José James
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José James

New York City, New York, United States | MAJOR

New York City, New York, United States | MAJOR
Band R&B Jazz




"José James Live At BAM’s R&B Festival"

Right now there’s a quiet movement in jazz, made up of young artists who dress as casual as any hip-hop artist, but play with an obvious appreciation for the genre’s history. They have none of the formal, concert hall airs some of their older contemporaries possess, but all the chops to hang with them. José James is the movement’s vocalist, and a shoo-in to be one of its biggest stars.

When he took the stage with his five-piece band (together, they were making their debut) at Brooklyn’s Metrotech for BAM’s Rhythm and Blues Festival, James looked more like a stagehand than the headliner, with his fitted Yankees hat tilted just so and his short-sleeve white button-up neatly hanging off him over some dark blue jeans. The rest of his group was just as casual, inducing Simon Cowell-like side-eyes from the group of elderly women sitting in the front row. But when James belted out the first notes of “Code,” an original number produced by Flying Lotus and featured on his most recent release, BlackMagic, it was game over for the skeptics.

James could easily adopt the role of Gil Scott-Heron’s heir apparent; his smoky baritone makes it all too easy to connect the dots between them, but at the Metrotech set, James showed he wants to be something more. Where Scott-Heron always seemed to treat his voice like a casual aside to his political and social messages, James sees his voice as an instrument he must master in order to be looked upon as an artist whose feet are firmly planted in jazz. This was most evident when he performed jazz covers like Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” executing flawless vocalese runs in the style of Jon Hendricks or when he went all 1940’s-Billy-Eckstine on the crowd with his take on “Save Your Love For Me.”

But when one can flip styles between R&B and jazz as easily as James can, why not take the liberty to do so? For James the question is rhetorical, as he flipped John Coltrane’s “Equinox” into Scott-Heron’s “The Bottle” like the two were always meant to be together together. It was James’ closer (before not one, but two encores) and the greatest example of his musical elasticity.

For the better part of this summer, James has been putting on free performances like this at various parks and outdoor festivals around the city, all the while, building a cult-like following that is poised to explode in the ears of the mainstream. He was at the Weeksville Heritage Center in conjunction with the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium Festival back in June; a month later, opposite Bobbi Humphrey at Rockefeller Park for the River to River festival, and three days later, a special guest vocalist of the Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Ensemble performing (naturally) a Gil Scott-Heron tribute at Annunciation Park in Harlem.

Sooner than later, these no-cost, casual performances like the one at Metrotech, where majority of the audience seemed to discover James by happenstance, are going to be rare. The productions will be grander, the rollout leading up to them more trumpeted, and surely a steep door charge or two-drink minimum will be required, causing people who were at Metrotech to say things like, “I remember when this José guy was performing in New York City parks at lunch hours in the middle of the week.” Here’s hoping James keeps the Yankees fitted all the while. - The Revivalist - Jozen Cummings

"Jazz in Name Only – if That – at CMJ"

The line outside Le Poisson Rouge wrapped around the block on Tuesday night for a CMJ Music Marathon showcase with the header “Future Now.” The question this seemed to invite was, could “jazz” actually be making an impression at this year’s CMJ?

If the scare quotes in that sentence haven’t tipped you off, let’s be clear: Future Now wasn’t really a jazz showcase, even if all three acts on the bill — the Robert Glasper Experiment, the vocalists José James, Taylor McFerrin — have varying degrees of jazz experience. The show’s compass pointed more in the direction of sleek and stylishly woozy electro-soul, after the example of the influential producer J Dilla.

The keyboardist Robert Glasper name-checked and covered J Dilla during his set, as he often does, even when leading his acoustic trio. Here he was joined by a longtime vocal collaborator, Bilal, and by Derrick Hodge on electric bass, Jahi Sundance on turntables and Mark Colenburg on drums. As usual their groove was deep but diffuse, an immersive haze. And the crowd seemed hooked, though the most enthusiastic cheers came when Mr. Glasper announced the roll call of intended guests on his next album. Expected from Blue Note next year, it is to include Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ledisi and Lalah Hathaway, among others.

I’ve seen José James in a few different settings — he’s really good, and getting better — so I didn’t feel too awful about ducking out before his late-shift closing set. (I felt a little awful.) Taylor McFerrin, on the other hand, was someone I’d never seen in person.

He started exceptionally strong. His virtuoso beat-box demonstration suggested the influence of his father, Bobby McFerrin, but with an ultramodern frame of reference, evoking far-out electro-soul. By comparison, the rest of his set felt wan, as he cued up beats and looped rudimentary keyboard chords, improvising a groove. A song he said he’d written the previous night, in a hotel room, exposed his actual singing voice as nothing special. (Ditto his songwriting.)

