Memphis-born alto saxophonist Hank Crawford comes by his soulfulness as honestly as anyone could hope. His first gig landed him in B.B. King’s band; he played behind Bobby Bland and Ike & Tina Turner in the 50s, and then joined Ray Charles’s scintillating jazz ‘n’ soul band–all before the age of 25. A resume like that allows a man to downplay the signal contributions of Charlie Parker (the touchstone for most postwar alto saxists) should he choose to. And these days, Crawford so chooses. His command of the bebop vocabulary proves his appreciation for Parker’s music (as does his still-famous four-decades-old solo on Ray Charles’s classic “Hard Times”), but the torch Crawford carries was kindled primarily by jump-band saxmen like Earl Bostic and Louis Jordan, whose music predated and then turned into R & B. (He doesn’t take so much from Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, who used the knife-edge of bop to slice through his own R & B career.) Crawford’s tone, a full-throated urban lightning, has a neon afterglow, and he excels at the insouciant blues playing heard on his recent recorded collaborations with organist Jimmy McGriff. But no matter how funked up he gets, Crawford’s deep grounding in the seminal jazz styles of the 40s and 50s gives his playing depth and character–qualities hard to find in contemporary players attempting a similar blend of jazz and soul. In Chicago, he’ll front what amounts to the house trio at Jazz Showcase: the fulminating drummer Wilbur Campbell, bassist extraordinaire Larry Gray, and pianist Willie Pickens, whose darkened chords should provide an appealing contrast to Crawford’s bright improvised melodies. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by John Abbott.