JazzMonthly.com feature interview
Jazz Monthly: Our guest here today here at JazzMonthly.com has recorded four highly acclaimed CD’s, and while the first three have received really excellent reviews by critics and the Jazz world alike, many people feel, that with his latest CD “In Joy,” love that title by the way, Gordon James has truly arrived and can take his place as one of the premier performers in the field of Funky Jazz /Jazz Funk. Based out of New Jersey, Trumpeter, Flugelhornist – Gordon James is with us right now. Welcome Gordon.
GORDON JAMES (GJ): Hey Joe how are you doing?
JM: OK, by the way, I said Trumpeter, Flugelhornist I don’t want to short change you my friend you’re also a composer, and producer right?
GJ: Yes. Composer, producer, arranger.
JM: Yes. I forgot arranger. I hope you don’t dock my pay on that one.
GJ: (Laughing) No, that’s fine. That’s good. You mentioned “Funky Jazz” I think the new title is “Groove Jazz.” now.
JM: I like that even better.
GJ: According to the new Media Guide chart. R&R has stop printing Smooth Jazz charts. There’s actually a new set of charts now. It’s Groove Music… Groove Jazz Music.
JM: Groove Jazz Music. OK. Now as far as the term, “Jazz Funk,” you say “Groove” or different variations of the word “Groove,” is that pretty accurate to describe your music or is it kind of confining, Gordon, or kind of limiting. Because I know that you play a myriad of styles.
GJ: Yeah, it is a little limiting. When I do any kind of promotions for a gig, I try to let people know that it’s not just Smooth Jazz, and not just Funk, it has like the touch of Soul and R&B and Old School and Latin. And that’s originally what Fusion Jazz was all about. Kind of mixing the different genres. That’s what I do. Hey, there’s even elements of Straight Ahead Jazz in there to.
JM: Yeah. You know sometimes, Gordon, we need to… myself included… we need to put a label on things. You mentioned the word “Smooth Jazz” and that’s been the word for a long time as well. And it’s been said that, not the original Smooth Jazz, like the Grover Washington Jr. and of course Funkadelic, I know they are heroes of yours, it’s been said that around ten years ago where quote “Smooth Jazz took a little bit of a turn.”
GJ: Yes. Absolutely. And I think that has to do when it kind of became more corporate. Most of the stations that are playing Smooth Jazz were corporately run stations. And what they ended up doing was hiring the company called Broadcast Architecture to basically program all these stations. So it became very formulized and you had to follow these guidelines to get played.
JM: I think our readers would want to know “How did Gordon James’s trumpet playing odyssey… and I think that’s a good way of saying it … odyssey begin?” I think it was in Plainfield New Jersey, right?
GJ: Yes. I grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. I went through the Plainfield school system at least up until the tenth grade, and I kinda got good really fast. (laugh) I just took to it. Like I played it in another life (laughter) or something. I was just ahead of everybody. By the fifth grade I was up and front of the band playing solos. I went on to do that with All City Band, and All State Band. And then there was a Summer Music Camp in Roselle Park, New Jersey. I used to win a scholarship to go to that every summer. When I was in the sixth grade, they had their bands divided into: beginner, intermediate and advanced and the advanced was all high school kids, you know. And when I was in the sixth grade, I was in the first chair in the advanced band in that summer music school. So I kind of took to it pretty quickly. I also had a great private teacher. And this was all on the Classical side. It was all Concert Band and Classical Music. Then eventually I went to the high school for performing arts… the Interlochen Arts Academy.
JM: Yes, a prestigious place.
GJ: Yes. very prestigious. Of course I found out when I got there that I might have been the hot shot in Plainfield (laughing), the number one cat, but you know when I got to Interlochen and it was the best from all over the world! So, all of a sudden my rank dropped a little bit.
JM: That’s all right. You were on your way! Then you went to the Hartt College of Music didn’t you?
GJ: Yeah I went to the Hartt College of Music and… not a great experience, it was a little bit too classical for me, so I can’t really say that I got what I wanted to out of that experience.
JM: But I’m sure it helped with your reading chops didn’t it?
GJ: Ah yeah, although by then, I was pretty much there by then in that department. But after I got out of there I went on to do some other things that were totally not related to classical music at all.
JM: So when did you take the turn into Jazz?
GJ: Well actually when I got out of college, I didn’t start Jazz right away. I got into a group shortly after college called “Blue Aquarius” and this band was kind of more Gospel oriented. I actually toured with that group. This would have been… like the early seventies actually.
