Legendary jazz man Boney James once said about album making that “The wheels start to spin and the next thing you know you are galloping full speed.”
Well, the horses are out of the barn as Boney, who will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 24, at Thornton Winery, 32575 Rancho California Road in Temecula, as part of the 2019 Champagne Jazz Concert Series, has begun working on a new collection of songs.
“I was writing a new song before I realized I had to call you, and the alarm went off,” he said, laughing. “I would say I have officially started the new record. I’ve been putting along now for a little while, and I have a good set of songs. So, you could say the record is getting seriously into reality.”
Boney said he is not the kind of musician who decides it’s time to make a record and blocks out a time to create songs.
“The process for me is much more organic,” he said. “I’m out here in my studio every day when I am not on the road, and I am always practicing. I got my gear and computer and I will mess around with little ideas. I don’t get serious until I get a number of them. I open files and listen and sometimes add things. It’s really kind of casual.”
Sometimes it just jumps out at him, he said.
“There’s always a certain part where it sounds like a song, so I turn everything up and see how the melody works,” he said. “It’s always about just having fun with the paint box of music.”
It seems to have worked, considering he has released 16 albums, 11 of which topped the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart and received four Grammy nominations. His shows frequently sell out as well.
“I started trying to write songs when I was 15,” he said. “I think that my parents bought a piano, and I took a few lessons and started to have fun with piano and chords and melody. Playing in bands we would write songs, and one of the guys was John Shanks. He was a big songwriter. So, I’d be in my parents; living room with a Casio keyboard that my parents got and I started trying to write.”
He said things changed when he got a little older.
“Then when I worked as a side man in the mid-80s, when all the other guys were trying to get publishing deals, I tried it and I didn’t like it,” he said. “I thought I should write songs for me and see how that worked, and the rest is history.”
While his sax playing is well-known and, of course, what he is known for, the keyboard is still an important piece of his music.
“I’m not a wizard on it, but I know enough about it to work my way around it,” he said. “And I write songs on a keyboard, but I know enough about it. I did work as a keyboard player in the early days because I was able to learn people’s parts. I was hired as a keyboard and sax player. It became my impetus to get my own thing going.”
He played a number of sessions and work as a sideman for a lot of big names, such as Morris Day, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Caldwell, among others.
“I did a few sessions on a few Morris Day records, and I was doing some sessions, I think with Kylie Minogue, and I think I played on a Sheena Easton record at the time,” he said. “Looking at people like Gerald Albright and Brandon Fields, I noticed they had solo records. I figured maybe if I made a record, I’d get more sessions and then as soon as I made the ‘Trust’ CD, I was more of an entertainer than a sessions guy.”
Having played at Thornton Winery and other locales for decades, Boney said it’s important to keep things fresh.
“During the break from touring, I did go back into the archives and added some songs we haven’t done in a long time,” he said. “I try to keep it fresh. People say they’ve seen me 20 times, and I have to walk that line between giving them what they want and also keeping it fresh and keep it interesting, but it’s a fine line.”
It does not mean he tires of any of his songs, he said.
“I never get tired of playing the songs, and some I have done at every show every night,” he said. “It’s different and it always feels fresh for me. I try and mix it up and it keeps it interesting for me because there are three or four songs new to the set. You make a new record every two or three years and you have to make the choice to add those songs and you have your mainstays so it gets challenging.”
He said he employs modern technology to help.
“I think as long as you know how to adjust your Nielsen charts and they add these streaming numbers, it adjusts your expectations and you can keep an eye on how people are listening,” he said. “I have noticed that with some of my earlier records, based on the royalties, I am making more money so clearly the streaming is kicking them into gear. I recently found out this one song is my best song on Spotify, so I figured I better learn it. I had no idea. It wasn’t a big hit when it came out.”
Of course, the fans always love his trademark hats, he said.
“The hat didn’t hurt, and it’s good to have a trademark,” he laughed. “It started with the beret, then the porkpie and now the Fedora. Marketing people wanted to change my look and cut my hair, but fans reacted in a negative way. But without the hat, a lot of people don’t recognize me. I can walk around the cruises for example that I do, and when I walk around without it, people just see me as another cruise passenger.”
Tickets, starting at $95, are available by visiting www.thorntonwine.com or calling (951) 699-3021.
Jim Dail is an English professor and longtime freelance writer in the Temecula area covering performances at local wineries, casinos, Old Town Temecula and other venues. His specialty is pop, rock, country and jazz artists, as well as stage performances. His writing can be read by visiting, www.temeculaentertainment.com.