Study note - Jesse Crawford

Born: Woodland, California 2 December 1895

Died: Los Angeles, 27 May 1962 - Cerebral Haemorrhage

Known as "The Poet of the Organ"

Was most famous for the period 1926-1933 when he was chief organist at the Paramount Theatre, Times Square, New York.

Probably made the first ever commercially-marketed electrical theatre organ recording - for Marsh Laboratories - at the organ of the Chicago Theatre in 1924.  He had opened that organ in 1921 and remained there until moving to New York in 1926.

Recorded theatre pipe organ for Victor from 1925 (his first records for them were acoustical), then  for Decca.  He also recorded several sides in England in 1933 for Victor's UK associate HMV at the Empire, Leicester Square. These, with the pioneering Marsh recordings were the only in-theatre recordings he made.

Made many hundreds of 78s on theatre pipe organs to 1941, plus many more on Hammond; made several theatre pipe organ LPs in the 1950s using the Lorin Whitney Studio Robert Morton organ in Glendale California. His final LP recordings were made at Richard Simonton's residence organ in Toluca Lake, California.

He created an original fundamental style of playing for the theatre organ that has been imitated by countless organists since - few of the great theatre organists in America and elsewhere were not influenced to a greater or lesser degree by his stylistic devices, particularly the use of chromatic runs in open harmony to produce a highly emotional "portamento" effect. The Robert Morton organ company even patented a mechanical device to allow organists of lesser talent to achieve this effect - it was called a "drawl unit".

Organist George Wright frequently acknowledged the debt he owed to Crawford, and even produced a "Tribute to Jesse Crawford" LP ( Dot DLP 25613) in which he recreated note for note on his own studio organ some of the finest of Crawford's 78rpm recordings.  I have included the original Crawford version of each of the tracks George recorded in his Tribute so that if you have the Wright versions you can compare them.  You can also hear George Wright in his early days playing "Moonlight on the River" on The Virtual Radiogram (without a vocalist as used on the Crawford record).

During the greatest years of his career, Jesse was married to Helen Crawford, herself a fine theatre organist, and the organs in Chicago and New York were equipped with twin consoles so that they could play duets - the New York recording studio also had twin consoles, and a few records feature the husband and wife team playing duets. Helen died after being injured in a road accident in 1943. The Virtual Radiogram includes two of the duet recordings and one recording of Helen accompanying Bing Crosby.

For more information about Crawford, see the following two webpages, the second of which contains George Wright's personal thoughts about him:







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