Jazz legend Wayne Henderson dies at age 74

(April 6, 2014) We've just learned thanks to a post from longtime soul music great Jean Carn of the death of famed trombonist and Jazz Crusaders co-founder Wayne Henderson has died. Jean's post read as follows:

I spoke to Wayne Henderson Jr. who confirmed that his Father, Wayne Henderson, founding member of the Jazz Crusaders, passed away last night in LA. 
I have yet to imagine Music without our Wayne. 
I miss, already, his friendly, energetic and genuine Persona, the way the stage/ room glowed when he entered, the love and adoration that audiences and we, his colleagues lavished upon him. 
My Prayers and condolences are with his beautiful Wife, Cathy and his amazing Family. 
Rest in Eternal Peace, Dear Friend...

Henderson was a giant in both the jazz and soul music worlds, who effortlessly moved among styles, always bringing his fluid skills on any of a number of instruments. He worked as a producer or guide to many other groups, and was extremely influential in the music world of the 1970s and 80s, in particular. He will be greatly missed.

Here is Wayne's self-described biography, courtesy of jazzcrusaders.com:

From his formative years in the Lone Star Republic (Texas) to his present international recording artist status, multi-instrumentalist and producer/composer Wayne Henderson is identified by his ebullient persona and scintillating trombone style. Without sounding rhapsodic, we're also compelled to emphasize that Henderson's effervescence, combined with the legendary Jazz Crusaders many smash hit-recordings, is in large part responsible for the cosmic success of these musical icons since the group's inception in 1961.

More than forty-years ago, Wayne Henderson, along with childhood buddies Wilton Felder, Joe Sample, and Nesbert "Stix"¨ Hooper, formed the nucleus of the Jazz Crusaders/Crusaders. As a fledgling, attending Houston's Phyllis Wheatley Jr. High School, the precocious Henderson took the lead in sculpting the group's dazzling style into one that was ground breaking, with considerable eclectic overtones. By fusing elements of jazz, funk, soul, R&B, rock, Latin, and gospel, an iridescent sound emerged with such impact that a musical revolution was unearthed. As the quartet's cornerstone, Henderson's objective was to accentuate the straight-ahead (often restrained) jazz sound with other musical styles that, ironically, are the offspring of generic, or classic jazz. As a result of exposure to all of the above-mentioned forms while growing up, Henderson's transcendent appreciation for all musical elements compels him to subconsciously or otherwise express those nuances in live performances and on recordings.

Back in the day, when Henderson first conceived of the name Jazz Crusaders and the idea of forming a band, the group filtered through a number of musicians, including the first pianist for the group, James "Sonny¨ Reason, followed by keyboardist Alvis Harvey, Flutist Hubert Laws, and La La Wilson on bass. Along with saxophonist Felder and drummer Hooper, Sample was later added to the mix as pianist. The group eventually became known as the Black Board Jungle Kids, Swingsters, Modern Jazz Sextet, and Nite Hawks; then came the designation invented by Henderson and the name of choice, Jazz Crusaders - under which they proceeded to record a number of projects for World Pacific Jazz (their first label), including their first and the ever popular Freedom Sound album. Their second album, which enjoyed widespread success, is uniquely titled Looking Ahead. The group went on to record for Blue Thumb, ABC, and GRP labels in the 60s and 70s.


It was in 1975 that Wayne ("Big Daddy¨) as he is sometimes called) Henderson went on hiatus from the group and augmented his career by producing and recording with other notable acts: Patti Austin, Jean Carne, Bill Withers, Ronnie Laws, Ramsey Lewis, Steely Dan, Bobby Lyle, Everette Harp, Phillip Ingram, Nathan East, Lenny Williams, Rebbie Jackson, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, the Jackson Five, Hiroshima, Hugh Masekela, Joni Mitchell, Wilton Felder, and Tina Turner, to mention a few. Some of these artists appear on Wayne's newest album, which we will talk about in a minute. Most of Henderson's independent projects were produced under his own LA based labels, At Home Productions and Angel City Records. A side point: Rebbie Jackson's Centipede project, which Henderson co-produced with Michael Jackson, went nearly platinum with more than 900,000 records sold.

