2014 ARTICLES

WEIRD AL YANKOVIC

Songwriter Universe

By Jonathan Widran

 

            From digital downloads and streaming to the proliferation of satellite and internet radio, YouTube and countless new radio formats, the pop music landscape has changed significantly since 1983, when “Weird Al” Yankovic released his self-titled debut featuring his now classics “Ricky,” “I Love Rocky Road” and “My Bologna.” Yet one thing hasn’t changed for artists charting hit singles—the likelihood that the master song parodist will take their tunes to comedic places they could never have imagined. On his latest album Mandatory Fun, Yankovic’s targets include ubiquitous smashes by Pharrell Williams (“Happy”/“Tacky”), Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”/“Word Crimes”), Lorde (“Royals”/“Foil”) and Imagine Dragons (“Radioactive”/“Inactive”). The talented singer and accordionist also includes one of his trademark polka medleys (“NOW That’s What I Call Polka!), which includes snippets of recent smashes like “Wrecking Ball, “Call Me Maybe,” “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Gangnam Style” and “Best Song Ever.”

            As renowned for his hugely successful videos parodying Michael Jackson (“Eat It,” “Fat”), Coolio (“Amish Paradise”), Madonna (“Like A Surgeon”), Nirvana (“Smells Like Nirvana”) and Chamillionaire (“White & Nerdy”) as he is for the tracks on which they are based, Yankovic has partnered with such platforms as Funny Or Die and Yahoo! in a bold promotional move to roll out eight music videos (four parodies, four original songs) upon the release of the album, one each day beginning on July 14. His clever visuals extend to the album packaging artwork, which mocks communist and socialist propaganda and features an image of the artist looking stern and wearing a Russian military costume as planes fly over him. 

            A staple in pop music for several generations of fans and artists, Yankovic is the biggest selling comedy recording artist in history, with over 12 million albums sold. Now in his fourth decade, he has released 13 studio albums, won three Grammy Awards (out of 14 nominations), earned four gold and six platinum albums in the U.S. and performed over 1,000 live shows. As testament to his longevity, the versatile performer’s first Top Ten Billboard album (Straight Outta Lynwood and single (“White & Nerdy”) were both released in 2006, nearly three decades into his career. His last studio album Alpocalypse (2011), featuring the Lady Gaga parody “Perform This Way,” charted at #9 on the Billboard Top 200 – the highest debut of his storied career. The collection earned two Grammy nominations, for Best Comedy Album and Best Short Form Video for “Perform This Way.”

            “Comedy and music make me personally feel good, and I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living,” says Yankovic, who received his first exposure as a teenager via Southern California and syndicated comedy radio personality Dr. Demento’s radio show. “If I had to pick between the two, there’s no way I could do it. I know other people love the combination too, and I feel blessed to still be able to do it. Nobody expected me to hang around this long. I remember how hard it was to get my first record deal in the early 80s. People thought my stuff was funny but thought it might endure six months top because it was just novelty music that would be here today, gone tomorrow.

“The irony of my life is that in an industry where so many promising artists come and go, I still have a career,” he adds. “Some of that is luck and being surrounded by very talented people – and obviously I benefited by launching my career at the dawn of the MTV age so I could create videos as a natural extension of what I was doing. And even though the material is ostensibly funny or silly, there’s no less craft involved in it. I really work hard to write the best parodies and original songs I can.”   

            Though Yankovic has recorded scores of clever originals throughout his career, it’s his seemingly effortless ability to craft pop parodies that drives his comedic genius. Asked whether he has actual video images in mind when he writes, he says, “If I write a good parody it will probably lend itself to a video, but I always start with the songs. First and foremost, they must stand on their own as song lyrics and I’m always mindful of their ability to work first without visual aid.”

            Further explaining his unique songwriting process, Yankovic adds, “In general, everything begins with the title hook, which is often a pun on the original song title or something that changes its meaning or is the inverse opposite. From there, it’s about finding every which way to go and make it funny with a story that revolves around the hook. People ask how I come up with those and my only response is that my brain is wired that way. It comes naturally for me. But I don’t just dash these out freestyle. Once I have a concept, for a week or two I will just jot down notes and thoughts, phrases and words that have something to do with the concept. Once I have dozens of pages of notes, I’ll review what I have, pull out the best ideas and see what I can twist and make funnier. Then the craft element enters and I work towards making the story and its best lines and rhymes fit the parameter of the original song.”

