One of the most exciting and dynamic groups to come out of Kansas City during the swing era was the Jimmy Lunceford big band. Drummer Jimmy Crawford, a high-spirited, supportive player, was the driving force behind the Lunceford band for nearly fourteen years.
Throughout the years of Lunceford’s great popularity, Crawford played with a strong, solid pulsation—a classic trademark of the Lunceford sound—and was a key factor in establishing the unique Lunceford beat. Yet, like Dave Tough, his drumming was unobtrusive and always felt more than heard. Crawford could hold the band together with authority by playing heavily when the arrangement required it, yet softly and delicately when the band needed a more sensitive approach. Though never known as a particularly flashy drummer, Crawford was as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar and as reliable a drummer as any band could wish for.
Jimmy Crawford was born in 1910 in Memphis, Tennessee, and was initially influenced by Memphis drummer Booker Washington. A self-taught player, Crawford was discovered by Lunceford when the drummer was eighteen, and the leader put him in the drum chair of his hot young band in 1928. After leaving the Lunceford band in ’42, Crawford worked with small groups led by Ben Webster and clarinetist Edmond Hall at New York’s Cafe Society. He also played with the bands of Fletcher Henderson, Harry James, and Stan Kenton.
By the early ’50s, after the majority of big bands had faded from the scene, Crawford maintained a career as a fine Broadway pit drummer. For years he remained active in such Broadway hits as Golden Boy, Bye Bye Birdie, Mr. Wonderful, and Pal Joey, among others. Always in demand, Crawford also went on to record with Count Basie, Sy Oliver, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and Frank Sinatra. Jimmy Crawford died in 1980.