Joe Sample

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Joe Sample
Sample in 2008
Sample in 2008
Background information
Birth nameJoseph Leslie Sample
Born(1939-02-01)February 1, 1939
Houston, Texas, U.S.
DiedSeptember 12, 2014(2014-09-12) (aged 75)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, songwriter
Instrument(s)Keyboards, vocals
Years active1950s–2014
LabelsBlue Thumb, MCA, GRP, Warner Bros., Verve, ABC

Joseph Leslie Sample (February 1, 1939[1] – September 12, 2014)[2] was an American jazz keyboardist and composer. He was one of the founding members of The Jazz Crusaders in 1960, the band which shortened its name to "The Crusaders" in 1971. He remained a part of the group until its final album in 1991 and also the 2003 reunion album Rural Renewal.

Beginning in the late 1960s, he enjoyed a successful solo career and guested on many recordings by other performers and groups, including Miles Davis, George Benson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Michael Franks, B. B. King, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Anita Baker, and the Supremes. Sample incorporated gospel, blues, jazz, latin, and classical forms into his music.


Sample was born in Houston, Texas,[1] the youngest son of Alexander Sample, a mail-carrier, and Agatha (née Osborne) Sample, a seamstress. Sample began to play the piano at the age of five. He was a student of the organist and pianist (Theodore or T.) Curtis Mayo.

In high school in the 1950s, Sample teamed up with friends saxophonist Wilton Felder and drummer "Stix" Hooper to form a group called the Swingsters. While studying piano at Texas Southern University, Sample met and added trombonist Wayne Henderson and several other players to the Swingsters, which became the Modern Jazz Sextet and then the Jazz Crusaders,[3] in emulation of one of the leading progressive jazz bands of the day, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Sample never took a degree from the university; instead, in 1960, he and the Jazz Crusaders made the move from Houston to Los Angeles. He was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

The group quickly found opportunities on the West Coast, making its first recording, Freedom Sound, in 1961 and releasing up to four albums a year over much of the 1960s. The Jazz Crusaders played at first in the dominant hard bop style of the day, standing out by virtue of their unusual front-line combination of saxophone (played by Wilton Felder) and Henderson's trombone. Another distinctive quality was the funky, rhythmically appealing acoustic piano playing of Sample, who helped steer the group's sound into a fusion between jazz and soul[4] in the late 1960s. The Jazz Crusaders became a strong concert draw during those years.

While Sample and his bandmates continued to work together, he and the other band members pursued individual work as well. In 1969, Sample made his first recording under his own name; Fancy Dance featured the pianist as part of a jazz trio.[3] In the 1970s, as the Jazz Crusaders became simply the Crusaders and branched out into popular sounds, Sample became known as a Los Angeles studio musician, appearing on recordings by Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, B. B. King, Joe Cocker, Minnie Riperton, Anita Baker and The Supremes. Sample was a founding member of the L.A. Express, which was started as the backing band for Tom Scott; however, both Sample and fellow Crusader Larry Carlton left after that group's first album. In 1975, Sample went into the studios with jazz musicians Ray Brown, on bass, and drummer Shelly Manne to produce a then state-of-the-art recording direct to disc entitled The Three. About this time Blue Note Records reissued some of the early work by the Jazz Crusaders as The Young Rabbits. This was a compilation of their recordings produced between 1962 and 1968.

The electric keyboard was fairly new in the 1960s, and Sample became one of the instrument's pioneers. He began to use the electric piano while the group retained their original name, and the group hit a commercial high-water mark with the hit single "Street Life" and the album of the same name in 1979. In 1978, he recorded Swing Street Café with guitarist David T. Walker.

The Crusaders, after losing several key members, broke up after recording Life in the Modern World for the GRP label in 1987. Despite the disbanding of the Crusaders, the members would join each other to record periodically over the years, releasing Healing the Wounds in the early 1990s. Felder, Hooper, and Sample recorded their first album, called Rural Renewal, as the reunited Crusaders group in 2003 and played a concert in Japan in 2004.

After Sample's Fancy Dance (1969), he recorded several solo albums, including Sample This, produced by George Duke.

GRP also released Joe Sample Collection, and a three-disc Crusaders Collection, as testament to Sample's enduring legacy. Some of the pianist's recent recordings are The Song Lives On (1999), featuring duets with singer Lalah Hathaway, and The Pecan Tree (2002), a tribute to his hometown of Houston, where he relocated in 1994. His 2004 album on Verve, Soul Shadows, paid tribute to Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, and pre-jazz bandleader James Reese Europe. In 2007, he recorded Feeling Good with vocalist Randy Crawford. In the mid-1970s, the Crusaders added guitarist Larry Carlton.

