Like most teenagers who were into jazz in the 40s and 50s, Hank Crawford heard Charlie Parker. But Crawford, born in Memphis, heard something in Parker’s tone and concept that many didn’t: a bluesy, southern-steamed alto sound that went back past Parker to Earl Bostic and Louis Jordan. In the end, those artists left an even greater mark on him. By the time Crawford finished college, in Nashville in the late 50s, he might have easily gotten lost in the wake of Parker’s three great disciples, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, and Phil Woods; instead he met the young Ray Charles, who hired him to play saxophone and eventually to compose and arrange for his fledgling big band. Crawford blossomed with Charles, put in a couple years as the band’s musical director, then set off on his own in ’63 to establish one of the longest and most successful careers in jazz. Crawford covers a lot of territory in his work, pushing his tone from a muddy murmur to a soulful scream as the ratio of blues to jazz requires, but by background and inclination he has a special understanding of the music’s earliest history, when it still struggled to contain the sound of the voice. No jazzman wails the blues better; Crawford’s sultriest cries threaten to peel paint off the walls. His huge discography includes a wide range of settings, from bare combos to overblown ensembles of horns and strings, but in the past 15 years his most satisfying albums have documented his partnership with organist Jimmy McGriff. For this engagement he’ll be backed by Chicago guitarist Henry Johnson and his Organ Express–starring Chris Foreman, who swings just as hard as McGriff on the Hammond B-3. Friday and Saturday, December 26 and 27, 9 and 11 PM, Sunday, December 28, 4 and 8 PM, Monday and Tuesday, December 29 and 30, 8 and 10 PM, and Wednesday, December 31, 9 and 11 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Abbott.