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» GUEST RUNDOWNS » ICONIC JAZZ PIANIST/COMPOSER JOE SAMPLE, OF THE CRUSADERS FAME, DIES AT 75!

ICONIC JAZZ PIANIST/COMPOSER JOE SAMPLE, OF THE CRUSADERS FAME, DIES AT 75!

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Joe Sample, who spent more than five decades as a jazz pianist, keyboardist, and composer creating awe-inspiring music that transcended genres and inspired countless musicians, died on Friday, September 12 in Houston, TX. He was 75.

Joe Sample

Sample’s family confirmed the sad news with a post on his Facebook page, which read: “At 9:50pm (Houston,TX time), September 12, 2014, Joe Sample passed. His wife Yolanda and his son Nicklas would like to thank all of you, his fans and friends, for your prayers and support during this trying time. Please know that Joe was aware and very appreciative of all of your prayers, comments, letters/cards and well wishes.”

The exact cause of death was not confirmed by his family; however, Sample suffered from a number of health issues over the last few years. After suffering a heart attack in 1994, and a second in 2009, he was recently hospitalized once again due to pneumonia. Sample attributed these struggles to “the vagaries of life, and a little bit of old age.”

While these struggles forced him to cancel a number of shows recently, including a planned three-day residency at London’s Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club last month, the electricity that filled the room whenever he played would never give away his age.

Joseph Leslie Sample was born on February 1, 1939 in Houston, TX. He found himself enamored shortly after being introduced to the piano at just five years of age, and stuck with the instrument throughout childhood. He eventually went on to study music performance at Texas Southern University, where he teamed up with his old friends saxophonist Wilton Felder, drummer Stix Hooper, trombonist Wayne Henderson, and several other musicians to form The Jazz Crusaders (later, just The Crusaders).

The Crusaders

The Crusaders

The then-teenagers would travel across the Gulf states, playing dive bars and strip clubs trying to emulate music by the likes of John Coltrane. “There was nothing city-slick about what we did,” Sample told The Independent in 1995 about the group’s musical origins.

The group never graduated from TSU. Instead, they moved from Houston to Los Angeles in the late ’50s to pursue their musical aspirations as a hard-bop group, which was the dominant style of jazz in that era. The group quickly stood out from the crowd for their unique sound, which included Henderson and Felder playing choruses in unison.

This praise gave them the confidence to experiment much more with their music, until they eventually hit on a winning formula by incorporating elements of soul and funk into a unique fusion that effectively pioneered the styles and techniques we continue to hear in contemporary jazz, and other genres, to this day.

“We are the fathers of jazz-funk-fusion,” Henderson told the LA Times in 1995. “We took pop tunes… and did them melodically with a groove, so people could dance if they wanted.”

 

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