Cartoonist Robert Crumb was, and continues to be, one of my cultural heroes, not the least because he is a huge fan of music from the 1920s and ‘30s. However, he is not related to Robert Crum (no “b” at the end of the last name), the artist featured in today’s Soundie. I recently saw the two artists confused in three places online. People really need to do their homework!

Robert Crum was a classically trained pianist who moonlighted from the concert stage playing jazz. He was active in Chicago during the mid-1940s where he honed his boogie-woogie chops. Discographer Anthony Barnett notes that pianist Jimmy Jones was impressed with Crum and that he (Crum) “…was fine when he didn’t try to ‘out-Art’ Art Tatum.” Various trades note that Crum, when not on the concert stage, appeared regularly at Elmer’s Lounge in Chicago. Crum was clearly influenced by Art Tatum, and pianist Argonne Thornton (Sadik Hakim) wrote that Crum would occasionally play for the Master.

In 1944 Crum was in New York City where he worked with and learned from violinist Stuff Smith. The two performed together in concert in December of that year. Crum was contracted to appear in two Soundies, for which he was paid $250. Crum then returns to Chicago. He recorded some sides for the Gold Seal label and turns up in the jazz press until 1949, after which fades from sight.

Because a soloist limits what can be shared visually on screen, they are rarely found in the Soundies oeuvre. To the best of my memory, Robert Crum is the only Soundies performer who appears on screen without dancers or other sideline extras. Director William Forest Crouch does the best he can with the two cameras, so our focus is on the music.

“Adventures in Boogie Woogie” is Crum’s composition and is a performance that is partially improvised, but also largely planned in advance. Or so it sounds to me. Crum is a technically gifted and swinging musician, if not overly original. But the concept of a classical pianist slumming with a boogie-woogie piece is certainly worthy of our attention. A tip of the Dodger cap for Robert Crum’s brief triumph in the Soundies spotlight.