The career of Bob James is long, varied and continues to evolve at every turn. From his first days of piano recital in Marshall, Missouri to his own trio while at the University of Michigan to New York City and beyond, the music of Bob James has captivated audiences throughout the world.
Discovered by Quincy Jones at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival in 1963, Bob recorded his first solo album, Bold Conceptions, that year for Mercury Records. 36 more solo albums would follow through four decades; that number is just to date and does not include his Grammy award winning collaboration projects. Although he was to record another trio album, Explosions, for ESP (1964), it was not until Bob met up with Creed Taylor in New York that his composing, arranging and recording career really took off. After working on albums for CTI artists like Hank Crawford, Grover Washington, Jr. and many others, Bob finally recorded his own album, One. This introduced his music to a bigger audience and launched a lifelong career of recording and performing live. There were to be three more CTI albums before Bob moved to CBS in the 1970’s and began his own label, Tappan Zee Records. It was during this time that he recorded his own gold seller, Touchdown, which included his composition, Angela, Theme from ‘Taxi.’ Bob composed all the original music used in that television series for its entire run. One On One, the first in three collaborations with Earl Klugh, was awarded a Grammy in 1980 and has sold over a million copies. A different aspect of the musical talent of Bob James was demonstrated on his three classical albums recorded for the CBS Masterworks division, the first of which was Rameau released in 1984.
In 1985 Bob moved to Warner Bros Records and began that association with another million seller and Grammy winner, Double Vision, his collaboration with David Sanborn, produced by Tommy LiPuma. It was in 1990 while recording his Grand Piano Canyon album that Bob reunited with his old friend, drummer Harvey Mason, Jr. and worked for the first time with Lee Ritenour on guitar and Nathan East on bass. The sessions for this project were the genesis of the group, Fourplay. Their first album was recorded and released in 1991. They have gone on to record four more albums, with Larry Carlton taking over on guitar in 1998 in time for album number and title, 4.
A personal and professional highlight was collaboration with his daughter, Hilary, on their Flesh & Blood album. They wrote together for this project and toured 15 U.S. cities in acoustic vocal and piano duet performances, Bob continued to record with Earl Klugh, (Cool) and with Kirk Whalum (Joined At the Hip) both nominated for Grammys. His solo career continued into the 90’s with Restless, Playin’ Hooky and Joy Ride, another Grammy nominee. Working with producers like Paul Brown, Marcel & Nathan East, Harvey Mason, Jr. and his own longtime producer, Michael Colina, Bob maintained his commitment to sophisticated production and arrangements while stretching out in different and new directions.
Dancing On the Water, released in 2001 was the fulfillment of a longtime dream. This CD includes duet performances by Bob with Keiko Matsui, Joe Sample, Dave Holland and Chuck Loeb. There are also four original solo piano pieces. It is an unusual and exciting project with amazing performances. Bob toured with this project in Japan with Keiko Matsui. Their show was called “Four Hands, One Piano” – an evening of just piano with these two artists playing alone and together. The response was fantastic and a DVD release is planned.
2002 saw the release of Fourplay’s first project for BMG, Heartfelt. The group toured for much of the year across the United States and the far east. Also that year, Bob’s Morning, Noon & Night was released on Warners. Again, Paul Brown produced several of the tunes. The title track was a number one radio hit. Chuck Loeb and Ken Freeman, Bob’s engineer and longtime studio manager, co-produced several of the tracks as well. The title track went to #1 at Contemporary Jazz Radio.
While appearing at New York’s Blue Note, in February of 2003, Bob went into Hit Factory with Billy Kilson and James Genus, with Ken Freeman at the board, and recorded a trio album. Bob’s idea was a personal project, a tribute to the pianists who inspired him. There are tunes here originally recorded by Ahmad Jamal, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and others. The trio debuted these tracks to a very enthusiastic and appreciative crowd when they played London’s Jazz Café in November 2003. The CD, Take It From the Top, was released in Japan on JVC and in the U.S. and Canada on Koch Records.
A new Fourplay CD, Journey, was released in 2004 and the group toured the U.S. and Japan for much of the year. A long awaited trip to South Africa took the group there in November of 2005 to Johannesburg, CapeTown and Durban. Their final appearance of the year was at Bangkok Jazz Festival in Thailand.
This event featured the world premiere live performance of Bob’s latest recording project, ‘The Angels of Shanghai.’ Bob has spent many months in the Far East producing this new project, a true ‘east meets west’ project – five students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music playing ancient Chinese instruments together with James Genus and Nathan East on bass, Harvey Mason on drums and, of course, Bob James on keyboards. This project has been released in both Korea and Japan and the musicians performed the debut live performance at the Bangkok Jazz Festival in December 2005. The group has recently completed a tour of Korea and Japan. A tour in the United States is expected in 2007.
Bob’s latest solo project, Urban Flamingo, was released in the U..S. and Canada, in February, 2006 again on Koch Records. This features the Detroit based band of Al Turner on bass, Ron Otis on drums, Perry Hughes and Wayne Gerard on guitars and, of course, David McMurray on sax. These guys have had plenty of time to rehearse the music – they’ve toured the U.S. over the past year playing the east coast, west coast and a couple of places in between!
On April 7, Bob was awarded the George Benson Lifetime Achievement Award by the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards. The award and tribute were presented in Toronto to Bob By his longtime friend and musical colleague, Alexander Zonjic.
Summer 2006 will see the release of Fourplay’s tenth record, appropriately called “X” – and the group will be literally all over the world playing the music from the CD. Spain, London, Montreux, North Sea, Concord (California), Hollywood (Bowl) plus Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia and Japan.