Often criticized by jazz purists for his smooth, R&B-influenced vibes, James keeps right on going, producing one hit album after another. The new album, due for release in August, his first as his own producer. In the process, he co-wrote every song, played a variety of instruments and chose some excellent voices to help realize his vision: Bilal, Dwele, Ledisi and newcomer Debi Nova.
Being in charge empowered James to follow his muse wherever it led - something he could never do completely, until now. As a result, this album has a few surprise, and it also reflects the more freewheeling approach he takes in his concerts.
Whether working with singers or world-class musicians, such as Joe Sample, whose solo on Stone Groove is an album highlight, James emerges as an impresario equipped to manage every element of the creative process - from concept to final mix.
Jazz Review: Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
Boney James: No, not really. It’s almost like they’re children: You hate to profess a favorite. I love them all, equally.
Jazz Review: How do you define the Boney James sound?
Boney James: I leave that to other people to decide. Everybody’s got an opinion of what it is, but I just like to play. I keep myself focused on the work and don’t worry about definitions.
Jazz Review: BET has featured you a number of times over the years. Is that connection an outgrowth of your being influenced by R&B music.
Boney James: Totally. I love all kinds of music, but I have a particular love of R&B music. Some of my inspirations are Curtis Mayfield and Stevie (Wonder), of course Earth, Wind & Fire. There’s so much great music, it’s hard to pick the favorites.
Jazz Review: What about jazz? Which jazz saxophonists inspired you?
Boney James: I think I love a lot of different saxophone players. It’s like a lifetime study; I’m continually checking out things.
Jazz Review: Do any stand out?
Boney James: Grover Washington. Some of my favorite music is by John Coltrane and Michael Brecker.
Jazz Review: On Pure, who are some of the musicians who recorded with you?
Boney James: Joe Sample is playing on one tune, which is a great honor for me. I was a fan of the Crusaders, and of Joe Sample as a soloist. Billy Preston is on one song, and I’ve got Pino Palantino on bass. He’s a great, English session bass player. Among the others are Paul Jackson Jr. and Luis Conte.
Jazz Review: All the songs are very good, but one voice stands out on the next-to-last track, Thinkin’ ’Bout Me. Who is she?
Boney James: Louren Evans. She’s first grade. She’s a tremendous talent.
Jazz Review: A few years ago, you scored big on the collaboration with Rick Braun, Shake It Up, and you’ve worked with each other several times apart from that. Will there be another collaboration with him?
Boney James: I’ve been getting farther and farther from collaborations, instead trying to purify my sound. I felt like I was compromising. I think, right now, my focus is on exploring my potential as a soloist and producer.
Jazz Review: Well that certainly seems to be working well so far with Pure.
Boney James: Everybody seems to really be digging it. We’re about a month from release, and I’m getting nervous. I put a year and a half of my life into it.
Jazz Review: What’s next for you?
Boney James: Gonna go out and tour. We’ve done about three weeks of shows already and got more coming up.
Jazz Review: Would you like to say a word or two to any aspiring artists or your fans?
Boney James: For musicians, it’s about enjoyment. You can’t ever say you’ve arrived. You just got to keep working and enjoy it. For my fans, thank you for letting me have this great career.
Jazz Review: Thank you, Boney, for sharing your gifts with us.