Bob James (musician)

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Bob James
James in Heydar Aliyev Palace, Baku Jazz Festival, 2015
Background information
Birth nameRobert McElhiney James
Born (1939-12-25) December 25, 1939 (age 84)
Marshall, Missouri, U.S.
  • Musician
  • composer
  • arranger
  • record producer
  • Keyboards
Years active1962–present
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata

Robert McElhiney James (born December 25, 1939)[1] is an American jazz keyboardist, arranger, and record producer. He founded the band Fourplay and wrote "Angela", the theme song for the TV show Taxi.[2] According to VICE, music from his first seven albums has often been sampled and believed to have contributed to the formation of hip hop.[3][4] Among his most well known recordings are "Nautilus", "Westchester Lady", "Tappan Zee", and his version of "Take Me to the Mardi Gras".

Early life and family[edit]

James was born on Christmas Day of 1939 in Marshall, Missouri, United States.[1] He started playing the piano at age four.[1] His first piano teacher, Sister Mary Elizabeth, who taught at Mercy Academy, discovered that he had perfect pitch. At age seven, James began to study with R. T. Dufford, a teacher at Missouri Valley College. At age 15, James continued his studies with Franklin Launer, a teacher at Christian College in Columbia, Missouri, with more music instruction during high school from Harold Lickey, conductor of the Marshall High School Band and Orchestra. Apart from the piano, James learned to play trumpet, timpani, and percussion. From 1950 to 1956, he competed in the Missouri State Fair piano competitions and received several blue ribbons.

James attended the University of Michigan,[1] but during his second year transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. At Berklee his roommate was saxophonist Nick Brignola.

Music career[edit]

His first professional music job was when he was eight years old, playing for a tap dance class at Mercy Academy. During his adolescence, James's music career proliferated. Early jobs included being a member of the Earle Parsons Dance Band (c. 1952–55) which played various engagements around the Marshall area. During this time, he penned his first dance band arrangement.

During the summer of 1955, at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, James played for dancing and occasional jam sessions with the Bob Falkenhainer Quartet on the Governor McClurg Excursion Boat in the evenings. He recalls that "during the day we had free time and I became a proficient water skier that summer!" At age 16, a solo engagement followed in the summer when James traveled with good friend Ben Swinger to Colorado and ended up with a job in the piano bar at the Steads Ranch resort in Estes Park.

Discovery by Quincy Jones[edit]

While in college at Michigan, James played free jazz with musicians in Ann Arbor and Detroit. In 1962, his band entered the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, where the judges included Henry Mancini and Quincy Jones. The trio entered the competition not expecting to win but wanting to provide some avant-garde music in a contest field that was primarily straight ahead music.[5] To the trio's surprise, they won the competition. Not long after, Jones signed James to an album deal with Mercury Records. Mercury released James's first album, Bold Conceptions (1963), a free jazz exploration that was produced by Quincy Jones and that differed from the smooth jazz for which he would later become known.[6][7][3]

In New York City, James worked as an arranger and was hired as piano accompanist for jazz singer Sarah Vaughan.[1] He reunited with Quincy Jones when Jones asked him to do some arranging for studio sessions.[1] Creed Taylor, producer and founder of CTI Records, was at the sessions and hired James to work for CTI as a producer, arranger, and studio musician.[1] In the 1970s, James worked on albums by Gabor Szabo, Milt Jackson, Stanley Turrentine, Grover Washington, Jr., and Maynard Ferguson.[6]

Solo albums and collaborations[edit]

Bob James, 2004

Creed Taylor invited James to record a solo album. The result, One (CTI, 1974), contained the song "Feel Like Making Love", with which Roberta Flack had already had a hit. James had been hired to play piano for the song on Roberta Flack's album two weeks before recording a version of his own, using the same band. Radio stations played both and contributed to the commercial success of One.[6] The album was notable for adapting classical music to a modern-day scene, e.g. "In The Garden" was based on Pachelbel's Canon in D and "Night on Bald Mountain" was a cover of Modest Mussorgsky's composition of the same name.

After three solo albums, James founded his own record label, Tappan Zee. Immediately thereafter, he cut a disco version of the Theme to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a 45 of which was included with the soundtrack LP, and recorded the album Touchdown (Tappan Zee, 1978).[8] Among the songs on the album was "Angela", the theme song for the TV show Taxi. James provided all the music for Taxi and collected some of its music, including "Angela", on The Genie: Themes & Variations from the TV Series Taxi (1983).[9] When he toured in 1979, he was supported by a marketing campaign that included posters of him at the wheel of a New York yellow cab. The performances were documented on the album All Around the Town (Tappan Zee, 1980), with a cover of James at the wheel of a taxi.

