Joe Sample, Iconic Jazz Pianist, Dies at 75

Joe Sample Dead
Vallery Jean/FilmMagic

Legendary jazz pianist Joe Sample died on Friday morning in Houston. He was 75.

Sample, who revolutionized jazz fusion in the ’60s and ’70s, was also a keyboardist and composer for more than five decades, having worked with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Anita Baker, Joni Mitchell and Canned Heat.

Sample’s family announced the news on Facebook, but didn’t mention the cause of death. The pianist was hospitalized last year with pneumonia after suffering from ongoing health issues, including heart attacks in 1994 and 2009.

“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,” the Facebook post read. “Please know that Joe was aware and very appreciative of all of your prayers, comments, letters/cards and well wishes.”

Sample formed the band the Jazz Crusaders with his classmates, saxophonist Wilton Felder, drummer Stix Hooper, trombonist Wayne Henderson, and others, while studying at Texas Southern University in the mid-’50s. The group moved to Southern California and recorded their first album, “Freedom Sound,” in 1961. Nineteen of their 40-plus albums landed on the Billboard 200 chart.

The group changed its name to The Crusaders 10 years later after experimenting with other sounds like funk and R&B. They added an electric bassist and guitarist, and Sample started playing electric keyboards. They parted ways in 1987.

Sample also had a thriving solo career. He worked with other musicians to record 21 solo albums and appeared on classic pop-rock albums such as Joni Mitchell’s “Court & Spark” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

Sample was touring in Europe with his new group, the Creole Joe Zydeco Band, until recently. He had been collaborating with New England folk singer Jonatha Brooke on a biography about 19th-century New Orleans nun Henriette DeLille for the last 16 years.

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    1. Rest in Peace Mr Sample,the amount of joy you leave behind is enough to last Generations,SALUTE.

    2. I know we all have to die, but it is still heartbreaking. I joined the Nation of Islam in the early 70’s and was encouraged not to listen to certain kind of music, but I learned to love jazz from my stepfather in the 60’s, so I stuck to listening to jazz and was turned on to this phenomenal piano player, Mr. Joe Sample. I knew his sound and was able to detect it regardless to whom he was playing along with on any song. Mr. Joe, turn heaven, OUT!!!!

    3. Barbara says:

      The first time I went to England I was staying at a B&B that had maids who spoke no English. The he I came down for breakfast the radio was blasting and the song on the radio was “Street Life.” The maids knew every word to the song. One of my favorite Joe Sample albums was “Spellbound.” RIP Mr. Sample. You gave the world wonderful music.

    4. lady love says:

      I’ve been a fan for more than 30 years. His music was the best and musicianship first rate. Thank you, Joe for all years of your music and live performances.

    5. david t, krall says:

      from: david t. krall

      another icon,,, a true trailblazer has passed on and over to the other side…like Grover Washington,
      Gil Scott Heron, I was turned-on to Mr. Sample while in high school and college…I liked what I heard
      so much, like any teenager, I went right out, soon after and bought one of his albums,,,It was a green
      sketch type, caricature of him on the album cover (on front of a piano)….a really cool sound…good
      music….thank you!!! safe journey and God’s speed!!! rest in peace….and thanks again….God Bless….
      david t. krall

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