Real name: James Oppenheim
Born: in MA
Styles: Smooth Jazz, Crossover Jazz, Contemporary Jazz, Instrumental Pop
Instruments: Sax (Tenor), Sax (Soprano), Saxophone, Soprano
A solid saxophonist whose style falls on the r&bish and pop side of jazz, Boney James (who is heavily influenced by Grover Washington Jr.) is a consistent best-seller who can always be relied upon to put on a colorful live show. Born James Oppenheim, he grew up in New Rochelle, New York. The future Boney James studied clarinet when he was eight, switching to saxophone two years later. When he was 15, his family moved to Los Angeles. James was soon playing in a fusion band (Line One) which was strong enough to open for Flora Purim and the Yellowjackets. After a year attending UC Berkeley, he transferred to UCLA so he could continue playing with the band. He earned a degree in history but became a fulltime musician after graduation, doubling on keyboards. James went on the road as a keyboardist with Morris Day in 1985 and eventually convinced Day that he should be playing saxophone instead. He spent four years with Day and became in-demand for guest spots on tenor, alto, soprano and flute, playing with Randy Crawford, Sheena Eastan, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Caldwell and others. He picked up his nickname while on tour with Crawford. After mentioning to a keyboardist that he was running out of food money, the musician replied that that if he ate any less, he would have to be called Boney James! The popular saxophonist made his debut as a leader with Spindletop in 1992 (Trust) and then in 1994 was signed by Warner Bros. where he recorded dates including Backbone, Seduction, Boney's Funky Christmas, Sweet Thing and Shake It Up.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
There's a revolution happening in contemporary music, and saxophone sensation Boney James is at the forefront. Audiences are refusing to be limited by genres, and true artists are stretching beyond any artificial boundaries. Record buyers don't care if they have to find Sweet Thing, Boney's newest CD, in the R&B rack or the Smooth Jazz bin or even the Adult Contemporary aisle. They only care about one thing - bringing the riveting new sound of Boney James up to the cash register and onto the top of the sales charts across the nation.
Crossover appeal has always been the ambition of most recording artists, but unfortunately, it's usually meant crossing over to one genre while leaving another behind. Boney James' success is all the more impressive because with each new release, he continues to hold on to old fans, while gaining new ones. Winner of the 1998 Soul Train Music Award for Best Jazz Album, it's no surprise that Sweet Thing continues Boney's domination of the Smooth Jazz charts, even as it moves onto the R&B radio and sales charts.
"I do work to push the boundaries a little further each time," admits Boney. "I always want to explore new directions, while at the same time, touch on some of the music that was important to my own development - everything from R&B to jazz fusion to Steely Dan. Sweet Thing is a sort of 'live meets loop' approach… modern and retro at the same time. And since audiences have responded to it, I think they're looking for something more inclusive as well."
It's obvious that audiences are clamoring for what Boney has to offer - just consider the astonishing sales stats for his music. Sweet Thing debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart, marking the first time ever that an instrumentalist has held the top spot. His previous CD, Seduction, holds the record for most weeks at No. 1 in airplay for smooth jazz, and earned him a Record of the Year and Artist of the Year Award from The Gavin Report.
On the R&R NAC Chart, Seduction broke all previous records with a run of 17 consecutive weeks at No. 1; on the Gavin Smooth Jazz and Vocals charts, it spent 16 straight weeks at the top; and on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart, it remained in the Top 10 for an entire year. In fact, Seduction remained on Billboard's charts for 104 weeks and would still be there, except for a Billboard policy of limiting listings to a maximum of two years. Seduction made history again by placing four tracks from a single CD in the Top 5 on the national airplay charts. Finally, Seduction garnered a Soul Train Music Awards' nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year.
Yet, for all the stunning success of Seduction, Sweet Thing has sold more CDs in the past six months than Seduction did in the last two years. His previous CDs, Backbone and his debut album Trust, began the momentum that has carried Boney to the top ranks of the music industry.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and raised in New Rochelle, New York, Boney began playing clarinet in elementary school, then moved on to the saxophone. "I grew up listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Grover Washington, Jr., and Return to Forever." Boney's family moved to Los Angeles in 1975, and it was there that Boney began to find outlets for the musical styles he had been developing.
Like many of today's most gifted musicians, Boney honed his craft by playing in garage bands, ultimately becoming both a sought-after onstage and session player, performing with such critically acclaimed artists as Randy Crawford, Morris Day, Ray Parker, Jr., The Isley Brothers, Teena Marie, Vesta, Cherelle and Bobby Caldwell.
"Suddenly I was playing with people whose records I had admired for years," explains Boney, "and working in countries I'd never been to before. I'd say the most important thing I learned on those tours was that, while everyone is influenced by other artists, it's crucial that you develop your own sound."
And by developing his own sound, Boney was signed as a solo artist to independent Spindletop Records in early 1991. Boney made the major label move to Warner Bros. Records and the rest is a matter of record...lots of records, in fact.
In late 1996, Boney took time out to send his fans a holiday gift in the form of Boney's Funky Christmas, an album of seasonal favorites redone in his own unique style. Wife Lily Mariye, one of the stars of the hit television series E.R., was among those lobbying for those beloved holiday standards that were performed on the album.
"That was the best part of recording Boney's Funky Christmas," declares Boney, "taking songs everyone knows, and playing them in a way that's fresh and new. Everytime I play in concert now, I hear suggestions for the follow-up Christmas CD."
After the Funky Christmas sessions, Boney and long-time producing partner Paul Brown returned immediately to the studio to work on the eagerly-anticipated followup to Seduction. Recruited for the Sweet Thing sessions were a number of friends, including former Rufus guitarist Tony Maiden (who both sang and played on the title track for Sweet Thing), ace guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., Anita Baker's bassist Larry Kempel, and a young drumming phenomemon named Lil' John, best known for his stage work with Janet Jackson. Also on hand was the legendary Al Jarreau. "I'm a huge fan," enthuses Boney, "and it was a great honor to have him on the album and also have the opportunity to tour with him."
Over the past few months, audiences across the nation have come out in force to hear their favorite artist. In addition to a string of selected dates opening for Jarreau, Boney headlined his own tour, and performed in concert with Will Downing and Regina Belle. Boney effortlessly connects with audiences during his live shows, crossing all age groups and demographics. "Performing live is a whole different set of skills than working in the studio," relays Boney. "I compare working live to skiing - it's intense, it's immediate, it's living in the absolute moment. Working in the studio is like building a model airplane - it's meticulous, and it's painstaking. I'm just lucky I have the opportunity to do both."
Boney fans can now listen to a brand-new single from Sweet Thing. He's re-mixed "It's All Good," one of his own compositions, featuring vocals by the critically-acclaimed performer Eric Benйt. Smooth Jazz radio stations and R&B stations are busy adding this surefire hit to their playlists, ensuring that listeners everywhere can turn on their radios and hear a "sweet thing" indeed.