James turned from smooth jazz to classical music to record Rameau (1984), his interpretations of Baroque-period composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.[10] In later albums, he interpreted the work of two more Baroque composers, J. S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti.

A year after Rameau, he collaborated with David Sanborn on Double Vision (Warner Bros, 1986). The album won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion Performance.[11] His collaboration with Earl Klugh, One on One, won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1980 and has sold over one million copies. Another collaboration with Klugh, Cool, (Warner Bros., 1992) was nominated for a Grammy, as was Joined at the Hip (Warner Bros., 1996) with Kirk Whalum, recorded Flesh and Bone in 1995 and another solo album, Joyride (Warner Bros., 1999). Joined at the Hip will be reissued with a 2019 Remaster on evosound.


James was looking for a bass player while recording the album Grand Piano Canyon (Warner Bros., 1990) with drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Lee Ritenour. Mason and Ritenour suggested Nathan East. After working with them for a while, James suggested they form a band, which resulted in the contemporary jazz quartet Fourplay. The band has recorded over ten albums and has seen a couple of personnel changes, with guitarist Larry Carlton replacing Ritenour and then Chuck Loeb replacing Carlton.[6] Fourplay celebrated its 25th anniversary with the album Silver (Heads Up, 2015).[12]

Influence in hip hop[edit]

James's music, especially his early albums, has been sampled often, with his songs "Nautilus" and "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" leading the field.[8][13]

Selected songs that use James’s music[edit]

"Nautilus" was sampled by Eric B. & Rakim in "Let the Rhythm Hit 'em", Run-D.M.C.'s "Beats to the Rhyme", Ghostface Killah's "Daytona 500",[14] DJ Jazzy Jeff's "Jazzie's Groove", Jeru the Damaja's "My Mind Spray", Freddie Gibbs's "Extradite", and "Farandole (L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2)". It appears on the Funcrusher Plus LP from Company Flow and Nangdo's "Nikes". The bassline from "Nautilus" appears in "Children's Story" by Slick Rick.

"Take Me to the Mardi Gras" incorporates in its first four measures a bell-and-drum pattern that is one of hip hop's basic break beats. It has been sampled by Crash Crew's "Breaking Bells (Take Me to the Mardi Gras)", Run-D.M.C.'s "Peter Piper", LL Cool J's "Rock the Bells", the Beastie Boys' "Hold it Now, Hit it", Missy Elliott's "Work It",'s "I Got it from My Mama", "This Is Me (Urban Remix)" by Dream, "I Want You" by Common, and "Take It Back" by Wu-Tang Clan.

"Westchester Lady" was sampled by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince in "Here We Go Again", as well as by DJ T-Rock and Squashy Nice in their song "Evolution".

James's 1981 song "Sign of the Times" was sampled by Warren G and Nate Dogg in their 1994 single "Regulate".

His 1980 song "Snowbird Fantasy" was sampled by French house musician and Le Knight Club member Eric Chedeville, also Known as "Rico the Wizard", in his 2009 single "Spell of Love", which was remixed later by DJ Sneak.

The track "Tappan Zee", an ode to James' record label of the same name, was sampled in Arrested Development's "People Everyday (Metamorphis Remix)".

In the past, James has stated that he had "a lot of respect" for the creative process of hip hop production, only being unhappy when his music was plagiarized or illegally sampled.[15] James has begun to sample his own music, as shown on the composition "Submarine".[16] He has also been collaborating in recent years with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ghostface Killah, 9th Wonder, and Slick Rick.[17]

Awards and honors[edit]


As leader[edit]

