Over Bob James
Bob James' popularity as a smooth jazz pianist has sometimes obscured the fact that he's also a fine bop and fusion musician. James was discovered by Quincy Jones while he was still a college student and his 1962 debut Bold Conceptions shows how well versed he is in hard bop. He quickly went on to become Sarah Vaughan's piano accompanist but during this same period he started breaking ground in the world of electronic music by combining (then) new computer technology with jazz. While his releases from the 1960s were critically well received, in the early '70s, James cut a series fusion albums on which he usually played the Rhodes, Clavinet or other electric keyboards. The albums One, Two, and Three combined solid jazz musicianship, with a breezy funk vibe and clever easy listening arrangements. While they were considered jazz sellouts at the time of release, these discs have aged very well and often show up as hip-hop and electronica samples. By the late 1970's, James was one the top-selling artists in jazz when his melancholy theme song and incidental music for the excellent sitcom Taxi brought his music to a whole new audience. James has become more and more mainstream as the decades have progressed but that partly stems from the fact that he helped create the sonic template and textures for smooth jazz. James currently divides most of his time between cutting very commercial instrumentals and R&B heavy smooth jazz (often with his all-star band Fourplay) but he still keeps his hand in the acoustic jazz world. His superb 1996 release Straight Up proved that his more exploratory albums can actually sell just as well as his more commercial products. Besides his soundtrack work on Taxi, James has also recorded film scores for director Sidney Lumet.