Born in London in 1920, Gerald Crossman played piano accordion, piano and organ, and was been one of Great Britain’s premier accordion luminaries since he first came to prominence in the late 1930s.
From a musical family, Gerald began piano lessons at the age of five, and took up the piano accordion at twelve. His progress on both instruments was rapid, and one of his piano teachers was the famous concert pianist, Edward Rubach. Gerald’s cousins were clarinet/saxophonist Joe Crossman, guitarist Sid Jacobsen, and Jock Jacobsen, drummer with Lew Stone. During his schooldays, his best friend was Michael Anderson, the film director well known for such movies as ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ and ‘The Dam Busters’.
By the late 1930s, Gerald was teaching the piano and accordion. He was already a professional musician, and had played two summer seasons in a hotel in Cliftonville, Kent; a hotel in London’s Tottenham Court Rd; Lyons Corner Houses; and had appeared as a solo accordion act in charity concerts at several West End theatres. In 1938, he made his first recordings, with musical direction by George Scott-Wood.
The outbreak of war in 1939 initially meant involvement with ENSA shows, but in April 1940 Gerald joined the RAF, becoming a musical director, eventually finishing the war stationed in India.
Once the war was over, Gerald’s musical career moved up several gears and he became involved in a wide range of activities including concerts, radio broadcasts, recordings, studio session work, composing, film music recording sessions, and on both BBC and ITV. His work involved both accordion and piano, and was extremely diverse. For example, he made broadcasts of light classics with orchestras using both instruments, accordion broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg, and French-style accordion solos broadcast from Paris.
Gerald appeared several times on the BBC radio show ‘Accordion Club’, and in 1952 formed the Gerald Crossman Players (signature tune, Gerald’s own composition ‘A Night in Montmartre’), which performed on the morning BBC radio shows ‘Morning Music’, ‘Bright and Early’ and ‘Music While You Work’ until 1966. Members of the GCP included, at various times, Reg Hogarth, Ivor Beynon, Brian Dexter, Jack Emblow, Henry Krein, Albert Delroy, Victor Parker, Tommy Nicol and Emilio (Emile Charlier).
In the post-war years, Gerald played on Cunard ocean liners Queen Mary and Caronia, docking in New York where he met the great accordionists Pietro Frosini and Charles Magnante. He also met John C. Gerstner, editor of the US magazine ‘The Accordion World’, which the featured several articles written by Gerald. Another highlight was a voyage to Argentina, working as a musician on the Royal Mail Line cruiser ‘Andes’, where Gerald was thrilled to see and hear enthralling tango orchestras featuring bandoneons.
Gerald Crossman played with and alongside a list of stars that reads like a show business A to Z, including Joe Loss, Ted Heath, Eric Robinson, Nat Temple, Lou Praeger, Billy Cotton, Edmundo Ross, Sidney Torch, George Scott-Wood, Primo Scala, Matyas Seiber, Mantovani, Frank Chacksfield, Ron Goodwin, Norrie Paramor, Cyril Ornadel, Tommy Cooper, Roy Castle, Bob Monkhouse, Morecambe & Wise, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Harry Secombe, Jack Hawkins, Charlie Chaplin, and even the legendary Marlene Dietrich, for whom he provided piano accompaniment.
Gerald had a long term involvement with the British film industry, and has composed and played music for many films, used on the soundtracks of movies such as ‘The House of the Arrow’ and Tommy Steele’s ‘Tommy the Toreador’. He can be heard as the pianist on the sound version of Chaplin’s 1923 film ‘The Pilgrim’. Occasionally he made cameo screen appearances playing the accordion e.g. ‘The Magnificent Two’, with Morecambe & Wise.
In 1968, Gerald married Miriam Offner, and in the 1970s he returned to playing on P& O cruise liners, touring the Mediterranean, West Africa, the West Indies and also Scandinavia. During this time he also provided the solo piano accompaniment for seasons of silent films at the Academy Cinema in London’s Oxford St.
In addition to playing, Gerald Crossman wrote and arranged a great deal of music amounting to a hundred plus compositions, including such perennially popular pieces as ‘A Night In Montmartre’ and ‘Granada Mia’ (pictured left). Many of his compositions have been recorded, such as the bright novelty piece ‘Out of the Wood’, recorded by Stanley Tudor on the Odeon, Manchester, Wurlitzer theatre organ (CD, ‘Powder Your Face With Sunshine’, produced by the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust, 1997). His ‘Festa Rusticana’ was used as the test piece in the 1951 All-Britain Championships for both Advanced and Virtuoso sections, and is published by Charnwood. He also wrote two accordion tutor books i.e. ‘Melodyway Piano Accordion Tutor’, and ‘Latin American Rhythms’.
Mr Crossman was also exceptionally knowledgeable about the accordion and music in general, and was a prolific writer with over two hundred published articles to his credit, and his lucid and always educational style of writing graced many accordion magazines worldwide, including the ‘Accordion Times’ and ‘The Accordion Monthly News’. A few of his magazine articles were reproduced in this book, with kind permission of the author and publishers.
Within the accordion world, Gerald Crossman was an Honorary Vice-President of the National Accordion Organisation, has been a Council Member of the British College of Accordionists, and served many times as an adjudicator at the All-Britain Championships. His instruments have included a Hohner Atlantic 1V and a Dallape Artist model, and he previously used a Settimo Soprani and Hohner Organola 11.
At the time of writing, Gerald Crossman was still an active musician, and the last word on his remarkable life and career belongs to him: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my professional life. With the variety, I wouldn’t have done anything else”.
From An A to Z of the Accordion, by Rob Howard (published 2003)
Copies of the CD are available for £10 each (plus £1p&p), from Rob Howard, 42 Avondale Rd, Edgeley, Stockport, Cheshire SK3 9NY.