Jazz musician Stix Hooper first met broadcaster Saul Levine in the 1960s, when Hooper was drummer for the Crusaders and Levine owned and operated KBCA (105.1 FM), the best jazz radio station in the world. southern California at the time.
So when Hooper, 83, had an idea for a radio show about a year ago, he knew who to call.
“After realizing some things, without being pretentious, that I could bring to the station, I kind of mentioned it to him and his daughter Stephanie,” Hooper said. “We met and kind of made a general plan, and they greeted me on board and said, ‘Let’s do something special and different. “”
Levine ‘still owns and operates a 105.1 FM radio station. Years ago, letters of appeal passed to KKGO-FM, and its format shifted from jazz to classical to its current country sound.
But his company also operates and programs jazz on the non-commercial public radio station KKJZ (88.1 FM), which is owned by California State University, Long Beach.
And it was on KKJZ-FM that Hooper, who is also finishing an orchestral jazz album to be released in 2022, debuted last month with “Lay It On The Line,” a program that takes its name. from a Crusader song written by Hooper.
“Of course, it’s in the format of what they do with their radio station,” says Hooper. “But I wanted to come and not just be the disc jockey that says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we just played so-and-so, and the next one will be so-and-so. “
“I’m going to have a bit more of a format with thematic concepts on each show,” Hooper said of the show, which returns at 9 p.m. on December 15, in its usual time slot on the third Wednesday of each month.
“I can’t wait to step into the broadcast arena,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to bring something a little different to the station, because I have such a history in so many areas of the music scene.
“From the recording artist, from the performer, from the producer, from the manager, from the composer, all these things that I will share with the audience.”
A jazz crusade
A teenager in Houston in the 1950s, Hooper listened to jazz on the radio while playing music at Phillis Wheatley High School with friends and future crusaders, including pianist Joe Sample, tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder, and trombonist Wayne Henderson.
“The radio was the full-fledged means of listening,” he says. “We all played music in school and a band called the Modern Jazz Sextet, which Joe and all of us were members of. “
This group, which continued after its members graduated from high school, struggled to break out of the local jazz scene. Hooper, who was the leader, drew up a plan.
“I guess I’m a pretty convincing guy,” he says. “I convinced everyone. We all got into our individual cars and drove to Los Angeles. And we were going to launch a career in LA ”
It was around 1960, and although the West Coast jazz scene was larger than Houston’s, it was not welcoming. The best gigs at the biggest clubs have gone mostly to white jazz musicians, Hooper says.
“We really had to struggle,” he says. “So because we had my initials, NH, for my real name, Nesbert Hooper, on the desks we were using, and we had to make a living, we were like, ‘NH, what can we be? And we became the Night Hawks.
“We played a lot of rhythm and blues and got jobs in several places where we could make a really good living,” says Hooper. “They thought we were the greatest thing that ever happened since chopped onions.”
Eventually they started playing in Las Vegas casino lounges, but decided to tackle Los Angeles again as a live jazz band, changing the band’s name to Jazz Crusaders and eventually signing with Pacific Jazz Records, one of the first labels in the West. Jazz scene from the coast.
In the late 1960s, eager to expand their sound with elements of R&B, funk and soul, the band decided to shorten their name to simply The Crusaders.
“We dropped the word ‘jazz’ because it’s one of those words that looks like a huge umbrella,” says Hooper. “You know, we were going to work and people were like, ‘Well, what kind of jazz do you play? And then you have to explain it.
“I’ve always hated all of those nicknames and genres, specs, anyway,” he says. “Because he seems to be labeling you in a little closet.” “
Music and heritage
His new album, “Orchestrally Speaking,” emphasizes his holistic approach to music, with a group that includes a Russian pianist, Swedish and Brazilian guitarists, and jazz flautist Hubert Laws, who was part of the group from Houston. who would later become the Crusaders.
“All of these guys came together and the camaraderie was all about playing together,” Hooper said. “I was just honored that my compositions gave them the inspiration to be creative.
“That’s the subject of this record in an orchestral setting,” he says of the sessions which included a string ensemble but very little of his own drum set.
“I play very little,” says Hooper. “I was more of the stick man. Because it was really more orchestral.
“You know, you don’t sit down and boogie-woogie with Hayden and all,” he laughs.
“It’s a different aspect of what most people associate with me,” says Hooper. “Sometimes you just want to go down and do it a little different way. You know, instead of having a regular burger, you want to have a cheeseburger with pickles on it.
Hooper, who lives primarily in Seattle, owns a home in Encino to work live and in the studio in Southern California.
“Orchestrally Speaking” is his first new album in five years, but he’s already working on another album that fits more into the soul-funk jazz of the Crusaders in the 70s and 80s when songs like “Street Life” were playing. tubes. .
It all – the albums, the radio show – is part of Hooper’s interest in creating as much of his life as possible.
“I just wanted to plant some seeds before I crossed the big pond myself,” says Hooper. “I wanted to leave some sort of legacy and things that I went through to the next generation, hopefully.”