader on the enduring evil of police brutality in a democratic society and its tacit social acceptance."
In The Artificial White Man: Essays on Authenticity, Crouch presents previously unpublished essays focusing on books and films as he reflects on the misogynistic aspects of the American people and their culture. In the process he discusses the works of writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth and the movies of filmmakers such as Quentin Tarrentino. In an interview with Joanna Rabiger in Publishers Weekly, Crouch commented on his book, noting that it "is a response to the balkanizing nature of social evaluation." Crouch added: "The obsession with authenticity, with being a ‘real’ person is everywhere, from the Democratic political convention to barbaric popular entertainment like rap, where actually being a knucklehead criminal elevates what is now known as street credibility." Harry Siegel, writing in the Weekly Standard, commented that the author "argues, a post-Watergate era of close examination has eroded our traditional institutions, and our popular culture now ‘defines authenticity from the bottom up,’ embracing ‘the neo-Sam-bo’ motif of hip-hop videos that reduce blacks to the manic-depressive ravings of the unhinged adolescent, a token counter to bourgeois, ‘white’ values." In a review in Booklist, Vernon Ford wrote that "Crouch exposes the cultural realities of racial authenticity." Black Issues Book Review contributor Herb Boyd wrote: "Those able to endure Crouch's ideological insults will find one of the nation's finest wordsmiths at work, though reading him … is like eating a tasty, scrumptious meal only to end up with heartburn and indigestion."
Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz is a collection of the author's writing about Jazz dating back to 1977. He discusses musicians such as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis and presents an autobiographical essay about his love of and involvement with jazz. In a review in the Weekly Standard, Ted Gioia commented that "now readers have the opportunity to accompany him [Crouch] on an extended prose tour, over the course of more than 300 pages, of the jazz world according to Crouch." Gioia added: "And with such an animated cicerone, the sights and sounds are rarely boring." Bill Ott, writing in Booklist, called Considering Genius "essential reading for jazz fans." A contributor to Ebony noted the author's "highly personal and ‘loquacious’ writing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Crouch, Stanley, Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979-1989, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
American Spectator, September, 1990, Martha Bayles, review of Notes of a Hanging Judge, pp. 35-36.
Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2004, Herb Boyd, review of The Artificial White Man: Essays on Authenticity, p. 63.
Booklist, October 15, 1995, Bonnie Smothers, review of The All-American Skin Game; or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994, p. 370; December 1, 1997, Bonnie Smothers, review of Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997, p. 586; April 1, 2000, Ellen Flexman, review of Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing, p. 129; May 15, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of Police Brutality, p. 1707; November 1, 2004, Vernon Ford, review of The Artificial White Man, p. 447; August 1, 2006, Bill Ott, review of Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz, p. 24.
Boston Phoenix, April 4-11, 1996, "From the Pulpit: Stanley Crouch Offers Doses of Hectoring and Passion."
Ebony, July, 2006, review of Considering Genius, p. 30.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1997, review of Always in Pursuit.
Library Journal, April 1, 1972, Sandford Dorbin, review of Ain't No Ambulances for No Nigguhs Tonight, p. 1328.
Nation, May 21, 1990, Gene Seymour, review of Notes of a Hanging Judge, pp. 710-712.
New York Times Book Review, March 11, 1990, Deirdre English, "Nobody's Victim," p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, September 11, 1995, review of The All-American Skin Game, p. 67; November 24, 1997, review of Always in Pursuit, p. 58; September 20, 2004, review of The Artificial White Man, p. 55, and Joanna Rabiger, "Talking Authenticity about Race," interview with author, p. 56.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2005, review of The Artificial White Man, p. 237.
Washington Post Book World, April 8, 1990, David Nicholson, review of Notes of a Hanging Judge, p. 5.
Weekly Standard, November 15, 2004, Harry Siegel, review of The Artificial White Man, p. 36; July 17, 2006, Ted Gioia, review of Considering Genius.
Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies Web site, http://www.jazz.columbia.edu/bio/ (December 28, 2006), faculty profile of author.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (December 28, 2006), information on author's television appearances.
New York Daily News Web site,http://www.nydailynews.com/ (December 28, 2006), brief profile of author.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (January 19, 1999), Amy Alexander, "The Bull in the Black-Intelligentsia China Shop," profile of author.