Bill Crump

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For some jazz buffs, inclusion in the famous 1958 photograph entitled "A Great Day in Harlem" is proof of a player's undeniably solid credentials as a jazzman. Nonetheless at least a few of the players…
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For some jazz buffs, inclusion in the famous 1958 photograph entitled "A Great Day in Harlem" is proof of a player's undeniably solid credentials as a jazzman. Nonetheless at least a few of the players that got into this picture were more the sort of journeymen who clamber onto many stages but leave very little residue in terms of discographical material or historical data. Bill Crump, also known as player number 38 in the shot, is just such a performer. Some four decades after the photo was taken there were many so-called experts who were unable to recognize Crump at all, let come up with facts about who he was. Because his most famous moment in jazz involved a photograph, there are those that assume he has something to do with the Bill Crump of Dallas, TX, who takes photographs of airplanes and blues bands, which he doesn't.

The actual historical record of the reedman Crump picks up around the time of the famed photo, but in Buffalo, NY, where he was registered with the local musician's union. The following year a similar entry exists for him with the New York City local, in both cases as a saxophonist and flutist. Sometime after the famous group photo was snapped in Harlem, Crump headed for Las Vegas to join up with a daughter that was working as a dancer. For at least a decade and a half he toiled in a variety of lounge bands, often playing for strippers in the classic instrumental combination of tenor sax, organ, and drums. In 1977 he continued the odyssey westward and began working in Los Angeles. The fine pianist and singer Nellie Lutcher was apparently responsible for getting Crump into the often tightly sealed Los Angles union. He is believed to have died in the '80s. As for why he is part of the lineup for "A Great Day in Harlem," explanations include "a total mystery," "a complete fluke," and of course "he just happened to be there." Country songwriter Tom T. Hall's "Ballad of Bill Crump" has nothing to do with him.