Jesse Crump

b. 1906 in Paris, TX. Active 1920s - 1950s, a.k.a. Jessie Crump.

The role of a pianist accompanying a singer is clear: provide what is needed, essential, nothing more. These performances should not be biographical portraits of the keyboardist; thus, listeners following Ida Cox along on her "Rambling Blues" would have no idea that pianist Jesse Crump had been an organist in churches, theaters, and vaudeville houses or had performed on stages himself as a singer, comedian, and dancer. Crump later got into playing classic jazz on the West Coast with bandleaders such as Marty Marsala and Bob Scobey. Odd details only slightly blur the picture of a hard-working, versatile, and dedicated performer. Crump was actually born in the infamous town of Paris, TX, drifting toward big Dallas prior to the arrival of the Roaring Twenties.

Somewhere along the line he picked up the nickname of "Tiny," although in an unusual happenstance this rarely shows up in credits, perhaps a good thing. It is hard to say exactly what a "tiny crump" is, but it doesn't sound good to say the least. His collaboration with Cox -- he was the second of her three husbands -- appears to be his earliest works to have been documented. Due to the enduring popularity of the classic blues genre, they are also the most widely heard aspect of Crump's accomplishments. He was the composer of some of the material Cox recorded, including the hoodoo-soaked "Gypsy Glass Blues" and "Death Letter Blues," for which the couple reworked lyrics from a traditional Mississippi Delta blues.

Beginning in 1929, Crump recorded material in the vaudeville style with vocalist partner Billie McKenzie, some of which has been reissued on a Document compilation entitled Vocal Duets 1924-1934. Silly titles such as "Strewin' Your Mess" and "Who's Gonna Do Your Jelly Rollin'" can be balanced against the serious issues Crump was facing in his professional life. His band was the first to break the color barrier at the Pickwick Hotel in Kansas City, a venue that made use of live radio broadcasts to intensely magnify the regional appeal of featured artists. For at least 15 years beginning in 1937, Crump instead turned inward, sticking close to Muncie, IN. In the '50s he showed up in San Francisco, combining the aforementioned combo work with solo piano dates. The discographical trail turns another bend: this time the label is Verve and the vista is straight-ahead mid-'50s swing. Considering his varied background, this pianist might be expected to have embraced rock & roll in the '60s -- instead, he simply retired.
by Eugene Chadbourne