Feb 11, 2014

In Praise of Joe and Rachel

Joe Sample, Old places Old faces

My first encounter listening to a symphony orchestra remains permanently fixed in my memory. Not so with jazz. My love of jazz gradually seeped into my being over time – such that while I knew that I really enjoyed listening to jazz by the time I was a senior in high school, I don’t remember exactly when that love affair started. I do, however, vividly remember where I was the first time I discovered the playing of jazz pianist Joe Sample. My wife Marcia and I were having dinner with her sister Toby, brother-in-law Murray and their two daughters Rachel and Rebecca in The Spinnaker atop the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As so frequently happens to me while dining out, recorded ‘background music’ begins to assume total ‘foreground prominence’ in my brain. I just can’t help myself. I said to the family: “This music is wonderful. I wonder who’s playing?” Rachel left the table and came back with the answer. “It’s an album called Old Faces Old Places by Joe Sample” she said. As soon as I got back to New Jersey I purchased a copy and have treasured it ever since.

Tunes I especially enjoy include Hippies on a Corner. In his liner notes Joe Sample speaks about walking in Haight Ashbury and being surprised that Caucasian ‘hippie flower children’ known for their ‘open’ attitudes toward just about everything would nonetheless insult him with racial epithets as he passed them. If you want a little listening challenge, go the album on YouTube (click “show more” and then click 25:58 by No.6) – and – see if you can detect when Joe quotes a musical childhood taunt that we all learned as children. Perhaps, seeing these individuals as somewhat juvenile, Joe may have hummed this in his head as he walked on by.

Souly Creole (click “show more” and then click 31:55 by No.7) is delightful and filled with subtle ‘dissonant’ humor. Listen for bassist Jay Anderson’s sassy solo in Miles of Blue (Blue Miles) – a wonderful tribute to Miles Davis (click “show more” and then click 43:12 by No.9). Drummer Ralph Penland is spectacular throughout – especially on the album title track Old Places Old Faces (click “show more” and then click 17:37 by No.4).

Why is Joe Sample on my mind right now? While I listen to his playing whenever the spirit moves me, I’ve made it a ritual to always listen to the entire album Old Places Old Faces on the first day of our annual pilgrimage to Cancun, Mexico. I listen with my eyes closed as I sit by that magnificent Caribbean water. It restores my soul. Having just returned home, this music is still echoing in my head as I write. In the last tune, Angels on My Mind, (click “show more” and then click 49:12 by No.10) Joe Sample alludes in his notes to dear ones who have passed, and it always brings more than a few tears to my eyes. It’s been fifteen years now since we lost Rachel to leukemia. She was just 28. I have Rachel to forever thank for taking the trouble to find out that it was Joe Sample’s wonderful artistry ‘in the background’.