*Best known as an original member of the pioneering band The Jazz Crusaders (later The Crusaders), Nesbert “Stix” Hooper has enjoyed an illustrious career as a musician, composer, record producer, artist manager, the first national Vice Chairman of the national Academy of recording Arts and Sciences (an unprecedented three terms with that Grammy organization) and icon of Contemporary Soul-Jazz drumming.
This month, he is adding radio show host to his hat collection with a Jazz program “Lay it On the Line,” its title lifted from a song Hooper wrote for the Crusaders’ album Unsung Heroes (Blue Thumb – 1973) which he later revisited as the title track of an album under his leadership circa 1989. On the radio, Hooper will be telling inside stories about heroes sung and unsung on his program which debuts Wednesday, November 17, 9 P.M. PST.
As a manager, Hooper has worked with various artists, including jazz vocalist Ernestine Anderson. In homage, Hooper is serving as co-executive producer of “The Ernestine Anderson Celebration,” a series of citywide events, the celebration will honor the life and legacy of Seattle’s most iconic jazz and blues artist this month. In addition, Hooper is putting the finishing touches on his as yet untitled first new album in five years – a jazz album in an orchestral setting. This writer was honored to preview two selections, “Samba del Cielo” and “I Touched a Dream,” both of which promise wrap Jazz lovers in a warm blanket of lush romance as winter turns to spring. I was also honored to steal a half hour of Hooper’s time to discuss the new album and his radio project.
Galloway: The selections you previewed for me from your forthcoming album are quite lovely. You’re no stranger to orchestral work be it The Crusaders’ Royal Jam with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the `80s to your solo album The World Within in the `70s. What inspired your latest foray into orchestral music?
Hooper: First of all, I dd it because the Russian piano player, Eugene Maslov, I’m currently working with is a genius player and arranger. His chops are unreal! And he loves playing with spontaneous creativity. So, this is another extension of that global approach I did on The World Within is relative to what’s happening now.
For this album, I wrote all of the compositions. I have the conducting baton in my hand and the organizational factor of using musicians from around the globe – one guitarist Andreas Oberg from Sweden, another guitarist from Brazil, Oscar Castro Neves (one of the legend’s final recordings), flautist Hubert Laws… from Texas like me (chuckles), and others. The joy was putting it together in a different framework and setting.
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Galloway: You’re entering the arena of broadcasting with your program “Lay it On the Line.” Did you ever have a radio show in the past?
Hooper: I have done lengthy presentations and interviews in radio all around the world. But as far as a show of my own, never. This was something I aspired to do in the general sense. I’ve always been a fan of Saul Levine from way back in the days of KBCA-FM in Los Angeles (in the 1960s and 1970s). So “Lay it On the Line” is something I’m excited to do.
Galloway: KBCA was the best Jazz station. I had the pleasure to grow up listening to and learning from that station. Did any favorite radio personalities on KBCA or back in Texas influence your broadcast presentation?
Hooper: Johnny Magnus certainly did. He was on the radio at the start of The Crusaders’ career. He was one of the first persons to play a straight-ahead Jazz record on AM radio in Texas. This was almost unheard of in Houston because it was such a Blues oriented town. Consequently, when I came here to L.A., I respected Chuck Niles and Helen Borgers for sure (after KBCA changed to KLON) and, later, Nick Tyler and Jerry Sharell (currently at KKJZ).
I’ve always respected the station and the genesis of its derivation. What Saul Levine did not only to promote Jazz and quality music but in terms of broadcasting, physically putting up antennas and transmitters. Part of my allegiance to him and the station was predicated on that beside perpetuating America’s iconic music of jazz.
Galloway: What prompted you to start this new program?
Hooper: “Lay it On the Line” is precisely what I’m going to be doing. I mentioned it to (station manager) Stephanie Levine as something of interest. Then (show host) Steve Tyrell said I might want to get on board. It just transformed as a mutual acceptance society. With the support of Stephanie, (director of underwriting) Michael Levine and (general manager) Saul Levine, my enthusiasm just grew. I feel like I can bring some things to the station that will be relatively unique. I’m not saying I’m the only kettle on the beach with any knowledge or experience with this music. But I come with history and variables from an educational standpoint.
Galloway: Growing up listening to KBCA, I really liked the education I got as a young person about the music, the sidemen, the regions and the styles. Chuck Niles and my favorite DJ, Rick Holmes, always had stories. They knew the cats! So, it was always interesting to hear them talk about people from a personal standpoint. Are you planning to personalize the music as you play it in that same way?
Hooper: I will be sharing snippets. In fact, I’ll be including interviews within the theme of the show on certain people that I may have performed with, worked with or produced. I’ve worn so many hats in the business. The umbrella of Jazz is huge which is one of the reasons I was partially responsible for the Crusaders dropping the word from our name. When you come to a place and somebody says, “Well, what kind of jazz are you going to play?” People have formulaic expectations in their minds about what Jazz is “supposed” to be. I want to let people know that that umbrella should encompass the fact that it’s music of instant creativity, spontaneity, improvisation, great craftsmanship and musicianship.
Galloway: To be candid, as a 50-year Los Angeles resident, the current incarnation of this jazz station has too often disappointed me. I don’t feel like they support enough living artists, work hard enough to showcase young artists in need of developing artists, or that they help identify and create “hit” records in this format which can translate into desperately needed record sales. And when they do play the stars of Jazz such as Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck, it’s like they’re pulling from the same 5 albums when they both have at least 60 or 70 to deal with. So, I’m very much looking forward to what you’re going to do.
Hooper: I’m going to incorporate as much as I can. I want people to be aware of the roots and the genesis. But I also want them to know that just like a tree, Jazz has roots and branches. Even I felt I had to get myself another degree in this music when I heard the term “Acid Jazz.” I don’t know what the hell that was about! I’ll definitely be going across the full spectrum of Jazz, explaining all of that. How musicians wanted to create in a certain setting.
I had a conversation with (drummer) Roy Haynes about how just moving the jazz drum groove from being “chang shang-a-lang” to “chang shang a lang…bop” – with a backbeat – turned the music in another direction. It’s a new format that a musician wants to be in for experimentation. And that usually connects it to another generation. I was one of the people who opened that door from a rhythmic standpoint. That’s what we need to accept in the Jazz world. Because originally, the term Jazz had a negative connotation. Originally it was “jizz” music which they relegated to juke joints and whore houses.
Galloway: Well, I hope the powers that be at “K-Jazz” embrace your show and leave you alone to program it as you see fit. You deserve that because of your tenure not only in the music but also the business. We need you, brother.
Hooper: Thank you.