If drummer Stix Hooper is not a name known to all fans of “improvised music” — this is a term that Stix prefers to “jazz” — it should be, since Stix is one of the more remarkable figures in the music, regardless of what you call it. Born in Houston in 1938, Stix was a working musician in his teens, leading a group called the Swingsters that included pianist Joe Sample and tenor sax Wilton Felder. With the addition of trombonist Wayne Henderson, flutist Hubert Laws and string bass Henry Wilson, the group performed as the Modern Jazz Sextet. In a recent interview Stix noted, “We decided to see what was happening on the Coast, so we got into six cars and headed to Los Angeles. It was Joe, Wayne, Wilton and me. Out in California we began calling ourselves the Night Hawks, and then, in 1961, the Jazz Crusaders.” A number of string bass players passed through the band, but in the early 1960s, when the band caused musical waves with a series of recording for Pacific Jazz, Stix often used the wonderful Victor Gaskin.
In 1961 the Jazz Crusaders landed a contract with Pacific Jazz, and over the next ten years they recorded more than a dozen LPs for the label. In 1971 the group dropped the word “Jazz” from their name becoming just The Crusaders. As Stix explained to me, “We would go into smaller rooms and people would ask, what kind of jazz are you going to play? We found that just so limiting. And by that time we were also incorporating elements of soul and funk into our music. The musical umbrella is huge and we didn’t want to restrict ourselves.” Later Stix began integrating elements of world music onto his musical palette. Stix remains an active and creative musician to this day, always acknowledging the music’s past, yet always looking forward.
In 1962 the Jazz Crusaders appeared on two Los Angeles-based television programs, Jazz Scene USA and Frankly Jazz. The latter was hosted by Frank Evan, a very knowledgeable and quite hip radio personality. From a 1962 telecast from Frankly Jazz we share a composition by Wayne Henderson, the groups’s trombonist, titled “The Young Rabbits.”