Teaching jazz at Texas Southern University was probably the last thing on the mind of Joe Sample when the Phillis Wheatley High School graduate returned to his native Houston after tearing it up in Los Angeles for 40 years.
But Sample, who left TSU in 1958 with members of the Jazz Crusaders -- which would later become the Crusaders, a wildly successful band that married jazz with Fifth Ward-inspired funk-rock -- has been doing exactly that since the fall 2012 semester.
Aside from molding talented college students into potentially top-notch musicians, Sample, in a way, has been anointed to lead TSU out of the doldrums.
It wasn't just the Priscilla Slade spending debacle that gave the university a rotten rap. In September, before Sample got his feet wet as the school's artist-in-residence, TSU's Ocean of Soul marching band was caught up in a hazing controversy.
A month later, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) came down hard on the men's football and basketball squads, nearly levying the death penalty on each.
TSU President John Rudley tells Houston Press that everything is in place for the university to finally start making headlines for something good. He thinks that the school's jazz studies program -- which gave footing to Blue Note artist Bobbi Humphrey, top gospel singer Yolanda Adams and popular smooth jazz musician Kirk Whalum -- is the one to make over the school's squalid reputation.
Led by interim jazz studies director Horace Alexander Young, TSU could have the tools to compete with renowned in-state programs at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, the University of Houston's Moores School of Music and the University of North Texas' College of Music. For TSU grads who decide to stick around town, they may be able to land on Houston's solid ground for jazz musicians.
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