  • Bold Conceptions (Mercury, 1963) – rec. 1962
  • Explosions (ESP Disk, 1965)
  • One (CTI, 1974; Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1981)
  • Two (CTI, 1975; Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1981)
  • Three (CTI, 1976; Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1981) – rec. 1975–76
  • BJ4 (CTI, 1977; Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1981) – rec. 1976
  • Heads (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1977)
  • Touchdown (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1978)
  • Lucky Seven (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1979)
  • One on One with Earl Klugh (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1979)
  • H (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1980)
  • All Around the Town (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1981)[2LP] – live
  • Sign of the Times (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1981)
  • Hands Down (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1982)
  • Two of a Kind with Earl Klugh (Capitol, 1982)
  • The Genie: Themes & Variations from the TV Series "Taxi" (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1983)
  • Foxie (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1983)
  • Rameau (CBS Masterworks, 1984)
  • 12 (Tappan Zee/Columbia, 1984)
  • The Swan (Tappan Zee/CBS/Sony [jp], 1984)
  • Double Vision with David Sanborn (Warner Bros., 1986)
  • Obsession (Warner Bros., 1986)
  • The Scarlatti Dialogues (CBS Masterworks, 1988)
  • Ivory Coast (Warner Bros., 1988)
  • Concertos for Two & Three Keyboards with Guher Pekinel (CBS Masterworks, 1989)
  • Grand Piano Canyon (Warner Bros., 1990)
  • Cool with Earl Klugh (Warner Bros., 1992)
  • Restless (Warner Bros., 1994)
  • Flesh and Blood with Hilary James (Warner Bros., 1995)
  • Straight Up (Warner Bros., 1996) – rec. 1995
  • Joined at the Hip with Kirk Whalum (Warner Bros., 1996)
  • Playin' Hooky (Warner Bros., 1997)
  • Joy Ride (Warner Bros., 1999)
  • Dancing on the Water (Warner Bros., 2001)
  • Morning, Noon & Night (Warner Bros., 2002)
  • Take It from the Top (Koch, 2004)
  • Urban Flamingo (Koch, 2006)
  • Angels of Shanghai (Koch, 2007)
  • Christmas Eyes with Hilary James (Koch, 2008)
  • Botero with Jack Lee (VideoArts [jp], 2009)
  • Just Friends with Howard Paul (BJHP Music, 2011)
  • Altair & Vega with Keiko Matsui (eOne Music, 2012)
  • Quartette Humaine with David Sanborn (OKeh/Sony Masterworks, 2013)
  • Alone: Kaleidoscope by Solo Piano (Red River, 2013)
  • The New Cool with Nathan East (Yamaha, 2015)
  • Live at Milliken Auditorium (Tappan Zee, 2015)
  • Espresso (Evosound, 2018)[20]
  • Once Upon a Time: The Lost 1965 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance, 2020)
  • On Vacation with Till Brönner (Sony Masterworks, 2020)
  • Feel Like Making Live! with Billy Kilson and Michael Palazzolo (Evosound, 2022)


  • "Nautilus" b/w "Submarine (Remix)" (RSD Exclusive/Limited Edition 7" Vinyl Single) (Evosound, 2020)

With Fourplay[edit]

As sideman[edit]


  • 2005 Live at Montreux
  • 2005 Bob James: An Evening of Fourplay Vol 1 & 2
  • 2006 Bob James Live[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 1259. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Bob James". AllMusic. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Ma, David (July 10, 2014). "Bob James talks about his first three albums (namely Nautilus and Take Me To The Mardi Gras) on CTI". Wax Poetics. Archived from the original on November 1, 2017. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  4. ^ Pablo, J. (October 30, 2013). "We Interviewed Bob James, Hip-Hop's Unlikely Godfather". Vice. Retrieved July 3, 2019.
  5. ^ "Up for the Challenge: A Conversation with Bob James (Part One)". PostGenre. PostGenre Media. January 11, 2022. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d Klopus, Joe (October 8, 2016). "Jazz Town: Missouri native Bob James bringing his music back home". Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  7. ^ Schlesinger, Judith. "Bold Conceptions - Bob James". AllMusic. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "BOB JAMES | Career". Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  9. ^ "The Genie: Themes & Variations from the TV Series "Taxi"". AllMusic. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  10. ^ Ginell, Richard S. "Rameau - Bob James". AllMusic. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  11. ^ "Double Vision - Bob James, David Sanborn". Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  12. ^ Tauss, Lucy (December 2015). "Jazz Reviews: The New Cool: Bob James/Nathan East". Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  13. ^ "Bob James - Samples, Covers and Remixes". WhoSampled. Retrieved May 11, 2022.
  14. ^ "Ghostface Killah feat. Raekwon and Cappadonna's 'Daytona 500' - Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  15. ^ "We Interviewed Bob James, Hip-Hop's Unlikely Godfather". October 30, 2013. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  16. ^ "Up for the Challenge: A Conversation with Bob James (Part Two)". PostGenre. PostGenre Media. January 13, 2022. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  17. ^ "Up for the Challenge: A Conversation with Bob James (Part One)". PostGenre. PostGenre Media. January 11, 2022.
  18. ^ "Past Winners Search". The GRAMMYs. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  19. ^ "2016 Grammy Awards: Complete list of winners and nominees". Los Angeles Times. February 15, 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  20. ^ Bob James Trio, Espresso. Review by Alex Henderson, NYCJR, November 2018 - Issue 199, page 19. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Bob James DVD - Live Jazz Concert DVD - Kirk Whalum Jazz DVD - Bob James Jazz DVD". Retrieved April 30, 2010.

External links[edit]