An Appreciation: Joe Sample and the Crusaders, “It Happens Everyday” (1977)

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The jazz world — scratch that — the music world suffered a blow with the passing of the masterful pianist and composer Joe Sample last night at the age of 75. He’s probably best known as co-founder of the Jazz Crusaders (later known as simply, the Crusaders) and has made a bunch of fine contemporary jazz records on his own, but he was also called upon as a key sideman by everyone from Miles Davis to Eric Clapton.

Sample’s songs always had a melodic flair to them that transcended his natural jazz state; they were just as infused with RnB, classical, blues and fusion as anything else, and a throwback to the time when musicians sat in front of a piano and truly wrote tunes that utilized the range, mystery and majesty of that piano, all in the service of an exquisite strain.

The first song I think of when I think of Sample’s gift for that is the absolutely killer ballad that concludes the Crusaders’ landmark release Free As The Wind, “It Happens Everyday” (see my prior take on this song on Jazz.com). Here at the end of the album, after so much good hard groovin’ and rockin’, comes this tone poem that begins and ends with a drop-dead gorgeous strain. Lightly accompanied by strings, the rest of the band hangs back and just lets Joe spin his poetry through eighty-eight keys, topped off by one of his immaculate, wholly unique articulations on the solo section. Wilton Felder, his lifelong Houston friend and a Texas tenor sax legend, adds very little to the song, because nothing more is needed, really.

“It Happens Everyday” is probably Sample’s most covered song, though this and his other songs aren’t covered near enough. Now that he’s gone, perhaps there’s hope that musicians will pay homage to his underappreciated legacy and mine his rich catalog of compositions.

I often thought about what Sample had intended by the title. Does it mean “people fall in love everyday” or “beautiful things happen everyday” or something else entirely? Most likely, he left that open for listeners to decide as they absorb this song and the rich sonic imagery conjures up.

All I know is, a musician of Joe Sample’s talents don’t happen everyday, and so it isn’t everyday that I feel such a sense of loss. And I’m certain that I’m not alone in that sentiment.

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