But back to the idea of jazz at CMJ: Type “jazz” into the marathon’s searchable schedule and you won’t find much, and half of what’s there is mislabeled. The Future Now showcase wasn’t even tagged.

Does that matter? There’s an absurd bounty of jazz happening around the city this week, as there is every week. I’m sure a good portion of the crowd at Le Poisson Rouge were close followers of Mr. Glasper or Mr. James, or both; who knows whether they had CMJ badges? I’m guessing at least a few were veterans of the Undead and Winter Jazzfests, which also involve showcases at Le Poisson Rouge, and can be (very loosely) described as a CMJ for a jazz constituency.

To that end, there was other news Tuesday: Search and Restore, the upstart organization run by Adam Schatz (and a driving force behind the Undead Jazzfest, among other things), unveiled its revamped Web site.

Funded with a $75,000 Kickstarter drive last year, the site features an ecumenical data-dump of show listings, but cross-listed with artist bios and video footage. (The money went toward filming the videos, all around the club scene; as of right now there are just over 40 videos posted.)

The timing of the new site felt intentional: Search and Restore exists for many of the same reasons as CMJ. And exists partly to reinforce the impression that the New York jazz scene is its own music marathon, all year long. - The New York Times - Nate Chinen

"José James Brings the Jazz to Jazz Standard"

NEW YORK—The best performances arguably happen in small, dimly lit clubs, not boastful arenas. Closer proximity to the band makes for a much more personal mood, enabling the audience to feel like they’re part of the music.

That mood was precisely the vibe last weekend at the Jazz Standard from Thursday, Sept. 29, through Sunday, Oct. 2. During the four-day run, the basement club on East 27th Street that sits beneath the upscale barbeque restaurant Blue Smoke was filled with the soulful sounds of jazz singer José James. He and the accompanying band played diverse sets, among those James’s new single “Trouble” from his upcoming album.

James is not your average jazz singer. His musical arrangements are rooted in jazz inspired by influences such as John Coltrane, yet he also includes a wide range of other elements in his sound. The influence of soul is obvious, both in vocals and melodies. There are also hints of drum ‘n’ bass, and one of his main inspirations—hip-hop.

“I love it. I mean, I was raised on it; that’s my generation.” James said when we spoke on Thursday, following his sound check and before the show.

“I think when it’s done well it’s great, it’s a valid musical statement. [For] people of my generation, hip-hop is the music that we grew up on.”

Hip-hop has a history of borrowing elements from jazz, but it’s seldom done the other way around.

And maybe it’s the younger take on a much more established genre that attracted a younger crowd to the Jazz Standard for the Thursday night show I attended. Most of the tables were filled with patrons in their 20s and 30s, enjoying the music and the vibe. And not only the audience was young, so were the players on stage.

James was in really good company, fronting an accomplished jazz ensemble. Takuya Kuroda lent a kick to James’s smooth voice, impressing with frequent trumpet solos clearly to the enthusiastic crowd’s delight, as they clapped after every single one.

Also present on stage was acclaimed jazz drummer Francisco Mela, pianist Kris Bowers (winner of the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition) and Ben Williams on the bass (winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Competition for double-bass). Together they formed a fresh and organic-sounding backdrop for James’s vocals.

The music shifted in style during the evening. At times it was classic jazz that felt right at home in dim, intimate clubs like the Jazz Standard; other times it floated into mellow soul. Sometimes it would embrace listeners with slowed-down silky notes, just to sweep them off their feet again with more funky, head-nodding rhythms.

James’s performance at the Jazz Standard showed off his ability to swirl jazz, soul, and hip-hop together into an entertaining performance. However, genre itself is not what’s important; it’s the art form of live music in itself, and the great legacy of what is American music.

“I try not to think about label so much, like this is jazz, or this is hip-hop or R&B. We have museums—you could go to the Met and see modern art. But with music, it’s a little different. I think America has this treasure trove of recordings and artists, like Billie Holiday, Coltrane, and Miles Davis,” explained James.

“You don’t have a place that you can necessarily go to and see why it’s important, so I think it’s just important for Americans specifically, to know what they’ve created … It’s a very American art form.”

Clearly on display at the Jazz Standard was the entire band’s love for performance. They were smiling, exchanging laughs, and experimenting with the rhythms and sounds. It all felt very personal and welcoming. And one thing was sure—the audience loved it. So much so, that an encore was precipitated by enthusiastic applause and spirit before the night was brought to an end.

