Smooth JazzNotes

Boney James "Shines"


Boney James stands out from the crowd with his unique style of jazz saxophone blending jazz with R&B. This sub-genre known as Urban Jazz was developed by Boney James, spreading and influencing other musicians. Boney is multi-talented! He feels as comfortable behind the keyboards, as he does playing soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones. He even plays a little flute!

Boney James’ new CD, Shine, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts, #6 on the R & B chart and #44 on the Pop Chart, selling 20,000 copies the first week! Boney has accumulated three gold records, and has had two Grammy nominations, as well as being a Soul Train Award winner.

James Oppenheim started out playing clarinet when he was eight, finding the saxophone at the age of ten. When James was 15, his family moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles where he joined a fusion band, opening for several successful acts, such as Flora Purim and the Yellowjackets. After a year studying History at UC Berkeley, he transferred to UCLA where he could continue his studies while playing in the band, “Line One”. After graduation, he played music full time and in 1985, began playing keyboards for Morris Day’s band, until he again played saxophone for R&B bands such as the, Isley Brothers, Sheena Easton , Randy Crawford, and Tina Marie, as well as Smooth Jazz artists, Bobby Caldwell and Ray Parker Jr. It was during his life as a sideman that he got his nickname, “Boney”. Sidemen are not paid well and James complained he had run out of food money on the road, earning him the moniker “Boney James”.

While playing with Bobby Caldwell, he was approached by Paul Brown who was just starting out himself. He agreed to produce a solo CD for Boney. “Trust” was released in 1992 on a small independent label, rising to the top of the charts becoming a milestone in the career of both Boney and helping to cement Paul as a top engineer, mixer, and producer. It helped Boney get a contract with Warner Brothers, where he stayed until 2006, when he moved over to Concord Records.

“Shine”, Boney’s 10 th CD, has been at the top of the charts for almost a year now and the song “Hypnotic” is currently holding it’s own. Boney wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks on the CD and produced it, as well.

Boney really stretched the limits with this last CD, as he has done with all of his CD’s, every song is very different and his guests artists are all from different genres of music. Special guests include George Duke on keyboards and George Benson on guitar. Hip-hop/soul vocalist Faith Evans,R&B vocalists Dwele and Philip Bailey (of Earth, Wind & Fire), alternative-pop singer Esthero, and Ann Nesby (Sounds of Darkness).

SJN: Boney, you have a hit CD, Shine which has been at the top of the charts for almost a year now. Please tell us what you love the most about this CD?

Boney: For me, each record is really about the songs and I was just really proud of the music that I wrote for the record and I did a few cover tunes too, but sort of more obscure stuff like The Dramatics ‘In The Rain’ or Chuck Mangione’s, ‘Soft’ I did my first Bossa Nova tune and 'Aquas de Marco', the arrangements I thought turned out really cool I’m proud of the over all sound of the record. For me, I get so engrossed in the details of putting each track together it’s only months later that I can experience it as an actual album, like a regular person would and when I listen to it, it just sounds really upbeat and kind of happy and sparkly to me. I don’t know, I guess that’s what I love about it.

SJN: Currently, “Hypnotic”, your song with George Benson is on the charts. How was it working with a legend like him?

Boney: Well, that’s one thing I forgot to mention that’s cool about the record is all the guest stars that ended up on there. Working with George was such a huge honor. I’ve been a big fan ever since I was really a kid and he was the very first contemporary jazz artists that I got into and I was actually at “The Weekend In L.A.” concert at the Roxy when they recorded that. I was a fan, so to be in the studio with him actually playing on my record was the thrill of a lifetime really.

SJN: “The Total Experience” was the first single from this CD, you had another legend, George Duke play with you. It’s the kind of song you hear the first time and you say “That’s going to be a hit record!” Did you feel this way?

Boney: You know, I try not to think too much about it. I mean, I’ve got a Radio Promoter, Cliff Gora from ‘All That Jazz’ I’ve been working with ever since I started making records, way back when I was on Spindletop. He usually tells me what the hits are and I trust him because he knows the radio world so much better than I do I’m just trying to make great music that I personally love and I definitely loved that track when it was done.

SJN: You produced your last two CD’s in your home studio, do you enjoy this role in the process?

Boney: I do, producing is really challenging but it’s really fun too, just having all that control. Knowing that the music that comes out is really sort of my music and there’s something really fulfilling to me as an artist.

SJN: You have moved record companies, why did you decide on Concord Records?

Boney: I felt it was time to leave Warner Brothers. They had really closed down their whole Jazz Department, in fact it seemed like it was a good thing because Warner Brothers in general is just in terrible trouble now. I was just ready to look for another label and I looked at Concord and I saw the great success they had with the Ray Charles CD. And just how they were really determined to try and market the different kinds of music aggressively to people. Honestly I love making records but I really want someone to hear them too. You have to have a label that’s going to be your partner and get the music out there. I really felt that Concord was the way to go

SJN: You started out as a sideman playing saxophone, but switched to keyboards. Why did you change instruments and how did you master a new instrument so rapidly?

