Boney James is Keeping The Beat

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Boney James Picture TwoBy Leslie J. Griffin

International saxophonist Boney James is smooth.  But he wants to set the record straight on one thing.  He is not a smooth-jazz artist.  The three-time Grammy-nominated instrumentalist has sold more than three million records by blending a hybrid of music genres into the robust sound the world has come to love. Now back with his 14th album ‘The Beat’, Boney perfects the melodies of R&B, Latin rhythms, percussion and soul.  ‘The Beat’ features top industry artists and displays a well-mastered score of love, poetry and intimate vocals.  James has won numerous awards while holding top spots on music charts making him one of the best in the league.

Boney is set to take the stage for the Easter Jazz Spectacular on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at Detroit’s historical Fox Theatre.  The music powerhouse will be joined by jazz legends Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Maysa and Najee. James talked exclusively with Tipping Point Education Post about his music and why he’s just Boney.

Hey Boney, it’s Leslie, how are you?
I’m doing well thanks.

I don’t know if you have the FaceTime app on your phone but if you do, you will see that I’m smiling from ear to ear because it’s not every day I receive a call from Boney James.
Thank you (laughing).  Well I don’t have an iPhone.  I’m just calling on the landline.

I want to begin with saying thank you for the amazing music you have made and contributed over the years as an international jazz artist. What has it all been like? 
Yes.  It is so important to try and smell the roses as you go along the path of life for everyone I think.  And I am super grateful and happy.  When I started I thought my mom was going to be the only one who bought my records and I thought that I was going to have to go back to delivering pizzas for a living. So in show business you do not know how it is going to go. So the fact that I’m still playing after 21 years after my first record came out is great.  So I feel like I am at the top of my game creatively and people still seem interested in it.  I am super blessed.

Boney James Picture OneWhat are the Boney James’ elements of jazz?
Well you know I am not so sure that Boney James and jazz are so closely tied together. People assume that if you are carrying a saxophone that you are a quote-on-quote jazz musician.  But I always thought of myself more as an R&B musician.  I grew up with more love for R&B music than just straight-ahead jazz. I’d much rather listen to Earth Wind and Fire than Charley Parker and stuff like that.  But you know the saxophone has a great tradition of wonderful music and improvisation but I’m really an R&B fan.  So my goal from the very beginning was to always be able to combine the two. And I was the one of first to do it.  You know from the 70′s of Grover Washington who was taking R&B and pop music and mixing it up with jazz and that was when I was sort of awakening as a musician.  So that is the tradition that I’ve always felt like I lived. I tried to expand on that just by bringing Latin music on the new record ‘The Beat’, which has a real Latin element.  I also try to work with a lot of contemporary R&B artists for vocals so my music is a little more eclectic than just jazz although I love improvisation.

What actually goes into the making of a Boney James album?  Do you constantly surround yourself with music or is there inspiration outside of music? 
The actual inspiration is such a mysterious thing.  You never know where the inspiration is going to come from.  They way it works for me is after I turn in a record, I spend about a year or sometimes two years promoting that record. After that period, I just go in my studio in my backyard everyday and just kind of mess around with music. That’s my hobby too and you just think thoughts and ideas from the sky into your head and explore them.You are set to release your 14th album on April 9, 2013.  Talk about the album and who you collaborated with.
I’m excited about the album. Every now and then I will write a song that does not feel like it’s instrumental. I’ve always loved collaborating with singers because it takes me to a different place and my albums to a different place. I have kind of always compiled a list of singers that I admire and I just keep that list in my pocket.  And Raheem DeVaughn was definitely someone who was sitting at the top of that list.  I saw him perform live and he was so great.  So one day I received a message that Raheem had started following me on Twitter and I was like you have to be kidding (laughing).  And so I told him that I had a track that I thought would be great for him and if he ever wanted to record to let me know.  And he replied back well if this is really you, then sure. So once we connected he liked it.  He did the song ‘Maker of Love’ in one night.  I think that song is the best vocal collaborations that I’ve ever done. He was powerful and the way the sax fits with his voice was more than what I imagined it would ever be.What will your listeners say is noticeably different from this album than from other albums in terms of style?
A lot of people that I have played it for says that is has great energy. They say it jumps off just a little more than the last two albums because those were just a little more laid back style wise. Everyone notices the energy and I think that was from mashing up the Latin and R&B.  I took some samba and funk and blended it with percussion. There is also poetry on this album.

You’ve done a lot of work with Rick Braun.  What do his talents mean to you as a fellow musician and friend?
Rick and I have been playing off and on together for many many years. Over the years we have collaborated a few times and it just felt real for him to come back and do a guest spot on the CD. He has a great energy.You talked about keeping a list of artists. Is there an artist that you want to work but haven’t yet?
Oh sure, I would love to get Stevie Wonder on a record because I am such a huge fan.  I love Maxwell and I think Miguel is an amazing new artist and Anthony Hamilton.  I actually worked with Mr. Hamilton on a Christmas album but I would love to get him on a real album?Boney James Picture ThreeHave you ever thought about Marsha Ambrosius?  I’m not her PR person, but I can hear her vocals with your music.
Yes, she is on my list too. We actually got together at the Soul Train Awards last year and it was great to meet her and hang out with her.

You’re going to be on the road right up until November.  How do you balance and what do you do when you are not gigging?
I’m a pretty quiet person.  My favorite thing to do is to be working but I don’t like being away from home or traveling that much.  Being on stage in front of audiences in one of my favorite things to do. Other than that, I’m a homebody and I like to read and hang out with my wife and watch movies.

You will be in Detroit on March 30 for the jazz explosion.  What has Detroit meant to your career and what will it be like to take the stage with so many other jazz greats?
Detroit has a very special place in my heart because when I made my first record ever as a solo artist, the second time I got on stage, I was opening up for Michael Franks and the record had just came out and the people were already there. And I was like wow.  It’s always been that way.  Every time I come to Detroit it goes well and this show has an amazing lineup.  It’s going to be at the FOX which is one of the greatest venues in the country so I can’t wait.

Stay connected with Boney James on Facebook and Twittter @boneyjames or via http://www.boneyjames.com/.

About Leslie J. Griffin