Joe Sample is one of jazz pianists and composers who have bounded their creative directions with crossroads between many music genres – soul, fuky, gospel, blues, jazz, classical and even pop music. Great culture of sound, perfect timing and articulation, nice phrasing and dynamics make him number one pianist in smooth jazz. He is best known in USA where he was born and where he is active since 1952. His music is some kind of American culture inner phenomenon, well recognized in USA, also in other countries of both Americas and in Asia but rather weakly known in Europe. It’s only European problem. Some of his compositions have entered the repertoire of non-jazz musicians and are played in various contexts, best known is One Day I’ll Fly Away performed by Randy Crawford in 1980 being the reference do Schubert’s Impromptu G-flat Major. Later it was sung by Nicole Kidman as a part of Moulin Rouge movie and recorded by Keith Jarret with Charlie Haden on their 2010 Jasmine album.
In fact he started very early, he became to learn playing the piano when he was five. As 13-years-old student with his high school friends Wilton Felder playing bass and saxophone and drummer ‘Stix’ Hooper he formed jazz group The Swingsters. He started piano studies in Texas Southern University, but he never ended with academic degree. Instead he expanded the band to Modern Jazz Sextet and later Jazz Crusaders which was by the name referencing to Jazz Messengers. In 1960 with the band he moved from Huston to Los Angeles. In sixties the group played hard bop with elements of soul and R&B which resulted with popularity. In 1971 the name was shortened to The Crusaders and musicians switched to electric jazz-funk style which was probably the best decade in history of the band. The group was active until 1987 when it was disbanded. Fifteen years later it was reunited and recorded again.
|Joe Sample – Rainbow Seeker (1978)|
Joe Sample is well known as pianist playing various genres from jazz with Miles Davis and George Benson, blues with Jimmy Witherspoon, B. B. King and Eric Clapton to rock with Steely Dan and soul with The Supremes. In 1969 he started recording albums signed by his own name. More than twenty records show the history of changing style and developing creative ideas. Second Sample’s album Rainbow Seeker from 1978 can be seen as perfect realization of smooth jazz idea. To understand it better it is good to remember the special moment this music was played. Ten years after modern and free jazz has dive in fusion music, after late seventies disco and funk burned in straight rhythms and rebellious punk rock took over big part of rock scene, there was not many other possibilities for selling new music.
Joe Sample like many other jazz musicians came out with his own fusion of jazz, funk, blues and pop elements. Joe Sample who is playing keyboards along with section from The Crusaders – drummer ‘Stix’ Hooper and basist Robert ‘Pops’ Popwell. He was also author of strings orchestrations. Record features long list of special guests, there are Paulinho DaCosta, Garnett Brown, Ernest J. Watts, Fred Jackson, Robert O. Bryant, Jay Daversa, Steven Madaio, Ray Parker, Dean Parks, Billy Rogers and David T. Walker.
Maybe arrangements are the best part of this record. After more than three decades they still capture the soul of the easy listening. And the result is perfectly smooth. Musicians are improvising fluently and lightly avoiding too much expressive interval jumps, harmonic roughness or rhythmic instability. This makes their easily waving phrases enchant and comfort listener. There can be no misunderstanding. And maybe this is why millions of Americans for decades had listening fragments of Rainbow Seeker album in “Local on the 8s” of Weather Channel. The title piece was featured in 2008 on The Weather Channel Presents: Smooth Jazz II compilation. The drive and touch of this piece is unique and consecutive songs show these values are applicable to the whole album. His solo in Melodies of Love is clear and perfect the way reserved for best compositions – it is really hard to believe it was improvised. And how deep he can exploring the sound of grand piano he showed in Together We’ll Find A Way, the solo piece closing B-side. For sure it’s worth to keep in you memory.