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Swing and soul shape the multi-instrumentalism of Monte Croft

Courtesy of the Artist
courtesy of the artist

Multi-instrumentalist Monte Croft is a bastion of musicality. His work with the likes of Jimmy Heath, James Spaulding, Valerie Simpson and Average White Band illustrate his ability to cross genres while maintaining a through line of melodic and harmonic invention.

Croft made his reputation initially on the modern jazz scene as a vibraphonist during the "Young Lions" movement of the 1980s. He collaborated briefly with Wynton Marsalis, and in 1988 he was signed to Columbia Records by noted producer Dr. George Butler.

WBGO's Let Me Tell You 'Bout It w/ Monte Croft

When it came time to record his two albums for the label, A Higher Fire and Survival of the Spirit, Croft also produced, was featured on piano and sang in addition to his work on the vibraphone. He could swing hard, render soulful ballads and play foot-tapping grooves.

Croft's comprehensive approach toward Black American Music was somewhat of a forerunner to improvisers and songwriters such as Cory Henry and Jacob Collier, who now capture the ears of a new generation of listeners through their mastery of many instruments. As the door is now opened, Croft faced far more obstacles to acceptance in the more monochromatic soundscape of jazz in the early 1990s.

Take One Step

"When I first started doing it, [multi-instrumentalism] was kind of frowned upon," Croft says in this edition of Let Me Tell You 'Bout It. "Now it is common and accepted...and I saw it coming. Most musicians that you think of today are competent on at least two instruments and sometimes more."

Along with the vibraphone, drums and piano, Croft's growing arsenal now includes guitar, chromatic harmonica, keyboards, and bass. Beyond his proficiency on those instruments is a unified voice and conception across his various tools of expression.

"Each instrument helps every other instrument because it gives you a different perspective," Croft said. "The more you play, your individual personality will transfer naturally to each instrument."

Though he has not recorded officially as a leader since the '90s, Croft is featured prominently on several recent albums, Heath's final release, Love Letters. Croft is also a major contributor as vibraphonist and vocalist on the forthcoming album from drummer Brian Blade's Lifecycles band, which is likely due in 2022. Croft says if he records again as a leader, he will continue to embrace all sides of his musicality but likely over several separate projects.

Brian Blade & Life Cycles - My Joy (Live on KEXP)

"[Today] I think people are far more open minded, but many of them still don't really get straight-ahead jazz," Croft said. "That [album] would be for a select audience, but I love playing straight ahead. I love writing in that idiom, too, but I'd have to split things up."

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.