Cover Story

By Brian Soergel

Boney James has a cool name, a funky sound and an appealing look that exudes both qualities the moment he struts on stage sporting his trademark fedora (or beret).
    
“I don't know if people remember, but my hair used to be very, very long,” James said. “If I'd be playing outside at a jazz festival, the wind would blow it around and it would get caught in my mouth while I was playing. So I started wearing the beret just to keep the hair out of my face. And at some point, I started wearing the fedora, I guess back in about ‘98 or ‘99. I started thinking about other hats, and I put this thing on and people responded to it so much, like, ‘you look really cool in that hat.’ I just kept wearing them, and now all of a sudden it's sort of slowly become this part of my image. I almost feel like a character, a different person when I put my hat on.”
    
James will surely be in “character” when he headlines three major festivals this month: the 19th Annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania, on April 4; the 11th Annual Seabreeze Jazz Festival in Panama City Beach, Florida, on April 19; and the Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz and Rhythm & Blues Festival in Nevada on April 25.
     
Seventeen years after releasing his debut CD, Trust, the 47-year-old saxophonist decided to record what many of his contemporaries have done, often more than once––a covers CD. But Boney being Boney, he shaped his 11th solo CD his own special way. The result is Send One Your Love, a collection of six of his favorite love songs in addition to four new original ones.
    
“There are so many make-out songs, so I asked friends for their favorites,” James said. “That's why I did a lot of covers. But I was still writing songs that I loved, too, so it was important to also include those. So it's not a full-on covers record.” And the result isn't simply a scattershot selection. “I always just kind of start working on tunes and maybe I'll do a cover or two, just sort of randomly let it all flow out. At some point when I'm almost done I'll think, ‘OK, it's this kind of record.’”
    
But James sought to shake it up for Send One Your Love, as he wanted a whole record reflecting elements of his sound. That sound, as his fans know, is a sexy, low tone that he pulls out of the tenor sax.
    
“It made me think about some other records by people who had a similar sound in the vocal realm, like Marvin Gaye and Barry White. Some of their records were obviously made to be make-out records. That was really the whole motive for my album.”
    
But the 47-year-old saxophonist knew that many hold a negative connotation toward instrumental versions of famous songs.
    
“Sometimes I can understand it,” he said, “because a lot of them aren't too creative. It was important to me that my covers be different, to bring something fresh to the table. So on a tune you might not have liked before, you might dig my version because I tried to recreate each song as if it were something I had written myself. Even though the melody was already there, I could mess around with the groove or change the chords, adding all these different elements.”
    
It's apparent he succeeded with the first single, “Stop, Look, Listen (oo Your Heart),” as it quickly soared to the top of the smooth jazz charts, continuing in James' streak of No. 1 songs. The original version was famously recorded by the Stylistics and the tandem of Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross.
    
“The melody is pretty much the same, but the whole feel of the song is different from other versions, and I don't think anyone's ever done an instrumental version. I wanted to come at it a different way, aside from the fact that it was a saxophone playing the melody.”

James has lost track of his No. 1 songs, as he says he's had “18 or 19.” We do know, however, that he scored three with his last CD, 2007's Shine: “The Total Experience,” “Hypnotic” and “Let It Go.”

Send One Your Love gets it title from the Stevie Wonder song. James also covers John Klemmer's “Touch,” Barry White's “I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” the Brothers Johnson's “I'll Be Good to You” and James Taylor's “Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” which features new vocalist Quinn. The original songs are “Wanna Show U Sumthin',” “Hold On Tight,” “Butter” and “City of Light.”

If history is any guide, Send One Your Love should cement James' status as one of the most popular players in the smooth jazz scene, and one of the few still able to move more than 100,000 CDs with each new release. (Two of his CDs, Sweet Thing and Body Language, both sold more than 500,000 copies each in the United States, earning them Gold Record status.) With the well-documented downturn in CD sales, however, even James is feeling the pain. Although Send One Your Love debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart after selling almost 9,000 copies its first week, that was considerably lower than Shine, which moved more than 19,000 copies in 2006, and Pure, which sold 17,000 its first week in 2004. James is well aware that artists are selling fewer physical copies of their CDs as the music business model moves into digital sales, but he said he can only do what he keeps doing**

 **The complete story can be found in the April issue of Smooth Jazz News. Subscribe today. Receive 11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35.

For more information on James, including his complete tour schedule, visit www.boneyjames.com.

ON TOUR
April 4, 7:30 p.m.
19th Annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest
Scottish Rite Cathedral
310 7th Ave.
Reading, Pennsylvania
www.berksjazzfest.com

April 19, 7 p.m.
11th Annual Seabreeze Jazz Festival
Pier Park Amphitheater
600 Pier Park Dr.
Panama City Beach, Florida
www.seabreezejazzfestival.com
(850) 267-3279

April 25, 7:30 p.m.
The 17th Annual Las Vegas City of Lights Jazz and Rhythm & Blues Festival
Clark County Amphitheater
500 Grand Central Pkwy.
Las Vegas, Nevada
www.yourjazz.com
(800) 969-VEGAS
(310) 671-6400

July 25, 7 p.m.
The 21st Annual Thornton Winery’s Champagne Jazz Series
32575 Rancho California Road
Temecula, California
www.jazzconcerts.com
(951) 699-3021

DISCOGRAPHY
1992 Trust (Spindletop)            
1994 Backbone (Warner Bros.)          
1995 Seduction (Warner Bros.)          
1996 Boney's Funky Christmas (Warner Bros.)
1997 Sweet Thing (Warner Bros.)
1999 Body Language (Warner Bros.)
2000 Shake It Up [With Rick Braun] (Warner Bros.)
2001 Ride (Warner Bros.)
2004 Pure (Warner Bros.)
2006 Shine (Concord)            
2007 Christmas Present (Concord)
2009 Send One Your Love (Concord)