Jan 28, 2015 - TOMMY CROOK JOINS VIRTUOSO PLAYERS FOR JAZZ DEPOT'S GUITAR SUMMIT
You'd be hard-pressed to find a group of guitarists anywhere on the planet better than the five scheduled to play for the Jazz Depot's 2015 Guitar Summit, the latest incarnation of an event that brings together noteworthy solo guitarists with Tulsa roots.
Two of these performers are new to the event, although they've both played the Depot stage: veteran Frank Brown and up-and-comer Josh Westbrook. The other three were on board for the first Guitar Summit in 2013. They are former Tulsan Ron Radford, known internationally as the American master of Flamenco guitar, and well-known Tulsa-based players Mark Bruner and Tommy Crook.
It's a roster full of people with impressive credentials. But none of those credentials stretch back farther than those of the legendary Crook, who started playing guitar well before he started grade school. By the age of 10, he was a seasoned performer, appearing every Saturday night on a live local stage show at the Rialto Theatre as a featured attraction with a group called the Round-Up Gang.
“It was just a copy of the Grand Ole Opry,” Crook recalls. “The backbone of the whole deal was a couple of young fellows by the name of the Gay Brothers, Carl and Harold Gay. Carl was a real fine hillbilly guitar player with a new Les Paul guitar, and his brother played good rhythm. We didn't have a band, so the Gay Brothers backed us all up.
“It was about an hour show, between a double feature. The first feature was, like, at seven, then our show, and then the second feature. All for fifty cents. There'd be a dozen of us on bales of hay taking our turns and doing stuff, and [producer] Art LaMan would always bring in a headliner. Porter Wagoner, who had a big tune out, `Satisfied Mind,' was one of them. I can't remember any of the others. A lot of them were tap dancers.”
He laughs. “This one guy came in, and he was tap-dancing, and then he jumped up on this xylophone and started playing `Lady of Spain' with his feet. It was likeThe Ed Sullivan Show. There was all kinds of unbelievable talent up there.”
Although Crook is notoriously reticent when it comes to talking about his own achievements, it's clear that he was one of those unbelievable talents, even as a pre-teen.
“They had a standing deal down there at the Rialto,” he recalls. “They would give a thousand dollars to any kid my age who could outplay me. And there wasn't anybody, because I had been raised up around adults who played good, and I didn't have to wait until I was 10 or 12 to play guitar. I had one when I was four years old. So I'd been after that thing all my life. All my heroes – Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, my dad – they all played guitar, and that was what I wanted to do.
“I was really interested in it. Every day, when my dad would get home from work, I'd be after him – `Show me this,' let's do this, let's play.' So I was pretty damn good when I was 10 years old, playing those old single-string leads.”
From that early start through the succeeding decades, Crook has built a reputation among musicians and music lovers not only in the state (he's an inductee into both the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame) but nationally as well – even though, with the exception of a couple of USO tours, he has stayed close to home and recorded sparsely. And he continues to make new fans with his work. In the past couple of years, for instance, he has given some remarkable Jazz Depot shows, both solo as a Guitar Summit member and with his longtime bassist, Jim Bates.
In an interview before the most recent Crook show at the Depot, which he performed in September of last year, he said, “I just realized a year or two ago that I'm now getting to do something I've never been able to do: playing anything I want to play. Old tunes I learned when I was a kid, old country & western tunes, Stephen Foster melodies, things that I never could get away with in a nightclub atmosphere, because you couldn't dance to it. So I'm just getting to play anything I want, any kind of music, and I'm just having a ball.”
“Doesn’t get much better than getting to enjoy all this talent locally,” said Jazz Hall CEO, Jason McIntosh. “It will be a remarkable Sunday afternoon for all our friends and patrons.”
The 2015 Guitar Summit is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, February 8, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.jazzhalltickets.com, or by calling 918-928-JAZZ. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014-5 Winter Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.