Often referred to as a jazz singer for the hip-hop generation, New York City-based vocalist José James combines jazz, soul, drum’n’bass, and spoken word into his own unique brand of vocal jazz. While he states his main influences as John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, and Billie Holiday, his sound on early 12″ singles and in live performances brought to mind such icons of ’70s jazz-soul as Terry Callier, and his music felt more like an update of the fluid crossover approach of Gil Scott-Heron, while also being distinctly his own.
José James attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. In 2008, he debuted with his first album, The Dreamer, on the Brownswood label. Blackmagic followed in 2010. 2010’s For All We Know came out on the Impulse! label. For All We Know became the winner of both the Edison Award and L’Académie du Jazz Grand Prix for best Vocal Jazz Album of 2010.
James signed to Blue Note Records in 2012 and issued “Trouble,” his first single for the label, in September of that year. His fourth album, No Beginning, No End, was released in January 2013. James began composing while on the road. New songs reflected a renewed interest in artists he listened to growing up (Nirvana, Radiohead) as well as newer ones who had made an impression (Frank Ocean, James Blake). As a result, he cut While You Were Sleeping, a collection that reflected rock alongside R&B and jazz. It was released in June 2014.
In commemoration of the 100th birthday of Billie Holiday—a singer that he claimed from the beginning of his career as his “musical mother”—James recorded nine songs written by or associated with her. He fronted a band that included pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland. The album, titled Yesterday I Had the Blues, was produced by Blue Note label head Don Was and was released in March 2015
Watch this beautiful rendering of “Do you feel” by José James