Jesse Crawford was one of the most popular organists of the first half of the 20th century. He began his career as a pianist in a dance band. Tired of traveling he turned to accompanying movies in nicklelodeons. There he encountered his first organ, a churchy untremmed Estey. This led to a job as the first organist at Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles where Jesse got his first chance to play a Wurlitzer theatre organ.
From there Jesse's career skyrocketed as he became a true superstar of the 1920s, earning the moniker of "Poet of the Organ" for his signature ballad style. He secured positions at ever larger, more prestigious theatres. He also was a prolific recording artist and radio personality.
With the end of the silent film era, Jesse's star began to fade. He then hitched his wagon to a new star, the Hammond organ. While he prefered the sound of a pipe organ, he observed, "I like to eat, and the Hammond has kept me in groceries for many years." Eventually he returned to recording on pipe organs for the last years of his life.
Jesse Crawford was a rare talent who set styles rather than learn them. His approach to the theatre organ largely defined the theatre organ sound. Even today almost every theatre organist openly acknowledges the influence Jesse Crawford has had on their development as an organist. In addition to his numerous sound recordings, Jesse left another valuable record of his landmark style, player organ rolls.
Wurlitzer R Rolls
The Wurlitzer Company had a long history of producing automatic musical instruments before they entered the organ business. It was only natural that they would provide paper roll players for their organs.
The most ambitious format was the "R roll" with 165 columns of punchings. The R rolls controlled 3 manuals, two sets of swell shades, and 79 stops. These rolls were made for the Wurlitzer Reproducing Residence Organs.
At a time when record players and radios delivered a thin scratchy sound, people relied on musical instruments to provide in-home entertainment. For those without a musician in the family, player pianos were a popular choice. For those of means who wanted something more, player organs filled the need. Wurlitzer brochures promised that their instruments would allow their fortunate owners to "Summon at will the world's great organists."
This was not mere marketing puffery. Wurlitzer really did retain top organists to record their player organ rolls. Headlining their roster of recording organists was Jesse Crawford. Simply by slipping a paper roll into the player mechanism of their organ console, top performances on a real pipe organ were at an owner's beck and call.
Today the valuable record of these legendary performances is being preserved by transfers to MIDI files. We have recorded a performance of Jesse Crawford on the Miditzer Style 260SP using a MIDI file transferred from an R roll so that you can hear Jesse Crawford perform in a modern recording.
Download the sheet music for "Meditation from the Opera Thais" as performed by Jesse Crawford and transcribed by Wes Trigger: Meditation Sheet Music 196Kb PDF
Download the Miditzer Style 216 Player file for "Meditation from the Opera Thais" as performed by Jesse Crawford. Meditation from Thais.mid 13 Kb (Right click and use "Save Target As..." to save the file which must be played using the Miditzer Style 216 Player for proper playback.)
Learn more about Jesse Crawford at these websites:
Hear original recordings by Jesse Crawford and many other legendary organists at Ian McIver's Virtual Radiogram.
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