Musically speaking, Joe Sample stands as one of the most consistent and significant artists in jazz today. During his 45 years, first as a Jazz Crusader and then as a solo musician, Joe’s contributions to jazz are widely known and he has become a cultural icon amongst his fans and peers alike. His world-class prominence as one of the genre’s most prolific pianists has not tarnished him in any way and he is down to earth and personable by most standards.
On any given day when he is not recording or touring, Joe can be found holding court somewhere in his native Houston, Texas. Having grown up in the 5th Ward section of the city where he began his musical career with Wilton Felder, Wayne Henderson and Stix Hooper during the 1960s, Joe has come full circle since moving back to Houston in 1994. He has also taken on a number of community-oriented projects that have become a passion of his and a labor of love.
During his childhood, Sample attended Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School, the oldest African-American private grade school in Houston and the State of Texas. Even today, the school holds fond memories for him and continues to be a primary influence in his life. Since moving back home, Joe has used his stature as a prominent jazz musician to help raise funds for Our Mother of Mercy and another parochial institution, otherwise known as St. Mary of the Purification, the first and only African American Montessori School in Texas and one of only two in the entire United States. Sample considers both schools to be important in the development of childhood character, education and growth.
To further those ideals, he has formed The Joe Sample Youth Education Organization, Inc., a non-profit entity that benefits both schools. In addition, it also pays homage to Henriette DeLille, a Creole or free woman of color from New Orleans who established along with Juliette Gaudin one of the first orders of African American Catholic nuns in 1842. Henriette’s contributions are widely known as a feminist, social worker and educator at a time when a woman of color or any woman for that matter was discriminated against. During her relatively short life, she overcame numerous obstacles to achieve her goals and objectives. Her influences were so significant, Henriette DeLille has been petitioned to become the world’s first native-born Black American Saint. With the two schools always on his mind and to lend credence to Henriette’s prominence in history, Joe Sample has taken on mantle of humanitarian.
To further the historical significance and continued development of Our Mother of Mercy and St. Mary, as well as the accomplishments of Henriette DeLille, Joe Sample brought his trio and the sweet melodic voice of Ms. Randy Crawford to the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, Texas. What began as a benefit concert with one of the finest endeavors in mind, soon evolved into one of the most dynamic concerts seen to date.
First and foremost, Joe Sample is not your typical mundane smooth jazz pianist; he and his trio brought acoustical jazz to an ornate traditional setting for this specialized event. The Grand 1894 Opera House was just the right location for Joe’s style of music, as he combined contemporary, straight and stride influences into one unique blend of perfected sound. Between songs, Joe lamented about his early childhood experiences and how important education was for him and to the children of today. He also believed it was just as important for him to give back to the community he loves so well.
For the first time ever, Joe and company graced the stages in Galveston with the Henriette DeLille Legacy Concert, an event filled with high expectations and serious intent. By all accounts, not only was the performance sold-out, it was also a huge success. In Joe Sample’s mind, this was the beginning of something he would continue until he just could not do so anymore. Melanie Lawson of Houston’s affiliate station ABC Channel 13 was the emcee for this very auspicious performance. Before bringing Joe Sample and his trio to the stage, Melanie a native Houstonian herself also spoke of Our Mother of Mercy and St. Mary and the relative importance each one had on her while growing up. She too agreed that is important for each of us to give back to the community in some shape, form or fashion. Melanie’s introduction of Joe exhibited a passionate display of genuine affection for his efforts. When he came onto the stage, the audience displayed the same level of affection with thunderous applause.
Initially, Joe began the concert as a true Texan with a cut entitled "Texas Two Step" from the CD ‘Pecan Tree,’ a release that reflected upon Joe’s experiences in Houston and New Orleans during his youth. The song featured some lively upbeat stride influences augmented by and exceptional array of straight ahead and contemporary jazz piano fingerings. Other aspects of the concert included songs from the album ‘Spellbound’ and a few other dynamic recordings Joe has released during the last 15 years.
Between songs, Joe had the audience in stitches as he told stories about his Mother, his ongoing efforts to record with George Benson and a most hilarious tale about himself and Marie Leveau, the voodoo queen of 19th century New Orleans, Louisiana. For more than an hour, Joe Sample thrilled the audience in both story and song before presenting the talented Randy Crawford, one of the most phenomenal jazz and R&B vocalists around today. She and Joe have a long-standing friendship dating back to the #1 Hit entitled "Street Life" that was recorded with The Crusaders in 1979. The track was recorded for the movie soundtrack entitled ‘Sharky’s Machine’ that starred Burt Reynolds. For many in the audience, it was their first encounter with Randy in a live concert setting; however, they were not in short supply with their admiration for her. She is highly regarded and widely known for her amazing grace and impeccable talent. For the City of Galveston, it was the very first time Crawford had graced the stages of the Grand 1894 Opera House. All-in-all, September 17, 2005 was a night of numerous firsts and the beginning of an odyssey that will ultimately support a long standing tradition of excellence.
Randy Crawford’s performance was a definite treat as well, due to the Joe Sample Trio serving as her back-up group. Collectively, they traversed a path across Randy’s storied years as one of the ultimate divas of song. She and Joe pulled into play standards such as "Cajun Moon," "Rio De Janeiro Blue," "Imagine," "Street Life" and a host of other memorable delights she is most noted for. Randy Crawford is an exceptional vocalist and has the unique ability to communicate in every genre and a variety of singing styles. The complement of Randy Crawford along with Joe Sample was full of verve in a setting that proved to be a jazz concert worth its weight. As most performances go, the combination of two of music’s most innovative performers in an environment that pristinely displayed their talents in an intimate and personal manner provided jazz with a Texas-styled shot in the arm.
Galveston, Texas is 50 miles from Houston and most of the individuals in the audience drove from Houston. The significance of this is the notion that the greater Houston metropolitan area is not known for its love of jazz, especially contemporary/straight ahead music that is not played on smooth jazz radio stations. Patrons of the concert actually made the trek from Houston to Galveston, which led to a successful event. In 1994, the recording industry told Joe Sample his style of play was no longer in demand, what a strange turn of events that has turned out to be. In the hearts and minds of many devoted fans, Joe Sample is a true jazz master as well as a cultural icon. During the Henriette DeLille Legacy Concert, he and Randy Crawford proved that the end is not yet in sight for either of them. When Joe reflected back upon the enthusiastic response he and Randy received from the audience, ideally he knew there is no place like home.