University alum and world-renowned jazz keyboardist, arranger and producer Bob James is coming home to play Hill Auditorium this Saturday. As part of the University Musical Society’s Jazz Series, “An Evening with Bob James” will feature James backed by a quintet of hand-picked musicians that are sure to awe and inspire.
An Evening with Bob James, UMS Jazz Series
November 15th, 8 p.m.
$10 to $54
Growing up in the small town of Marshall, Missouri, James did not have much exposure to jazz except for a few recordings his parents owned, but this was enough to inspire him to make the art form a lifestyle. His father, who had attended law school in Missouri, wanted James to follow in his footsteps, but James wanted to pursue his music professionally, and so chose the University’s distinguished school of music.
“The Michigan Music School had a strong reputation so I chose it back at the time for that reason not realizing until I actually got enrolled that there was no jazz department,” he said. “I was pretty frustrated about that and it took me awhile to realize it was going to be more important to get a well-rounded education taking advantage of the broad aspect of the University of Michigan and the classical education I would get there.”
From 1957 to 1961 James studied for his undergraduate degree in composition and ended up staying and receiving his masters in 1962. Following the completion of his training, James moved to New York City and began his career as an outstanding jazz artist. Discovered at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival in 1963, James went on to record 58 albums and win a multitude of awards, including two Grammys and most recently the George Benton Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. James’ smooth jazz has also influenced other genres, including hip-hop. Two of James’ most famous songs, “Nautilus” and “Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” have been sampled by well-known artists such as Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Ghostface Killah and many more.
Last Saturday, James was honored as one of the 2014 inductees into the University of Michigan School of Music Hall of Fame. Presented annually since 1977, this award was created to recognize and honor alumni who have made significant contributions to the school, their profession and society at large.
“It is especially significant to me (to be inducted) because when I was at school there was no jazz department so there was no opportunity to take classes in jazz education,” he said. “Now there is, and that change alone I’m very happy about and I am happy to be someone represented there in the Hall of Fame who has spent my whole life in music specializing in jazz.”
The forthcoming concert at Hill Auditorium is, of course, a bit of a homecoming for James, who has played there multiple times in the past. As a student, he played at Hill multiple times and later was featured as a solo artist. On Saturday, he will be joined by guitarist Perry Hughes, bassist Carlitos de Puerto, drummer Harvey Mason and saxophonist Andy Snitzer — all of whom are celebrated in their own right.
“I’m extremely excited to be going back (to Hill Auditorium) and reliving old memories,” James said. “It’s a great venue, a great facility. I heard a lot of other artists — pop and classical and jazz artists — perform there back when I was in college, so it’s recognized as one of the great performing venues in the world. It’s a very big deal for me to be going back there. Michigan has been a big deal for me my whole adult life, so it’s very sentimental. It’s certainly not just another concert gig for me, it’s very, very special.”