José James’s new single “Trouble” will be available on iTunes on Oct. 14, and he is working on an upcoming album that promises even more genre bending. James has been collaborating with artists such as singers Emily King and Hindi Zahra, and well-known bass player Pino Palladino.

“It’s a very fresh view of the music scene. It’s also played all live; it’s real instruments, so it’s an interesting mixture … [It’s] more romantic and more mellow.”

James also has a clear direction to what he’s aiming for. “I want to write songs and records that people of all genres feel good about.

“I just went through my library before I started the project and looked through it; and what I would just stick to, what I’d come back to was always Al Green, Marvin Gaye... I thought a lot about why that feels good, and those records sound so warm. They’re not like daytime or nighttime records; it’s just good music.

“That’s what I want to do, just good music.” - The Epoch Times - Olivia Zeitoun

"Mingus via Mos Def"

Jazz and rap are such natural bedfellows that it seems right that even the names of the genres that best fit together – hip-hop and be-bop – capture the bouncy beats and clattery rhythms that propel both.

Robert Glasper: ’We give hip-hop more jazz intellectualism’
Yet it’s a standing puzzle that 30 years of crossovers and fusions have produced only the rare outstanding recording. Even the best recordings never went further than adding rappers and DJs to a live jazz line-up – saxophonists Steve Coleman and Greg Osby stand out – while the worst were content with jazzy wanderings over pre-recorded beats.

There is one standout though. The American pianist Robert Glasper submerges the loops, layers and pulses of studio-crafted rap deep into the innermost workings of his trio. His first album, Mood, released in 2003, flagged up the possibilities of this new approach and won him a contract with Blue Note, with whom he has made three further albums. The latest, 2009’s Double Booked, features both his bands: the acoustic Robert Glasper Trio, and the electric Robert Glasper Experiment.

But it is in live performance that the 33-year-old really shows off his contemporary rhythmic nous. His bands throb with radical techniques that mingle the textures of hip-hop with the interplay of jazz. Add in audience-friendly, cross-genre covers, and it’s small wonder that Glasper’s gigs are crammed with musicians. His forthcoming workshops and Kings Place residency will be a highlight of November’s London Jazz Festival.

Glasper, who lives in New York, has been a frequent visitor to the UK with his acoustic trio, but when I spoke to him he was in London for a residency at Ronnie Scott’s with his other band, the Robert Glasper Experiment. It is this band that he is bringing to the London Jazz Festival. With Casey Benjamin on saxophones, Vocoder and electronics it is even closer to hip-hop in sound and feel.

Glasper was using the Ronnie Scott’s gig to dry-run material for a forthcoming Blue Note recording, and was keen to explain the mechanics of his music. Brushing aside gangsta rap almost as if beneath comment, he got down to the nitty-gritty of bringing the methods of a pre-recorded musical idiom to collectively improvised jazz.
“I try to get the hip-hop aesthetic, most times without an MC,” he said. “I don’t use a rapper or a DJ to give it the hip-hop style, it’s strictly the band that makes that music, which is a lot harder to do.”

For him collective improvisation remains the bedrock. He called his band Experiment, “because we have no idea what’s happening when we go on stage, it’s actually experimenting. We let the music guide us and take us places. We’ll know the first song and after that we kind of just go and see where we fall.”

Those moves are so seamless, though, that they can appear prearranged. But, Glasper explained, “We hit a little segment, and we go round and round, and none of it is planned. It’s very telepathic, very organic.” He leans back in his chair and chuckles.

In some ways, the Glasper approach is a natural extension of a working life that straddles the two worlds. When his first album gained public notice in 2005 – London DJ Gilles Peterson was plugging it on his syndicated radio show – the pianist was working live with his close friend, the R&B singer Bilal. Glasper has been working in New York’s hip-hop and R&B circles ever since: as musical director for the MC and hip-hop artist Mos Def, for example.

But Glasper has sufficient muscle to ensure a parallel jazz career with his own projects and as sideman with established jazz artists. “If you really dissect hip-hop you will find a whole lot of Charles Mingus, Ron Carter, Ahmad Jamal, a lot of classic jazz samples in there,” said Glasper. “My idea was to go full circle. Like hip-hop sampled jazz to make hip-hop, so now I’m a jazz trio sounding like a hip-hop track that sampled jazz.”

Glasper was born in Houston in 1978, about the time the first New York DJs began to rhyme and scratch. His late mother, Kim Yvette Glasper-Dobbs was a professional singer and played piano; soul and gospel were her staples.

