The first time I met Joe Sample, I was somewhat taken aback by the simplicity of his character as a world-class entertainer. As a jazz pianist, Joe has been a viable force in music for more than 45-years, with a resume that reads like a "Who's Who in Jazz." Upon meeting him, he was nothing like I expected, especially with all the accolades, awards, recordings and appearances he has accumulated as a Jazz Crusader and solo artist. My first impression of Joe was one of amazement. There was nothing pretentious about his personality, in spite of his many accomplishments and depth of talent. Joe has remained humble and has never forgotten the Fifth Ward section of Houston, Texas where he grew up in during his youth. Now that Joe Sample has moved back to the city of his birth, it is as though he never left the neighborhood at all. Whenever he is in town and not performing, he is approachable and very down to earth. On any given day, you may find him holding court with some of buddies or lamenting about the music that has inspired him. He finds great satisfaction in talking about all the artists and musicians who made their mark on him as a musician. In Joe's mind, these individuals are his 'Soul Shadows' and a reminder of from whence he came. They are also a reflective of his latest CD.
Released in October 2004, Joe Sample has taken the time to do two very important things musically. First and foremost, this latest recording is a look back at some of the jazz pianists who influenced him throughout his career. Secondly, it is Joe's first solo endeavor, something that he has always wanted to do, but never had the time for. In order to take on a project of this nature, an artist must have four things going for him. He should have the ability and talent to carry a project such as this alone and the tenacious creative spirit coming from within to make it happen. Joe Sample has all of these ingredients and then some to make what he has affectionately called his 'Soul Shadows.' With jazz as the driving force behind this latest CD, Joe's self-described musical statement is: "an overdue debt he owed to James Reese Europe, The Fighting 369th and all the innovators and pioneers of early American music." When he was young, Joe's father who was a World War I veteran would tell him stories that reflected upon the 369th Regimental Band and its leader James Reese Europe. One of the songs heard on 'Soul Shadows' was a trademark tune for Europe, which is entitled "How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm." Without research done by Joe on Europe, as well as the history of jazz and Black American music, along with the stories his father told him, that knowledge would have been lost in time. In Joe's mind, keeping jazz and Black American music alive by passing the word along to the next generation is what this CD is all about.
When Joe Sample sat down to make this CD happen, he wanted to musically discuss Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, as well as George and Ira Gershwin to name a few. Over twelve dynamic tracks of impeccably produced solo music, Joe's piano speaks affectionately about the influences that stride, boogie-woogie, ragtime and contemporary music had on jazz. Tracks such as Joplin's 'The Entertainer,' Ellington's 'I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good,' as well as The Gershwin's 'Embraceable You' carries listeners through a cornucopia of historical significance. As a solo project, Joe was extremely comfortable in that arena as well. When he was six years of age, Sample often played solo piano in his mother's living room during her after-church teas. That early foray was the beginning of a long career as one of the pioneering spirits that has focused upon contemporary and soul jazz. As a former member of The Jazz Crusaders, Joe, Wayne Henderson, Stix Hooper and Wilton Felder made history with their Texas R&B inspired contemporary jazz.
Before the release of 'Soul Shadows,' Joe Sample was interviewed by Jeff Kelly, a prominent air personality at Houston's KTSU "The Choice 90.9 FM. During the discussion, Joe spoke of the thought processes leading to his conceptualized idea to make the project happen. Overall, he deemed it important to remind Jeff's listeners of where the spirit of jazz came from; plus, he just wanted to give something back in payment for his success. When one thinks of Joe Sample, he has to be one of the last great contemporary jazz pianists of his time. His longevity, talent and passionate embrace of jazz has allowed him to re-introduce the "intuitive spirit that comes from within" the hearts and souls of influences who have made their jazz passage. For Joe Sample,'Soul Shadows' is long overdue, but for jazz beginners and connoisseurs alike, this is a reminder of just how important jazz has been to all of us for over 100 years.