RIP David Crandall, Renaissance Man (1952-2022)

Baltimore lost a true Renaissance man: David Crandall, age 70, who suffered a fatal swimming accident in July while on a family vacation in North Carolina. Crandall was a familiar figure in the Baltimore jazz community as a saxophonist and, in the words of his sister Cora Wise, “a gifted musician, multi-instrumentalist, composer, computer whiz, voracious reader, and innovative cook” as well as “a crucial figure in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore theater and arts community, especially in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, which he helped to establish.”  

During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Crandall was very concerned about how the arts could be kept alive during conditions of lockdown and isolation. He contributed an article in the May 2020 Baltimore Jazz Alliance newsletter, on methods for collaborating musically online, and he gave a presentation on the same topic in the BJA’s jazz conference in October of 2020.

Allison Wise Currin, Crandall’s niece, wrote on Facebook: “David could play just about any instrument and had an important role in the DC/Baltimore theater community for decades, yet he was so humble. He always brought his MacBook with him, ready to work on the next project from the kitchen table whenever he had a spare moment. He often brought at least one instrument to practice for upcoming gigs.”

Crandall was also a popular performer at the Christmas Country Dance School (CCDS) in Berea, Kentucky, one of his former homes. Kent Gilbert, a member of the CCDS, recalls: “David was … a consummate musician, master of nearly every instrument he touched. His flute and woodwind additions to Christmas School dances were only some of his many contributions over the many years he attended and played on staff.”

Gilbert continues:  “David was renowned for a certain acerbic perspective tinged with both cynicism and humor in equal measure, even if they were sometimes in competition with each other. But in music, in jam sessions, and in fellowship with musicians riding the waves of melody and rhythm, he truly came alive.”

Crandall was part of a band called The Bluebird Special from 1970s and 1980s. They played a wide range of styles, from jazz to traditional folk to original songs. In September of 2020, Crandall remastered and reissued the album in digital form and on major streaming services.

Musician Rob Hatch reminisced on Facebook about a musical project he shared with Crandall, who did some technical wizardry to put a “crazy Hendrix vibe” on the guitar parts played with French horn and sax. “When I peered into the computer screen and saw the complexity, magic, and vision of what he was cooking up,” wrote Hatch, “it made me say “Yep. That’s why I’m just the bass player…”

Crandall held a Master of Fine Arts degree in Imaging, Media, and Digital Arts from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Back in the early 2000s, he co-edited Radar, a free monthly publication distributed at businesses and arts venues in Baltimore, which in Crandall’s words, was intended to “create a local culture of criticism and an on-going dialogue between writers and artists.” Lee Gardner, who worked with Crandall while Gardner was at City Paper, said, “He was smart, voluble, and passionate about what people were up to around here.”

Laure Drogoul, who describes herself as an interdisciplinary artist, also gave a tribute on Facebook: “Thanks for your wry humor, expansive mind, and endless support of the weirdo, difficult crackpot expressions of our fragile cultural landscape. Thank you for nurturing the brilliant raucous chaos of the unseen art scene and for working in the trenches on multiple peculiar theatrical events…. my own works included.”

More about the life and work of David Crandall can be found at an obituary by Jacques Kelly, in the August 4th issue of the Baltimore Sun 

This extraordinary man will be greatly missed.

–Liz Fixsen

Liz Fixsen, a jazz vocalist and pianist, has been actively involved in the Baltimore Jazz Community for many years. She edits the Baltimore Jazz Alliance newsletter and has contributed numerous articles, as well as serving on the BJA board of directors.

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