JM: Mm hmm.
GJ: That’s kind of where I got my Jazz roots from because this was a huge group. It had a sax section. It was like an orchestra almost and a lot of the players in the band were really good jazz players so that’s where I was first introduced to it, through a lot of these guys in the band and I got the bug you know (laugh). Not that I hadn’t heard Miles and Dizzy and people like that but it’s like I was re-introduced to them for the first time and I started playing along with the records and just really got the bug and decided that’s the direction I wanted to go, you know, with jazz.
JM: Yeah. And you know Gordon, again I’m sure you were influenced by… what I call the "Pillars and Posts" of Jazz Trumpet playing. Of course: Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge (Little Jazz), and Dizzy of course you mentioned and Miles. But I know that Freddie Hubbard he was really, not that the others didn’t influence you, but he was the guy for Gordon James, wasn’t he.
GJ: Absolutely. I mean I would have to say Miles and Freddie, but I would say my style is more like Freddie’s. I just always loved his kind of melodic approach. Chet Baker was another guy that really influenced me. I like the melodic approach and I like that big fat sound that Freddie had. He had just such an amazing, beautiful tone.
JM: Yeah we just lost him right after Christmas. He just died a few days after Christmas.
GJ: I know what a shame. Gone too young.
JM: Yeah. So let’s talk about some of your CD’s. I know your first album was called “Candlelight Love” and that was, I guess, almost fifteen years ago.
GJ: Yeah around ’95 or something like that.
JM: And then your second was “Shades Of Brown.” And you got great reviews on that. And the third was called “After Hours.” And that brings us to the latest CD and I said I love the title, and before we even talk about that, who came up with the title… and, who ever did come up with that title deserves a raise Gordon. (Gordon Laughs). It’s called: “In Joy.” Who did come up with that great title?
GJ: Thanks. Thanks a lot! Actually it was my title…
JM: Well then you have to give yourself a raise. (Both Laughing)
GJ: Well, it kind of came out of the fact that the thing that I loved the most about music… I mean I love recording and I love composing, there’s nothing like going to the studio and watching something come together… but that doesn’t compare to me to actually performing live. And the feedback and communication that goes back and forth between myself, the band and the audience…
JM: It’s like a Symbiotic relationship, isn’t it?
GJ: Yeah, it’s just a beautiful thing. I mean you can feel it in your heart, you can feel it in your bones and you can see it in the people’s faces. They way they are moving their bodies. When I started thinking about that I thought, “Well this to me is what music is all about. It’s about conveying that feeling of Joy and celebrating and doing that together with whoever is listening to it, and whoever is performing it. When I started thinking about it that way I decided to call this CD “In Joy.” It’s really what music is all about to me. Sharing my joy with the audience. Whether they are hearing the CD or hearing it live.
JM: Yes, well I urge our readers to check it out if you haven’t already because you’re in for a real treat. I saw somewhere that you were described as a “seasoned performer.” Now that’s meant to be a compliment… right?
GJ: Ah yes… absolutely. (Laughing)
JM: A “seasoned performer.” Don’t worry you’re not a veteran yet so (Both Laughing) but you are a “seasoned performer.” We are laughing now, but on a serious note the word “seasoned performer” I think is really very fitting for you because, one thing I found…. I’ve been listening to your latest CD “In Joy…” You play with taste and style and great musical judgment. And that’s what music is all about, not just chops, right Gordon?
GJ: Absolutely, I mean it’s always been my thing and I think younger players… and myself when I was younger… you have that tendency to want to show off your chops and your technique and you think that’s what it’s all about. It’s like playing as fast as you can, hitting as many notes as you can, and impressing people with that. But as you grow more seasoned and get more experience under your belt, I think you find out that’s it’s not so much the quantity but the quality of what you’re saying. You can say more with less notes. It’s like picking and choosing the right notes and being more melodic and… not over playing. I think it comes out to be a more pleasant listening experience for the listener.
JM: Yes, your point is well taken. And that often does come with maturity, doesn’t it?
GJ: Yes. I used to work with this keyboard player years ago. He was a young guy and he had amazing chops and his solos might be around fifteen minutes long and I can see he could play fast but (laughing) but what are you saying?
JM: That’s almost like... I’m half joking now... when William F. Buckley, who was a brilliant man, would use a lot of million dollar words but after he talked sometimes people would go: “What the heck did he say?” (Both Laughing)
JM: Well definitely, I use the words taste and style and I think those are perfect words to describe Gordon James.
