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The New Crusaders

TSU restarts its jazz program, tapping into the talents of the fabled Joe Sample and kids looking for a place to play.

As a TSU instructor, Sample has completed the circle he started in 1958 when he and fellow Fifth Ward natives Wilton Felder, Stix Hooper, Wayne Henderson, Henry "La La" Wilson and Hubert Laws, at that time known as the Modern Jazz Sextet, ditched TSU for Los Angeles. "Four of us shared one room with one bed and two mattresses on the floor. Man, we were just young and very hungry," remembers Sample.

In 1960, all but Laws and Wilson formed the Jazz Crusaders, which dovetailed into the Crusaders. Whereas Miles Davis operated in an extemporaneous, improvisational format with rock instruments, the Crusaders put a smooth Southern spin on jazz-rock with 1971's Pass the Plate, considered by many to be the first jazz-funk album. It startled the jazz world and grabbed the attention of mainstream rock fans.

Noe Marmolejo, director of jazz studies at UH's Moores School, views the landmark album as a significant shift for jazz musicians.

Joe Sample, who became a heavy-hitting jazz musician after leaving his native Houston in 1958, leads a big-band rehearsal at Texas Southern University. The Crusaders' co-founder, hired by TSU President John Rudley in fall 2012, is currently TSU's jazz-studies program's artist-in-residence.
Photo by Marco Torres
Joe Sample, who became a heavy-hitting jazz musician after leaving his native Houston in 1958, leads a big-band rehearsal at Texas Southern University. The Crusaders' co-founder, hired by TSU President John Rudley in fall 2012, is currently TSU's jazz-studies program's artist-in-residence.
Sample breaks down a piece of music for TSU student and pianist Britney Bloom. The university, which is attempting to reinvent itself following a series of public embarrassments, competes for the best students with the music schools at Rice University, University of Houston and University of North Texas.
Photo by Marco Torres
Sample breaks down a piece of music for TSU student and pianist Britney Bloom. The university, which is attempting to reinvent itself following a series of public embarrassments, competes for the best students with the music schools at Rice University, University of Houston and University of North Texas.

"After Pass the Plate, lots of jazz players were in demand to tour with rock bands or work sessions with rock bands. So for a while there, it became easier to make a living, and that kept a lot of people in the game who might've dropped out otherwise," says Marmolejo.

By the mid-1970s, the group found themselves touring with the Rolling Stones. The Crusaders' 1974 African tour became a frenzied celebration of world music. Paris swooned, London welcomed and The Beatles were fans.

In the late '70s, Sample experienced an existential crisis when the band, sans Henderson, moved to the MCA record label. "Suddenly, we had the accountants and suits telling us what to do. Nothing was the same after that," says Sample, who believes that the births of hip-hop and punk rock were negative blows to jazz.

Complicating the situation: All of those jam-packed years of performing and touring started to ruin Sample's health. A second heart attack in 1995 — Sample has a congenital condition in which his liver manufactures too much cholesterol — was the impetus for his Houston relocation.

"I was really thinking about New Orleans until [R&B and soul singer] Aaron Neville told me his astrologer had told him that he had a vision of New Orleans as a huge lake. Finally, things just fell into place, and I decided to come home," says Sample, who lives in Clear Lake with his wife, Yolanda.

"I think it's safe to say that in this business, I've just about done it all. Everything from ­cattle-call auditions in L.A. to concerts in Zaire. I've played shitty gigs, and I've played in stadiums," says Sample, who was awarded an honorary PhD by TSU even though he never graduated from the school. "My mission at TSU is to pass that experience on to the next generation, who will keep this thing alive and real."

For students like saxophone protégé and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native Jordan Donald, 22, the impact of working with a master musician like Sample has been the best experience.

"What impressed me is how exacting he is," Donald says about Sample. "That man is so serious about this...the reason he is so demanding and can get so irritated is that when his music gets played, he wants the audience to get the feeling he had when he wrote it.

"That search for how to play those compositions and get the feeling across, that was a huge eye-opener for me. That's probably the lesson I'll always remember that I got from Mr. Sample," Donald says.
_____________________

Until his senior year in high school, music was an afterthought for Horace Young, who participated on Yates's football and track teams. That changed when the Houston native, now a bald and sharply dressed adult who looks a decade younger than his 59 years, saturated himself in all aspects of TSU's music program.

After earning his bachelor's at TSU in 1978, he started his advanced studies at Rice's Shepherd School but quit to become a freelance musician and teacher. From the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s, Young predominantly lived and worked in New York City, collaborating with Anita Baker, Bill Withers and the popular South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (a.k.a. Dollar Brand).

After relocating to tiny Pullman, Washington, to teach woodwinds and coordinate the music business degree program at Washington State University (where he had finished his master's studies in 1983), Young was offered the TSU gig shortly after returning to H-town for family reasons in 2008.

"It represented a chance to contribute to the environment that helped make me what I am," says Young, who leads the Jazz Experience Big Band and teaches combos, improvisation and jazz theory. Young, a divorced parent of an 18-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, lives in Houston.

Instead of enrolling in the jazz-studies program, Donald, the up-and-coming saxophonist, majored in communications for practical reasons. Before Young's appointment and Sample's arrival, Donald, on track to walk after the spring semester, struggled to find a point to college.

"[Young] took a real interest in me, in helping me deal with school, helping me develop my skills," says Donald. "I think if he hadn't come into the picture, I'd have left school and not finished my degree."

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