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Boney James R&B Saxman Takes his Music to the Streets with 'Ride'

Boney James is a tenured artist on the smooth jazz circuit who has just released his eighth recording "Ride" to a mix of retro-soul and current bass-tinged postproduction. Excited about the possibilities of reaching a wider audience, James has a collaborative effort focused on the R&B and Hip Hop crowd, with great vocals and instrumental colors. Although changing his jazzy sound to a more pop focus, Boney James still displays great performance and artistry with his vocal and instrumental efforts.

James has been deeply influenced by Grover Washington Jr., which might account for his desire to work with pop vocalist in the "Winelight" era recording from the seventies. "Ride," Boney’s new release follows the high charting success of the "Shake It Up" collaboration with Rick Braun on brass. With the instrumental "Grazin’ In The Grass (Can You Dig It?)", James’ exposure in the film "Space Cowboys" reached many new fans to his groove-based music. "Ride" is in step with a melodic and vocal enhanced style of recording that has always reached the R&B and pop fan base Boney James is synonymous with, and might have introduced more listeners to smooth jazz and eventually other forms of instrumental music. The music of Boney James is always full of great horn tones, melody and an R&B grooving rhythm section. "Ride" is James’ latest sensual R&B-soaked offering that is definitely marketed to the urban pop and R&B market, more than a direct jazz listener of improv and trading eight’s.

James has had a string of success with the crossover market and his three gold certifications prove he is in demand. A classic jazz music listener would not be the market this release would find safe haven with. However, if you ever see Boney James perform, you will be on your feet enjoying great music and an electrifying performance, seldom matched by most pop stars. We were able to speak with Boney about "Ride," the sensual role his music plays on others, his desire to work with other artists in various ways, including a great desire to tour in the next few months. Let’s take a cruise with Boney James as he offers an insight into the making of "Ride" and his views on creating sensual "good time" music for his audience.

JazzReview: Hello Boney! How are you doing?

Boney James: "I’m doing fine, Ron."

JazzReview: Great to hear, Boney. I want to thank you for your time and go over some of the major happenings in your career this last year and a half.

Boney James: "My pleasure. No problem."

JazzReview: With your new release "Ride," you are now on your eighth release.

Boney James: Yeah, my eighth record. It’s hard to believe (laughs)."

JazzReview: That’s fantastic. As we speak, your duo record with Rick Braun "Shake it Up" is still hitting high on the Contemporary Jazz charts.

Boney James: "Yeah, it’s doing pretty good. You know (laughs)."

JazzReview: Yes, after a year and a half it is still in the top 25. In fact, I’ve even heard some cuts from it at the movie theater.

Boney James: "Oh, yes. That would be from [the movie] "Space Cowboys."

JazzReview: Yes, "Space Cowboys," but also during the previews and intermission."

Boney James: "O.K, that would be "Grazin’ in the Grass" during the "Space Cowboy" film, but I’ve heard they have been playing that music on Movie Tunes. A lot of people have been telling me about that."

JazzReview: So now, you are all over film and Contemporary/Smooth Jazz radio. I’m real excited about the new CD "Ride" because I’ve listened to it quite a bit. I was a little surprised by track #11 which was kind of delayed on the track sequence.

Boney James: "That is the hidden track, man."

JazzReview: Yes, called "Boneyard."

Boney James: "Yes, now some of my favorite records have been having that in the last couple of years you know. Lauryn Hill’s record had a hidden track and actually that track turned out to be the hit, you know. Jill Scott’s record, which I really like, that had a hidden track too. I think it was #44 and then she had like 25 seconds of silence before it came on. So I thought that would be fun and, thought how would I want to do it? So, I just put it on there but I did list the credits [Boneyard] underneath the CD. A lot of my fans are going to my website and asking, "What’s with the extra song?’"

JazzReview: Well, "Ride" is a fantastic collection of smooth jazz and you’ve gone into some new realms with your (post) production. "Ride" seems more low (bass) ended and a heavier bass. I like the dark, low contrast with the color/texture of your horn performance.

Boney James: "Yeah, that’s what people are telling me. I had worked with a different engineer on this record by the name of Russell ‘The Dragon’ Elevado whose work I really admired (Grammy win with D’Angelo). I heard a number of records that he did for D’Angelo and others, in fact,\\ the last one, he won a Grammy for his work as engineer. I just thought the songs sounded more serious or something. So, I wanted a different sound for it. I think it worked out really well. I really love the sound of the record I think it sounds richer."

JazzReview: Yes. Overall I enjoyed the resonant Bass and I can’t say enough about my favorite track ‘See What I’m Sayin’?’ The track of course features the incredible Marcus Miller.

Boney James: "Yeah, we really had to make the bass loud on that one, (laughs) since it’s Marcus."

