Boney James and Norman Brown co-headlined a great show at the Cubby Bear Lounge on Friday, July 22, 1994 for an admission price of $15.
On Friday, March 23, Boney and George Benson will co-host what should be an equally great show at the Chicago Theater…and at a rather steeper ticket price!
But it’s worth it…in the years between those shows where James started out as rising star, he now returns to Chicago as a bona fide established artist ––with four gold albums, three Grammy nominations, a Soul Train Award and an NAACP Award nomination to his credit.
The multi-platinum saxophonist is currently riding the crest of his ninth number one contemporary jazz album, Contact, which was released on March 29, 2011 on Verve Records and has been in the top 10 ever since.
Contact has produced the number one single, Spin, which is James’ 20th single to hit number one on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Chart, and the 12 albums he’s made in his 20-year career as a recording artist have sold more than three million copies.
In 2010, Billboard Magazine named him “The Number 3 Top Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Decade.” However, those are almost fighting words to James, who doesn’t wear the “contemporary” or “smooth jazz” labels well.
“I am just a saxophone player whose music has several different influences. Jazz is only one of them,” he says. “I’m one of those guys that I just want to be myself –– call it ‘Boney James Music’ please! –– and to not be categorized in any way because I have so many different influences in my music.”
James told N’DIGO that one of his biggest influences is Black music, particularly soul and R&B, which has played an important role throughout Boney’s entire life.
“It goes back to the beginning. When I first got interested in music as a very young kid, the music I always just loved to listen to was R&B –– Aretha, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, James Brown –– all of it. That was just the music I loved,” says the Lowell, Massachusetts, native who has a degree in history from UCLA.
He took up the clarinet at the age of eight and switched to saxophone when he was 10.
“One of my favorite, most influential records of all time was Gratitude, the Earth Wind & Fire live CD,” James continues. “Right around then, I was just getting into the saxophone and there was Andrew Woolfolk and Don Myrrick playing in this band, and it was like R&B-jazz, jazz-R&B all mixed together on that album. I just always felt it.
“When I started working as a professional musician, my first gig was with Morris Day right after The Time broke up. I played with Teena Marie, Randy Crawford and the Isley Brothers. That was just the school I came up through, where I put down roots and paid my dues touring as a sideman.
“So when I started writing my own music, even though I’m a sax player and a lot of the stuff I do is instrumental, a lot of it had an R&B flavor to it. That’s just who I am when I play my horn; it just comes out sounding a certain way.”
When Earth Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey recorded Love Song on Boney’s Shine album, the saxophonist says, “It was amazing, man. I mean, that was just a huge honor. And I’ve had so many of those moments –– talk about having to pinch yourself. To work with Philip Bailey.
“George Benson did a guest spot on one of my records and that was amazing. He’s been a great supporter of mine since the very beginning when I first started out. It’s always great to see him and share the stage with such a legend.
“It’s an honor to be with people like that. Jaheim, Anthony Hamilton –– there are a lot of great artists I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with over the years and it’s just so nice to feel that mutual respect from people that you really, really admire.”
Boney played with Marsha Ambrosius, formerly of Floetry, on the Soul Train Awards, and performed the opening number on the recent NAACP Awards live broadcast. Heather Headley, LeToya Luckett and Mario and Donnell Jones all appear on his Contact album.
James admits that people are usually surprised when they hear the extent of his collaborations with Black musicians and musical forms.
“Yeah, I think people are always surprised,” he says, “but that’s something I do enjoy doing, I like surprising people. When I look like I look and my music sounds like it does, people have always looked at me kinda sideways, like ‘What’s up with that?!’”
MSG Entertainment, One Eleven Productions, and The Smooth Jazz Cruise present George Benson and Boney James in concert at the Chicago Theater, Friday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit www.thechicagotheatre.com. Prices are $39.50 – $250.