The Jazz Crusaders are a jazz quartet from Houston, Texas. Essentially a neighborhood band, the four principal members have known each other since high school. Early versions of the band also included jazz flute player Hubert Laws. The band won a local talent show in 1955, and in 1957 moved to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams of a musical career.
The Crusaders’ story is one of great persistence. They struggled mightily for a few years, playing both jazz and dance music, and leading an impoverished life. In 1961, they finally landed an audition with Pacific Jazz Records, and earned a recording contract on the spot. For the next eight or so years, the Jazz Crusaders played acoustic, bop-influenced jazz, after which the group disbanded for a short period of time. In 1970, the band regrouped, signed a new record deal with Chisa/Blue Thumb Records, and modified its approach, incorporating funk and R&B rhythms into their music.
There are very few videos featuring the original four Crusaders in concert. Here they perform a Joe Sample composition, “Freedom Sound”, on a local Los Angeles television show in 1962:
In 1971, The Crusaders added guitarist Larry Carlton as a regular contributor on their studio recordings, and once they moved to ABC/Blue Thumb records, the prolific band began an impressive streak of successful albums. Their first two albums from this period, 1 and 2nd Crusade stand out as most innovative and consistent, though some critics point to the slickFree As The Wind and Street Life as the band’s peak. Critics generally agree the trombone/saxophone sound of Henderson and Felder is distinctive and memorable.
Back in those days, a good pop instrumental would receive airplay on the top 40 radio stations. I remember hearing “Put It Where You Want It” on the radio, but it never achieved Billboard top 40 status. Here the band, now with guitar virtuoso Larry Carlton, perform a truncated version of the song at a 1974 concert in Zaire, coinciding with Muhammad Ali’s upset knockout of George Foreman:
In the summer of 1975, a group of us attended a great concert, George Benson and The Crusaders at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos. The Crusaders opened, followed by Benson, who was red hot at the moment, his album Breezin’ climbing the charts. A textbook introduction to “fusion” jazz. At the time, Wayne Henderson was still playing trombone for the band, but he left shortly thereafter to become a full time producer. It seems sad that he left at the height of their popularity, but one has to remember they had been performing and recording for twenty years at this point.
There was a Crusaders video from 1976, the band performing “Spiral” from Free As The Wind, with fine solos by Larry Carlton and Robert “Pops” Popwell on bass. The video has disappeared, so I replaced it with the studio version here:
In the fall of 1976, I moved away to college with a makeshift stereo system, a couple of boxes of cassette tapes, and just two records, Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life and the bright red The Best Of The Crusaders. The album is burned into my memory, and all my favorite songs are there. That’s right; I was one of the cool kids.
A few years ago, I purchased a broader compilation to create an iPod library. I added a few traditional jazz songs, which are less distinctive, though pleasant and skillfully executed, especially the live cover of “Eleanor Rigby” from the Lighthouse ’68 session. Looking back at their popular years, The Crusaders music is muscular, and uncomplicated, perhaps the perfect vehicle to indoctrinate the neophyte jazz fan. Along with George Benson, The Crusaders provided a bridge to this other world of musical expression.
In this concert footage from 2003, just Joe Sample and Wilton Felder remain, but the band sounds fresh and warm on the funky “Carnival Of The Night” from Street Life, and once again, their classic “Put It Where You Want It”. Ray Parker Jr. is the featured guitarist.
The Crusaders Song Notes:
1. Wilton Felder was an accomplished bass player, and played bass on all four #1 hits by The Jackson 5.
2. This profile has consistently been one of the most popular on the blog. I wonder if it’s one or two people who use the blog to reference the great videos. Regardless, thanks for your continued support. This kind of swinging instrumental music receives little recognition these days, and the Crusaders were among the best and original practitioners of fusion jazz.
The Crusaders Songs:
Way Back Home (Live), The Crusaders ✭✭✭✭
So Far Away, The Crusaders ✭✭✭✭
Put It Where You Want It, The Crusaders ✭✭✭✭
So Far Away (Live), The Crusaders ✭✭✭
Chain Reaction, The Crusaders ✭✭✭
Eleanor Rigby (Live), The Jazz Crusaders ✭✭✭
A Ballad For Joe (Louis), The Crusaders ✭✭✭
Do You Remember When?, The Crusaders ✭✭
Carnival Of The Night, The Crusaders ✭✭
Freedom Sound, The Jazz Crusaders ✭✭
The Young Rabbits, The Jazz Crusaders ✭✭
Way Back Home, The Jazz Crusaders ✭✭
Hard Times (Live), The Crusaders ✭✭
That’s How I Feel, The Crusaders ✭✭
Stomp And Buck Dance, The Crusaders ✭✭
Street Life, The Crusaders ✭✭
New Time Shuffle, The Jazz Crusaders ✭✭
Keep That Same Old Feeling, The Crusaders ✭
Mystique Blues, The Crusaders ✭
Don’t Let It Get You Down, The Crusaders ✭
Spiral, The Crusaders ✭
So Far Away, Carole King ✭✭✭✭
So Far Away (Live), Carole King & James Taylor ✭✭✭
Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles ✭✭