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Meet Abby London Crawford

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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I had an assignment to photograph Miles’ tombstone for an article in Japan’s Swing Journal. When I got to the cemetery I found that Miles was very close to the grave of Duke Ellington. No one was around, and it was so peaceful, so I sat down in the narrow path between them to be in their presence and thank them.
Abby London Crawford is just the sort of Super Fan this column was created for. A jazz hero, she can be seen all over New York city at live music events, radiating love and positivity. But being a listener alone has never been enough for Abby, who's found numerous ways to nurture and support the music and the people she holds so dear. Never one to draw attention to herself, she exemplifies the old adage, "still waters run deep"; if you didn't think to interview her for a column you might never find out she's been deep in the scene, breaking bread and rubbing elbows with a pretty astonishing cast of characters!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a native New Yorker, growing up in the Bronx and then Queens. My dad and mom were working class people, often with more than one job at a time, so my older sister, younger brother, and I were latchkey kids.

I went to Queens College, majoring in theater, my first love. My second love was singing. I sang everywhere I went, often just to myself. I learned popular Broadway songs like, "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," for a talent show at school when I was about eight years old. To cover myself when I forgot the words, I insisted that the audience sing along!

I've lived in Manhattan nearly 50 years, except for three-and-a-half years in Mexico, right after college graduation, with my late husband, the journalist and editor Marc Crawford. From the time we returned to New York in 1971, until 2012, I worked with young children, first in after-school programs, then in public day care, and later in elementary schools, often as a founding teacher who started the school. I would sing with my children all the time in the classroom—even my instructions! I created a more formal chorus that met on my own time or at lunchtime, and would teach the kids songs I loved. I coordinated an instrument instruction program for many years, too, and when I was out of the classroom for a few years, I taught a music appreciation course for the whole school. A fond memory at a graduation was when a parent thanked me for teaching her son about jazz. Though I'm retired now, I still go back weekly to my former school, The Ella Baker School, to conduct the chorus. I was also a member of the New York City Labor Chorus until 1996.

What's your earliest memory of music?
I remember always liking music and singing and dancing along to everything. I loved to listen to the radio, especially in the car. But my dad was very irritated by the static and would shut it off, so I would mime the words, humming and moving to the rhythm I still felt inside, and my parents would say, "There she goes again."

When I became a teacher, I appreciated having had live music in my own school life, and having seen Broadway and off-Broadway shows as a child, because I knew what I wanted to pass on to my students.

How old were you when you got your first record?
I basically inherited my parents' collections, so I don't have a clear memory of purchasing records on my own. My mother and father had these 78 records, very thick and heavy, mostly Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Rudy Vallee, operetta records, cantorial music, Broadway show tunes. But once my sister took over the phonograph we listened to a lot of rock and roll, mostly Elvis "Pretzel," as I called him.

Radio was the way I heard a lot of artists, like Otis Redding, who literally cured me of a very bad illness when I heard him sing "Try a Little Tenderness." I got out of bed, and was healed.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
There wasn't necessarily one album. The way I initially heard a lot of music in those days was on the jukebox. There was a bar and grill we hung out in near our apartment before we left for Mexico, and their jukebox had a lot of Monk. I couldn't stop playing his rendition of "Remember," or Tony Bennett's "Georgia Rose."

During the 30 years we were together, Marc inspired my interest in jazz, often through the musicians he knew personally and wrote about. He inspired me daily, in his commitment to being a writer, and I became an editor of the literary magazines he created. The executive editor of our main magazine, Time Capsule, was James Baldwin.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
I have been going out to hear live music since the late 1960s. After returning to New York from Mexico, where I also heard a lot of live music, I went to places like Slugs,' and heard the newer music with Rashied Ali, Larry Young, and others. Later, Rashied's son, Billy Bang's son, and John Hicks's niece became students of mine.

How often do you go out to hear live music?
My desire would be to hear live music every day but other commitments get in the way. My realistic goal is to try to hear live music at least three or four times a week.

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