Fond memories of local church musicians

Published 12:06pm Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Everyone at Atmore First Baptist Church remembers the countless piano and organ musical accompaniments of Mrs. Crawford. I could literally write a book about this talented and devoted lady who lent so many years of her life expressing her devotion to this church.

But, more about her later because my column today is not about her. It is about one of her sons, Paul, who was an accomplished musician himself.

You see, I met Paul in 1949 when I was in the ninth grade at Perdido Jr. High School. He came down two days a week and taught private lessons on the trombone and trumpet. A small group of us took lessons from him and believe it or not we learned how to play these brass instruments. At that time in my life I never realized that his mother would eight years later render piano selections at my wedding in that church.

Our little group always looked forward to his trips and his lessons. He would get there about the time school was out devoting an hour of his time with us.

One day he brought a friend with him and the two entertained us with his friend playing the trumpet and Paul on the trombone. Their renditions of “pure Dixieland Jazz” remains with me today so much that I accumulated dozens of albums by artist such as Bob Crosby and his Bobcats, Louie Armstrong, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Jack Teagarden and many more. Remarkably I still have these albums today.

One day, after he had been with us for almost a year, he told us he would not be coming back. He said he was leaving and was going to New Orleans to begin a career playing with professional bands in that city. We were saddened to see him leave and we never saw him again.

But it did not end there. One night in 1952 when some high school friends and I were riding “around the square” in Bay Minette listening to Dixieland tunes from  “The New Orleans Jazz Club” on WWL radio I heard the announcer say “playing trombone in that group was Paul Crawford from Atmore, Alabama”.

For months I listened to that station hoping to hear him play again but it never happened. I never heard him play on any more of those broadcasts.

Of course back then there was no way to keep up with his life. I often talked with his mother and she kept me filled in as best she could.

It wasn’t until years later when the internet age debuted that I read about his successful career. I was able to read stories about some of the famous bands and some cruise ship bands he played with. I learned that he had organized his own small band which became very popular in the New Orleans Jazz community. I even found photos and videos of him on the internet. And, those videos always depicted his being in a happy mood, enjoying his work to the fullest.

Then, one day as I researched the internet, I pulled up a story that brought great sadness to me.

The headline of that story read “Famous Jazz trombonist Paul Crawford died last night.

This stunned me so much it was difficult to read further into the story. It told about his being born in Atmore, Alabama in February 1925.

The story went on to tell  not only of his trombone playing accomplishments but his being a jazz historian and an associate curator of the

Jazz Achieve at Tulane University in addition to many other Tulane related services. He was also recognized for his musical arrangement for a number of local and nationally well known bands.

Those of you who are internet and computer “bugs” can pull up these stories, photos and videos to learn more about this man who planted memories in my mind,almost like it was yesterday.

While I associated Mrs. Crawford with her chosen church her talents were well known in many other churches in town. Paul’s brothers, known also by our entire community, played prominent medical roles here.

Those conversations she and I had about Paul always brought happiness to her. I remember her telling me several years ago as she grew in her old age how much she enjoyed my helping revive her memories of her musically talented son.

I suppose a perquisite for a columnist must be filled with a diversity of experiences and detailed memories.  I honestly believe that there are times I could sit for hours and write pages and pages about people, things, events and places dear only to me. My hope is that only a few of you can relate to some of the memories I write about.

Each week as I continue to write into my latter seventies my hope and trust is to bring  you stories of people who were once with us.

Satisfaction comes from remarks and emails of former residents who state “yes I did know that person’ or “I did not know he had passed away” and other related kind statements.

Remarks and emails like this prod me along but a few tell me they never read my column and even tell me some things I write are untrue.

I ask them how do you know what I write is untrue if you don’t read it.

Keeping the majority of my readers informed is my main goal.

Next week we take a look at people, places and events from years gone by.

Lowell McGill can be reached at  exam@frontiernet.net

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