Wayne Henderson, a trombonist, composer and co-founder of the Jazz Crusaders, who became a powerful force for merging the sound of jazz with elements of funk, soul and R&B, died Friday at a Culver City hospital. He was 74.
His death from heart failure was confirmed by manager Stephanie Pappas.
During a decades-long career, Henderson was best known for his work with the Jazz Crusaders, an enduring presence on the Los Angeles jazz scene since its debut recording in 1961.
Backed by tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder and keyboardist Joe Sample, Henderson wrote one of the band's signature compositions in the zig-zagging "Young Rabbits," a propulsive blast of hard bop that justified the band's early comparisons to Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
The group later earned its greatest success after shortening its name to the Crusaders as Henderson helped forge the groove-heavy sound of contemporary jazz and fusion into the '70s and beyond.
Born on Sept. 24, 1939, in Houston, Texas, Henderson began his musical life while attending Houston's Phyllis Wheatley Jr. High School with classmates Felder, Sample and drummer Nesbert "Stix" Hooper. The childhood friends eventually came together as a band, cycling through names such as the Black Board Jungle Kids, the Modern Jazz Sextet and Nite Hawks before moving to Los Angeles in the late-1950s to eventually perform as the Jazz Crusaders.
"We were the co-creators of funk music," Henderson told the Kansas City Star in 2006. "Other guys started the jazz-funk thing, too -- Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock -- and we started selling records just like the pop guys. And we kept the integrity of the music."
"He realized we were all at that age where any one of us could possibly go," Sample told the Houston Chronicle before a show in 2011.
Henderson is survived by his wife, Cathy, and two sons, Wayne Jr. and Randy.