Joe Sample, who became a jazz star in the 1960s as the pianist with the Jazz Crusaders and an even bigger star a decade later when he began playing electric keyboards and the group simplified its name to the Crusaders, died on Friday in Houston. He was 75.
The cause was mesothelioma, said his manager, Patrick Rains.
The Jazz Crusaders, who played the muscular, bluesy variation on bebop known as hard bop, had their roots in Houston, where Mr. Sample, the tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder and the drummer Nesbert Hooper (better known by the self-explanatory first name Stix) began performing together as the Swingsters while in high school.
Mr. Sample met the trombonist Wayne Henderson at Texas Southern University and added him, the bassist Henry Wilson and the flutist Hubert Laws — who would soon achieve considerable fame on his own — to the group, which changed its name to the Modern Jazz Sextet.
The band worked in the Houston area for several years but did not have much success until Mr. Sample, Mr. Felder, Mr. Hooper and Mr. Henderson moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders, a reference to the drummer Art Blakey’s seminal hard-bop ensemble, the Jazz Messengers. Their first album, “Freedom Sound,” released on the Pacific Jazz label in 1961, sold well, and they recorded prolifically for the rest of the decade, with all four members contributing compositions, while performing to enthusiastic audiences and critical praise.
In the early 1970s, as the audience for jazz declined, the band underwent yet another name change, this one signifying a change in musical direction. Augmenting their sound with electric guitar and electric bass, with Mr. Sample playing mostly electric keyboards, the Jazz Crusaders became the Crusaders. Their first album under that name, “Crusaders 1,” featuring four compositions by Mr. Sample, was released on the Blue Thumb label in 1972.