JazzReview: Your playing throughout is really good. I like the way you mix the current street R&B sounds with the retro soul of the Seventies. I think a lot of your fans will be a little surprised with both the production and the feel of the street beats. It will give them a nice new element to draw upon. Your sound is still instantly recognizable partly because of your tone and great fluid, melodic playing, but also the great grooves you get the audience going with in a live setting. This next tour should magnify that intensity even more. The Groove is an important element of your performances for sure.

Boney James: "Thank You. Well, I agree. I think this record captures more of the intensity we bring to the music when we play it live and that’s something I definitely wanted to do. And also, with the whole R&B thing , I think that current R&B these days, a lot of it, is sounding much more like the music I like. A lot of these guys are called retro-soul or neo-soul artists like Maxwell or Jill Scott. In a way, current R&B is coming closer to the music that I like, you know. So, for me to make the record to kind of fit in more with what is current, because it is so retro, actually makes a lot of sense to me. I wasn’t bending over backwards to try and change my sound at all. I think I just gave in a little bit more to what I would normally have done because it feels more modern. You know what I mean?"

JazzReview: Yes, I like the way you have the old R&B flavor mixed with the current R&B flavor and really great melodies. I mean even if it’s an R&B blues or groove based tune, the melody is always there.

Boney James: "That’s the thing. Take a song like ‘See What I’m Sayin’?.’ It’s really basically a funk jam, not a complicated song harmonically, but I think it keeps you interested all the way through. There are all of these interesting elements there. You have Marcus’ (Miller) playing and the melody itself, and the interplay between the groove and the saxophone. Almost like James Brown used to do where there’s not much song there, but it is still a great song."

JazzReview: Sure. I think the pacing of the CD is really good. ‘Ride’ seems to open up as you listen to it and grow as you progress through the music. I think of course, this is my perception. You did a great job on the sequence of tracks.

Boney James: "Thanks. Sequencing (track order on CD) is something I really spend a lot of time thinking about. Honestly, my wife often makes fun of me for doing that because she says ‘everybody is going to come home and set the CD player on random anyway or make his or her own sequence.’ Still, I look at it like it (collection) like it is a whole story. I spend a lot of time trying to be like a story, so I appreciate you saying that."

JazzReview: Well I definitely picked up on the story idea because all of your CD’s have a certain element of progression or opening up performance wise. You know, it is not like you hear one track and know how the whole collection will sound.

Boney James: "Right."

JazzReview: Although ‘Ride’ opens with "Heaven" and you have vocals and there are four vocal cuts out of eleven tracks. You even have a great contrast with the vocalists. You have a male and female solo(Dave Hollister, Trina Broussard), a hip-hop type rap vocal from Jaheim and a great vocal duo with Sue Ann & Carl Carwell.

Boney James: "Thank You. I think all of the singers gave great performances. It really felt natural to me especially, a song like ‘Heaven’ and starting with it. I think it was a little controversial over here at the record company, but I wrote the music and I’m playing all the instruments. It just felt very much like me even though I’m not singing the lead on the vocal pieces. It felt very natural to include all that stuff and I think some people might be concerned about so many vocals. But, I actually placed more tracks on the CD so I really have the same number of instrumentals as my other releases because there are more songs total. This was the first record /CD I’ve made that didn’t have nine songs on it."

JazzReview: Yes. If you were to look back at some artists like Grover Washington Jr.’s ‘Winelight’ or the work he did with Bill Withers and others. Those were gems and for someone to say he should have added a bebop tune instead of a vocal tune you can be a catalyst for someone in a pop listening background moving in to jazz or smooth jazz music. This collection you have on ‘Ride’ can in effect go to two (or three) markets. Say for instance, you have someone into Dave Hollister and they like your performance and the arrangements because of the sax. It looks like you are working on great music but could serve as someone’s introduction to smooth jazz or eventually even jazz as a whole genre.

Boney James: "Thank You, man. I agree, but basically I’m just trying to make great music and that’s the main thing for me (laughs)."

JazzReview: You are definitely making good music. It (‘Ride’) is fun to listen to and you are definitely showcasing contemporary pop grooves and instruments. You don’t apologize for the grooves, melody and tone you have on your horn.

Boney James: "Thank You."

JazzReview: Your tone is always very good on all the horns you play (soprano, tenor). We, the listener, can hear a saxophone and it sounds great, but a sensitive player/performer can make that tone more important. You always have a great tone.

Boney James: "Thank You ,man. I definitely work hard on that, you know."

