Marshall Jazz festival features native son

Written by Muleskinner Staff

The Marshall Democrat-News

(MARSHALL, Mo., AP) — Marshall-born jazz musician Bob James has been busy since he last came to town a year ago for the second annual Jazz Festival that bears his name.
“It’s been a lot of touring,” James said, explaining most of the touring he has done it with his jazz group Fourplay. “These days, in our business, live performances have become more and more important. We don’t sell as many CDs as we use to, people get their music in all kinds of different ways … It’s always exciting for me to play in front of a live audience and I’m happy about that.”
One of his most recent projects is an album with saxophonist David Sanborn, who grew up in St. Louis. James and Sanborn collaborated in the 1980s with a record called “Double Vision,” which James said was very successful.
“But we never followed up on it,” James said. “Finally, late last year, we decided that it was time for us to get back in studio to try and do something new.”
That record, titled “Quartette Humaine,” will offer listeners a smooth look back at the simpler music of early jazz, but with original music composed in part by James, The Marshall Democrat-News reported (
“We chose the very simple jazz instrumentation of his (Sanborn’s) alto sax, piano, acoustic bass and drums,” James said of the CD, which will be released May 21.
James, however, said when he comes to perform in Marshall on May 18, he will be going with the flow of his hosts.
“It won’t be my performance as such,” James said. “I’m bringing a few of my classic arrangements that I will be doing with the local musicians.”
James said he will be excited to return to his hometown after a busy year in which he has toured the United States and went to countries as far away as Japan.
It was in Japan where, earlier this year, James was honored at the Jazz Japan Festival for his help in the relief efforts that helped the country cope with the tsunami of 2011.
“I learned about the tsunami of March 2011, but I also learned during that time that many artists who were booked to go to Japan to perform were canceling out because of fear,” James said. “For whatever reason, I didn’t feel that same fear and I sent the word out that I wanted to go there and offer my support. I had the opportunity in September of that year to go to a small jazz festival that was just starting out, maybe even similar to the one in Marshall. As it turns out, I was the only American that went over there.”
James said ever since, the Japanese people have given him an immense amount of support for his music.
“Japanese people really, really appreciate when a foreigner cares a lot about their people and their culture,” James said. “They have given back to me in support far more than I was able to give to them.”
He said through touring the country and the world, he has realized music has the effect of bringing people together.
“I’m still amazed at the power that music can have,” James said. “Our instrumental music has a way of communicating that is in some ways more powerful than words because it’s just emotion. It’s not attempting to put feelings into words. It’s just expressing something that comes from maybe a different place in your mind. I feel so fortunate to have learned my craft in a way that has given me an opportunity to go to all these different places in the world, and hopefully bring inspiration to people through this abstract music.”
In Marshall, James is bringing more than his music. Recently, James began supporting a music scholarship that will be awarded each year to a music student in Marshall.
He said it was important to ensure those who are interested in music realize there are people who are behind them and support them in their dreams.
“Of course the most important thing is the legacy that we leave behind, the encouraging of young people to pursue an education, to get better with their music,” James said. “It’s the only way that our music will continue to survive. If we don’t do our part to encourage that, we are not doing our job.”
James also had words of encouragement, and caution, for those who wish to work in the music business.
“There are no shortcuts, really,” James said. “The harder you work the better you are going to be. But also, just enjoy that process at whatever level, even if you are playing in front of just your family, or if you are just performing in front of 10 people, give it your best and learn from that, how you fit into this world of music.”
He said people shouldn’t think of going into music for fame or money.
“There are only certain people that are destined to have larger fame, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be making meaningful contributions to music even at that smaller level,” James said.
James said he is looking forward to this weekend to catch up with old friends, including guest musician Mike Henderson.
“A lot of my memories from then have dimmed,” James said. “One of the things I look forward to when I go back to Marshall is refreshing that memory by meeting people that I knew back in those days.”
James said he intended to be at Marshall’s jazz festival for many years to come.
“I wish this festival’s continued success,” James said. “I hope I will still be coming down for its 10th anniversary and its 15th anniversary and on and on for as long as possible.”
Information from: The Marshall Democrat-News,