Connie Crothers was a member of that unfortunately not-so-exclusive club of first-rate jazz improvisers unfairly relegated to the fringes of the jazz public's consciousness. Why she was not more well known and/or critically acclaimed had nothing to do with any lack of skill or originality, for Crothers had both to spare. Perhaps the determining non-musical factor in her neglect was the fact that she was an unrepentant disciple of that most neglected of jazz geniuses, Lennie Tristano. The knotty intricacies of Crothers' hyper-linear style were indeed frequently invested with her mentor's measured reserve, yet her manifestly intellectual approach to the demands of jazz improvisation did not preclude the expression of emotion. Crothers' playing was very intense; for all her self-possession, she could be quite extroverted. The defining aspect of her style was the freedom she conveyed and exploited within the circumscribed boundaries of jazz's standard small-group format.
Crothers began taking piano lessons and composing at the age of nine. As a youngster, she frequently played recitals and concerts, sometimes performing her own compositions. She attended the University of California at Berkeley, where she majored in music with an emphasis on composition. Crothers could find little with which to relate in contemporary approaches to composition, so she turned to jazz as a creative outlet. She became enamored of Tristano's music, and in 1962 she moved to New York in order to study with him. Formal and informal lessons continued with Tristano for ten years. In 1972, Crothers began performing privately for small audiences in Tristano's home. After a year of these, Tristano produced her first "gig": a solo concert in Carnegie Hall. In 1974, Crothers recorded her first album, Perception, on the SteepleChase label. The next year, she returned to Carnegie Hall in a performance with tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, drummer Roger Mancuso, and bassist Joe Solomon.
In 1979, Crothers co-produced (with saxophonist Lenny Popkin) the Lennie Tristano Memorial Concert at Town Hall in New York; that same year she also co-founded the Lennie Jazz Foundation. Crothers recorded Swish, a duo album with drummer Max Roach, in 1982, releasing the album on the New Artists Records label, which Crothers and Roach founded and which continued to release her albums for several decades to come. In the '80s and '90s, the pianist worked as a soloist and in groups that at various times included Popkin, alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik, tenor saxophonist Charlie Krachy, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Carol Tristano, among others. Into the new millennium, Crothers remained at or near the center of groups that perpetuated the Tristano ideal, though her own music retained a personal identity. In August 2016, she died of lung cancer in Manhattan at the age of 75. ~ Chris Kelsey