by Coreena Ford
Jan 15 2013
JAZZ man Keith Crombie was given a send-off fit for a music legend, bringing a city centre to a standstill.
Newcastle became New Orleans for a few short hours as some 600 friends and family members shrugged off freezing temperatures and snow showers to follow him as he made his final journey in a horse-drawn carriage, led to his funeral service by a marching band.
Nicknamed ‘The Jazz Man’, the 74-year-old ran the Jazz Cafe for more than two decades, turning it into a mecca for visiting performers and music aficionados.
But on December 29 he passed away in hospital, days after falling ill, surrounded by some of his close musical friends.
Those pals gathered outside the Jazz Cafe in Pink Lane yesterday morning as he left his beloved venue for the last time, to be placed in a dreadnought carriage pulled by two black horses.
A small group of musicians struck up a slow, mournful version of St James Infirmary Blues as the carriage pulled away, followed by the procession.
Along the 30-minute journey through Newcastle to St Thomas the Martyr Church in the Haymarket, the band speeded up into When The Saints Go Marching In, and were given a huge round of applause when the carriage finally arrived.
It was standing room only for some at the church, full to capacity inside and on the upper tier, where Reverend Catherine Lack led the service.
Robert Forster paid a warm tribute to his close friend, encouraging giggles as he swapped stories of his adventures with Keith over the last 40 years.
After the service, Lindisfarne musician Ray Laidlaw said: “I knew Keith for years, and he wouldn’t usually let me in – he said I was bad for his image!
“I came because he was part and parcel of Newcastle’s heritage. He was enthusiastic about music and getting people together to enjoy themselves. We could do with more Keiths in this town.”
Performers from the Royal Shakespeare Company were regular Jazz Cafe guests, and a tribute from lead actor Greg Hicks was read aloud at the funeral.
The actor wrote: “The Jazz Cafe for me was a place where the world became better. Keith had the lock-in to a Noah’s ark of brilliant music, brilliant camaraderie and straight talk.
“I would go after many of the Shakespearian heavies I have been asked to play over the years and Keith would greet me as only he could, ushering me quietly and warmly unto the witty and surreal world of the Jazz Cafe. I would often be the last to go and he would see me safe with a strong instant coffee and two digestives, escorting me with the watchful care of a favourite uncle into a taxi.
“He was one of the most uncompromising and authentic men I have ever met. There can be no more fitting tribute to Keith than that which is offered to Brutus at the end of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: ‘This was a man’.
“Goodnight, dear Keith, and flights of angels sing you to your next Jazz Cafe.”