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  Bob James

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Click below for a Bob James sample:

Westchester Lady


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Pianist Bob James is reviled by many because he is credited with inventing the smooth jazz format (also derisively referred to as "fuzak"), but the story isn't that simple.  Sure, it was a long stretch from the jarring work of his mid 60s debut to composing television theme songs.  But in between, his CTI and Tappan Zee LPs contained enough funky fusion moments to make him a respected name among groovehounds.

James began his career playing standard jazz as a young man. His 1965 Explosions is said to be one of the first instances of using effects in jazz and appeared to set James off on avant-garde career.  However, he soon decided to go away from that approach when he took a position as an arranger with a variety of singers and bands.  

By the early 70s, James had developed an enviable reputation for his bandleading skills.  Creed Taylor, then in the early stages of his CTI label, decided to ask James to be the house arranger.  He accepted, and immediately began working on projects for Hank Crawford, Hubert Laws, George Benson and Grover Washington Jr. 

His sessions were so successful that he eventually took the next step of making his own albums.  The imaginatively-titled One kicked off his revived recording career and found success with "Nautilus," a funky number that continues to get play.  It was one of several sample cuts to emerge from this unlikely source: "Take Me to the Mardi Gras," "Blue Lick," "El Verano" and "Westchester Lady," to name some of the more obvious ones.  

Over time, the Bob James sound came to typify the CTI formula: danceable, pleasant, accessible fusion. It is not stretching the truth to say that his 1974 - 79 LPs are interchangeable with each other, but if you have a winning formula, why change it?  

In the 90s, he formed the extremely successful jazz group Fourplay and continues to tour the world.  According to his website, he recently recorded a song with Rob Swift, so there may yet be more surprises from the mind of Bob James. 

Bob James' Deepest Grooves

Explosions (ESP, 1965)
If it's on ESP, you know it's avant garde.  Cited as an experimental landmark for its use of electronic effects, James quickly abandoned the ideas presented here for the comfy world of crossover.

One (CTI, 1974)

Two (CTI, 1975)

Three (CTI, 1976)
Several songs are graced with Grover Washington Jr.'s sax playing.

BJ 4 (Tappan Zee, 1977)

Heads (Tappan Zee,1977)

Lucky Seven (Tappan Zee, 1979)

Touchdown (Tappan Zee, 1979)
With the popular "Taxi" theme.

Restoration: Best of Bob James (Warner Brothers, 2001)

You can read all about James at his official website,

Copyright 2001 B.Graff.  All rights reserved.

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