“My first memories of life were in rehearsal, that’s why I can sleep through anything. She wasn’t a big advocate of like getting a babysitter,” he said. “I was everywhere with her, even in the clubs. When she was performing on stage she would have waitresses checking on me and stuff when I was like five.”

Although part of the first rap generation and surrounded by music making from such an early age, Glasper came to music late, and hip-hop even later. He remembers fiddling about on the piano, picking out tunes with one finger, when he was about 11. By the time he was 14 he was organist at one of the smaller churches his mother sang at, in front of about 50 people. Two years later, he’d moved on to larger congregations, and, like his mother, wasn’t too fussy about denominations.

“I played piano in a Seventh Day Adventist church on Saturdays and then I played piano for a Catholic church early Sunday morning and then late Sunday morning I played for a Baptist church,” he said. “The church I played for in my senior year in high school was a 10,000 seater. I was 17. I got used to that energy.”

The self-taught Glasper was good enough to pass the audition for Houston’s Visual and Performing Arts High School. The place was something of a hothouse – he followed on the heels of Beyoncé Knowles and jazz musicians such as Jason Moran and Eric Harland – it was here that his understanding of jazz flourished. He also met drummer Chris Dave, who was central to his cross-genre experiments: “He’s always doing something new that people haven’t thought of ... Even just the way he sets up the drums.”

His core style, though, was still in flux. His main focus was jazz and his main piano influences were Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. His strongest influence, Herbie Hancock, along with his understanding of hip-hop, came when he graduated from Houston and moved on to Manhattan’s New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music.

There, Glasper met professionals who taught from experience rather than the curriculum. Some of them had even played with Charlie Parker. “It’s not contrived teaching,” said Glasper. “It’s something really open, but they come more from the kick-your-butt standpoint.”

Glasper also forged the relationships that led to his discovery of hip-hop, in particular, his friendship with Bilal. The vocalist dropped out in his second year when he got a record deal; Glasper stayed, but worked on the recording where he met the producer J Dilla, as well as Mos Def and fellow MC Common. Glasper gave Common basic piano lessons and through that met the MC’s flatmate, the singer Erykah Badu. For a global music, hip-hop revolves in very tight circles.

For nearly a decade now Glasper has been an insider in both jazz and hip-hop. “Jazz used to be the hippest music. Now it’s the music that every one’s like, ‘What’s that?’ It’s looked at as history, it’s not looked at as modern music.” His solution is to “emulate that part of hip-hop, but we give it more jazz intellectualism”.

“But,” he added after a pause, “with a head nod.” - Financial Times - Mike Hobart

"Musician Robert Glasper Tests Jazz Music Limits"

Synthesizing Electronica and Hip Hop are often heard in his music.

Pianist Robert Glasper and Taylor McFerrin are part of a group of young musicians who are reshaping the look, feel, and sound of jazz music. Performing at Le Poisson Rouge, in tandem with College Music Journal (CMJ), McFerrin opened with a human beat box performance that put his own drum machine to shame. Glasper, the headliner, with his band The Experiment, opened with futuristic and semi-galactic sounds that swiftly eased into a sweet and jazz infused funk.

Glasper and The Experiment moved the crowd with their expansive synthesis of jazz, hip, hop, and electronica. The music filled the room with moody and melodic chords before taking the audience into the more complex patterns via various original contemporary beats that at times seemed intentionally displaced and out of sync. NPR music journalist John Murph describes Glasper as “a complete musician. He’s as strong rhythmically as he is melodically.”

When the band shifted into a tribute to the late J Dilla, the majority of the crowd seemed to be stuck in a slow and meditative sway. Glasper responded by calling them out, “My bad, I thought there were Dilla fans in here.” At that moment the true fans piped up, responding with various sounds and gestures of affirmation. The most visible were the all-out head-nods and fists in the air. With the energy high and accelerating Glasper asked “Ya'll mind if we stay in Dilla mode?” The crowd responded approvingly and seemed equally pleased with the surprise appearance from singer Bilal.

What distinguishes Glasper adds Murph is that “Robert knows the jazz canon and he also knows the hip hop canon. He plays songs that hip hop heads know, and he plays music that jazz heads know and he does not negate his knowledge of jazz.”

