Back in 1954, at Phillis Wheatley High School, Houston, Joe Sample, Stix Hooper and Wliton Felder met for the first time. Little did they realize the importance of this meeting. Unknown to them, this meeting would result in the formation of one of the most innovative and influential jazz groups, The Jazz Crusaders who released Give Peace A Chance in 1970. It was recently rereleased by BBR Records.

It was 1954 when pianist Joe Sample met drummer Stix Hooper and saxophonist Wilton Felder at Phillis Wheatley High School, Houston. Joe was a talented pianist, with an eclectic taste in music. Wilton Felder was a saxophonist, who also played bass. Stix Hooper a drummer and percussionist in waiting. His interest in music was encouraged by the director of the school band. Soon, Stix was blossoming into a talented drummer and percussionist. So, when Joe and Wlilton decided to form their own band The Swingsters, Stix was their go-to-guy for a drummer. 

Influenced by the Bebop of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, The Swingsters spent their spare time gigging. This was a way of honing and refining their sound. Although they played primarily Bebop, their versatility meant they’d be called upon to accompany any number of blues musicians who swung through Houston. With all this experience behind them, when the three Swingsters graduated high school, and headed to Texas State University, they were experienced musicians. However, at university they’d meet the man who’d become the fourth Jazz Crusader.

At Texas State University, The Swingsters met trombonist Wayne Henderson. Now a quartet, lead by the horn section, the band changed its name to The Modern Jazz Quartet. The addition of Wayne seemed to make the band think about its future, and where they were going? It turned out to be Los Angeles, in 1958.

Having relocated to Los Angeles, The Modern Jazz changed their name again, this time to The Jazz Crusaders. With a name that had a more moderne and progressive sound, The Jazz Crusaders didn’t enjoy success straight away. Instead, they struggled for the first few years. Things only improved in 1960, when they signed with the prestigious Pacific Jazz Records. 

A year later, in 1961, The Jazz Crusaders released their debut album Freedom Sound, a fusion of hard bop, R&B and soul. This was the start of one of the most prolific periods in their career. They released a further ten studio albums and five live albums between 1962 and 1969. Hard bop, Bebop, soul, free jazz, experimental music and R&B melted into one. Hailed as an innovative and influential jazz band, The Jazz Crusaders weren’t a band anyone could categorize. Far from it. The Jazz Crusaders it seemed, were aptly named. Musical mavericks, they fed off each other. Each drove the other to greater heights as they traded licks. It was like of a game of daring do. Anything you can do, I can do better. As musical units go, The Jazz Crusaders was a musical marriage made in heaven. Feeding off each other, they traded ideas and inspiration.Their music straddled musical genres. It meant different things to different people during the sixties. From jazz purists through to soul, R&B and rock fans, they all sought out the music of The Jazz Crusaders, a group who united fans of disparate musical genres. This was the case at the tail end of the sixties, when people were becoming much more open minded about music.

As the seventies dawned, The Jazz Crusaders found themselves on a new record label. Pacific Jazz Records had been purchased by Liberty Records, which had been founded by Roy Harte and Richard Rock in 1952. Having released Lighthouse ’69 for Pacific Jazz Records, The Jazz Crusaders started work on their first new album for their new label. This became Give Peace A Chance, which was produced by Richard Rock. Give Peace A Chance was a genre-sprawling album, which hinted at the future direction The Jazz Crusaders’ music would head in.

For Give Peace A Chance, eight tracks were chosen. Give Peace A Chance and Blackbird were Lennon and McCartney songs.Wayne Henderson penned I Think It Was A Dream, Stix Hooper wrote Anita’s New Dance and Wilton Felder contributed Space Settlement. Joe Sample was the most prolific Jazz Crusader, writing All The Lonely Years and Another Blues. The other track was a cover of Art Benson and Dale Petit’s The Thrill Is Gone. These eight tracks became Give Peace A Chance.

For the recording of Give Peace A Chance, The Jazz Crusaders were joined by bassist Buster Williams. Over two days, February 28th  and March 7th 1980, Give Peace A Chance was recorded. Producing Give Peace A Chance was Richard Rock. He’d produced previous albums by The Jazz Crusaders, so knew how they liked to work. With Buster Williams laying down the bass lines, Joe Sample played piano, Stix Hooper drums, Wilton Felder saxophone and Wayne Henderson trombone. Once the eight tracks that become Give Peace A Chance, were recorded the album would mark The Jazz Crusaders’ tenth anniversary with the same label. Would this prove to be a happy anniversary?

On its release in 1970, Give Peace A Chance, wasn’t a commercial success. Far from it. It failed to chart. It wasn’t a happy anniversary. Some of the reviews were mixed. The Jazz Crusaders were said to be at their best playing their own music. This was where they shawn. They were able to throw off the shackles and play with freedom and invention. Was that the case with Give Peace A Chance, which I’ll tell you about?

Opening Give Peace A Chance is the Lennon and McCartney penned title-track Give Peace A Chance. Here, the song is given something of a makeover. Having said that, there’s still a Beatles-esque sound to the track. Gone is the simplistic chant of the original. Instead, Joe’s flamboyant piano playing is at the centre of the arrangement, while the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. The duel horns something that was missing from the original, melody. They also add drama and hooks, as the song becomes something it’s never been before.