Sample appeared on stage at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 28 May 2000, playing keyboard solo on George Benson's "Deeper Than You Think". This concert was recorded and a DVD entitled George Benson: Absolutely Live was subsequently released. A studio version of "Deeper Than You Think" was recorded featuring Joe Sample in New York in May 1999 during sessions for a Benson collection that took the title Absolute Benson.

Some of Sample's works were featured on The Weather Channel's "Local on the 8s" segments and his song "Rainbow Seeker" is included in their 2008 compilation release, The Weather Channel Presents: Smooth Jazz II. Nicole Kidman sang his song "One Day I'll Fly Away" in the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge! (2001). The popular "In All My Wildest Dreams", also from the 1978 album Rainbow Seeker, was sampled on Tupac's "Dear Mama", De La Soul's "WRMS's Dedication to the Bitty", Toni Braxton's "What's Good" and Arrested Development's "Africa's Inside Me".[citation needed]

Sample died of mesothelioma in Houston, Texas, at the age of 75. At the time of his death, Sample had been working on a project, "Quadroon," with singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke.[5]

Personal life[edit]

His survivors included his son, bassist Nicklas Sample (with ex-wife Marianne), who is a member of the Coryell Auger Sample Trio featuring Julian Coryell and Karma Auger.[2][6][7][8] He also left a wife, Yolanda, and three stepsons: Justin, Jamerson III and Jordan Berry.

Sample was Catholic, and supported Catholic charities and churches throughout his life.[9]


Sample performing in Paris, 1978

As leader[edit]

Title Year Label
Fancy Dance [originally titled Try Us] 1969 Gazell
The Three (with Ray Brown, Shelly Manne) 1976 East Wind
Rainbow Seeker 1978 ABC/MCA; Blue Thumb
Carmel 1979 ABC/MCA; Blue Thumb
Voices in the Rain 1981 MCA Jazz
Swing Street Cafe (with David T. Walker) 1981 Crusaders; Verve
The Hunter 1983 MCA Jazz
Oasis 1985 MCA Jazz
Roles 1987 MCA Jazz
Spellbound 1989 Warner Bros.
Ashes to Ashes 1990 Warner Bros.
Invitation 1993 Warner Bros.
Did You Feel That? 1994 Warner Bros.
Old Places Old Faces 1996 Warner Bros.
Sample This 1997 Warner Bros.
The Song Lives On (with Lalah Hathaway) 1999 GRP
The Pecan Tree 2002 Verve
Soul Shadows 2004 Verve
Creole Love Call (with Nils Landgren) 2006 ACT
Feeling Good (with Randy Crawford & Steve Gadd) 2007 PRA
No Regrets (with Randy Crawford & Steve Gadd) 2009 PRA
Live (with Randy Crawford, Steve Gadd & Nicklas Sample) 2012 PRA
Children of the Sun (with NDR Big band & Steve Gadd) 2014 PRA
Christmas with Friends (with India Arie) 2015 Motown

With The (Jazz) Crusaders[edit]

With CreoleJoe Band

  • CreoleJoe Band (PRA, 2013)

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 2182. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b Keepnews, Peter (September 14, 2014). "Joe Sample, Crusaders Pianist Who Went Electric, Dies at 75". The New York Times. p. D10.
  3. ^ a b Henderson, Alex. "Joe Sample Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  4. ^ Berendt, Joachim E (1976). The Jazz Book. Paladin. p. 387.
  5. ^ "Squared Roots: Jonatha Brooke on the rhythm and groove of Joe Sample". The Bluegrass Situation. November 9, 2016.
  6. ^ "Jazz-funk pioneer Joe Sample dies at 75". The Washington Post. Associated Press. September 13, 2014.
  7. ^ Chawkins, Steve (September 14, 2014). "Joe Sample dies at 75; jazz-funk keyboardist founded the Crusaders". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ Khatchatourian, Maane (September 13, 2014). "Joe Sample, Iconic Jazz Pianist, Dies at 75". Variety. ISSN 0042-2738.
  9. ^ Chappell, Bill (September 13, 2014). "A Talent That Bridged Genres: Jazz Pianist Joe Sample Dies". Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  10. ^ "Prestige Records Catalog Series 10000". Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  11. ^ "'Round Midnight Kenny Burrell". Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  12. ^ "Riding with the King - B.B. King, Eric Clapton - Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved June 8, 2016.

External links[edit]