With three gold albums in a row, a recent sold-out tour of amphitheatres, a string of National Smooth Jazz Awards and a nomination for a NAACP award, songwriter/saxophonist/producer Boney James is the gold standard to which all contemporary jazz players are compared. Somebody needs to tell him.
"When people actually buy my records it's very affirming. It's something I wonder about... But it is wonderful," he laughs.
When James was just out of college and began writing songs, number one contemporary jazz chart hits weren't a thought or even a possibility. At the time he was concentrating on writing pop songs. No one cared. With good reason.
"Those songs were terrible," he recalls. "So I decided that I needed to write the kind of music that I liked. When I began doing that, the songs got a lot better."
What he liked was classic r&b and the music of stars such as Grover Washington, Earth, Wind & Fire and Curtis Mayfield. That influence became even stronger after stints as a sideman for people like Morris Day.
"My career path as a side man deeply into r&b changed me," he says. "Playing all of that stuff had to come out in my music. It mixed in with everything else," James says. "It wasn't a conscious thing."
That r&b infusion propelled James's songwriting in a direction that has connected with the public. His first album sold more than 100,000 copies and it's been an upward spiral since then. His current offering, Ride, has been topping the contemporary jazz and Urban AC charts.
So what's next? Even he doesn't know.
"I have no plan to try and write a certain kind of song. It just comes out the way it does. It sounds kind of corny, but songwriting for me really comes from an honest place. It's sincere. I'm very disciplined," he muses. "I'm always working. When I'm home I go into the studio every day and begin practicing. The songs start there, and they evolve from there."