As I was putting the finishing touches on last week’s Flashback Friday Moment of the Week, some breaking news came across the SiriusXM Watercolors broadcast I was listening to online: legendary jazz pianist Joe Sample had died. The longtime member of The Crusaders was one of the first names I learned when my father introduced me to the jazz genre. It was his style of jazz fusion and jazz-funk that really turned me on to music without words. In honor of his memory, this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series takes me back to what I consider to be one of his best tracks: “U Turn”.
How I first came across this moment? In identifying the moment I first came across “U Turn”, a trip in “the way way back machine” is required. It was back in the Summer of 1992. I remember it well because I had joined my father—who was driving trucks for BellSouth back then—on a run from Birmingham to Jackson, Mississippi in what would my debut in the Magnolia State. We were listening to a smooth jazz station on the radio inside of the truck’s cab and that’s when Sample’s track came on. It was around the 10-second point in the track that the drums kicked in and the flute followed immediately after. When Take 6 started with the lyrics on the track, that’s when my father interrupted me while I was in my zone of looking out of the passenger side window as we rolled along Interstate 20. He mentioned that the artist was one of the best ever. And that’s how I came to know of Joe Sample.
What it meant to me then? At the time, I was only 7 years old. I was actually more excited about being inside of the cab of a real-life 18-wheeler than I was about a jazz track from someone I had never heard of before. But it was something about this particular track that resonated with me. Maybe it was the Kenny G stuff that my dad had intro’d me to the year before. Maybe it was my father and I running into a real-life smooth jazz artist (Eric Essix) in Food Max a couple of days earlier. Maybe it was the fact that I had taken up band lessons towards the end of the school year and one of the girls I was crushing on (her name was Jennifer Williams…don’t ask me how I remember that) played the flute. Regardless of what drew me in, it was something unique. I liked the sound.
What it means to me now? This track has a special place in my heart and in my Windows Media Player…especially since Joe has passed. As my age far exceeded that of a 7-year-old spending a summer day riding shotgun while his father drove an 18-wheeler, I grew a real deep appreciation for the track and actually the lyrics that Take 6 sang on it. I actually got a chance to see Joe live at Blue Note Tokyo back in 2009. He was a fantastic performer. As for the track specifically, it’s one that I play when I’m making long trips down the road. It’ll be a favorite of mine for as long as my ears can hear. Rest in Peace, Joe…your sound will be missed.