Along with Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson, Joe Sample helped keep jazz part of mainstream popular music while retaining his musical integrity and deeply felt soul underpinnings. Sample came to fame with his excellent Los Angeles-based hard bop and soul jazz group the Jazz Crusaders, which morphed into the Crusaders when it was clear that the public would keep buying instrumental music if it didn't know it was listening to jazz and thought it was rock or funk. Hugely successful, the Crusaders remain an on-again/off-again act, while Sample has gone on to an equally rewarding solo career. Whether he's playing smooth FM radio jazz or gritty soul jazz and chicken shack funk (he constantly moves back and forth between the three styles), Sample's lean, rhythmic keyboard playing is a hallmark of both his solo wotk and the Crusaders. His 1978 smash, Carmel, still sounds good today, and the much-sampled Crusaders continue to spread their R&B-drenched gospel to younger listeners who have discovered jazz through the club scene.