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.