Stanley Crouch, Influential Jazz Critic and Cultural Commentator, Dead at 74

Photo: Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

Stanley Crouch, a passionate cultural critic and champion of jazz music, died September 16, NPR reported. He was 74 and spent the last years struggling with his health, contracting COVID-19 in spring 2020. Crouch had already been an activist, poet, lecturer, and drummer by the time he moved to New York City and began writing for the Village Voice in 1975. He became known for his strong stances as a critic, in favor of traditional jazz and against artists who focused on race in their work, like Toni Morrison and Spike Lee. He once aligned himself with Black Nationalism, but eventually became influenced by friends Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, who developed Crouch’s views on race. He was eventually fired from the Village Voice, he claimed, for punching another journalist during a fight over hip-hop music (Crouch was a detractor). Crouch published a collection of criticism, Notes of a Hanging Judge: Essays and Reviews, 1979–89, which became a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 1993, and went on to publish a full bibliography of books, collections, and even a novel. In 2013, he published a biography of saxophonist Charlie Parker, Kansas City Lightning.

Over the course of his career, Crouch became close friends with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Crouch wrote liner notes for many of Marsalis’s albums, the pair worked together on Jazz at Lincoln Center, and they both advised Ken Burns on his TV docuseries Jazz, along with contributing interviews. Later in his career, Crouch had a gig as a columnist for JazzTimes magazine (from which he was also fired) and for the New York Daily News.

Stanley Crouch, Influential Jazz Critic, Dead at 74