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  • Smooth Jazz Network

Bob James: Behind The Beats

Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Bob James.

We sat down with Bob James at the end of 2023 for our year-end BEATS magazine. Check out the magazine article below or keep scrolling for the extended version of our interview in text format.

Read the rest of the BEATS magazine here. Photos courtesy Kira Abelardo Hollimon with Sunshine Studios.

The music of Bob James in the late 70’s and early 80’s defined the sound that would  become known as “Smooth Jazz”. From his Grammy winning collaborations with Earl  Klugh and David Sanborn to his famed “Angela”, theme song for the tv show taxi,  James’ influence in music for several generations is unmatched. 2023 saw the release  of a new Bob James project, which is currently climbing the charts.  

Allen Kepler: Bob, thank you for taking some time to share some of your amazing story with our  audience. Before we talk about some of your accomplishments, tell us about your new  project “Jazz Hands” and how it came about.  

Bob James: Life changed for all of us during the pandemic. I kept the creative juices flowing by  preparing lots of music in my home studio, and sending demo files to many musicians,  hoping for some interesting new collaborations.  

AK: “The Secret Drawer” wrapped up the year among our Top 20 weekly tunes.

BJ: This song was a collaboration with my Creative Consultant, Rachel Kwag who has been  recently very influential in helping me stay focused and move forward with new ideas.  She’s been a music professor at a prestigious university in Korea for many years. We  were both happy to see that this song was so well received!  

AK: I also love the title track to the album “Jazz Hands”. We’ve been playing it on the  Smooth Jazz Network as well. (comment on this one as well)  

BJ: I had the unique opportunity to go into the studio with Ceelo Green, with only a vague  idea of what would come out of it. To my delight he was bursting with ideas, and the  end result was this song that makes reference to the history of jazz along with some  fun spicy lyrics! I hope to have more opportunities to work with this super-talented  guy.  

AK: One of my early memories working in smooth jazz radio is hearing your collaboration  with David Sanborn on the tune “Maputo”. To me, the tune is genre defining for  smooth jazz and often emulated in other artists’ music. How did “Maputo” come  about?  

BJ: Without hesitation I must give big credit to the composer of this song, Marcus Miller!  In fact he was an inspiration throughout the entire project. He had submitted a demo  of the song to Dave & me when we were first searching for ideas. I immediately knew  it was really special!  

AK: Even folks who aren’t jazz or smooth jazz fans are familiar with your iconic tune  “Angela”, which was the theme song for the popular 70’s sitcom. 

BJ: Even though it came about somewhat randomly, since I was not pursuing TV music at  that time, if one song turns out to define my music, I can candidly say it now feels  like an old friend. I still enjoy performing it. There is never a show where I don’t get  asked to play it.  

I’ve heard many people say that its sound & mood sort of defined the 80’s generation  due to the success of the series, and that it ended up in syndication all over the  world. 

AK: Many of our readers may not be aware of your delving into the classical music world. 

BJ: What started out to be a hobby, with the intention of only sharing my experiments  with a few close friends, eventually found its way to the public as a result of support  from the Classical department at Columbia Records.  

It was a big learning experience, and ended up primarily making me having even more  respect for that challenging field.  

Recently I’ve had more fun listening to the greats that take the music much more  seriously and adeptly than I did!  

AK: In the early 90’s, you created the super-group Fourplay. Tell us about the group’s  creation and evolution over these 30+ years.  

BJ: Little did we know that the success of our first album would force us to stay together,  to see if we could follow up. At that time we couldn’t have imagined the power of  ‘branding” and the long history that would be the outcome.  I’m very proud of this achievement. It’s a major highlight in my career.Harvey &  Nathan & I are still theorizing about whether there can be a way to continue the  legacy.  

AK: Your musical career spans 7 decades. What’s changed over the years?

BJ: The internet has taken over. Nostalgically I still prefer the ‘hands on’ feel of  ownership of a real album, whether LP, CD, cassette or whatever, as long as I can hold  it in my hands and put it in my machine to play.  Streaming has its merits, and of course, I’m just grateful these days if I end up on a  playlist!  

AK: 2023 has been a busy year for you with a new album and worldwide touring. What can  we look forward to in 2024?  

BJ: More touring, more recording, more collaborations, basically saying ‘yes’ to any  opportunity to make new music.  

AK: Your career as an artist includes far too many highlights to cover in one sitting. Thanks  so much for taking some time with us. I encourage all of our readers to check out your  website to explore and experience more of your music, stories and  upcoming events.

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