            Yankovic, who now has an 11 year old daughter who helps him keep his finger on the pulse of the hippest sounds in pop music, has always believed that a great song is one that has a musical and lyrical hook that “somehow grabs you the first time you hear it on the radio.” The ultimate key to a memorable parody? “As with a regular song,” he says, “you’ve got to hold their attention. Some parodies hit the punchline in the first chorus and peter out from there. I always try to write a story that will hold people’s interest all the way through – where the third verse is actually better than the first. That’s always a challenge but when it works, the results are a lot of fun.”

 

LINDSEY STIRLING

Songwriter Universe

By Jonathan Widran

 

            Lindsey Stirling was six years old when she asked her mom if she could take violin lessons after attending an orchestral concert her parents took her to. She recalls being particularly fascinated by the concert master, who stood up and tuned the entire orchestra and whose first stroke prompted the ensemble to play. “I wanted to grow up to be a concert master, because they were the rock star of the orchestra,” she says. Stirling never reached that childhood goal, but these days, she’s a fast rising force in another realm, completely changing the way her chosen instrument is perceived. Her groundbreaking mix of Celtic folk, modern classical, dance, rock and EDM made her a YouTube sensation (with over 4.8 million subscribers and 600 million total views on her Lindseystomp page), and her just released sophomore album Shatter Me (on her indie label Lindseystomp) debuted on the Billboard 200 at #2.

            Currently in the midst of a 46 city U.S. tour, the 27 year old classically trained musician first came to prominence in 2010 as a “hip-hop violinist” on America’s Got Talent. Voted off during the quarter finals, she was told by then-judge Piers Morgan that the world had no place for a dancing dub-step violinist. The rejection fueled her resolve to succeed on her own terms and use the violin as her ultimate form of personal expression, regardless of what industry insiders might say. Her success story has become an inspiration to millions of fans across the globe.

“The same reasons I was told I wouldn’t succeed are the reasons people travel hundreds of miles to see me now,” she says. “Because it’s different. Because it’s something you haven’t seen before. The other night at my show in L.A., a fan told me he traveled from Moscow to see me. He said it was so unique that he had to see me do it live. That’s been the theme of my life. It’s okay to be different and think outside the box, because life is more beautiful when it has a lot of different colors.”

             In a true example of the DIY indie spirit, the Gilbert, Arizona native found the perfect outlet for her unique music and visual style on YouTube. After her experience on America’s Got Talent, cinematographer Devin Graham reached out and the two created a video for her song “Spontaneous Me,” which helped launch her channel. Her video for “Crystallize” – which later appeared on her self-titled debut album – has racked up 94 million views, finishing as the eighth most watched clip of 2012. Stirling’s cover version of “Radioactive” with Pentatonix won Response of the Year in the inaugural YouTube Music Awards last year. She is famed for taking requests and has also recorded unique versions of the theme from “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Game of Thrones,” the video games Zelda, Pokemon and Skyrim, and songs by Michael Jackson and Rihanna. She uploads all of her videos to Lindseystomp, which in addition to her music videos features short comedy films – many featuring her alter-ego, a “superfan” called Phelba.

Stirling’s viral success fueled sales of over 300,000 in the U.S. for the first album, which she released independently on Lindseystomp. Lindsey Stirling also went platinum in Germany, gold in Poland and Switzerland, reached #1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronica chart and Classical Album chart and reached #23 on the Billboard Top 200. It also earned her a 2014 Billboard Music Award nomination for “Top Dance/Electronica Album.”

           In addition to its promising start on the Top 200, Stirling’s follow-up album Shatter Me, which has physical distribution through AMPED and digital distribution through Tunecore, debuted at #1 on various charts: the iTunes and Amazong MP3 chart, Independent Albums, Classical Crossover Albums and Dance/Electronica Albums chart. It sold 56,000 units in its first week of release. This makes Shatter Me the highest charting independently released album on the Billboard 200 since Garth Brooks’ Blame It All On My Roots. The video for the album’s second single “Shatter Me,” featuring vocalist Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, snagged over 5.3 million views in its first month. The lead single “Beyond The Veil” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Classical Digital Songs chart. Stirling performed the song on VH1’s Big Morning Buzz. 

         “It’s all been kind of crazy,” she says from a tour stop in San Francisco, “because my whole life since I was a tiny kid, I wanted to perform and share and entertain people. I still can’t believe I play violin and play for thousands of people every night and entertain them in my own way that’s so untraditional. I like to say that I’ve found a way to turn the violin into a ‘me’ experience, where I have made the instrument fit what I want to do with it rather than the way I grew up when I had to conform to the traditional parameters of what I was taught.

