The Jazz Crusaders – The Pacific Jazz Quintet Studio Sessions (6 CD Boxed Set : Mosaic MD6-230) I am more a child of the “Hard Bop Era” than the “Hard Rock Era”. While in my 20’s Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, early John Coltrane, Julian Adderley and many others were very much part of my musical soundtrack. So it came as a surprise when I recently stumbled on a Mosaic Boxed Set of The Jazz Crusaders. Despite my Hard Bop inclinations I was not familiar with their music.
For those who don’t know the name, Mosaic it is a boutique Jazz label that specializes in “complete” collections of the significant jazz performers of the past century. (check their website Mosaic Records.) They are not into the actual recording of performances but rather they obtain a license from the original recording company(s), track down the best recording masters, clean up the sound, research and document the artists, and publish the recordings as collections in limited numbered editions. Once the edition is either sold out or the license expires the set is off the market. I keep an eye on their website to make sure I don’t miss something of interest. Occasionally I misstep and a prized set gets by me. I am still cursing the day when I missed out on the Complete Gerry Mulligan Quartet Pacific Jazz boxed set. On Mosaic’s recent “running low list” The Jazz Crusaders were about to be deleted from their catalogue. Jazz Crusaders ???? who are they???? As I have mentioned in previous blogs it is possible to live through a musical era and not be aware of what may be common knowledge. I guess for me The Jazz Crusaders fits into that category. I checked the sample tracks on the website and I was intrigued by the music. Who are these musicians and how did they get by me? A little research revealed that they were a “territory band” originally out of Houston Texas who are thoroughly schooled in the Texas Funk Blues tradition.
For most casual jazz fans the geographical jazz universe revolved around New Orleans, Chicago and New York. But a more serious look reveals that Kansas City, that capital of sex, sin and gangsters in the 1930’s also had a huge influence on the evolution of Jazz. Kansas City was the epicentre of “the Territory Bands” . After the city was “cleaned up” many noted bands and musicians, after leaving Kansas City, went onto shape jazz as we know it. Count Basie’s band was the most famous to come out of the “territories” along with the legendary bassist Walter Page, tenor sax player Lester Young and that giant of post WWII modern jazz Charlie Parker. They all came out of Kansas City. The list is almost endless. Without Kansas City the “swing era” would not have swung as much and modern jazz may not have been invented.
Good jazz in “the territories” didn’t end in the 1930s. The case in point is The Jazz Crusaders originally out of Houston Texas. In the late 1950s, as a teenager, Joe Sample (piano and keyboards) formed a band with tenor sax player Wilton Felder, drummer Nesbert “Stix” Cooper and trombonist Wayne Henderson. This was a “hard bop” outfit from Houston Texas who relocated to California in the 1960s and in an over a nine year period, recorded 16 albums on The Pacific Jazz label. In some ways it was an odd coupling. The Jazz Crusaders were hard bop “jazzers” and The Pacific Jazz label was better known for its associations with the West Coast “cool jazz” school. At the end of the association with Pacific Jazz the band changed their name to The Crusaders and went onto to become a major force in the jazz/pop/soul music of the 1970s and 80s. While the style of their music underwent a change from their original emphasis on hard bop to a Texas funk /soul sound and later on when they incorporated electric keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines bass guitar onto a more smooth jazz sound the common denominator remained a tight front line of tenor sax and trombone. That, along with great arrangements and strong instrumental have left their mark on both Jazz and Pop music. As The Crusaders, in the period from 1971 through 2004, they recorded over twenty albums.
What can I say about this box set? There is so much material – over six hours and over 100 tracks and all of it first rate. From the opening track, the 6/8 blues The Geek, right through to the final track Another Blues, it is all worth adding to a play list. The only weakness, for me, in the whole set, are some of the shorter tracks that were intended for release as singles. On these compositions longer solos would have been welcome. The style of The Jazz Crusaders continue to mature throughout their career and towards the end of this boxed set there is strong evidence of the influence of John Coltrane on their music. One track that deserves special mention on disc one is the performance of Freedom Sound. This composition became one of the jazz world’s civil rights anthems. It is right up there with Charles Mingus’ The Fables of Faubus.
On a sad note, reported in the November 2014 issue of Downbeat, Joe Sample, the keyboard player in The Jazz Crusaders and The Crusaders passed away from Lung Cancer in a Houston Hospital on September 12, 2014. He was 75 years old.
and here is FREEDOM SOUND from the Jazz Crusaders