Wayne Henderson has never opted for self-promotion; however, he is responsible for the careers of many name acts. It is important to mention that artists like Ronnie Laws have enjoyed productive careers as a result of the business support provided by Henderson. For instance, Henderson secured Laws' first record deal; the same can be said of Hiroshima and Rebbie Jackson. Henderson has modestly taken the rear seat and has been content to captain the ship behind the scenes.

Listed are a few notable acts Wayne Henderson has produced or worked with: Dionne Warwick, Barry White, Nancy Wilson, Jimmie Smith, Pancho Sanchez, Side Effect, Stanley Turentine, Bobby Womack, Love Unlimited Orchestra, Esther Phillips, Miki Howard, King Curtis, Hugh Masakela, George Benson, Diana Ross, Pleasure, Four Tops, Willie Bobo, Vanessa Rubin, Letta M'Bulu, Dramatics, Joe Cocker, Michael Jackson, Eloise Laws, Roy Ayers and Sergio Mendez.

During this period, Henderson's passion to experiment acquired even more momentum. With funk and R&B as popular as ever in the 70s, an opportunity arose for Henderson to experiment further and to stretch the limits of his progressive creative instincts. The result? The first ever vocal groove by Jazz Crusaders/Crusaders: "Keep That Same Old Feeling," an epoch-making track on Those Southern Nights, an album that manifests choice elements of soul, funk, R&B, and the pulse of it all, jazz. When Henderson exhibited his writing and vocal prowess on this song, it signaled the beginning of vocal inclusions into the sound of America's premier jazz-fusion band. To this day "Keep That Same Old Feeling" can be heard almost every month on some radio stations around the country. Soon thereafter, at Henderson's urging, "Street Life" and other slamming tracks featured vocalists on recordings and in performance.

It also became apparent in the 70s that times were quickly changing and that the direction of music would alter. The result was a focus on expanding their fan base, Henderson's clever recommendation to discontinue using Jazz in the groups name, and that they go by the single designation, Crusaders. With great reluctance, the members acquiesced to the name adjustment, thus freeing them from the shackles of identification as strictly a jazz group. As their horizons widened, their transitional jazz appeal accelerated to the degree that they were invited to share the limelight with major acts from diverse genres, including top rock legends, Rolling Stones. As if joined at the hips, Henderson style jazz and pure funk grew like Siamese twins. This fusion phenomenon has caught on the world over, with not just a few top artists citing as one of their inspirations the Wayne Henderson led Crusaders/Jazz Crusaders. From Wilton and Branford Marsalis to Carlos Santana, a striking cross-section of marquee artists direct deserving accolades to Henderson and company.



When the 80s arrived, a new ingredient was added to the Crusaders musical potpourri - the hip-hop brigade. Henderson (co-creator of funk-fusion and jazziphop) could see the handwriting on the wall. These epic productions would revolutionize the recording industry on every continent and urban music culture would never be the same. This experimental undertaking has produced some of the more interesting artists and innovative sounds in recent memory. At last tracking, Jazz Crusaders/Crusaders were one of the most sampled jazz-fusion entities in this hemisphere. Henderson believes that rap is basically "poetry put to a hip-hop beat; not all bad,
and it's not all good." "Depending on the message it conveys," say's Henderson, "rap can be fun to listen to and perform. The spoken word can sometimes, because of its serious nature, be more effective than words that are sung." Henderson is not swift to dismiss new innovations, and is willing to travel new paths because a new direction is what spurred the initial success of Jazz Crusaders. Although the be-bop of Dizzy and the classic jazz of Blakey served as influences, Henderson and company formed their own identity by creating styles in different eras and genres.

Eventually, the direction that the group pursued required a guitarist to be a part of the equation. The inimitable Larry Carlton was the obvious choice to accentuate the Crusaders sound in the 70s.

As members of the group opted for solo outings, Henderson chose to resurrect the original label, Jazz Crusaders, in order to establish a clear identity from other members who might be pursuing solo careers. On his latest project, two of the four original members participate with other select musicians.

Henderson, a TSU (Houston) alumnus who resided in Los Angeles,  always focused on the new generation of musicians and singers. He felt that to keep pace with progressive music styles requires a stretching of the boundaries of traditional sounds, just as it was for Miles, Coltrane, Parker, Blakey, and Ellington. Their innovations were updated versions of previous musical forms, but with their own 'twists' and flavor. 

 

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