Vicente Fernandez

Music Box: Get carried along with the playful, friendly songs of pianist Joe Sample

I'm a big fan of Joe Sample.

His music, since I've been tuned in, has always straddled the line between accessible pop and improvisational jazz. The pianist creates atmospheres I resonate with. If his songs were stories, they would carry me along with a Sherlock-style sense of intrigue, and their playful and friendly couplets.

Sample is the founding pianist of the Jazz Crusaders (later just The Crusaders), where he held court for two decades, first performing bop while easing his own signature funkiness into the mix. Sample met sax player and fellow Crusader Wilton Felder in high school, later running into trombonist Wayne Henderson in college at Texas Southern...