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  • Smooth Jazz Network

Boney James: Behind the Beats

Updated: May 4, 2022

Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. Boney James was scheduled to perform in Seattle this week, but with the pandemic still at large, his live concert dates have been postponed until the fall.

In an extended interview, we chat with Boney about launching his last album, "Solid" during this pandemic and how he still managed to rise to the top of the charts.

Your latest album was released in June, during the start of the pandemic. How did you manage?

There was a bit of concern about the record dropping during the pandemic, how it would sell with no touring and retail shut down etc. But I actually ended up having my highest debut ever on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart. #10, just behind artists like Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Harry Styles etc. I’ve had eleven #1’s on the Jazz Charts before, but this was a real thrill to hit so high in this bigger pond. I am super grateful to all my fans that picked up the record in our first week of release!

With opportunities to perform live gone for 2020 and, most likely a good portion of 2021, how are you keeping your performance chops sharp?

Having this time with the new record already out and no travel or shows pending has been very unique for me. So I’ve tried to look at it as an opportunity to have a ‘sabbatical' from my usual responsibilities and just focus on my practicing my horn. I always have a steady regimen of practicing, but it is often 'goal-oriented,’ with a show or record coming up. To have this period of just pure space to practice with no agenda other than learning and improving things has been a bit of a silver lining. I also have been doing my Solid Friday Facebook Live mini-concerts every 2 weeks. Not the same as being in front of a crowd with the band behind me, but it still feels like I am connecting with my fans and that is one of the real joys of performing.

Talk about social media and its role in your music getting out to your fans.

Social media has been a real boon over the last number of years and more so now that we can only connect virtually. I was a 'late adopter' too, but really enjoy the connection now. One of the cool things about the Facebook Live concerts is there is also interaction with the audience, which you don’t get at a regular gig.

During this COVID -19 period I’ve discovered a lot of amazing shows to watch. Anything you have found binge-worthy or notable?

My wife Lily and I have been watching a lot too! Recently…”The Queen’s Gambit” and "Criminal UK" on Netflix are a couple of favorites. I also like "The Great British Baking Show" and "The Repair Shop", very soothing in these crazy times.

Who have you not yet performed with but would love to?

I’ve been so fortunate to have a few dream collaborations under my belt. George Benson, Al Jarreau, Joe Sample, Bob James were all heroes when I was kid and having the opportunity to record and jam live with them has been amazing. I also have played with Stevie Wonder a few times too and he is my favorite artist. Of the younger artists, I really admire H.E.R these days. She is on my wish list!

You have worked with some amazing pop artists in the past…

Before my first record came out, when I was coming up as a sideman, I toured or recorded with Morris Day, Ray Parker Jr, Randy Crawford, Teena Marie, The Isley Brothers, Sheena Easton, Kylie Minogue, Martika and many others. It was all a great education, but it really fueled my desire to make my own music and have it be heard.

Anything that might surprise fans to know about you?

I have a degree in History from UCLA. And I delivered pizzas for 3 years to support myself while trying to break into showbiz.

Plans for 2021-22?

Practice! And maybe start writing again in a few months. It always takes a minute to get creative after I finish a record, but I expect to have some extra time on my hands and making music is still the most fun thing I do.

Keep up with Boney James on his website.

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