Joe Sample: Feeling Good


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I have values that, a lot of the time, are misunderstood. Yet I know that these values are real, and they have guided me throughout my life.
Joe SampleJazz visionary and founding member of the Jazz Crusaders, pianist Joe Sample has reunited once again with Randy Crawford on Feeling Good (PRA, 2007). The results are magical. They first worked together on the title track to the Crusaders' Street Life, (MCA, 1979), which became an international hit, and "Feeling Good is sure to follow along the same path to success. It is a true testament to the incredible musicianship of all the artists included on this project, which includes Christian McBride, Steve Gadd, Dean Parks, Anthony Wilson, Luis Quintero and Ray Parker Jr.

Katrina-Kasey Wheeler caught up with Sample to discuss this collaborative effort and his many plans for the future.

All About Jazz: This album has been thirty years in the making. Why did you decide to create this album now with Randy? Why at this particular time?

Joe Sample: I was touring with Randy in 2005, in England at Ascot Park. We had finished sound check and the weather was just wonderful. We were beneath an oak tree, and our tour manager started to video tape us. All of a sudden, Randy began to sing—everything that we said, she would turn it into a song. She is a walking encyclopedia of melody and lyrics. Everything we said, would remind her of a song, and she would begin to sing them. It went on for fifteen minutes and I thought to myself, "Wow, she would make a dynamic Broadway performer.

A month later we were in California and she asked me to listen to her then latest CD, and I came to the conclusion that the mistakes are made when one really tries to get a hit. The horns, the guitars, the strings—I did all of that of course, on "Street Life. It occurred to me that if Randy was just given the opportunity to sing—it is raw and naked—her voice is the hit.

I mentioned it to her and she was all for it, along with my manager. We then asked [producer] Tommy LiPuma to join us, as well as Christian McBride and Steve Gadd. We went into the studio and we did the very first take—[then] fourteen pieces in three and a half days. We sometimes did two takes, but we kept going back to the first takes. We began to notice how wonderful it was to simply hear space.

I have grown exhausted with the wall-to-wall sound that started happening in free jazz: the usage of the melisma. It is just a continuous barrage of notes that I find to be unappealing to me. I think that the beauty and genius of music is the space between the notes. That is simply my value. I did notice that when you allow Randy to sing as she likes, she has the most ideal sense of timing and space.

AAJ: I agree, it is audible throughout the CD. You have employed some outstanding musicians on this album.

JS: It was all carefully planned from the first meeting. Randy had come up with a lot of songs and had also performed some of them live. The main idea was to not do the trend of today—[a] Great American Songbook album. We decided that we would instead, go back and dig into the catalog of some of the finest African-American singers of the past. Randy has a way of coming up with things that no one else thinks of. We had this wonderful anticipation of what would happen, and that anticipation turned into a reality.

We began with forty-five songs and that went down to twenty-four songs two weeks before the recording started. I was in Tokyo at the Blue Note with George Duke, and I would go back to my hotel room and come up with arrangements. Right before we started recording it went down to fourteen pieces, although in the United States, I believe it is thirteen pieces included on the album. The European version has fourteen.

AAJ: The song selection is great, very inspired choices. It really is all about the music on this album.

JS: Yes, and that was really the whole point—to record songs in a very passionate manner. We all knew that Randy was going to sing. The talent and life experiences of all those involved on this project really are responsible for the result. What this record indicates to me is that we are indeed the same people, the same artists, and nothing has really changed—except we have matured tremendously.

AAJ: Do you have a favorite track?

JS: I would say that in my discussions with Randy "End of the Line is our favorite. It is one of my favorite songs that I have ever recorded, out of all the recordings that I have done.

AAJ: Why is that?

JS: It is the combination of how we did it. The lyrics are wonderfully put together. The melody and the lyrics are the perfect vehicle for musicians with my sensitivities, tastes, and values. It was the perfect vehicle for us to record in a very passionate manner. If you go back and listen to some of the original versions, you will hear how unique this new version is. We recorded these songs in such a way that this album is really a study in interpretation, [in] how songs can be interpreted.

AAJ: That is so true. Your piano playing accompanied by Randy's vocals compliment each other perfectly. You work in unison.

JS: I have values that, a lot of the time, are misunderstood. Yet I know that these values are real, and they have guided me throughout my life. I will say to a musician who is playing with me, "If you want to record on this album and I am leading it, then it is necessary for you to touch your instrument the same way that I am touching my instrument. In this case, on Feeling Good, I touched the piano the way that Randy was touching her vocal chords. All of us understood that. We all touched our instruments with the same touch.

AAJ: That is something that the listener hears immediately. Will you be on tour soon?

JS: Yes, we will be going to South Africa, then we will return to the United States. We will be doing shows in Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Chicago. Tour dates are continuing to surface.

AAJ: Would you at some point, like to record a new Crusaders album?

JS: There has been a lot of talk recently. In fact, the Crusaders, along with Randy, performed a show in Cerritos California. It was a wonderful show. Stix [Hooper] did not accompany us. Stix, at this point in his life, does not have the desire to go through the rigors of the road. If we are going to record then we also want the acceptance of supporting the recording. However, in the meantime if I can get some other musicians together, including myself and Wilton Felder of the original band, it will happen. We have been very successful with incorporating other musicians who really understand and can offer something along the spirit of the Crusaders.

Joe SampleAAJ: That is definitely something to look forward to! Do you have any other plans in the making?

JS: In the future other than doing another recording with Randy, I would certainly love to work with Laylah Hathaway—they are two of my favorite artists.

Also, there is a musical play that I have been trying to get off the ground since '95. It is the story a woman who was the founder of an order of black nuns known as, the Sisters of the Holy Family. They were created in New Orleans. The story spans from the 1840s up to her death in 1862. Those nuns eventually educated me and my family in the 1940s and '50s.

It is an incredible story about the dedication of these young women who worked with dying slave women. I am beginning to have conversations with some of the politicians from the state of Texas. I would love for Texas and Louisiana to be the first sponsors of this musical. We have to get the go-ahead with the seed money and then, the actual writing of the music will begin.

Selected Discography

Randy Crawford & Joe Sample, Feeling Good (Telarc, 2007)
Joe Sample, Soul Shadows (Universal, 2004)
Joe Sample, The Pecan Tree (Umvd, 2002)
Joe Sample, The Best of Joe Sample (Warner Bros, 1998)
Joe Sample, Sample This (MCA, 1997)
Joe Sample, Old Places, Old Faces (Warner Bros, 1996)
Joe Sample, Did You Feel That? (Warner Bros., 1994)
Joe Sample, Invitation (Warner Bros, 1993)
Joe Sample, Ashes to Ashes (Warner Bros, 1991)
Joe Sample, Hunter (MCA, 1983)
Joe Sample, Voices in the Rain (MCA, 1981)
Joe Sample, Carmel (ABC Records, 1979)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Courtesy of Yamaha
Bottom Photo: Dragan Tasic

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