Wilton Felder is well known to jazz fans as the saxophonist and composer who spent some thirty years playing, along with Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, and Wayne Henderson in the phenomenally successful Crusaders. The group’s combination of jazz, soul, r&b, and gospel influences created a sound that was rooted in jazz, but which was accessible to listeners raised on pop and rock music.
Unlike many fusion bands, The Crusaders never lost their blues and soul roots, which was one key to their success. Another was the fact that each musician had a definite style on their instrument, and it was a pleasure to listen to each of them play. Felder’s deep, sonorous tenor sound is rooted in the Texas tenor sax tradition, and it is very easy to listen to, largely because it retains an element of soul grit and refuses to be too pretty, even when the surroundings are very smooth
The Crusaders met in Houston while still at high school. Felder studied music at Texas Southern University. The group moved to Los Angeles in the late fifties and there became the nucleus of The Jazz Crusaders, the band who pioneered jazz fusion for an entire listening generation. In a golden age that spanned 1971 through to 1990 they recorded, both as a group and as individuals, more than seventy five top selling albums and will perhaps be best remembered for the classic ‘Street Life’ that featured Randy Crawford. Felder was one of the in-house bass players for Motown Records.
Throughout this time Felder continued to work as a sideman, most notably as a member of the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Felder was a versatile sideman crossing many musical genres other than R & B and Jazz. He appeared on hundreds of albums in his career, including those of Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, Ringo Starr, Tina Turner, and Joan Baez.