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Wed, 02.01.1939

Joe Sample, Musician, and Composer born

Joe Sample

*Joe Sample was born on this date in 1939. He was a Black musician and composer.

From Houston, Texas, Sample began playing the piano when he was five years old. He was a student of the organist and pianist Curtis Mayo. He teamed with high school friends, saxophonist-bassist Wilton Felder and drummer Stix Hooper, to form a band as teenagers in the mid-'50s. Trombonist Wayne Henderson, a classmate at Texas Southern University, later joined the group, which became known as The Jazz Crusaders when the group later moved to Los Angeles.

Originally, the band played hard-bop, the most popular style of jazz at the time, and was influenced by Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, and Horace Silver. But the group, which featured an unusual lineup with a trombonist rather than a trumpeter in the front line and Sample's hard-swinging piano, began to fuse elements of R&B, soul, and funk into their jazz. "We were mostly rebels, and when everyone was going in one direction, we deliberately went the other way," Sample said in an interview with Jazz Times magazine.

The group, which later called itself The Crusaders, became a successful crossover act with such hits as 1979 rhythm-and-blues-flavored single and album "Street Life" featuring singer Randy Crawford. A few years before that, they were the first instrumental band to open for the Rolling Stones on tour. A prolific composer, his songs were sampled by hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur, who used "In All My Wildest Dreams" on his "Dear Mama." Nicole Kidman sang Sample's "One Day I'll Fly Away" in director Baz Luhrmann's film "Moulin Rouge."

The band made its first recording, "Freedom Sounds," in 1961, the first in a series of albums for the Pacific Jazz label. In the early '70s, Sample became one of the pioneers of the electric piano in jazz as he increasingly relying on catchy grooves and pop songs by the Beatles, Carole King, and others to gain a crossover appeal on a series of albums for the Blue Thumb and MCA labels. The group placed 19 albums on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

After Henderson and Hooper left the group, The Crusaders began recording less frequently in the 1980s and eventually disbanded. In the 1990s, Sample began focusing more on his solo career, often returning to an acoustic piano. He recorded albums with singers Crawford and Lalah Hathaway as well as the 2002 album, "The Pecan Tree," dedicated to his hometown. In 2003, Sample, Felder, and Hooper reunited as The Crusaders to record the album "Rural Renewal," with guitarist Eric Clapton making a guest appearance.

His final album, "Live," featuring Crawford, drummer Steve Gadd, and his son, Nicklas, on bass, was released by PRA Records in 2012. He was also an in-demand studio musician who worked with artists including Joni Mitchell, B.B. King, Marvin Gaye, Steely Dan, and Quincy Jones. Pianist and composer Joe Sample, a founding member of the genre-crossing Jazz Crusaders who helped pioneer the electronic jazz-funk fusion style died on September 12, 2014.  He was 75. Sample died of complications due to lung cancer at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, his manager; Patrick Rains said Sample's family was at his bedside.

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