Listening to the melodic smooth sounds of Grammy-nominated saxophonist Boney James is like picking up a vintage bottle of wine: It gets better with time. James is without doubt one of the finest jazz artists of this generation. Eight of the twelve albums James has put out have gone on to hit No.1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart.
Billboard went even further with its accolades of James, naming him as the No. 3 contemporary jazz artist in the last decade in 2010. But music charts don’t begin to define the music of James. Draped with smoldering influence of the 1970s genre, James has been draped with the sounds of R&B greats like Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and the explosion of fusion jazz.
His music comes from the soul. Perhaps this reason is why James’ version of the soul-rendered R&B hits like Ain’t No Sunshine, Sarah Smile, Creepin,’ Trust, Just Between Us and Sweet Thing, is able to connect to his audience with thirsty passion. Jazz and music fans nearly lost the gift of James playing the saxophone when he was in a serious car accident in the spring of 2010 that left his vehicle totaled and left him with a fractured jaw.
Thoughts of never playing again crossed his mind. After some time off, James was back at work, putting the finishing touches on “Contact,” his latest CD. Not only has James rebounded from his life-altering incident, he’s come back strong. James will be part of the star-infused lineup on Father’s Day weekend, doing his thing at the 34th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.
In a phone interview with News4usonline.com, James shared his thoughts on his CD, his career, and the car accident caused by a drunk driver that nearly took away his saxophone-playing days.
News4usonline.com: Describe Your Latest CD “Contact?”
Boney James: “I’m really proud of the CD, I’m so grateful that it’s been out there for over a year, but it’s still on Billboard’s top jazz sales chart. People are still picking it up. I’m very grateful for that. It’s one of those records where I wanted a little bit more energy.”
News4usonline.com: Define your music?
Boney James: “It’s so much easier for other people to do…It’s very personal for me. It’s so much better when you listen to it rather than talking about it. It’s probably a product of my influences when I was a kid growing up. (There were) a lot of R&B influences-Motown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and people like that. (There was) Grover Washington Jr. and a lot of the fusion music I listened to as a young musician. (There) is the modern R&B that we’ve grown up to love-soul and hip hop, and then my own personality coming out in this whole unique sounding thing.”
News4usonline.com: A lot of people have put your music more in the smooth jazz category. Do you allow one area of music define your sound?
Boney James: “Absolutely not. I don’t even know what smooth jazz really is. That came out of a radio format, which subscribes to a lot of different kinds of music. I think my music is also made up of a lot of different variety of music. I love jazz. I love R&B. I play the saxophone but I collaborate with singers sometimes. It is eclectic, I think. I think that’s probably a good way to describe it. It’s not bound by genre hopefully. Also, I think it’s a product of when I came up in the 70s. Even on the radio you hear a lot of different kinds of music. That’s all very natural to me.”
News4usonline.com: How does an artist like you continue to create music that is relevant?
Boney James: “I think that it just has to be honest, sincere and well-made. Music is never going to go out of style, anyway. A lot of the music I hear today, a lot of it is harkening back to stuff that came from the past…I try to keep my ears to the ground and just see what’s happening in production and arrangements and stuff like that. In terms of songwriting…stylistically, I don’t really try to copy too much stuff I hear, and try to just let it be. Hopefully, it’ll be an original idea that pops into my head. Then it will always be personal and fresh. That’s something hopefully will never go out of style.”
News4usonline.com: How much weight did the car accident you were involved in have on “Contact?”
Boney James: “I was halfway into making the record when I had this car accident. I couldn’t play my horn for a couple of months and really had a sense that I could have been killed. Whenever you have an experience like that, at least for me-the way I reacted to it was feeling super happy to be around. I think part that joy sort of came out in some of the music. And also, I got a lot of time just to concentrate on writing and arrangements and really focused on just trying to make as good as a record without even thinking about performance for awhile. And that was interesting thing. I think mainly the feeling I felt was the joy of living…people just tell me they’re feeling a lot more passion than even before, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
News4usonline.com: What did you do during that time when you weren’t able to play the saxophone?
Boney James: “It was just a natural thing the way it turned out. A lot of people seemed surprised and some people thought, ’Oh, I thought you’d be more depressed.’ But it just didn’t turn out that way for me. I’m not sure why that was, but I’ll take it.”
News4usonline.com: You’re making your fourth appearance playing at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Is each experience different? How would you describe playing at the Playboy Jazz Festival?
Boney James: “It’s always a huge rush. The Playboy Jazz Festival is so respected. You’ve got Bill Cosby and all of that star-power involved. And you’ve got the Hollywood Bowl. It’s one of the bigger venues I get to play in. It’s just an amazing thing every time I’ve done it. So I’m really looking forward to it.”
News4usonline.com: As a musician, who or what has had the most influence on your career?
Boney James: “In 1975, I had just moved to California, and I was seeking deeper into music because I had left all of my friends behind. It was in that same year-1975-1976-that “Mr. Magic” (Grover Washington Jr.) came out as well as Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Gratitude.” Those are two records I could not stop listening to. Gratitude puts out a lot of jazz elements because it was an R&B record. Grover was playing saxophone jazz but still had this vocal beat underneath.”
News4usonline.com: What kind of enjoyment or rush do you get from creating the music you put out?
Boney James: “Music is just really my whole life. I’m thinking about music almost all the time. Just to be able to make my living doing this is an incredible gift. I’m super grateful. I hope to keep it up.”