One Track Mind: Jazz Crusaders "The Young Rabbits" (1962)

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Before they were the Crusaders, they were the Jazz Crusaders. And before they were the Jazz Crusaders, keyboardist Joe Sample, trombonist Wayne Henderson, tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder and drummer Nesbert “Stix” Hooper were kids growing up together in post-war Houston, Texas. By the late fifties, these burgeoning talents formed a band they modeled after Art Blakey’s horn-fronted hard bop outfit the Jazz Messengers.

The Jazz Crusaders were always about funky, soulful jazz that got more people excited than the “New Thing” Coleman, Dolphy, Coltrane and others were presenting to the public at that time. Their first album Freedom Sound came out in 1961 and was followed up next year with Lookin’ Ahead. Already mixing in originals contributed by all group members alongside familiar covers, it was this album that introduced their best known original: Henderson’s “The Young Rabbits.”

“Rabbits” is just the kind of song that reminds you of why hard bop is so easy to get into in the first place. Henderson’s trombone smear that kicks off the tune in dramatic fashion is followed by Jimmy Bond’s bass walk before the double-timed frantic horn line kicks in. On the descending chord part of the theme, Felder and Henderson briefly split apart playing different lines before rejoining in unison again.

For the improvisional break, Henderson rips off a burner of a solo quickly followed by Felder’s equally hot licks. After a short unison line, the band sits out to let Hooper take a piledriving journey on the skins, then a return to the theme.

After slightly more than three and a half minutes, the song quickly winds down to a stop. It’s a succinct, sublime slice of a soul statement that rocked listeners back in Jack Kennedy’s time and can still move people today.

The greatest strength of the Jazz Crusaders (and later, the Crusaders), were their ability to make jazz palatable to a wider audience by appealing to their soul, not their head. At a period of time when people were being turned off in droves by the idiom because it had become to complex for most to understand, the Jazz Crusaders kept some on board with funky good soul that still left plenty of room for these fine musicians to strut their stuff. That 1962 classic “The Young Rabbits” remains one of the best examples of that winning formula.

Sample: The Jazz Crusaders “The Young Rabbits”


“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

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