Boney: I had been playing keyboards for a few years, I taught myself how to play, because I wanted to write songs and I needed to have the harmonic ability so I took three piano lessons and the rest I kind of taught myself. I got into synthesizers and stuff like that so I didn’t actually switch, it’s just that I was delivering pizzas for a living and trying to break into the music business that I happen to hear of an audition for Morris Day after the Time broke up. After Purple Rain he was putting a band together and he needed a keyboard player and I had no thought that I would get the gig but thought I would go try out and see what happens. Next thing I knew I was out there playing keyboards for a living and I did convince him that I really was a sax player and he let me play the sax on one song in the show and that ended up how I made my living for a good seven years was being a keyboard player, that could also play sax as opposed to being a sax player, that could also play keyboards.

SJN: You played as a sideman with several renowned artists. Which of these artists do you attribute with influencing you?

Boney: I suppose all of them really. I learned a lot and that’s one thing that I was always trying to do. I figured if I was going to be out there backing people up, I should try to learn as much as I can about the music business in general and about entertaining, too. I worked with Morris, and the Isley Brothers, and Bobby Caldwell, and people like that, great artists who had all different things that they did on stage, I was able to stand in the back and just check it out and see how they worked the crowd and see how they dealt with the people they employed and all kinds of lessons you can learn when you’re not the boss.

SJN: Besides the artists you have played with, what other musicians have influenced you?  

Boney: When I was first starting out the first sax player I heard that I would call an influence would be Grover Washington Jr. As soon as I heard ‘Mr. Magic’, with that funky beat, beautiful tone, and incredible improvisation, over this R&B flavor. That’s still the tradition I’m working in today and that’s the first record I heard that made me think ‘Wow, what a beautiful sound that is!’ A lot of my other influences come from the R&B and the Pop world; Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, George Benson. When I was first starting out, they got me excited about music. Since I started making my own records, I really try to focus on doing my own thing and find out what it is about me that’s unique and I keep exploring that and not think so much about influences, I just try to be original now.  

SJN: When and how were you introduced to jazz?

Boney: When I first started playing sax when I was ten, you automatically you start looking to other sax players to learn and most sax players operate in that jazz style. It wasn’t until three or four years after I started playing the horn that I heard the music that really got me excited, like be bop, Coltrane, and all that stuff, is really impressive, but it’s not the kind of music that excites me like contemporary sounding jazz does.

SJN: You have a very unique style of playing that YOU actually developed often referred to as Urban Jazz. How did you develop this unique style?

Boney: It’s responding to the music I like and trying to make records that sound good to me. Since I like so much R&B music and I also play the sax, that’s how I sing, that’s my voice, it just gets mooched up inside and comes out sounding like ‘Boney James Music’.  

SJN: On a personal note, we understand that you are married to actress/director Lily Mariye (the Japanese nurse on “ER”). Please tell us how you met and a bit about your life together?

Boney: We actually got fixed up by a friend, coming up on 26 years ago now. She was in a play and I was playing in a band. Our friend, she took me to see the play and she took Lilly to see my band and we got together then. It’s just been a great thing. I was supporting myself delivering pizza’s at the time and she was supporting herself working at the Comedy Store selling tickets, so we have been together as both of our careers have grown. She got on the show ER around the same time I got signed to Warner Brothers. It’s great having someone who understands show business, and the stress and the joys that come from it. We like to hang out at home. We’re very quiet homebodies when we’re not working. We like to travel a little bit. We go to Hawaii as often as possible. We just like to hang out!

SJN: Do you have any hobbies besides music?  

Boney: Not really, music has always been my hobby and it’s also my job too! I like to read and exercise, I do Yoga. That’s what’s relaxing to me!

SJN: What is your favorite escape?  

Boney: I think that it is probably going to Hawaii, that’s the best thing! Whenever I get over there, it’s just the balmy air and the flower smell. The ocean is so beautiful for snorkeling and all that stuff. That’s the way I shut off!

SJN: You are on tour now, what can we expect from this tour?

Boney: It’s a fun show! We have been concentrating a lot on the new music from the Shine CD, so it’s great to get out there and play that stuff live. I have a new band that most people haven’t seen, most of these guys that are touring with me now, are incredibly talented musicians. It’s new music and new musicians. The thing that stays the same is the joy that I get and the band gets, and hopefully the audience gets out of being there in that live environment. It really is the most fun thing I do in the music business is that hour and a half on stage letting it flow and the communication between the large group of people around the music. It is an incredible feeling!

SJN: It has been almost a year since the release of “Shine”. What do you have planned next?  

Boney: Well, actually, I just finished a Christmas record that is going to come out this year. It is my second Christmas, but the first one came out over ten years ago, so it was really exciting to get back in and try that again. It’s called ‘Christmas Present’ and it will be out for this holiday season. It’s got some great guests, Angie Stone, Shantee Moore, and Anthony Hamilton do the singing. I collaborated with Rick Braun again for the first time since we did ‘Shake It Up’. I’m really proud of it. I think that it is one of my best CD’s ever.

Boney at The Mountain Winery, Saratoga, CA




Boney's Tour Dates
  September 7 Radisson Hotel Sacramento, CA
  September 8 Russian River Jazz Festival Guerneville, CA
  September 9 Mountain Winery Saratoga, CA
  September 15 Trenton Jazz Festival Trenton, NJ
  September 23 Oceanside Pier Amphitheatre Oceanside, CA


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