Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Grammy-nominated saxophonist Boney James made a full and strong comeback after a car crash that kept him from performing for several months. He is currently crisscrossing the United States on a year-long whirlwind tour of concerts and appearances. James and other award-winning artists performed last week in Washington and Alabama, where music fans braved hot summer temperatures to enjoy smooth and cool jazz fused with R&B (Rhythm and blues).
Boney James talks with VOA’s Jazz Beat about his tour, his new album and the car crash. Here’s the interview in full:
The accomplished saxophonist was driving home from a performance at the Newport Beach Jazz Festival in California last year, when he was stopped on a Los Angeles highway in traffic. “I got rear-ended by a drunk driver going at full speed. It was a terrible crash,” recalled James. “I couldn’t play my horn for two months, but once I got back into it I’m just happy to be alive,” he said.
James suffered a fractured jaw and two missing front teeth in the accident. He also received 14 stitches on his face. “I’m fully recovered now, and so grateful it’s a fading memory.” He had to undergo a plastic surgery. But all in all, the accident didn’t have any effect on his playing. “You know, I think I’m playing better,” the musician joked. He says the experience has actually had a positive effect on his shows and it was a great influence on the new album, Contact.
James plays a variety of music, although some are trying to typecast him as a jazz artist. “I don’t even really consider myself a jazz musician. You know, people would see you with your saxophone and think what you love is jazz,” James said. “My music has elements of jazz, but it’s also mixed up with R&B and pop music, and Latin music and all kind of things mixed up together; so hopefully it’s something original sounding.”
Boney James was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1961, and raised in New Rochelle, New York. Although he started on clarinet at the age of eight, he switched to saxophone at 10. He studied history at the University of California at Los Angeles, and began playing music full-time after graduation. He’s married to actress and filmmaker Lily Mariye, who is best-known as ‘Nurse Lily Jarvik’ on the popular 90s TV series “ER” (Emergency Room).
Considered one of the most prolific American saxophonists, James has released 14 albums since 1992 that have sold over three million copies each. His latest album, Contact, is still number one after eight weeks on the jazz charts. Eight other albums also ranked number one on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. He has four Gold albums, and 3 Grammy nominations.
“It’s all very exciting. You know, whenever you have a number one record or a gold record or you get Grammy nominations, of course it’s a dream come true for every musician,” said James who turns 50 next September. “All that stuff is sort of affirming. It’s makes you feel that you are on the right path.”
Boney James cites Grover Washington Jr. as an influence. “When I was about 13, I heard Grover Washington Jr. for the first time,” he explained. “He was the first guy I heard that was combining the R&B that I loved with the saxophone that I also loved. So, that’s the sort of the tradition that I’m still playing today.”
James says his new album, Contact, is kind of special to him. “It’s reflective of where I am right now… all original music, and it’s featuring some wonderful guest vocalists,” he said.
Contact was released late last March. It features high-profile vocal guest appearances, including platinum-selling singer and former member of Destiny’s Child, LeToya Luckett who sings “When I had The Chance”, R&B superstars Mario who sings “That Look On Your Face,” and Donnell Jones, and Grammy and Tony Award winner Heather Headley.
Earlier, Boney James and Latoya Luckett performed “When I had the Chance” on the Mo’Nique Show in Atlanta. He said the show will air on BET channel on June 22.
Some critics consider Boney James one of the most influential jazz artists of his generation. Billboard magazine named him “The No. 3 Top Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Decade.” But James prefers to not be labeled, saying, “I am just a saxophone player whose music has several different influences. Jazz is only one of them.” Here’s more in this report by VOA’s by Doug Levine:
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