Bob James: Following His Heart
AAJ: That was an issue a few years ago when Fourplay moved to Bluebird. Are you guys getting together for another project or have we heard the last of the supergroup?
BJ: We've just finished a new album for the Sony/BMG group. It will be called X and will be released in June.
AAJ: Let's talk about the new album. You've got quite a bit of range on running time between songs. Almost nine minutes on "Choose Me, seven on "Bobary Coast. How different is it to do songs like these, from a writer's perspective, than it is to do an album where almost everything clocks in at four minutes?
BJ: That arbitrary four-minute time limit was just another bit of handcuffing that resulted from record companies hoping to get a hit single. Radio station programming dictates that limitation, based on their perception of their listeners' attention span. Of course, also allowing for more commercial interruptions! When I have artistic freedom to do so, and I have been lucky to be in that situation most of the time, I prefer to let the flow of the music dictate when the song comes to an end. If the groove's going strong, why arbitrarily cut it off? We now live in the digital era where it's easy to just make a separate edited version anyway!
AAJ: It doesn¹t seem to matter who he¹s working with, you can always tell when Billy Kilson is on drums. Is that particular way he plays something you look for when you bring him in to do certain songs?
BJ: I'm glad to see that you obviously feel as I do about Billy. That's what I look for most in collaborating with other musicians. Someone who plays straight from their own heart, then they can't avoid sounding like themselves. It's been great to watch Billy grow and be more and more willing to do all those quirky, crazy things that make him so special as a drummer, regardless of who he's playing with at the time.
AAJ: What¹s the story behind "Niles A Head and "Bobary Coast ?
BJ: "Niles A Head was composed on the spot during a short interview I did while in London at the home studio of Richard Niles. He had asked us to play a tune during the interview, and instead of just doing something from my regular repertoire, I thought it would make it more special to "premiere" something hot off the press. It worked out so well, and I loved the performance that Billy and James [Genus] gave me so much that I wanted to include it "as is on this project.
"Bobary Coast was one of a series of tunes that I wrote to feature the Detroit gang that has become the nucleus of my traveling band. I found a good studio in Detroit, and they were all close to home and in their comfort zone. It was a very relaxed vibe, and I think it shows on the recordings of these songs. Sorry about the pun in the title. Couldn't resist that one!
AAJ: Hilary [James] has become a regular presence on your albums. Whose choice was it for her to work with you? How influential were you in her decision to sing professionally? What does she do when she's not with you?
BJ: Of course I'm a very proud papa, and am always excited to have the opportunity to share the music that Hilary and I make together. When I'm accompanying her singing, I sometimes feel like we are one person. Of course, she was bound to be influenced by growing up in a musical household, but she is very definitely her own person and makes her choices accordingly. She's been very busy for the last few years taking on the mother role, and making me a proud grandpa. Ava Marie is the new light of my life, and it's really amazing to watch each new phase of her young life. My guess is that Hilary will gradually begin to shift over to having more time to devote to music. My goal is to always be there to be supportive, whatever direction she chooses to take.
AAJ: Do you have a favorite song? Why?
BJ: "September Song comes to mind. One of many favorites. But I've reached the age where I can really appreciate the poignancy of that bittersweet lyric.
AAJ: Okay, let's play word association. What comes to mind when you hear: David Sanborn?
BJ: There's many pretenders, but only one of him.
AAJ: Marcus Miller?
BJ: I regret that I haven't worked with him for so long.
BJ: Max Risenhoover.
AAJ: Kirk Whalum?
BJ: Creater of "Soweto, one of the most powerful jazz compositions I've ever had the privilege of performing.
AAJ: Smooth jazz?
BJ: Great when combined with rough jazz.
BJ: A necessary evil.
So there it is. Pragmatic, optimistic, humorous and, of course, exceptionally talented. That is the essence of Bob James. And it shows as well as ever on Urban Flamingo.
Bob James, Urban Flamingo (Koch, 2006)
Bob James Trio, Take It From the Top (Koch, 2004)
Fourplay, Journey Fourplay, Heartfelt (Bluebird, 2002)
Bob James, Joy Ride (Warner Bros., 1999)
Various Artists, Casino Lights '99 (Warner Bros., 1999)
Bob James, Playin' Hooky (Warner Bros., 1997)
Bob James/Kirk Whalum, Joined at the Hip (Warner Bros., 1996)
Bob James, Ivory Coast (Tappan Zee, 1988)
Bob James/David Sanborn, Double Vision (Warner Bros., 1986)
Bob James, Touchdown (Tappan Zee, 1979)
Top Photo: Courtesy of Bob James
Bottom Photo: Denise Waichunas