The Artistry of… Joe Sample

The electric keyboard was still fairly new in the ’60s. Joe Sample was one of the instrument’s pioneers.

His progression says everything about the dynamics of the evolution of jazz, one of the greatest American musics. Evolution speaks to incorporating influence along the way, and it speaks to respect and admiration — a carrying of a torch forward.

In high school in the ’50s, Sample and two others formed a group called the Swingsters. While at university, he met and added other players. They became the Modern Jazz Sextet, then the Jazz Crusaders, a direct homage to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Eventually, they were simply The Crusaders. Sample and some others branched out into solo and studio projects.

The music is purely American, seasoned with roots music, folk, pop, blues, soul and R&B. Although there were purist naysayers who only saw a watering down of (and a pop-music simplification of) jazz sophistication, The Guardian, in its obituary to Sample, may well have put it best: “They put together a shrewd mix of popular hard-bop jazz, dance-floor rhythms and showmanship that kept them at the top of their game for decades, always sounding like jazz lovers having fun, not defectors trying to dumb down their music.”