“At one point late in my teens,” she says, “I began feeling stifled, and wondered why I didn’t love the violin anymore. The feeling broke my heart because I once loved it so much. So I thought, what kind of music do I really like? What would be the best way to express who I really am? I always loved dance and EDM music so I started writing and improvising over tracks, and also started playing along to songs on the radio and creating my own arrangements. That led me to join my first rock band in high school, a Jimmy Eat World/Weezer type group called Stomp on Melvin, which led to some exciting early accolades like winning the state title of Arizona’s Junior Miss and a Spirt Award in their finals competition. Those were the first steps in finding my true voice as an artist.” 

With the lone exception of “Shatter Me,” Stirling as a songwriter is restricted to conveying emotion via her sweeping, often percussive violin melodies and powerful electronic or orchestral arrangements. “Because I’m an instrumental artist,” she says, “every chord I write has to create a feeling and express what I want to say. It’s all a matter of how I play those notes and how much vibrato I use. Because I’m speaking beyond words, mentally I have to go beyond the moment I’m writing in and return to the experiences where I gained empowerment or the inspiration that now motivates me to express myself through music.

         “If I want to compose a piece about feeling trapped,” Stirling adds, “I have to allow myself to be vulnerable and not be afraid to open my heart – not only to other people but to myself. Sometimes I’m revisiting things I don’t want to remember but which at the same time are experiences that are amazing to write about. The times in my life I had a hard time getting through in the past now drive me to write songs I am happy to share with the world.” 

Not surprisingly based on the exciting visual experiences of her YouTube videos, Stirling makes her live show a true audio visual extravaganza, moving with the grace of a ballerina while working the crowd into a frenzy, “dropping the beat” like a rave fairy. She did several U.S. tours last year, but her increasing popularity has allowed her, on her current jaunt, to book larger venues and increase her production values considerably.

        “I love to create an experience for my fans,” she says, “and I wanted this show to be very theatrical, full of energy and dancing, with a lot of costume changes and colorful set pieces. One number is inspired by pirates, so my two backup dancers, drummer and keyboardist and I wear pirate costumes. We have some improvised numbers and a lot of choreography. In one segment, ‘Take Flight,’ we use video screens to make it look like the audience is flying with me as I soar through the clouds. The dancers have sheets and my dress is designed to lift up as a fan is used to create a wind effect. At the end of the show, my musicians dress in the edgy Celtic costumes they wear in one of my videos. I love costumes, love playing dress up and it’s fun to put a little Disneyesque magic in there among the fun times and personal moments.

       “This is the show I have dreamed of doing,” Stirling adds, “and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to create it and share myself with my fans this way. I’m excited to step out on stage with so many hard working people who are equally excited to be there to help me realize my vision.”

 

MAGIC!

Songwriter Universe

By Jonathan Widran

 

            Just in case pop fans needed a reminder, the Los Angeles based band of Toronto natives known as MAGIC! has titled their highly anticipated debut album Don’t Kill The Magic. Considering the ongoing global phenomenon generated by its lead-single, the reggae fusion driven “Rude,” that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Having debuted at #97 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early May, the song – pegged “Song of the Summer” by “The Today Show” - is now a Top 5 pop hit that has also charted on five different radio formats (CHR, HAC, RHY, AAA, AC and ALT) and reached #1 on the U.S. Shazam chart, #2 on the iTunes Top Singles chart and #2 on the Top Digital Songs chart. 

           Released as a digital download globally several months before it was out in the U.S., “Rude” has charted in over 35 countries, achieving platinum status in New Zealand and multi-platinum in Australia and Canada. The official video has received over 19.7 million views on YouTube. MAGIC!’s song “This Is Our Time” appears on the 2014 FIFA World Cup Official Album, and they are also featured on “Cut Me Deep,” a track from Shakira’s new self titled album; the track was co-written by MAGIC! with the Colombian icon and produced by the band’s Grammy winning lead singer Nasri and Adam Messenger, his longtime  partner in the production team The Messengers.

