Joe Sample Dead At 75

Legendary jazz pianist, keyboardist and composer, Joe Sample, died Friday, September 12 in Houston, Texas. He was 75. His family released the news on the musician’s Facebook page: “At 9:50pm, 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.”

Sample began studying piano at age 5. In Houston, he was exposed to all types of music: gospel, soul, bebop, blues, Latin and classical. While studying music performance at Texas Southern University, he teamed up with his friends saxophonist Wilton Felder, drummer Stix Hooper, trombonist Wayne Henderson, and a few other musicians to form The Jazz Crusaders and later, just The Crusaders.

They never graduated, and moved from Houston to Los Angeles in the late 1950s to follow their musical aspirations. The Jazz Crusaders recorded their first album, Freedom Sound, in 1961 and released more than 40 before they disbanded in 1987. The ensemble originally played hard bop but “went electric” and began incorporating elements of soul and funk. In 1971, they dropped “jazz” from their name as they  increasingly experimented with sounds and catchy grooves. Today, they are considered the fathers of jazz funk fusion.

Sample also had a thriving solo career and released 21 albums along with writing, production, and performing credits on countless other releases with Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, B.B. King, Al Jarreau, Joe Cocker, Randy Crawford, Anita Baker, and Andre Crouch (uncle of Eric Clapton band member Kenneth Crouch) and others.

Sample first worked with Eric Clapton as part of the jazz ensemble, Legends, in 1997. The brainchild of renowned American bassist / producer / composer Marcus Miller, Legends embarked on a 11-date tour of the major European Jazz Festivals that July. Besides Sample, Clapton and Miller, the ensemble was rounded out with Steve Gadd on drums and David Sanborn on saxophone. Their performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival has been released on DVD.

Sample worked with Clapton again on the guitarist’s Far East Tour in 1997, as well as sessions for Pilgrim (1998), Reptile (2001), and Clapton’s collaborative effort with BB King, Riding With The King (2000). 

Where’s Eric!
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