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Boney James Has 'The Beat'

  • Doug Levine

Saxophonist Boney James performs at the 5th Annual Holiday Tree Lighting at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 28, 2012.

Saxophonist Boney James performs at the 5th Annual Holiday Tree Lighting at L.A. Live in Los Angeles, California, Nov. 28, 2012.

Saxophonist Boney James has been a dominant force on the smooth jazz scene for years, but there’s more to this artist than meets the ear.

James must have been a fan of American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s long-running TV show where the catchphrase “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” was born. That’s because his new album The Beat is long on solid, steady dance rhythms reminiscent of ‘70’s soul and Rhythm & Blues.


James became hooked on R&B during Motown’s golden age in the 1960s. He says he was later drawn to saxophonists who ventured outside the usual jazz fare.

“As I started listening to more music that featured the saxophone, especially in the mid-‘70s when I was getting into music; all the great fusion music and the R&B hybrids were starting - like Grover Washington, Jr. and Ronnie Laws and Weather Report and all the great music - it was like the renaissance of this kind of music was right when I was becoming interested in music. So it had a huge effect on me,” he explains.

“I think evolution is the right thing. I definitely try not to repeat myself," James adds. "I mean that’s the only thing I ever really try to think about is, ‘Oh that might sound like something I’ve done before,’ and try and fix it. I also want to try and stay fresh, but also to be honest and respond to whatever music is naturally coming out of me at the time.”

Born James Oppenheim in Lowell, Massachusetts, Boney James has come a long way from his dues-paying days as a sideman to other musicians. He often ran out of money for food and struggled to make ends meet. Those lean years earned him the nickname “Boney.” He says hard times have only made him more appreciative of success.

“It’s pretty amazing to look back and realize that this much time has gone by and so many great things have happened in my career that I never expected - Grammy nominations, ‘Soul Train’ Award and gold records - all this stuff that you don’t even really dare to dream of when you’re first starting out. You just want to be able to pay the rent. It’s kind of cool,” he says.

On The Beat, James combines his love for Latin music and R&B with updates of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” and the Sergio Mendes classic “Batucada (The Beat),” featuring trumpeter Rick Braun.
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