           “There’s no other way I can explain the success of ‘Rude’ except that it’s a combination of a catchy lyric and melody and a fun, fresh take on reggae with strong musicianship from the guys,” says Nasri of his MAGIC! cohorts, band co-founder Mark Pelli (guitar), Ben Spivak (bass) and Alex Tanas (drums). “How we wrote it was that I had a rough night with an ex lover and the next day I was with Mark talking about it and the lines ‘Why you gotta be so rude/Don’t You Know I’m human too?’ just popped out. He thought it was a good hook but I actually didn’t like it much at first. A few months later we revisited it and I had changed my mind and started to like it.

         “I remember sitting with Adam and telling him about how Mark liked it,” he adds. “Adam dug it too and we came up with an upbeat reggae groove and I started singing the lyrics – and 15 minutes later half the song was written. I thought it would be better if I changed the story’s perspective, so I had this picture in my head of a guy asking his father for his marriage blessing and getting rejected and went with it. It’s fun, soulful, easy and you know the hook right away. That’s what we want our songs to do.”

          Nasri Atweh brings years of success as an artist, songwriter and producer to his role as frontman of MAGIC! At 19, the Toronto native walked into a local radio station with a rough demo – which ultimately led to a deal with Universal Canada and two popular singles as an R&B artist. In 2002, he won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest with a song he wrote with Messenger.

          The two later formed “The Messengers” and helped spur the reunion of New Kids on the Block before becoming a Grammy winning production team. Nasri has written over the years for numerous top artists, including, David Guetta, Shakira, Cody Simpson, Cheryl Cole, Boyzone, JLS, Kat Deluna, Elliott Yamin, Jason Derulo, Akon, Pitbull, Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown, Big Time Rush, Michael Bolton, Peter Andre, JoJo, Jay Sean, Vanessa Hudgens, No Angels and Iyaz. The Messengers earned Grammy nominations for their work on Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0 (Best Pop Vocal Album) and Chris Brown’s Graffiti (Best Contemporary R&B Album) and won the 2012 Best R&B Album Grammy for Brown’s “F.A.M.E.” Their collaboration with Bieber and Rascal Flatts on “That Should Be Me” won a 2011 CMT Music Award for Best Collaborative Video. 

         When Nasri first heard Pelli playing with Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Nozuka, he heard “some beautiful colors in his playing” and felt that he could emote on his guitar as powerfully as the performer singer he was supporting. “The only other person I ever felt that with was Adam,” Nasri says. “So a bunch of time later Mark had moved to L.A. to pursue songwriting and we hooked up through a mutual friend. He came by my studio and we became fast friends and started to develop a creative relationship. I had been thinking of forming a band for the last five years, but always feared being unhappy working with other musicians who didn’t share my vision. But with Mark, I knew immediately we would be lifelong friends.”

          During one of their early writing sessions in 2012, Pelli strummed a reggae tinged riff and something clicked. “I’m a huge fan of The Police, and I always wanted to do a project that merged reggae, rock, pop and a little soul. The moment he began playing, it felt natural. Everything came together instantly. We began recording and the sound was so locked in on every song. That’s even where we derived the band name from. Everything simply worked like MAGIC! Within three weeks, Alex had also moved to L.A. from Toronto and the three of us started playing. Ben joined about five months later. The album is pretty diverse with a lot of rock and pop, but the reggae is a natural outgrowth of our musical roots because Toronto has a big Western Indian community and reggae is very popular there.”

          Asked to describe his songwriting process, Nasri engages in a playful metaphor about walking down the same street every day, but with slightly different changes in your surroundings. “A car may drive by, it might rain, a bird may fly over you, the wind may be still or breezy,” he says. “It’s essentially the same process but the walk is always a slightly different experience. So I see it like taking a walk with my musical buddies where you never know what will happen. Sometimes I actually dream songs. A melody may pop into my head, or maybe if I’m with Mark and he’s fidding with his guitar, I will say, ‘What’s that?’ and riff on it. Or Alex is listening to some dirty reggae and making a track, and I’ll say, ‘That’s hot, can you flip it?’ and we’ll turn it into a catchy pop song. You just never know what’s going to happen. We’re a new band so in some ways we’re always getting to know each other every time we write.”

         As for advice to aspiring composers, he says it’s all about attention to detail. “That’s the biggest thing people look past. I have a pretty intense attention to detail ethic. Anyone can start a song with a burst of inspiration, but finishing it and taking it all the way home requires ongoing inspiration. You really have to love the song you’re working on so this carries through if it takes a few weeks to get every last detail right. So the key is, write what you like and don’t worry about getting your hands dirty. That’s what makes MAGIC! tick so far. We’re very confident in our ability to write a good song.”

