Jose James, who? That he is not better known is a big injustice considering that the Brooklyn-based singer is undoubtedly one of the finest jazz and soul singers to emerge in the last decade.
To describe his voice as “smooth” is just scratching the surface.
Just take a listen to his breakout track ‘The Dreamer’; his voice is full of texture and emotion, the music stripped down to hushed tones of the piano and the bleat of a trumpet. To call it jazz might offend the purists, but it’s not quite soul or pop either. It’s something new (factoid: James has remade rap songs and also works with avant hip-hop producer Flying Lotus).
The 35 year old singer vocalist had just finished his tour of the US promoting his latest album ‘No Beginning, No End’ when inSing spoke to the singer over the phone. He then embarks on a world tour which will see him performing in cities like Tokyo, Melbourne, Groningen, Hamburg and of course Singapore, where he will be performing at TAB on 18 February.
Growing up, what type of music did you listen to and which do you consider your greatest influence?
I was probably three or four when my mom put on Billie Holiday’s vinyl. Sitting on the living room floor looking at her face as she listened to the music was really something else.
Growing up though, I listened to things that kids around me listen to. ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ – the unplugged one was a favourite. I listen to everything, man.
Did you have a particular moment when you thought, “I can actually do this singing thing”?
I was in school and one time a proper jazz band came to perform. Echoes of Ellington I think. I was picked among my fellow school mates to sing with them. Those five minutes on stage with them gave me a high you –that moment, I felt this sense of power.
You are by most accounts a musician who is able to perform in any genre, but if you were given a choice which genre would you concentrate in?
To be honest, I have no preference. I’m just grateful to be able to sing.
What do you think of the constant attempt to classify you in a particular genre?
I don’t really think about it. I pay attention to people’s response to my music though. I’ve been lucky with this current one; the response has been overwhelming so far to ‘No Beginning, No End’. People have been generally positive and different groups of people react to it differently. Jazz people think it’s pop, R&B people think it’s jazz and pop people think it’s R&B. So it’s interesting to see the reactions in that regard.
How do you know when a particular song is finished?
I work with a lot of talented people and I listen to what they say. If the people around me are happy with it, then I am happy with it. Sometimes my producer would cut down on certain parts but it’s all part of the process. The one person I try to get to listen my music would be my wife; she has some valuable feedback.
Who is the one artist that you want to work with in the future and why?
To be honest, the one dude I really want to work with (and already do) would be Kris Bowers. He plays piano in my band and has an album out soon. He is a really talented musician who is destined for greater things. He has a solo on track 7, ‘Do You Feel’ – he really killed it on that one.