Jazz Pianist and Composer Joe Sample Dies at 75

Jazz Pianist and Composer Joe Sample Dies at 75

The Crusaders keyboardist, whose work provided the foundation for Tupac's "Dear Mama," passes away in his hometown of Houston, Texas.

Published September 15, 2014

Music has lost another great. Jazz pianist and composer Joe Sample, who for decades rocked out with the Jazz Crusaders passed away at 75 in Houston on Friday (Sept. 12).

Sample's family confirmed his death, a result of mesothelioma. "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,” a Facebook message read.

Getting his footing in Houston, where he was born Feb. 1, 1939, Sample and tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder and drummer Nesbert Hooper formed the band The Swingsters while Sample was still in high school. Sample and the fellas eventually migrated to Los Angeles with other band members, including trombonist Wayne Henderson, and changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders. In 1961, they released their first album Freedom Sound.

A decade later, in 1971, the group underwent another name change, dropping the "Jazz" to form The Crusaders. They released their first album, Crusaders 1, under their new moniker in 1972. It featured several tracks composed by Sample, who showcased his passion on the electric piano.

The new fusion of classic and progressive jazz expanded the band's audience, allowing them to record for two decades, all the way until 1991.

Sample also began to branch out on his own, beginning in 1969 with the release of the album Fancy Dance. When the group disbanded, he turned his attention to his solo career, which led to some high profile collaborations with artists. His keyboard work is featured on Marvin Gaye’sWhat’s Going On,” as well as several other recordings with B.B. King, Tina Turner, Anita Baker and the classic 1999 duet album The Song Lives On with the First Daughter of Soul, Lalah Hathaway.

His music has been not only influential in the Jazz community, but hip hop as well. His 1978 track “In My Wildest Dreams,” was sampled on Tupac’s “Dear Mama” and other works were also sampled by Arrested Development and De La Soul.

Sample released his last album, Soul Shadows, in 2008. His Children of the Sun is scheduled for a posthumous release this fall.

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(Photo: Martial Trezzini, File/KEYSTONE/AP Photo)

Written by Dominique Zonyeé


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