SLEEVE NOTES: Gary Crosby OBE
I still vividly remember the first time I met Gary Crosby. It was Saturday October 4th 1986. I was 14 years old, dreaming of being a jazz musician.
I’d read a newspaper feature on Courtney Pine shortly before, in which Courtney spoke about his route into the music, his hopes for raising people’s awareness of this great art form, and about Abibi Jazz Arts.
We were looking for leaders. People who included us in their vision, and who seemed to share the same feelings and aspirations for Jazz and its place in our culture.
I travelled over to Leeds where Courtney and his Quartet, which included Mark Mondesir, Adrian Reid, and Gary, were performing at the legendary Trades Club in Chapeltown.
Now, if you’ve read any of David Peace’s ‘Red Riding’ books, you may well get the picture, because this was 80’s Leeds. Dirty Leeds. The Leeds of the Service Crew, The Adelphi, Termite Club, Sunny’s, Gotham City, and Xero Slingsby busking with Gene Velocette in the City Centre. A gritty place Leeds in them days.
I got my chance to speak with Gary, Adrian, and Courtney, who spent time with me after the gig and were generous and encouraging. They told me check out this guy Booker Little and to practice, practice, and practice. Well, at least I checked out Booker Little!
Gary has been a figure in my life pretty much constantly since then. I was fortunate enough to have been invited to join The Jazz Warriors when I moved to London at 19, and I served my musical apprenticeship with Tomorrow’s Warriors and Gary Crosby’s Nu troop.
Gary has encouraged and supported many young players, a significant number of which would not have been received well, or encouraged by the existing gatekeepers of the jazz scene at the time.
Many of these players have gone on to become leading musicians, some of us have tripped up here and there, but have a reason d’etre that isn’t just about the playing. Gary has grafted for this music and its meaning, and I think he genuinely deserves the recognition he’s received for his contribution to music in the U.K.
Gary is a man who would have guided, encouraged and supported others regardless of his occupation, and regardless of whether or not they were set for stardom. I am quite certain of that. Over 20 years after my first meeting with him, I feel proud to have him headline an event that I am involved in organising.
I appreciate the time he took out from ‘shedding’ to answer these questions, and though sometimes the journey gets stormy, when it comes to the crunch, I feel grateful for the kindness and inspiration that Gary has shared during this fleeting time.
SC: You pioneered the cause of developing young jazz musicians when many musicians were happy to simply pursue their own careers as artists. How early in your career did you feel a desire to do this and what motivated you?
GC: As a youngster I had been influenced by a few older guys from the University of the Street Corner in my area who were passing on whatever information they had about music, politics, civil rights, girls, fashion, sport, cultural issues, and so on. Then in my early twenties, having become a qualified electrical engineer, I worked for a Black-led company that employed a few guys (‘yout man dem’!) some of whom were at risk of being excluded from the labour market. Some had been referred to us via the probation service and I was given responsibility for training them. This is where I found a role to play in the struggle that faced my community at that time. So it seemed a natural thing for me, as I began to work more as a professional musician, to take on the role of a kind of older brother as I could see some of the young musicians needed support.
SC: As a founder of the Jazz Warriors in the 80’s what positive legacy has been left by that particular group of musicians?
Courtney Pine’s Jazz Warriors made an important contribution to jazz in Britain by bringing diversity to the stage, to the music colleges and to the audience for jazz. I’m proud of that achievement, and I am also proud that Tomorrow’s Warriors has been so successful in carrying forward this legacy.
GC: What are your 3 wishes for the UK scene in 2013?
- A greater and more honest focus on audience development by those with a vested interest in the Jazz community
- More female stars – there simply aren’t enough of them but Tomorrow’s Warriors is committed to changing this. We now have a dedicated programme for the development of female jazz musicians so the boys best watch out!
- A TV programme about this great music and its influence on popular culture with the intention to demystify jazz and remind ourselves of the roots and functionality of the music.