July 9, 1904: Tasker Crosson’s Academy of Music
Tasker C. Crosson, born on this day in 1904, was an influential Boston bandleader from the early 1930s to the early 1940s, although his entire career stretched from the mid 1920s to the mid 1950s. His influence stems from his on-the-job school for a generation of Boston jazz musicians, an orchestra called the Ten Statesmen (or Twelve, or Fourteen, depending on the job). Crosson knew talent when he heard it, and was a patient teacher.
This did not always work to Mr. Crosson’s advantage, and it did not always earn him respect. Boston pianist and arranger Charlie Cox said in a mid 1980s interview that musicians around town called Crosson’s a “schoolin’ band,” where a youngster might go to learn how to read and transpose, and presumably learn how to play in a section—and then advance to a better band, like Preston Sandiford’s, or the Alabama Aces of Joe Nevils. Cox was still looking down on the Crosson outfit, saying “his band wasn’t the best…his musicians were almost amateurs.”
The situation wasn’t quite so simple. Nevils did have a better band—in the late 1930s he had the best big band in Boston, black or white. But because of Crosson’s close relationship with band booker Clement Thorne, the band had abundant work. At one point in the 1930s, Crosson had two dozen musicians working as Statesmen, with a core group that included alto saxophonist Cliff “Smickles” Smith, tenor saxophonist Stanley Harris (who later led his own society band), and trombonist Blondey Donaldson, while others rotated in and out as needed.
The Ten Statesmen mainly worked the college circuit and the dance halls in Roxbury and South End. They spent summers on the road, working the territory in northern New England. And in the late 1930s, Crosson’s band landed some prized gigs in first-rate dance halls like Boston’s Roseland-State Ballroom and the King Philip Ballroom in Wrentham.
The list of musicians who passed through Crosson’s band is impressive, starting with Sabby Lewis and three of his longtime associates, drummer Joe Booker, saxophonist Ricky Pratt, and trumpeter and arranger Gene Caines. Pianist Ernie Trotman replaced Lewis, and stayed for three years. Guitarists Irving Ashby and Tom Brown, drummer Bobby Donaldson, and trumpeters Jabbo Jenkins and Andy Kelton were Statesmen. And among the musicians who played their very first gigs with Crosson were bassist Lloyd Trotman, drummer Alan Dawson, and trumpeter Lennie Johnson.
The Ten Statesmen broke up during World War II, but Crosson and Smickles Smith assembled another dance band in 1947-48. Sam Rivers mentioned to me that he and fellow boppers Gigi Gryce and Gladstone Scott played Crosson’s stock arrangements in that band.
In 1950, when Crosson could no longer sustain a dance band, he organized and played bass in a quartet, which was still advertising as late as 1955. He had been on the Boston scene for decades, yet Crosson was only 51 when he apparently left the music business to run a variety store in the South End with his brother.
Tasker Crosson died in Boston in August 1985. He made no recordings, and I’ve never seen a photograph of him. His is a difficult story to piece together.