Gary Crosby: 'Young, black men had to be intimidating – they were terrified'

If you find yourself lost in the catacomb-like basement of London’s Southbank Centre on a weekend, you’ll probably stumble across Gary Crosby holding court, addressing a circle of teenagers on everything from the history of reggae in the Caribbean diaspora to British jazz in the 1980s.

On the sweltering Saturday I meet him, Crosby is running 20 young musicians through the waypoints of Jamaican jazz, from Haitian carnival rhythms to poet Louise Bennett-Coverley’s patois, via the Skatalites and Bob Marley. He paces around the room while the students eagerly tap away on their phones – not texting but taking notes. Then he launches into a dub-laden take on the Herbie Hancock standard Cantaloupe Island.

There is a quietly commanding quality to Crosby, which is perhaps down to his four decades as a bassist. In the mid-1980s, he co-founded the Jazz Warriors, a group that showcased the early careers of seminal musicians such as saxophonist Courtney Pine and vibes player Orphy Robinson. In the 90s, Crosby led a renowned weekly jam session at Camden’s Jazz Cafe. Now 64, he has spent so long cradling his instrument that he has taken on its soothingly resonant qualities, exuding an easygoing charm. Last month, he became the first jazz recipient of the Queen’s Medal for Music, adding to his OBE and topping off what he calls “the best and the worst 18 months of my life”.

Read the feature in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 27/08/19]