Boney James finds music a place to explore every feeling in the book

Published on April 6th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Ask saxman Boney James about the power of music, and he is quick to point out just how important it is.

“Instrumental music makes you feel things,” he said. “Maybe only certain kinds of people can hear that but people have going all the way back to classical times. It is evocative without lyrics and can cover every feeling from drama to happiness to sadness, just from the combination of notes and the melody.

James will perform Sunday at Thornton Winery as part of the 2017 Champagne Jazz Concert Series. He’s just released the album, “Honestly,” which has already started by spending two weeks at Number One of the Billboard xx charts.

“I never set out to do anything particular, and I thought I would ride the last record but the ideas poked into my head, and I had to poke my head up,” he said. “It was during the election and I was in the studio bopping my head with a smile on my face. That was the theme – a release of all the tensions. It was a really good way to communicate.”

He’s been communicating through music for some time, and it started with clarinet in New Rochelle, N.Y. “I went to the store when I was a kid and was looking for a trumpet, but they didn’t have any because everyone else was playing them,” he said. “So they had a clarinet and that’s how it started.”

But the opposite happened when he went to join the band at school: There were too many clarinets in the band and they needed a sax player.

“I was his best clarinet player so he figured I would have an easier time learning it,” he said.

When he moved to Los Angeles, he found that the musical styles he loved in New York were happening on the West Coast too.
“My friends and I in New York were into fusion and when I came to L.A., all the kids there were into the same thing,” he said. “It turned out to be a great move because while New York is a good place to learn your chops in the clubs, L.A. was definitely the place to be a professional musician.”
James was able to create a niche as a sideman to such artists as Morris Day, the Isley Brothers, Sheena Easton and Bobby Caldwell.
“I was able to do that for a few years, but then I felt I was just recreating other people’s music and wanted to do my own,” he said.

So with the new record, it’s already a hit.

“This is the second week at number one, and I am shooting for a lot of weeks,” he said.

His previous release, “futuresoul,” spent 11 weeks at Number One.

“It’s really all just indicative of the people being interested, and that’s why I am making the records, for people to listen to, and I have been pretty fortunate that they are,” he said.

Among the songs on the record are two collaborations, including the title track featuring Avery Sunshine.

“It has been a big hit on urban adult contemporary radio,” he said. “I saw her at a festival and I thought she was great. So, I asked her to do it and it has been wonderful. That song is climbing up the R&B chart, which is always a good thing.”

Another collaboration was Eric Roberson.

“I met him on one of the jazz cruises years ago and I sent him the music and he wrote the lyrics,” he said. “You never know what the other person is going to come up with, but I hear this melody in my head and I think that could be a vocal song.”

Of course, he has a long track record of great songs and that will still be the majority that people will hear live.

“It’s harder the longer you’ve done it,” he said. “When you are a new artist, you have to do new stuff. This is my 16th record, so it’s a lot harder to decide which ones to drop in favor of something new. You are going to disappoint someone.”

Of course, there is the entertainment angle, and James is definitely at one with the audience.

“You don’t want to just play the record but that’s half the fun of it,” he said. “Everyone has their own style, but I just can stand there and close my eyes and figure that I am going to put on the show that I would like to see if I was in the audience.”


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