Sunday, November 16, 2014


Bob James
Jazz pianist Bob James is the king of smooth jazz. He always brings sophistication and cool to the music. There’s an element of bop to his playing also. He can stretch out on a Horace Silver number, for example, with the same aplomb as on a smooth jazz number. Those strengths were on display at his concert Saturday at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI. James played the second concert of the University Musical Society’s 2014-2015 jazz series.

The first half of the concert was heavy on smooth jazz with James’ band – guitarist Perry Hughes, drummer Harvey Mason, bassist Carlitos del Puerto and saxophonist Aaron Heick – kicking ass on some of James’ greatest hits. The band was hardcore. 

They’re adept smooth jazz musicians who know their way around pure jazz also.  Heick subbed for James’ regular saxophonist Andy Snitzer. Heick blowing had a rich bop feel. Picture how Charlie Parker would’ve sounded had he invented smooth jazz.

Hughes, a Detroiter and one of the most respected jazz guitarist on the scene, was sort of a security blanket for James who was relaxed with Hughes at his side. The star of the band was del Puerto, a monster bassist from Cuba. He’s the youngest and the most colorful member. He delivered the most exciting solos.

After the band got the crowd going, they switch to more straight-ahead jazz. James saluted the late jazz greats Horace Silver and Dave Brubeck. James’ exchange with del Puerto on Silver’s “Sister Sadie” was outrageous. On the surface, it seemed as if they were horsing around, but midway it became a serious exchange of improvisational ideas. 

James played to original tunes honoring Brubeck “Don’t Go to College” and “Follow Me”. Both had Brubeck’s trademarks such as those odd time signatures Brubeck fancied.

The crowd got a big boner when James played the theme song of the hit 80’s sitcom “Taxi”.  James is 74 and he played as if in his prime. His solos were joyous, and he successfully married straight-ahead jazz with smooth jazz. Something different for the conservative crowd who supports the UMS jazz series.