Legendary jazz/fusion pianist Joe Sample has died at the age of 75. According to a Facebook post by his wife and son, the native of Houston passed on Friday night, but a specific cause has not been revealed. Sample was co-founder of the Jazz Crusaders, and he had a lengthy career in jazz both with the group and as a solo artist in the 80s and 90s.
Sample was inspired to play keyboards after his parents took him to a zydeco dance as a child and he saw Clifton Chenier perform. In high school, Sample formed The Modern Jazz Sextet and the band moved to Los Angeles to find work as session musicians. They soon began working with the legendary Johnny “Guitar” Watson, a fellow Houstonian. Eventually, Sample formed a more bebop-oriented outfit called the Jazz Crusaders. They released a number of acclaimed albums throughout the 1960s before re-christening themselves simply “The Crusaders” in 1971 and shifting their sound more towards jazz fusion. They eventually became a hugely successful crossover band by blending jazz, funk and soul. Their biggest pop hit came via “Street Life” which featured singer Randy Crawford on vocals.
Sample pursued a solo career in 1981 and released well-received albums over the next twenty years, before deciding to reunite with the Jazz Crusaders in 2011. He also formed the Creole Joe Band, a return to his zydeco roots.
“Blues is like the white dust in the neighborhood from the oyster-shell streets,” Sample told the Houston Chronicle that year. “It’s a natural thing in this region. Certain things I can play with musicians from here that I cannot play with other musicians from Chicago or Seattle or Boston or New York. They simply do not feel it.”