Bob first started playing the piano at the age of 4. His first piano teacher was Sister Mary Elizabeth, who taught Bob at Mercy Academy, a local Catholic school in Marshall. She quickly discovered he had "perfect pitch". At age 7, Bob began to study with Mrs. R. T. Dufford, a teacher at Missouri Valley College. Bob credits her as "an excellent teacher who also taught fundamentals of theory & harmony". His first professional music job was when he was approximately 8 years old when he played for a tap dance class at Mercy Academy. "As I recall, I was paid 25�, but was eventually let go because my inability to keep the beat over the noise of the tapping."
At age 15, Bob continued his studies with Franklin Launer, a teacher at Christian College in Columbia, Mo. More music instruction during high school from Harold Lickey, conductor of the Marshall High School Band & Orchestra. Bob also played trumpet, tympani, and percussion.
From around 1950 - 1956, Bob would compete at the Missouri State Fair piano competitions and walk away with several Blue Ribbons. Bob remembers that "cows were being judged at adjacent buildings." Other early jobs included being a member of the Earle Parsons Dance Band (circa 1952- 1955) which played various engagements around the Marshall area. It was during this time that Bob penned his first dance band arrangement, "Once in a While".
During the summer of 1955, at Lake of the Ozarks, MO, Bob played for dancing and occasional jam sessions with the Bob Falkenhainer quartet on the Governor McClurg Excursion Boat in the evenings. He recalls that "during the day we had free time and I became a proficient waterskier that summer!"
At age 16, a solo engagement followed in the summer of 1956 when Bob traveled with good friend Ben Swinger to Colorado and ended up with a job in the Piano Bar at the Steads Ranch resort, in Estes Park. "I would sing 'Route 66' nightly. Tips were sparse and I stopped singing professionally shortly thereafter."
In 1957, Bob attended the University of Michigan and began his journey towards receiving his Bachelor's and his Master's degrees in Music. During the first semester of his sophomore year, Bob transferred to Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Ma.. Bob's roommate was Nick Brignola, who has become one of the great baritone sax jazz artists.
(The following summer found the two of them working together at a jazz club in Albany, NY when Bob joined the Nick Brignola Quartet.) "The first original composition of mine to be recorded, 'Blue Beau', was included on an album produced by the Berklee School in 1958-9 and performed by the Berklee School big band, which included Charlie Mariano on alto sax." He returned to the U Of M. for the second semester of his sophomore year.
While playing piano in the orchestra of a campus production of "Carousel", Bob met two people who have since figured prominently in his life; Judy Heric, who was playing the role of Carrie Pipperidge, & Jack O'Brien, who was Mr. Snow. Bob dated Judy throughout the remainder of his time at University of Michigan and they were married in September of 1963. Jack was their best man. He and Jack had collaborated on two original musical theatre productions; "Land Ho" (based on Christopher Columbus) & "Bartholomew Fair" (based on the play by Ben Johnson), which were produced by the campus theatre organization MUSKET.
In the Land Ho production, Jack also starred as Christopher Columbus and the cast included Judy's sister Linda Heric. The show was honored by BMI as the best college musical of the year. "It was my first opportunity to really learn what it was like to meet deadlines as an orchestrater. The show ran 3 hours, and it was almost continual music. We used a 30 piece orchestra. Fortunately I was able to find one other student, David Schwartz, who was able to assist me in copying the individual orchestra parts, as I was totally naive about what a massive undertaking that was going to be."
As a result of the success of Land Ho, the first student-written musical to ever be premiered at Michigan, Jack & Bob followed up the next year with "Bartholomew Fair". Judy Heric and Tom Jennings, another close friend, were in the starring roles.
Bob graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's Degree in Music (1961) and a Master's Degree in Music Composition (1962). After serving six months of active duty in the Army Reserves, Judy and Bob were married in Ann Arbor, and moved to New York City in October of 1964.
Bob's big break came when he made an appearance at the 1962 Notre Dame Jazz Festival with his trio. The group won in every category and he caught the eye of Quincy Jones. Soon after moving to New York he became an in-demand session pianist and a well-respected composer and arranger. His first recording contract was with Mercury where he recorded what were to be his first, but not his last trio albums: Bold Conceptions (Mercury, '62) and Explosions (ESP, '65). Bob recalls, "I came to New York with the idea of performing in a trio setting, but after the first two records, I worked more as a behind-the-scenes arranger and instrumentalist, including doing a stint as Sarah Vaughan's musical director." That "stint" lasted four years.
In 1973, Quincy introduced Bob to Creed Taylor and Bob's career began to reach a wider audience. Originally brought to Creed's CTI label as an arranger, Bob wound-up writing charts and playing keyboard for : Ron Carter, Hank Crawford, Eric Gale, Johnny Hammond, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington, Jr. In 1974, Bob's solo career took off with the first of four albums for CTI.
He joined CBS Records in 1976 as director of progressive A&R, where he worked with Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Kenny Loggins & Blood Sweat & Tears. In 1977, Bob formed his own label , Tappan Zee, inaugurating a string of solo recordings & productions with artists he signed including, Mark Colby, Wilbert Longmire, Joanne Brackeen, Mongo Santamaria & Richard Tee.
