MTH-V: Bob James Live | UMS Debut on 11.15.14

This post is also a plug for a show happening in Ann Arbor this Saturday. Legendary keyboardist Bob James will be returning to his alma mater for a night of music in a quintet setting. This performance caps off his recently being awarded the 2014 School of Music Theater & Dance Hall of Fame Alumni Award.

Some readers may consider James to be an odd choice for this blog, but there is a related thread that’s run through a few posts here. I do have a soft spot for so-called “smoother” styles. For example: an early video post featured David Sanborn, Marcus Miller has had a couple posts, a recent post extolled the virtues of Steely Dan, and Tom Scott & The L.A. Express have also been highlighted. And, coming down the pike, I intend to throw more Sanborn, some blue-eyed soul and more yacht rock, and even a dash of Candy Dulfer into the mix. What does this have to do with Bob James? Well, though I was completely unconscious of it at the time, his “Angela” was the first tune to get that sound in my head while I regularly watched Taxi reruns as a small boy. And I remember the first time I knowingly heard the full studio cut of “Angela” in the wild (on the radio), and having a name to associate with the tune, was while night-driving solo through Seattle in my early twenties. (I had heard Fourplay and other groups of his, but didn’t really put the pieces together to know it was him.) I remember thinking that after so many years of hearing short clips of his music, I was very impressed – stunned, even, – by just how hard it grooved. And, coming full circle, the aforementioned “smooth” figures and their associates, many of whom have been featured on this site in some capacity, round out the Bob James milieu of the late 70s, having been in his orbit in one way or another. 1978’s Touchdown is a good example of this.

Here’s a somewhat recent live clip of James performing in Seoul, South Korea with bassist Nathan East and guitarist Jack Lee. It’s nice to hear him performing it on piano:

I mentioned at the outset that this is also a plug for his upcoming show at University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium Saturday night as part of this season’s UMS series. (UMS has provided great memories for me over the years as well as some good content for this blog, particularly regarding Einstein on the Beach – one of this site’s through lines – and Charles Lloyd.) In fact, it will be the alumnus’s UMS debut. He talks a little about his music, background, and upcoming show here:

I particularly enjoy (and agree with) this quote: “You gotta make people dance first. If [the audience] are not pattin’ their foot, there’s something wrong with what we’re doing: we’re not in the pocket.” Piggybacking on that, UofM’s Professor and Chair of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation sums it up nicely:
“There are these straight-ahead jazz artists and their aficionados who can sometimes become snobbish and talk about categories – they can be snobbish in their tastes and look down their noses at music with wide appeal. But every time I put on one of Bob’s ‘smooth jazz albums’ or other albums, I’m constantly noticing the hip chord progressions, the slick arrangements, the fantastic rhythm section playing, and the wonderful improvising.”

Catch Bob James Saturday at 8:00 PM.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.