JM: The Beat grew out of your love for Latin music and particularly a classic song by Sergio Mendes, “Batucada,” that you cover. Tell me about your interest in that genre. Have you not had the opportunity to explore it on previous recordings?
BJ: I covered Jobim’s “Aquas de Marco” on Shine and “After the Rain” back on Sweet Thing had a little of that flavor. I had been flirting with the idea of doing a Latin record a few times over the years. So I developed this playlist and “Batucada” kept coming back to me as one I needed to translate to the sax. Originally it was a vocal tune with a piano solo. Urban music is my first love, but I have always been intrigued by Brazilian and Latin music, particularly artists like Jobim, Astrud Gilberto and Eddie Palmieri. Both genres are driven by the groove and percussion.
The Beat became a real mashup because I incorporate more Latin percussions into the R&B vibe – and to me, “Batucada” is like a samba as if it were done by the Ohio Players. The rhythm is completely different. I changed some chords, took some pieces from the original’s keyboard lines, and Rick Braun and I are playing the melody instead of the male and female vocalists. It’s totally funkier because I combine that Stevie Wonder styled key bass with a real bass for a heavier groove than the original. The definition of “beat” is striking an object to create patterns, but I include spaces between those hits, creating the album’s mellower moods without drums. “Missing You” is a sexy R&B tune where I took the high hat off and put percussionist Lenny Castro’s maraca on.
JM: You’ve worked with many amazing contemporary R&B singers over the years. This time it’s Raheem Davaughn on the lead Urban AC single “Maker of Love” and The Floacist (Natalie Stewart) from the duo Floetry on “The Midas (This Is Why).” Tell me about those two tracks.
BJ: Raheem has always been on my list of people I wanted to work with. I had a song which lent itself to a great male R&B vocal. I had written the chorus and melody and then I found out that he was a follower of mine on Twitter. I wrote a direct message asking him if he would like to collaborate. Once he was convinced it was really me, I sent him the song. He came up with an amazing lyric. I thought I’d get a demo back but he sent me the finished track, the same one that appears on the record. He did it in one night! As for “The Midas,” as it progressed I felt it was unique and different and in my imagination I thought it would be great to have a woman doing spoken word hip hop. I imagined her voice with an English accent, lending it a Euro coffee bar flavor. I had to reach out to Natalie’s management, and it took some digital back and forth from Los Angeles to the UK, so it was a very step by step collaborative process.
JM: I heard you scored and co-produced the independent film “Model Minority” that your wife Lily Mariye directed. I know it has received a lot of film festival accolades, so congratulations. Tell me about the film and how scoring a film is different from doing a solo recording?
BJ: It was my first time scoring a feature and it was a great experience. My wife basically said, “I need music and you’re doing it!” The story is kind of dark, gritty drama about a young half Japanese half Caucasian teenage girl living in Los Angeles dealing with racial issues and societal expectations getting in trouble with a drug dealer, with lots of mayhem ensuing. Lily and I both love watching films and I have always admired film scoring as an art form. The tone of the film calls for a very sparse score, a very lonely, sad and minimalist vibe with just acoustic piano, guitar and synth. Some pieces are more rock oriented to reflect the teen angst flavor. It’s very different from recording my own albums. I’m not writing actual songs but music that accentuates the emotions of the scene. I’m very melodic in my own songs and I’m playing to get people to pay attention, but in film, if you have too much melody you take the audience’s ears away from what’s on screen, so atmospheric is the way to go. It’s interesting from a technical aspect and with the help of some special software, I enjoyed the challenge of marrying the music to the picture. On the other hand, I knew I had to do a lot of editing and couldn’t use the sax. So it was a very different kind of venture for me.
JM: The business models of consuming music have changed significantly over the past few decades and it’s hard for any new recordings to equal the sales figures of your classics. Do you think this urban/smooth jazz has a strong future despite the challenges?
BJ: People were so ready to predict the demise of the entire genre just a few years ago, but despite the challenges at terrestrial radio, the music is not going anywhere. People still like it and find new ways to experience it, as well as supporting festivals, shows and annual cruises. I was on a panel with Earl Klugh a few years ago. He has been in the business longer than most of us and he said he had seen contemporary jazz’s fortunes rise and fall over the years, that it’s just the nature of the business. So we shouldn’t be tripping about it. My goal is just to make the music I love and trust that the audience will find it and hopefully enjoy it.
Visit Boney James's website at: www.boneyjames.com