A Tribute to a lifelong Jazz Crusader: Wayne Henderson (24/09/39 – 05/04/14)

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wayneHendersonAlthough trombonist Wayne Henderson will be forever remembered as the founding member of the hugely successful Crusaders, one of the key exponents of jazz-funk in the 1970s, he was a musical all rounder of the highest order. Composer, arranger and producer, he collaborated with the big leaguers - B.B. King, George Benson, Jean Carne, Marvin Gaye, Steely Dan and Roy Ayers, to name but some - and was also a mentor to up and coming artists like Side Effect, whose gorgeously soulful sound he helmed with consummate skill. Their signature piece ‘Keep That Same Old Feeling’ remains a much loved ‘rare groove’, and demonstrates just how imaginatively Henderson could blend strong melodies, state of the art keys and dreamscape electronics.

Bigger, commercially speaking, was the Crusaders’ 1979 single ‘Street Life’, a beautiful song with a fine vocal from Randy Crawford and a string arrangement to die for. Playing the Rhodes was Joe Sample and it was he, drummer Stix Hooper, and saxophonist Wilton Felder who, along with Henderson, formed the band’s classic line up. Initially named the Jazz Crusaders, the group started in the early 1960s as purveyors of soul jazz and instrumental R&B, though a sharp take on Coltrane’s 'Impressions' convinced cynics of the strength of their chops. To their great credit Crusaders also played Sly Stone with the groove down pat.  

Henderson, a soloist with a burly, barreling sound that seemed to mirror his imposing physique, was, like his bandmates, from Houston, Texas, and the blues sensibilities of his heartland pervaded all the music he ever made. While the vast discography of the Crusaders, selected highlights of which include Southern Comfort, Scratch and Tough Talk, ensure that Henderson will be hailed as part of a seminal group in black music, it is the one-off project he launched in 1967, The Freedom Sounds, that remains something of a jewel in his artistic crown. On the album People Get Ready, the band’s mix of smart covers and smarter originals made the point that the trombonist knew all about the funkadelica to be found in old socks and new shoes.

– Kevin Le Gendre