Joe Sample is a pianist of great energy, versatility, and enterprise. He has constantly sought out novel directions to express his ideas. Since his days with the Jazz Crusaders to his multiple solo efforts and countless sideman sessions, though never seeking the spotlight, is recognized by both his peers and the knowing public as a first class musical artist
Born on February 1, 1939, in Houston, Texas, Joe Sample grew up in a fertile musical Creole neighborhood hearing zydeco and Louis Armstrong. He started playing the piano at age five, and he incorporated a range of local traditions into his music: jazz, gospel, blues, and even Latin and classical forms.
In high school in the 1950s, Sample teamed up with two friends, saxophonist Wilton Felder and drummer Nesbert Stix Hooper, to form a group called the Swingsters. While studying piano at Texas Southern University, Sample met and added trombonist Wayne Henderson and several other players to the Swingsters, which became the Modern Jazz Sextet and then the Jazz Crusaders, in emulation of one of the leading progressive jazz bands of the day, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Sample never took a degree from the university; instead in 1960, he and the Jazz Crusaders made the move from Houston to Los Angeles.
The group quickly found opportunities on the West Coast, making its first recording, “Freedom Sounds” in 1961 and releasing up to four albums a year over much of the 1960s. The Jazz Crusaders played at first in the dominant hard bop style of the day, standing out by virtue of their unusual front-line combination of saxophone (played by Wilton Felder) and Henderson's trombone. Another distinctive quality was the funky, rhythmically appealing acoustic piano playing of Sample, who helped steer the group's sound into a fusion between jazz and soul in the late 1960s. The Jazz Crusaders became a strong concert draw during those years.