Hank Crawford, whose distinctively funky and soulful saxophone was a staple in the Ray Charles band before it became widely recognized as a solo force in the jazz world, died last week at his home in Memphis.
He was 74. “He has a rich, throbbing tone and a way of phrasing like a blues singer,” Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times in 1986. “Mr. Crawford’s solos are artfully shaped, but they convey a naked emotionality.”
Born Bennie Ross Crawford Jr. in Memphis on Dec. 21, 1934, he had a large family that was into jazz and gospel music. He attended Manassas High School, which also kicked out such soulful notables as Jimmie Lunceford and Isaac Hayes. His own schoolmates included future legend tenor saxophonists Charles Lloyd and George Coleman, and pianist Harold Mabern.
During his five decades in the music business, he recorded such tunes as “The Peeper,” “New York’s One Soulful City,” and “I Hear a Symphony,” a disco cover of the 1965 Supremes hit.
Aside from working with Charles, he also blew alongside blues greats B. B. King and organist Jimmy McGriff. A widower, Crawford’s first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by a sister, Delores Crawford; two brothers, Danny and Ceylon; three sisters, Shirley, Marva and Alma; a son, Michael; a daughter, Sherri; and a granddaughter. All live in Memphis.