 

JOE SAMPLE TRIBUTE – SMOOTH JAZZ NEWS

 

By Jonathan Widran

 

It is testament to Joe Sample’s vitality and ongoing creativity as a multi-faceted musician, composer and artist that his passing on September 12 at age 75 seems way too soon – and leaves behind a lot of unfinished business.

Normally, when a legendary artist departs at that age, our focus is on celebrating a rich legacy. In the pianist’s case, this includes more than five decades of dynamic recordings, first in the 60s and 70s as a founding member of The Jazz Crusaders (later simplified to Crusaders), and later as a solo artist starting in the late 70s with Rainbow Seeker. Sample later appeared on hundreds of sessions for pop artists, including classic albums by Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan. In the 2000s, he recorded three popular duet albums with his longtime friend, R&B/jazz singer Randy Crawford, who sang on The Crusaders’ pop crossover classic “Street Life” in 1979. 

 

Yet in some ways, that vibrant history was all a warm up for Sample’s refashioning in recent years as Creole Joe, leading an exciting band of handpicked musicians in recording and performing a an exciting, Southern flavored gumbo of styles Sample called “Creole Folk Music.” In 1999, he moved back to his hometown of Houston and rediscovered the Louisiana bred “la la music” (another name for Creole music) that was an influential part of his musical development.

 

The Creole Joe Band grew out of Sample’s fascination for this historical genre, which mixed Cajun accordion, Mississippi and Texas Delta Blues and Texas two step. Touring as the leader of the group from 2011-13, the pianist and keyboardist vibed with his longtime friend and collaborator Ray Parker Jr. (guitar & vocals), renowned “crown prince of Zydeco” C.J. Chenier (accordion & vocals), fellow Houstonian Skip Nallia (keyboards), his talented bassist son Nicklas Sample and a host of New Orleans musicians, The group released a critically acclaimed self-titled album in 2013.

 

According to Parker, that recording was something of a “hodge-podge,” created and recorded at various studios over a period of time. Sample wanted its follow-up to feature the whole band starting the project from scratch and recording at the same time. He was still writing songs for a new Creole Joe Band project when he died.

 

“We saw that first album as an introduction, but this was the year that we were going to go into the studio and play the new music all at once,” Parker says. “It was all about friends hanging out and having a good time. The other band members found out what his son Nick and I already knew. Joe was a character. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He told it like it was. His humor was biting, but he only aimed it at you because he respected you. I played with him in a lot of settings, including numerous Crusaders gigs, and we always had a good time needling each other and bantering back and forth about things like missing cues and screwing up tempos. Then we’d laugh about it.

 

“With the Creole band, he encouraged us to dress up and wear crazy clothes, too. I got to wear jeans and suspenders and put orange strings on my guitar! He was always telling funny stories to audiences, but with the Creole Joe band, there was humor in the music and stage show as well. It was everything we loved about Joe, rolled into one.”

 

Parker adds that on a musical level, his one regret about his friend is that people never knew what a great singer Sample was. “He had an incredible voice,” the guitarist adds. “He could have had a career as a singer, but he never sang on his records. His death is crushing for me in many ways. I’ll miss the silliness and laughs and good times. But I’m also frustrated because this album was the one I was finally going to make him sing on two or three songs. The world will miss his piano and personality, but there was so much more that most people weren’t aware of.”

 

Case in point: Sample’s work on a musical called “Quadroon” with New England folk rock singer/songwriter Jonatha Brooke. For the past 16 years, he and Brooke had been collaborating on songs for this biography of Henriette DeLille, a 19th century New Orleans nun whom the Vatican declared “venerable” in 2010 and remains under consideration for sainthood.

 

After originally being rejected by the church, DeLille founded her own unofficial order that went on to establish an orphanage, a nursing home and network of schools across the Gulf Coast, including one in Houston’s Fifth Ward, where Sample was raised. A true passion project, “Quadroon” held its first stage reading in July at the Ensemble Theatre in Houston.

 

Sample, an inductee into the Houston Music Hall of Fame in 2013, was keeping up a regular tour schedule before he became ill, performing most recently in Montreux and concert halls across Italy. Since moving back to the Clear Lake area of Houston in the mid-2000s, he spent much of his time working as artist in residence at his alma mater, Texas Southen University – where he fronted the Joe Sample Select Orchestra and worked on special projects. He also performed there with the Creole Joe Band.