The scene inside of Le Poisson Rouge was a sharp departure from jazz sets whereby listeners are seated upright in suits and evening dresses at round tables in a smoke-filled room. This scene was more reminiscent of a small venue hip hop or Afro-punk performance whereby the audience swarmed the stage and existed as active participants with the performers. The space was packed with true hip hop heads, jazz heads, and CMJ spill over attendees (some of whom seemed to know little about McFerrin or Glasper). Adding to the energy of the night was Harriette Cole and BET who were in the house recording the performance for an upcoming production.

Glasper and his jazz contemporaries are moving into a more mainstream platform and this, states Murph, is due to the “increased accessibility of social media” adding “it’s a paradigm shift, whereby people like Glasper can be heard more.” Fans will hear more from Glasper in just a few months. Before exiting the stage he announced his forthcoming album, set to drop in January, which will feature Bilal, Mint Condition, Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, Ledisi, Musiq Soulchild and more, with each name he read, the fans cheered in anticipation. - Loop 21 - Una-Karim A. Cross


José James: "No Beginning, No End" - 2012
José James: "Blackmagic" - 2010
José James & Jef Neve: "For All We Know" - 2010
José James: "The Dreamer" - 2008



Born and raised in Minneapolis, José James came of age with the sounds of Prince, hip-hop and Modern jazz. Discovering an early passion for both music and creative writing, José combined these through performance – singing jazz standards, originals, and the works of John Coltrane with his quartet throughout the Twin Cites. Becoming a member of the groundbreaking avant-garde performance poetry and jazz ensemble Ancestor Energy, José was determined to devote his life to music, community, and spiritual unity.

Moving to New York City to attend The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, he was mentored by and recorded with both the legendary drummer Chico Hamilton and the pianist Junior Mance. There he also met his first ensemble that would form the studio and international touring band for his 2008 debut album “The Dreamer” (Jan 2008, Brownswood).

A chance meeting in London with international tastemaker and DJ Gilles Peterson led to a record deal on Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label. Drawing upon diverse influences such as Freestyle Fellowship and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, “The Dreamer” was an international critical success, with José performing at venues such as the North Sea Jazz Festival, Billboard Live Tokyo, The Hermitage Museum, and Central Park Summerstage. “The Dreamer” was voted #21 Critic’s Pick of JazzTimes Top 50 Jazz Albums of 2008.

His sophomore release “BLACKMAGIC” (Feb 2010, Brownswood) explored the worldwide underground, featuring production from Flying Lotus, Moodymann, Taylor McFerrin, and DJ Mitsu the Beats. “BLACKMAGIC” also featured James’s live band in new territory, covering dubstep pioneer Benga’s “Emotions” and exploring a soul/hip-hop version of the R&B classic “Save Your Love For Me.” “BLACKMAGIC” toured in over 30 countries, at venues such as the Montreal Jazz Festival, Ancienne Belgique, Melkweg, and Lincoln Center. “Love Conversation” (produced by Taylor McFerrin), “Save Your Love for Me,” and “Desire” (from The Dreamer) were featured in Fox Searchlight Pictures 2010 “Our Family Wedding” starring Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera, Carlos Mencia, and Lance Gross.

Signing to Verve/Universal in 2010, James’s third studio album “For All We Know” (May 2010, Impulse!) was released on the legendary “Impulse!” label, home to many of John Coltrane’s masterworks. Largely recorded in a single day at the famed Galaxy Studios in Belguim, “For All We Know” is a deep and timeless duo album of jazz standards featuring Jef Neve on piano.

Winner of both the Edison Award and L’Académie du Jazz Grand Prix for best Vocal Jazz Album of 2010, “For All We Know” was James’s most intimate project to date, with performances in premiere concert halls such as L’Olympia, Royal Festival Hall, and De Roma, as well venues such as the Umbria Jazz Festival, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola and Cotton Club Tokyo.

The collaboration between James and Jef Neve continued with an ambitious ongoing live project “Facing East: The Music of John Coltrane.” Conceived and directed by James “Facing East” made its worldwide debut at Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, and continued on to venues such as the North Sea Jazz Festival, Nice Jazz Festival, New Morning, and Ronnie Scott’s.

As a featured guest José has recorded albums with Junior Mance, Chico Hamilton, Nicola Conte, Bassment Jaxx, Jazzanova, Toshio Matsuura, J.A.M., DJ Mitsu the Beats, Timo Lassy, Taylor McFerrin, and Flying Lotus.

Recent projects include guest performances with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s “A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn” at Rose Theater, as well as touring internationally with McCoy Tyner’s “The Music of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.”

He was recently voted 2011 DownBeat Critics Poll “Rising Star Best Male Vocalist” and is currently working on his fourth studio album “No Beginning, No End.”