Bob James (musician)

For other people named Bob James, see Bob James (disambiguation).
Bob James

Background information
Birth name Robert McElhiney James
Born (1939-12-25) December 25, 1939
Marshall, Missouri, U.S.
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, arranger, producer
Instruments Piano, keyboards
Years active 1962–present
Labels CTI, Tappan Zee, Koch, Columbia, Warner Bros., Red Disc
Associated acts Earl Klugh, David Sanborn, Fourplay, Nathan East
Website Official website

Robert McElhiney "Bob" James (born December 25, 1939, Marshall, Missouri) is an American Grammy Award-winning jazz keyboardist, arranger, and record producer. He founded the band Fourplay and wrote the theme song for the TV show Taxi.[1] Music from his first three albums has often been sampled and has contributed to the formation of hip hop.[2]

Music career

Early years and performing

Robert McElhiney James was born on Christmas Day 1939 in Marshall, Missouri to Albert Lamkin James and Alice (née McElhiney) James. He has an elder sister, Katherine. He started playing the piano at the early age of 4. His first piano teacher, Sister Mary Elizabeth, who taught at Mercy Academy, a local Catholic school, discovered that he had perfect pitch. At age seven, James began to study with Mrs. R. T. Dufford, a teacher at Missouri Valley College. He called her "an excellent teacher who also taught fundamentals of theory and harmony."

His first professional music job was when he was eight years old and playing for a tap dance class at Mercy Academy. "As I recall, I was paid 25 cents, but was eventually let go because my inability to keep the beat over the noise of the tapping."

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 can also play trumpet, timpani, and percussion. From 1950–56, he competed at the Missouri State Fair piano competitions and walked away with several blue ribbons. He remembered that "cows were being judged at adjacent buildings." Other early jobs included being a member of the Earle Parsons Dance Band (c. 1952–55) which played various engagements around the Marshall area. It was during this time that he penned his first dance band arrangement, "Once in a While".

During the summer of 1955, at Lake of the Ozarks, 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.

Discovered by Quincy Jones

A year later, he attended the University of Michigan and began his journey towards receiving his Bachelor's and his master's degree in Music. During the first semester of his sophomore year, James transferred to Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts. James's roommate was Nick Brignola, who has become one of the great baritone sax jazz artists. (The following summer found the two of them working together at a jazz club in Albany, New York when James joined the Nick Brignola Quartet.)

"The first original composition of mine to be recorded, 'Blue Beau', was included on an album produced by the Berklee School in 1958–59 and performed by the Berklee School big band, which included Charlie Mariano on alto saxophone."

While playing piano in the orchestra of a campus production of Carousel, James met two people who have since figured prominently in his life; Judy Heric, who was playing the role of Carrie Pipperidge, & Jack O'Brien, who was Mr. Snow. James dated Heric throughout the remainder of his time at University of Michigan until they were married in September 1963.

While 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. After James's band won the competition, 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.[3][4][2]

In New York City, James worked as an arranger and was hired as piano accompanist for jazz singer Sarah Vaughn. He reunited with Quincy Jones when Jones asked him to do some arranging for studio sessions. 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. In the 1970s, James worked on albums by Milt Jackson, Stanley Turrentine, Grover Washington, Jr., and Maynard Ferguson.[3]

Solo albums and collaborations

Bob James 2004

Creed Taylor invited James to record a solo album. The result, One (CTI, 1974), contained the song "Feel Like Making Love", which Roberta Flack turned into a hit. James had been hired to play piano for the song on Robert 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.[3]

After three solo albums, James founded his own record label, Tappan Zee, and recorded the album Touchdown (Tappan Zee, 1978).[5] 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).[6] 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.

James turned from smooth jazz to classical music to record Rameau (1984), his interpretations of Baroque-period composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.[7] 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.[8] 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 and another solo album, Joyride (Warner Bros., 1999). He recorded Flesh and Bone (Warner Bros., 1995) with his daughter, vocalist Hilary James.[5]


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.[3]Fourplay celebrated its 25th anniversary with the album Silver (Heads Up, 2015).[9]

Sampled by hip-hop

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.[5]

"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", Soul II Soul's "Jazzie's Groove", and Jeru the Damaja's "My Mind Spray". The bassline from Nautilus appeared in "Children's Story" by Slick Rick.

"Take Me to the Mardi Gras" incorporates in its first four measures a bell-and-drum groove that is one of hip hop's basic breakbeats. 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.

Awards and honors





As arranger

With Hank Crawford

With Johnny Hammond

As sideman

With Chet Baker

With Ron Carter

With Paul Desmond

With Jackie and Roy

With J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding

With Hubert Laws

With Don Sebesky

With Gábor Szabó



  1. Yanow, Scott. "Bob James | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  2. 1 2 Ma, David (10 July 2014). "Bob James talks about his first three albums on CTI". Wax Poetics. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Klopus, Joe (8 October 2016). "Jazz Town: Missouri native Bob James bringing his music back home". Kansas City. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  4. Schlesinger, Judith. "Bold Conceptions - Bob James". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 "BOB JAMES | Career". Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  6. "The Genie: Themes & Variations from the TV Series "Taxi"". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  7. Ginell, Richard S. "Rameau - Bob James". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  8. "Double Vision - Bob James, David Sanborn". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  9. Tauss, Lucy (December 2015). "Jazz Reviews: The New CoolBob James/Nathan East - By Lucy Tauss — Jazz Articles". Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  10. "Past Winners Search". The GRAMMYs. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  11. "2016 Grammy Awards: Complete list of winners and nominees". Los Angeles Times. 15 February 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  12. "Bob James DVD - Live Jazz Concert DVD - Kirk Whalum Jazz DVD - Bob James Jazz DVD". Retrieved April 30, 2010.

External links

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