Often referred to as a jazz singer for the hip-hop generation, New York City-based vocalist José James combines jazz, soul, drum’n’bass, and spoken word into his own unique brand of vocal jazz. While he states his main influences as John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, and Billie Holiday, his sound on early 12″ singles and in live performances brought to mind such icons of ’70s jazz-soul as Terry Callier, and his music felt more like an update of the fluid crossover approach of Gil Scott-Heron, while also being distinctly his own.
His full-length debut album, Dreamer, in 2008 earned him accolades worldwide for its blend of jazz, electronic, soul, and pop styles. It placed at No. 21 in Jazz Times’ Top 50 for the year. Consequently, James played on prestigious stages all over the world. He followed Dreamer with Blackmagic in 2010, and also For All We Know, a collection of standards performed in duet with Belgian pianist Jef Neve. He signed to Blue Note Records in 2012, and his fourth album, No Beginning, No End, was released the following year. He cut While You Were Sleeping, a collection that reflected rock alongside R&B and jazz, in 2014.
In commemoration of Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, James fronted a band that included pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland and recorded Yesterday I Had the Blues in 2015,produced by Blue Note label-head Don Was. James was reborn as a powerful voice in contemporary R&B on his latest album, Love in a Time of Madness.