by Genea L. Webb
For New Pittsburgh Courier
According to musician Boney James, music is something you hear and feel in your heart. And the award-winning saxophonist, producer and songwriter has made it his life’s work to make songs that touch the hearts of his fans.
“Music was something I really loved and cared about. and I wanted to make it my career,” said James who was born James Oppenheim in Lowell, Mass. “I get up thinking about music. I spent my whole life making records.”
His latest effort is “The Beat,” which he released on Concord Records on April 9. The album features Raheem DeVaughn ( who sings on “Maker of Love”) and the Floacist (from Floetry who is featured on The Midas This is Why”).
“I’ve always been a fan of Raheem DeVaughn. I saw him at the Hampton Jazz Festival. I wrote the music for the track and I got an email from Twitter saying that Raheem was following me and we collaborated,” he said. “‘The Midas This is Why’ is my favorite song on the album because it has a European feel to it. She recorded it in London. She did great work on it. I still have never met her.”
Pittsburgh audiences can hear James perform selections from “The Beat” when he takes the Byham stage on April 26th.
“I was in Pittsburgh about five years ago playing in Greensburg and people said ‘why are you playing here you should be playing downtown.'” Now I’ll be doing that am I’m excited to be performing there. The audience can expect to have a great time. There’s a great band of guys that played on the new record. We get people in the audience involved in the show. When I’m on stage I’m someone else. I’m this character Boney James the entertainer.”
After 21 years in the music business, James become the consummate performer. He has won three Grammy Awards, a Soul Train Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He has released 14 albums in a little more than two decades. Nine of those albums have reached the top spot on the on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and two have made it to the top 10 on the R& B Album Chart, which is a rarity for an instrumentalist.
His interest in music was piqued when he took up the clarinet at age eight and quickly switched to the saxophone at age 10. He spent his early teenage years in New Rochelle New York and was swept away by the Motown Sound and the music of Grover Washington, Jr.
After earning a degree in history from UCLA, he learned to play keyboards and joined Morris Day’s band in 1985. He remained in the band for four years before touring as a sideman for numerous R& B acts including The Isley Brothers and Teena Marie.
“I grew up where it was color blind and that’s how I live my life. That’s how life is supposed to be. When people heard my music they said ‘man I thought you were a brother.’ I was grateful that I was accepted and I was glad people were saying I was doing it right,” he said.
While on the road, he earned this stage moniker Boney from current “Tonight Show” musician Wayne Lindsey because James’ pay as a touring musician barely kept him fed and he was losing weight.
“He said ‘you keep that up and we’ll have to start calling you Boney James’ and the name stuck,” he said.
James released his debut album, “Trust,” in 1992. He was signed to Warner Brothers Records two years later and released the certified Gold albums “Seduction,” “Sweet Thing,” and “Body Language.”
In 2000, James and trumpeter Rick Braun collaborated on the “Shake it Up” album, which included the updated version of Hugh Masakela’s “Grazin” in the Grass.” Three years later James put on his producer hat on his “Pure” CD. In 2006, “Shine” was released. The record reached number 44 on the top 200 list. In 2009 “Send One Your Love,” a collection of love songs, earned James a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R & B Performance. Billboard also named James the no. 3 Billboard Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Decade.
James’ ninth CD, “Contact” was released in 2011 following a car accident that left him sidelined for two months with shattered teeth and facial cuts.
Guest vocalists on the record included Heather Headley, Mario and Donnell Jones. It was nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Album at the Soul Train Awards.
This year’s “The Beat” is getting rotating radio play thanks to satellite radio and the Internet.
“There’s been a shift in the music business. Radio requires advertising. Luckily I’ve been getting play on the watercolor station and the urban station on XM radio. I’m doing ok,” said James who resides in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Lily Mariye. “I don’t consider my music smooth Jazz. I never thought Smooth Jazz was real. It’s just a format you get caught up in.”
For the time being, James will be working hard to promote “The Beat.”
“When I make a record, I spend 18 months promoting it. Spreading the word by doing interviews and shows. That’s my mission. After that, I will sit down and start creating more music. I’ll be doing it everyday coming to the studio daily to do music,” James said.
For more information on James or his latest project “The Beat,” visit www.boneyjames.com
Tickets are $23 to $48. For details: 412-456-6666 or http://www.trustarts.org