JazzReview: ‘Ride’ has some great elements I want to touch on with you and get your idea of composing and arranging. The soprano contrasts really well with the tenor and the bass frequencies we touched on earlier. I also wanted to note the great experiments with instrumentation you offer on ‘Ride’ as well. Like on "This Is The Life." You have steel drums with Andy Narell, which adds to the festive nature of the piece.

Boney James: "Well, you know Andy Narell of course did such a great job on that and it was really fun hooking up with him. Yeah, like I said a lot of that stuff just wrote itself because I had been working on that song. Then all of a sudden it hit me one day that this almost has a tropical feel. So, we flew Andy down from San Francisco where he lives (Berkeley) and he came to LA with his drums on the airplane. It was kind of funny. We had to rent a van for him to bring his (steel pans) drums to the studio with those big drums. It was just so great. As soon as he started playing it was like yes, this is working!"

JazzReview: That’s great you are experimenting on ‘Ride’ like that. In contrast you feature your tenor sax playing with vocals and what I call a "steamy" soprano sax with the Dave Hollister vocal on "Something Inside."

Boney James: "Yeah. Thank You . That’s workin’ (laughs)."

JazzReview: I think there are some couples that will be thanking you for some of the romantically inspired material on this collection.

Boney James: "I guess that is part of my role inspiring people’s romantic encounters. People thank me quite a bit about the music and the mood."

JazzReview: On "See What I’m Sayin’?" you make good use of handclaps and vocal punches (UH-Huh) which are a nice touch and come together great.

Boney James: "I’m glad you dig it. Like I said, a lot of that material was just spontaneous. Just a stray idea and it’s like well, let’s see how this works. I felt really encouraged."

JazzReview: On "The Ride", you have Jaheim on vocals with a street groove. His vocals stand out and lend a touch to the overall romantic feel of the album. I sense a sultry feel on the album.

Boney James: "Oh definitely! It plays into that whole mood with the saxophone and many people think it is a sexy instrument and I just go straight there (with romantic themes). Like you said, its just unapologetic, sexy music. It’s like ‘lets get into the car and do it.’"

JazzReview: Yes that theme is in the music and the steamy windows in the car on the CD cover. When you are preparing a live set you have to select your favorite and strongest cuts from ‘Ride’ to coincide with the previous live tour sets. That has to be difficult after eight releases. How do you go about the process of picking the right tunes for your powerhouse live shows? Do you already know your set list or are you still working that out?

Boney James: "I think I ‘m still working through that. It’s hard, besides you have your other songs that the fans come to hear and to showcase new material. Every time I put a new show together it’s a little bit like torture, but we get into rehearsal and learn a lot of songs, then just experiment (it is almost like making the record) and hopefully, it will please everyone a little bit."

JazzReview: You definitely have some great cuts here for your live show and I remember the tune "Sara Smile" which had a great melody and translated very well with the live audience. I was at Indianapolis at the first Indy Jazz-Fest. You build up great tension in your live tunes. I just tell people to listen to you and smooth jazz go see Boney James live.

Boney James: "Thank You. I mean I love playing live. It is definitely one of the fun things I do. I guess that is one of the things people enjoy about our shows is that the whole band is like in a party. We are not trying to be cool, we are just having fun!"

JazzReview: That comes across clear in the music. When you chose to do a cover like "Sara Smile," what elements are you looking for in the composition that affects you and makes you want to do a tribute to the artist, and do a cover?

Boney James: "Well, there are so many songs that have really affected me over the years and they just stick in your head. You kind of wonder if that would translate onto the saxophone as an instrumental or how can I make that sound more like me. All of that stuff goes into it and then it is just a matter of experimenting. I’ve had some ideas that didn’t work or see the light of day. You just kind of get an idea, well maybe this song can be "Boneyized" and see what works after fooling around in the studio."

JazzReview: Your formula is working as your last three releases have gone gold and this should do as well and even open your music to a more pop/neo-soul crowd and get into more markets.

Boney James: "That’s kind of what I’m hoping. I really feel proud about this record. Not that I didn’t like my other records too. I think this one just hit the nail on the head, so I’m really hoping a lot of people get the chance to hear it."

JazzReview: I like the idea of how you varied the instrumentation for yourself and the collection and believe that will add to the next/current tour. Will you be touring this winter with anything from "Boney’s Funky Christmas?"

Boney James: "Not at this time because this record is brand new and I don’t tour until next year, but I will do a couple of fund raisers here in L.A. but, nothing as far as touring with the ‘Ride’ CD until next year."

JazzReview: You have certainly had a lot of great things going on this year with your music being performed on film (Space Cowboys), a new release (Ride), and tour in the coming year. We hope to see you on tour and have fun with your new album.

Boney James: "Thanks a lot, Ron, for your kind words. Thank You."

JazzReview: Thanks for your time Boney and have a great time touring with your new release. Take care.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Boney James
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