Jazz in Durham:
Boney James and The
Art of Cool Project

I really wish I could say that my days as a record store employee were the kind of mom-and-pop store experience that every music connoisseur dreams of.  Unfortunately, it was not.  In the early 2000s, my experience at the retail chain, Willie’s Records Tapes and CDs, was more like a North Durham version of Next Friday.   

Willie’s was located in a run-down strip-mall across the street from a Church’s Chicken and sat among an illegitimate African hair-braiding operation, a pawn shop and the filthiest Wal-Mart in America.  Outside of it’s regular patrons—drug dealers and deejays—a majority of the store’s consumer base were middle-aged black folks checking for mainstream gospel music or the latest “smooth jazz.”

More specifically, those same folks purchased urban jazz saxophonist, Boney James’ 2001 LP, Ride.  According to my own, unwritten customer service rules, I’d have to let go of my jazz snobbery and give up on wondering if these contemporary jazz fans had ever heard of sax titans like Sonny Stitt or Ornette Coleman if I ever expected them to return to Willie’s.  And of course; they could care less about those old, horn players.  To them, all that mattered was that the leading R&B men of the time, Dave Hollister and Jaheim, were two of the album’s featured guest vocalists.

That was my reintroduction to smooth jazz, or what had been recoined as “urban jazz”—a more accessible, uncomplicated presentation of jazz instrumentation, influenced by modern R&B rhythms.  Before then, my listening experiences with anything outside of the 1930-1970s jazz era consisted of being subjected to the music of Dave Koz, Kenny G, and Najee during car rides with my father in his Crown Victoria.  That was in the early to mid 1990s, before acts like Boney James, Ronny Jordan, Mike Phillips were releasing projects to a broader audience.

Released in March, Boney James’ thirteenth album, Contact, features guest vocals from not-so-current R&B names like Heather Headley, LeToya Luckett, and Donnell Jones.  The most important thing, however, is that James continues to concoct grown-man grooves. Before you know you it, you’re trapped into a smooth, solo two-step of your own creation.

On Saturday, November 5th, he brings it all to Durham’s newly-renovated Carolina Theatre.  Immediately following the show, The Art of Cool Project is inviting everyone, including local and visiting musicians, to come out to their jazz jam session at The Republic in downtown Durham.  This is the first of installment in TAOC’s jam session series and along with their monthly LabourLove After Hours Concert Series,  this jazz advocacy group is a strong addition to Durham’s bubbling music and art community.

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