At the suggestion of Bruce Lundvall, then head of Columbia Records at the time, Bob made his first collaboration album, the 1979 LP, "One On One," with Earl Klugh, which captured the 1980 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. In that same year, he was named Jazz Artist Of The Year by Cashbox and continued his musical adventures with Hands Down, Foxie and Two Of A Kind (another duet with Earl Klugh) followed. Cashbox also named Bob, "Jazz Producer of the Decade".
But one of Bob's most famous recordings is the theme music for the TV hit program, "Taxi." Beginning with basic cues, Bob enhanced and elaborated upon them; the music was then heard on every subsequent episode. It's since become one of the most instantly recognizable theme songs in television history.
He also branched out to record a series of classical albums; Rameau, The Scarlatti Dialogues and Bach Concertos For Two & Three Keyboards which established the scope of Bob's musical abilities and his continual need to challenge himself as a musician and move in many directions.
In 1986, Bob captured another Grammy in yet another category, this time for "Best Jazz Fusion Performance, Vocal or Instrumental" , with Double Vision, his duet with saxophonist David Sanborn. Then came Ivory Coast, Obsession, and his 1990 solo project, Grand Piano Canyon.
In 1991, Bob set out on a parallel career as member of the super-group Fourplay (that also included Lee Ritenour, Nathan East and Harvey Mason). The idea for the group Fourplay came during the recording session of "Restoration" (Grand Piano Canyon). Fourplay's debut album, "Fourplay", reached Number 1 on Billboard's jazz chart and stayed there for a record 34 weeks, and ultimately garnered the group a gold record. This was followed by another Klugh collaboration, "Cool", and in '93, a second RIAA gold-certified Fourplay project, "Between The Sheets", plus the re-release of his Classic "One On One" with Earl Klugh.
Bob returned to solo endeavors in 1994 with "Restless", an album that featured a vocal track with Bob's daughter Hilary, and foreshadowed the 1995 release of "Flesh And Blood", a father-and-daughter collaboration. Bob recalls, "I was so busy arranging, performing and recording, the time just slipped away; but people would keep asking , 'when are you going to do another solo project?'" Restless is a journey into Bob's heart and soul. "Restless is re-establishing my own separate artist identity, and that was a big motivation".
1995 also saw the re-issue (on Warner Bros.) of 15 of Bob's earlier albums and the release of Fourplay's third album, "Elixir", which was presented with the "Jazz Album Of The Year" award at the 1996 Soul Train Awards. All of which is a great prelude to his clean, lean but not mean offering, "Straight Up".
"It was [producer] Matt Pierson's idea to put me in a different setting and challenge me to play in a different way. I did, but perhaps not the different way he expected or I expected. When people look at the title, they may say, 'Oh, Bob James is making a straight ahead album,' and that will mean something different to everyone. It has a few less people. I'm stuck out in the open a little bit more than I have been before-a down-to-the-nitty-gritty approach. It's very different from any album I've made in twenty years, but it's still me."
1996 also produced Grammy nominated, "Joined at the Hip", a collaboration project with saxophonist, Kirk Whalum. Bob & Kirk have been friends for many years and together they combine pop, rock, R&B, funk, urban, Memphis Blues, world beat, classical and jazz influences into their own private reserve of melody and mood. As Bob says, "This was one I had wanted to do for a long, long time."
Jazziz magazine's 1997 Readers' Poll voted Bob #1 Best Acoustic Pianist, #1 Best Jazz Composer, #2 Best Jazz Producer, #2 Best Electronic Keyboardist and #3 Best Overall Jazz Musician.
In the fall of 1997, Bob released "Playin' Hooky", a sort of vacation-in-a-jewel-box. "I was trying to create a mood of escape. In fact the whole album has that feeling for me. This music should provide a place where one can go to and relax and relieve the tension."
January 1998 arrived with Bob going back into the studio with Fourplay, after more than 2 years, to record their fifth album; but this time, Larry Carlton stepped in for Lee Ritenour on guitar.
"A major highlight of January was having the opportunity to work in the studio with Larry Carlton for the first time. What a soulful and inspiring musician he is! With his warm, easy-going personality, positive attitude and direct approach to getting at the meat of the music, it was impossible not to have a good time collaborating with him."
Restless seems to be a word that encompasses Bob's career. He's constantly adding to and incorporating new dynamics and expression to his music. His career unfailingly moves in many directions and he does what he does best and loves to do most: play the piano!
Some fun stuff....about Bob Birthday: December 25, 19(cough)9 Born: Marshall, Missouri Now Lives: Dobbs Ferry, NY Height: 5' 11" Weight: 1(cough)9 Eye Color: Brown Hair: receding Favorite Music to listen to: Bach Artist Most Admired: Glenn Gould Favorite Movies: Spartacus, Tunes of Glory, Separate Tables Favorite Song: "Everytime We Say Goodbye" Favorite Books: Super Power Golf by Gary Wiren, After Roy by Mary Tannen Favorite TV Shows: Seinfeld, Mad About You, BET Jazz Central Favorite Food: Chocolate Favorite Drink: Jameson's Favorite Vegie: Artichoke Least Favorite Vegie: Lima beans Previous Bands Played in: Maynard Ferguson, Quincy Jones Hobbies: Golf, photography, computer graphics