I Think It Was A Dream is the first of the new songs. Slow, dramatic and spacious describes the arrangement. Horns join hissing hi-hats. They’re replaced by the bass, before a slice of languid, wistful jazz unfolds. Sultry then rasping, blazing horns, join a vintage bass that’s a poignant reminder of another era. Joe’s piano playing is thoughtful, as it meanders across the arrangement. Like the bass, it’s the perfect foil for the power and passion of Wilton’s saxophone and Wayne’s trombone. Here, The Jazz Crusaders innovate as they trade jazzy licks and draw inspiration from the music of 50s and 60s.

Just like Give Peace A Chance, Lennon and McCartney’s Blackbird is reinvented. It becomes an uptempo track where The Jazz Crusaders each play their part in a deliciously soulful slice of jazz-funk. It’s a heavy hint at the direction their music was heading in. The band play in a loose, relaxed way, producing a melodic, soulful take on a what was previously a ballad. This is much better and sees life and energy injected into an oft-covered song.

B.B. King’s name is synonymous with The Thrill Is Gone. For many people, that’s the only version. Not for me. The Jazz Crusaders bring something new to the track with their jazz-tinged makeover. Their horn section join forces with Joe’s acoustic and electric piano. A rhythm section comprising of Stix and Buster provide the engine room. It’s as if they’re determined to reinvent the track, bring out some previously unheard nuances and subtleties. That they do. Crucial to the success of the track is the triumvirate of Joe, Wilton and Wayne, who make this one of the best versions of this track I’ve heard.

Anita’s New Dance was penned by Stix Hooper. A considerate songwriter, he allows each member of the band the opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. As everyone enjoys their moment in the spotlight, Buster and Wilton provide the backdrop for Wilton, Wayne and Joe’s solo. Good as they all are, Wilton’s saxophone solo is a show stealer and proves why he was regarded as one of the finest saxophone players of his generation.

It’s no surprise that there’s a track on Give Peace A Chance entitled Space Settlement. A year before the album was released, man had first walked on the moon. There was a fascination with space. Music, art and design were inspired by space. So was Wilton Felder, who wrote an eleven-minute experimental epic where The Jazz Crusaders explore moods, tempos, textures and tones. Dramatic, moody and experimental, sometimes heading in the direction of discordant, this innovative and progressive track is the highlight of the album.

Joe Sample wrote the final two tracks on Give Peace A Chance. All The Lonely Years is the first of these tracks. Laid-back and languid it’s a track you loose yourself in. You don’t just become lost in the music, you become part of it. You’re drawn in by Joe’s piano playing. Mesmeric and melodic describes his playing. As for the horns, they’re sultry, and become frenzied and frantic, as this glorious musical journey heads to its dramatic ending.

Closing Give Peace A Chance is Another Blues. Bursting into life, bursts of blazing horns drive the arrangement along. Then the baton passes to the rhythm section. They’re old school, with a standup bass and vintage drums providing the backdrop for Joe, as he Joe unleashes a storming piano solo. It has a New Orleans’ influence. All too quickly, it’s over and the horns take centre-stage. There’s no letup in the energy or momentum. It seems whether soloing or playing together, The Jazz Crusaders never let their standard drop. This is the case here, on a blistering clice of jazz.

While there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the music on Give Peace A Chance, The Jazz Crusaders found themselves at a musical crossroads. Although the new decade had just dawned, music was changing and changing quickly. It was a case of change, or become musically irrelevant. That wasn’t going to happen to The Jazz Crusaders. They were an innovative, progressive group. However, on Give Peace A Chance, they were caught between the music of the sixties and wanting to take their music in a more progressive direction. 

A tantalizing glimpse of this more progressive direction is Space Settlement, the highlight of Give Peace A Chance. A fusion of jazz-funk and soul, it showed what The Jazz Crusaders were capable of. The same can be said of the three cover versions. Give Peace A Chance, Blackbird and The Thrill Is Gone saw The Jazz Crusaders reinvent familiar tracks. That seemed to appeal to their progressive sound. They took the original track, deconstructed it and reconstructed it. With the two Lennon and McCartney tracks, new life, energy and meaning was breathed into the tracks. Strangely, I prefer the cover versions to the original. As for the other four tracks, they’ve much more traditional sound. That might be the case, but The Jazz Crusaders add their own unique twist. Sadly, this more fusion of the old, new and familiar didn’t prove commercially successful. 

So, it’s no surprise that The Jazz Crusaders decided to change their name and style.  Following the release of Old Socks, New Shoes later in 1970, The Jazz Crusaders dropped Jazz from their name. Now called The Jazz Crusaders, their music headed in the direction of jazz-funk. This resulted in commercial success and critical acclaim coming the way of The Jazz Crusaders. The start of this process was The Jazz Crusaders’ 1970 album Give Peace A Chance, which was recently released by BBR Records. A mixture of the old, new and familiar, Give Peace A Chance, marked the start of a new chapter in the career of the innovative and influential Jazz Crusaders. Standout Tracks: I Think It Was A Dream, Blackbird, The Thrill Is Gone and Space Settlement.


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