 

Parker’s lifetime of memories with Sample reach back to the early 70s when the guitarist moved out to L.A. from Detroit at age 18 and did sessions for Barry White and the Jackson 5 with the pianist and his Crusaders cohort, bassist and saxophonist Wilton Felder. Parker was a huge fan of the Crusaders (particularly their 1970 song “Way Back Home,” a major hit in the Motor City) – but the session where Parker first met them got off to a rocky start.

 

“I didn’t realize that Joe and Wilton were part of the Crusaders, if you can believe that,” the guitarist says. “I just thought they were two older guys on the session. When they came up with the groove, I said, ‘Nobody’s going to be dancing to that.’ Someone took me aside and said, ‘You just insulted the Crusaders.’ I asked, ‘Where are they at?’ and then realized my mistake. Of course we became great friends, but every gig we ever did together, Joe would introduce me and laugh, ‘At one time Ray had a big mouth.’ It was a running joke. He made his point in a funny way. Joe came to respect the way I could lock in a groove with the rhythm guitar and that led him to hire me over the years to work with him on his solo and Crusaders projects.”

 

Parker, who lived two blocks from Sample in the skiing community of Mammoth Lakes, California for many years, adds, “We all know Joe was an amazing talent, but he was an amazing human being whose passions sometimes surprised people. He was big into nature and skiing, which we often did together. I just loved the way he played, his impeccable phrasing and soul. He and Wilton were first class musicians I looked up to, but our friendship took on so many other dimensions. When he first told me he was moving to Mammoth, I told him he was crazy to buy a house in the middle of nowhere. Ten years later, I was a little older and finally came around and bought a house there. We would spend nights hanging out drinking cognac – and I don’t even drink cognac! He made me drink it and it was always so much fun.”

 

Parker says that he would like his friend to be remembered as more than simply an amazing jazz musician and artist. “Because he has this great history with the Crusaders and as a solo artist, everyone thinks of him that way,” he continues. “But if you look at his discography, he cut a lot more pop albums than jazz and appeared on many Top 40 hits as well. Jazz is a wonderful idiom but Joe could do so much more.”

 

To that end, Sample established himself as a “go to” session player in Los Angeles in the late 60s and 70s, recording with everyone from The Beach Boys, B.B. King and The Supremes to George Benson, Al Jarreau, Ray Charles, Seals & Crofts, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, Herb Alpert and Freda Payne.

 

The lifelong musician took up piano at age five, studying under renowned classical pianist Curtis Mayo. Sample and Felder first jammed together as students at Houston’s Wheatley High School in 1954 as The Swingsters. Joined later by drummer Stix Hooper and trombonist Wayne Henderson, the pianist and saxman became The Modern Jazz Sextet. After moving to Los Angeles in 1960 to begin their recording career, they renamed themselves The Jazz Crusaders.

 

In 1961, they recorded Freedom Sound, their first album for the Pacific Jazz label, and soon established themselves as purveyors of a funkier ”Gulf Coast” style of Jazz.  In the late 60s they teamed with record producer, Stewart Levine, added electric piano and bass to their sound, shortened their name to “Crusaders,” and quickly became seminal players in that explosive era of new music in the late 60s and 70s. Sample later found similar success as a solo artist with popular smooth jazz era recordings like Spellbound, Ashes to Ashes, Did You Feel That?, The Pecan Tree and The Song Lives On (a 1999 dual album with singer Lalah Hathaway).

 

Besides Nick, Sample’s survivors include his wife, Yolanda; three stepsons, Jamerson III, Justin and Jordan Berry; six grandchildren; and a sister, Julia Goolsby.

 

In an interview he did in Music Connection magazine in 1990, the pianist, alluding to the longtime passion he had for photography, was asked, ‘Do you have any goals you haven’t yet reached?’ He replied, “Just to continue to take snapshots as time unfolds. And I hope I live a long time, because I’ve got a lot of film left.”

 

In the interview Sample did for the Crusaders article in Smooth Jazz News in 2003, he said, “When we were on tour this summer, I recognized that I’ve gotten better as a player, and that I still have the desire to get better. The experience of performing is as powerful as when I was 22. On the bad side, I have to look in the mirror with all I have now and realize that, sooner than later, it’s all going to come to an end. My plan is to do it as long as I can.”

 

Joe Sample did just that – and the snapshots, musical and otherwise, he’s left us are magical, provocative and inspiring, even as we muse about what might have come out of all of that unfinished business he left behind.