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Boney James, (born James Oppenheim, September 1, 1961 in Lowell, Massachusetts) is a saxophonist, songwriter and producer. He is one of the most successful instrumental artists of our time, with sales totaling over 3 million records.
Boney James is a three-time Grammy Award nominee (Best Pop Instrumental Album, 2001 and 2004, and Best Traditional R&B Performance, 2009 ) and a Soul Train Award winner (Best Jazz Album). He has also been honored with an NAACP Image Award nomination for Best Jazz Album. He has accumulated four RIAA Certified Gold Records.
James' 14th album The Beat was released April 9, 2013 on Concord Records. Featuring guest artists Raheem DeVaughn and The Floacist, it became his 10th #1 Billboard Contemporary Jazz Album. It also received some of the best notices of his career. In their review of The Beat, The New York Times said: "The relaxed charisma of Mr. James’s tone, especially on alto and tenor, is one reason his approach works... Another reason is his sturdy sense of phrase. Like Grover Washington Jr., a pioneer in this field, he sounds at ease but alert, and he’s capable of striking an imploring tone without an overdose of saccharine."
James is also renowned for his compelling live performances. According to the Boston Globe: "Let's make something perfectly clear: James is not a smooth jazz player. Yeah, he is often grouped with people like Kenny G and Najee, but his music is muscular and gritty, whereas most smooth jazz has all the texture and complexity of a cue ball.... James swaggered across the stage like a blacktop hero draining treys on an overmatched opponent. He even weaved his way through the audience, never missing a beat and all but daring the crowd not to have a good time."
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Boney James took up the clarinet at the age of eight and switched to sax when he was 10. Boney spent his early teen years in New Rochelle, New York and became a Motown fan, which contributed to his "musical influence and soulful R&B style." He was also influenced by saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.. When James was 14 his family moved to Los Angeles, where he joined a fusion band which had some success opening for acts like Flora Purim and the Yellowjackets. Another member of this early band was John Shanks, now a successful pop producer. (Kelly Clarkson, Sheryl Crow)
James received a History degree from UCLA, but began playing music full-time after graduation. He learned to play keyboards and in 1985 joined The Time/Purple Rain alum Morris Day's band for four years. His R&B influence was further strengthened by seven years of touring and sessions as a sideman with Day, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Caldwell, Randy Crawford, Teena Marie and many others. It was on the road with Crawford in 1986 that he earned his now-famous moniker; his per diem as a touring musician barely kept him fed, and a bandmate (current The Tonight Show keyboardist, Wayne Linsey) joked about his dwindling physique, "We'll have to start calling you Boney James!" The name stuck.
In the early 1990s, after joining Bobby Caldwell's band, James caught the attention of the engineer/mixer & producer Paul Brown. In 1992 he released his debut album as a leader, Trust, on the indy Spindletop Records label. The record's success led to James being signed by the Warner Brothers label in 1994. The RIAA Certified Gold Records, Seduction, Sweet Thing and Body Language followed.
In 2000 he collaborated with trumpeter Rick Braun on an album called Shake it Up. Their duets include the now classic updated version of Hugh Masakela's "Grazin' in the Grass". Other artists who have made guest appearances on Boney's records include Faith Evans, George Benson, Dwele, Al Jarreau, Philip Bailey, Anthony Hamilton, Jaheim, Eric Benét, Dave Hollister and Angie Stone.
James assumed the role of producer starting with his Pure CD in 2003. Following a string of chart-topping albums, in 2006 James moved to Concord Records and with the release of Shine achieved his career highest Billboard Pop Chart position (#44 on the Top 200).
For his 2009 album, Send One Your Love, James decided to take a different path with a concept album, a collection of ten seductive love songs. In addition to the subsequent Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance, in 2009 Billboard Magazine named James the #3 Billboard Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Decade. (Trailing just Kenny G and Norah Jones.)
On May 15, 2010, James was involved in a car crash coming home from a performance when he was rear ended by a drunk driver. James suffered a fractured jaw, two shattered teeth and facial lacerations. He was sidelined for 2 months.
Contact released in March 2011 became his 9th CD to top the Billboard Jazz Chart. It features high-profile guest vocalists LeToya Luckett (of Destiny's Child), Grammy and Tony winner Heather Headley and R&B superstars Mario and Donell Jones. The record was nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Album at the 2011 Soul Train Awards.
Boney James is married to award-winning actress/director Lily Mariye ("Nurse Jarvik" on NBC's ER for 15 seasons). In 2012 he contributed the original score to her feature film directorial debut, Model Minority.
- Trust (1992)
- Backbone (1994)
- Seduction (1995)
- Boney's Funky Christmas (1996)
- Sweet Thing (1998)
- Body Language (1999)
- Shake It Up w/Rick Braun (2000)
- Ride (2001)
- Pure (2004)
- Shine (2006)
- Christmas Present (2007)
- Send One Your Love (2009)
- Contact (2011)
- The Beat (2013)