After a 25-year hiatus, the Jazz Crusaders are back. Well, sort of.
Originally four childhood buddies from Houston, pianist Joe Sample, drummer Stix Hooper, trombone player Wayne Henderson and tenor saxman Wilton Felder became a very popular jazz/funk/fusion outfit in Los Angeles in the ‘60s.
They became enormously popular after 1970 when they shortened their name to the Crusaders, added such members as guitarist Larry Carlton and started cranking out such national hits as “Put It Where You Want It,” “Scratch” and “Street Life,” which featured a guest vocal by Randy Crawford.
But by 1992, Henderson and Hooper had left the band and Sample was so into his own career that the Crusaders essentially had dissolved.
Henderson--who’d stopped performing completely in 1974--picked up his horn again a few years ago. On the phone this week from his home in Culver City, he recalled that his “first instinct was, ‘Hey, let me call the cats and organize a reunion.’ ”
Sample’s continuing career responsibilities and Hooper’s current lack of interest in performing kept them out, Henderson said, but he was able to connect back up with Felder and to “have that front-line horn thing again.
“Since I’d been co-creator of the ‘Jazz Crusaders’ name, I said to Wilton, ‘Let’s get back to what we’ve always done musically and do it as the ‘Jazz Crusaders.’ ”
The results can be heard on “Happy Again,” a new Jazz Crusaders album on the Sin-Drome label that finds the two horn players joined by Bobby Lyle on keyboards and Ndugu Chancler on drums with guest appearances by Carlton, conga drummer Poncho Sanchez and singer Bobby Caldwell.
Henderson, Felder and Lyle will be joined by Caldwell, drummer Tony St. James, bassist Nathaniel Phillips and old pal Randy Crawford Sunday at the Long Beach Jazz Festival, a three-day event in Rainbow Lagoon Park that also will feature Nancy Wilson, Hiroshima, Dave Koz, Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff, Carl Anderson and Najee.
“Happy Again” has one tune from the old Jazz Crusaders repertoire: the speedy “Young Rabbits,” a minor hit in the early ‘60s. The other numbers have a modern bent with hard-driving funk/Latin beats underpinning simple melodies leading to danceable solos. Henderson says that’s what the band always has been about.
“We are the fathers of jazz-funk-fusion, and I am a funskter at heart. In the early days, we took pop tunes like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘So Far Away’ and did them melodically but with a groove so people could dance if they wanted. We’re doing the same thing today, but with the addition of modern technology and the influence of other contemporary bands.”
He said future Jazz Crusaders albums will take fresh looks at more of the group’s classic songs and that live shows, like the one this weekend, definitely will include old favorites.
Meanwhile, he’s still yearning for Sample and Hooper to join him and Felder again someday.
“From my preteens, I have loved those guys like flesh and blood. So my greatest joy is awaiting me, when we do the reunion. And we are going to do it.”
* The Jazz Crusaders will play Sunday from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Long Beach Jazz Festival in Rainbow Lagoon Park, Shoreline Drive at Linden Ave., Long Beach. For complete festival information, call (310) 436-7794.