Let’s talk about some of the cuts and people on this great CD “In Joy,” There are twelve cuts I believe…
JM: And mostly originals. There are nine of them. But you picked three cover tunes… and I tell you… we talked about great judgment… they are not the typical cover songs and I’d like to point that out to everyone. One such refreshing Roberta Flack song, not “Where is the Love” but “Back Together Again.” Now what made you pick that one, man?
GJ: Well there’s a lot that goes into picking cover tunes. I actually… I’m glad you mentioned it, because I have a knack for it (laughter). Picking right covers. For one thing with trumpet you have to be careful with songs you pick because you’ve got to pick a melody that really works for the trumpet or the flugelhorn, otherwise it’s gonna sound really corny. That’s one factor that goes into picking a cover. And another one is like you said, you want to try and do something that hasn’t been done.
JM: Yes. And you certainly did. And I even liked the feel on “Back Together Again” because it was a little faster and it just locked in nicely. Sometimes If a person even thought about playing that… and it hasn’t been done, would tend to slow it down, but you gave it a nice driving tempo. Very nicely done.
The other cover tune, before we get to some of the originals was George Clinton’s“One Nation Under A Groove” a Funkadelic tune. And I tell you I think George Clinton would approve of your version because, to me you were true to the tune, definitely, but you made it your own, and you know Gordon, people still hold that album “One Nation Under A Groove” to be one of the greatest Funk Albums of all time, right?
GJ: Absolutely. I think so. I always wanted to cover that tune. I thought about doing it as far as two CD’s back and just never found the right person to do it with and it just never came together. But I’m so happy that I did do it. And that’s another one of those tunes that the melody kind of lends itself well, especially to the muted trumpet. I used open trumpet and muted trumpet, but the main melody I’m playing on the muted trumpet, and it just really works!
JM: Well I was very excited when I saw the listing of tunes on the CD, and I said, “Wow he’s gonna tackle this.” And it’s also somewhat ambitious of you too, when you think about it. You are covering a true Jazz Classic in the field.
GJ: Yes. It is kind of a gamble (Laughing)
JM: Well you nailed it if I can tell you that…
GJ: If you don’t nail it, you’re gonna get criticized for it. So it was one of those things where I just took a chance and… glad I did.
JM: The other thing too is… kind of the analogy I can think of with the album “One Nation Under A Groove.” That was to the late seventies to what “Kind Of Blue” was for Miles and the whole modal approach in 1959. And then twenty years later Funkadelic comes out and it’s a Dance Funk Classic too. And so when I put on your version of it man, you know I DID feel like dancing and that’s a compliment.
GJ: Yeah. Well thanks. We slowed it down a little bit from the original. It’s kind of tricky because obviously you’re in a genre and you want to stay somewhat true to the genre. We tamed it down a little bit, but like you said it’s still very danceable and very funky.
JM: Well, you aced it, so I think you can be proud of that. And the other cover tune is the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis tune that came out in the eighties, “Sunshine” right?
JM: Now James Lloyd produced that, didn’t he?
GJ: Yes, he did. And that was an interesting story. I was working with James in his studio and one day we trying to come up with another cover. We just started going through tunes on his Mp3. We were just clicking through tunes and when I heard that melody on that tune I said: “That’s It, It’s a really sweet melody for the flugelhorn and it will sound beautiful.”
JM: Well it is beautiful. And the other nice thing is that it has a really great feel to it. I think you proved, just on that song alone, and really the whole CD “ In Joy,” but with that tune alone“ Sunshine,” your performance of it and the production of it, Gordon, I think you proved really that great musicianship just doesn’t have to be over-blowing with cascading notes and over-production.
GJ: Yeah, absolutely.
JM: And of course I’m sure that was your aim and you succeeded.
Tell us about some of the musicians on “In Joy”?
GJ: Well on this particular CD I wanted to use some names in the Smooth Jazz genre, because I figured that will help with more notoriety. So I chose James Lloyd whose the keyboardist of PIECES OF A DREAM which was a group discovered by Grover Washington Jr. But James and I go back… he played on my second CD. I was doing the Asbury Park Jazz Festival and they were headlining that festival and I happened to go on right before they did. When I came off stage James was there and he said: “Wow, you play a mean horn.” So that’s how we connected. He ended up playing on the CD that I was working on at that time. And we stayed in contact through the years, so when I was getting ready to do “In Joy,” I contacted him about doing some playing and producing on it.
