José James has collaborated with jazz legends like McCoy Tyner and Wynton Marsalis and more contemporary artist like EDM phenom Flying Lotus, DJ Mitsu the Beats and Jazzanova.
Contemporary jazz/soul singer José James performs at the Pagoda Lounge on December 7, bringing a style that blends traditional jazz with hip-hop, soul and drum ‘n’ bass.
James’ resume includes three studio albums, tours and projects with jazz legends like McCoy Tyner and Wynton Marsalis and collaborations with more contemporary artist like EDM phenom Flying Lotus, DJ Mitsu the Beats and Jazzanova.
The son of a saxophonist, James was always surrounded by jazz but wasn’t completely drawn to until he began listening to hip-hop. Acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and Rakim, known for their jazz samples, piqued James’ interest and directed him to the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Roy Ayers.
After leaving his hometown of Minneapolis to pursue a career in music and attend the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, James was mentored by legendary drummer Chico Hamilton and pianist Junior Mance before signing to his first record deal with London-based Brownswood Recordings in 2008.
In 2010, jazz label Impulse!, parted of Verve Music Group, signed James and released “For All We Know,” a duet album with pianist Jef Neve that won the Edison Award and L’Acadamie du Jazz Grand Prix for best Vocal Jazz Album of 2010. Recently voted by Downbeat magazine as 2011’s “Rising Star Best Male Vocalist,” James is very humble about his success.
James views himself as a traditional jazz singer, though his musical stylings are far from it. Currently working on a new album titled, “No Beginning, No End,” he is working to bring new new influences from trips to Japan, China, Morocco and Europe to his music.
He explains that each place has its own respective scene: electronic, dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass in the UK, hip-hop and jazz in Japan, and songwriting in France. Even with an extensive grounding in jazz music, James’ intentions and tastes extend beyond the genre and he wants people to be able to recognize that in his music.
“All those scenes have their own concentration and I’m able to come in and take what I like,” James says.
James’ debut album “The Dreamer” and live studio recording of “For All We Know” became lasting records in the jazz community, but it was his second album, “Blackmagic” that brought him to the attention of the greater music audience.
An album with a more hip-hop sound, James says it was a project “more focused on production,” as opposed to his usual live band. Flying Lotus, known for his spacey, electronic-based hip hop beats, had a heavy hand in the project, along with producers DJ Mitsu the Beats of Japan, Moodymann and Taylor McFerrin.
The album also featured a hip-hop/soul rendition of the R&B classic, “Save Your Love For Me,” by Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderly.
“I come from jazz and jazz will always be in my heart, but I’m looking for a more contemporary sound‚ one that’ll be able to reach all kinds of different people of my generation,” he says.
José James performs December 7 at Pagoda Lounge. Tickets are $10-$20 and the show starts at 8pm.