Also Bob Baldwin, who’s another established keyboardist and has many of his own CD’s out. I had met him also at a show that we were both on, so I got him involved. Chuck Loeb, who also played on my “After Hours” CD…
JM: That was your previous CD?
GJ: Yes, that was my last CD. When I did “Back Together Again” originally we used a virtual keyboard generated guitar on it. And when I listened to the final mix I said this is not going to cut it. (Laughing) You know, they do a pretty good job with some of the sounds being true to life, but the guitar, I don’t think is one of them. So I said this has got to have a real guitar on it. And I thought what a great idea to have kind of an action between me and Chuck Loeb, so I sent him the track and he loved it and he ended up doing guitar work on that. So it was very fortunate to have him.
JM: And great work on it to! Just a beautiful feel all the way through.
GJ: Yeah and we actually did that… we didn’t do it at the same time, we did it separately and it actually sounds like we are playing together… like we recorded it at the same time.
JM: Welcome to technology, right?
GJ: Yeah right. (Both Laughing)
JM: But it worked. Sometimes technology is used in a negative sense, but that’s not the case here… almost for convenience sake right?
GJ: Yes, because he lives down in North Carolina and so you save a little money. You don’t have to fly anybody. You can actually e-mail them the track and they can e-mail it back to you. It’s pretty amazing.
JM: Tell us about the title cut “In Joy.”
GJ: “In Joy” is a song that I wrote. I wrote it a while back…
JM: To me that was just a happy tune… right out of the gate.
GJ: Exactly. It just has a nice pleasant feel to it and a real nice hook and I thought this would be a good song for the title cut. The other song I wrote “Straight From the Heart,” also has a happy feel to it.
JM: By the way one of the tunes “Drivin”…
GJ: Yeah that I wrote with James Lloyd. We wrote several tunes together.
JM: When I listened to “Drivin’ you can take that two ways: Drivin’ meaning pulsing or taking a drive.
GJ: Yeah that’s why I thought of the title because it is kind of a double thing. In one sense you’ve got the pulsating beat and the other one is you can see yourself driving along the highway on a beautiful day just listening to that song.
JM: Yeah it just puts a smile on you face. What about “Another Love Song?”
GJ: That I wrote with James Lloyd. I love that song! It’s got a beautiful melody to it. It’s actually one of the best in terms of audience response when I do that song live. Just love that song!
JM: On this latest CD I noticed you’re thanking a lot of people. And it IS all about support isn’t it because you’re a working musician and a fine artist and in my introduction I wasn’t just pat when I said with this CD you have truly arrived! You’re getting national exposure and they are using the word “long overdue.” You have paid your dues and then some, right Gordon?
GJ: Yeah, I think so. (laughter) It’s kind of funny now because you mentioned that I am getting a little more exposure than I ever have. I kind of reached that point in my life where I’m OK with where I am. If I never tour the world and gain that kind of exposure, I’m fine with that. When I was younger, I was almost obsessed with that. It was like “ I gotta make it, I gotta make it!.” Well, you know, I have made it. I’m a good player and people appreciate it and that’s the bottom line. Whether it’s on a local level or on an international level.
JM: Well you’re a fine player and a very talented man.
What’s on the horizon for Gordon James?
GJ: Well what’s on tap immediately for me is in New Brunswick New Jersey. It’s going to be a Sunday evening April 26th. It’s going to be “Smooth Sensuous Sunday” with Gordon James. What’s going to be unique about it is that I’m teaming up with a friend of mine. We’ve been talking about doing this for years. He calls himself the Funkologist and what he does is… he does sounds and in addition to that he does lights and motion video graphics photography. We are going to combine my show with the video screen, up behind the band and we’re gonna do all kinds of motion graphics. We’re also gonna take pictures of people in the audience and during the show we will be flashing pictures of people that are actually at the show and flash it up on the screen. It’s really exciting. It’s something we always wanted to do. We’ve been talking about it for two to three years. We finally have a place where we can try it out. Hopefully it will be an ongoing thing every Sunday evening. All the information will be on my web site.
JM: Great. Why don’t you give your web site so people who want to find out more about you can just visit.
GJ: The web site is www.gordonjamesmusic.com Also the links to my other web sites are there. You can get to my myspace page from there, or CDbaby.com where you can purchase my CD.
JM: In closing, “In Joy” is the perfect description for this CD because that’s exactly what it gave me. It put a smile on my face and really that’s what music is all about isn’t it.
GJ: Absolutely. Yes sir
JM: Thanks again Gordon. Thanks for being here at JazzMonthly.com.
GJ: Thanks for having me.