|Robert McElhiney James|
|Born||December 25, 1939|
Marshall, Missouri, U.S.
|Musician, composer, arranger, record producer|
|Labels||CTI, Tappan Zee, Koch, Columbia, Warner Bros., Red Disc|
|Earl Klugh, David Sanborn, Fourplay, Nathan East|
Robert McElhiney James (born December 25, 1939) is an American Grammy Award-winning jazz keyboardist, arranger, and record producer. He founded the band Fourplay and wrote "Angela," the theme song for the TV show Taxi. He is most famous for standards such as "Nautilus", "Westchester Lady", "Heads", "Night Crawler", "Touchdown", "Blue Lick", "Sign Of the Times", "Spunky", "Marco Polo", "Courtship" and "Just One Thing". Music from his first seven albums has often been sampled and has contributed to the formation of hip hop.
He started playing the piano at age 4. His first piano teacher, Sister Mary Elizabeth, who taught at Mercy Academy, a local Catholic school, discovered that he had perfect pitch. At age seven, James began to study with Mrs. R. T. Dufford, a teacher at Missouri Valley College.
At age 15, James continued his studies with Franklin Launer, a teacher at Christian College in Columbia, Missouri, with more music instruction during high school from Harold Lickey, conductor of the Marshall High School Band and Orchestra. Apart from the piano, James learned to play trumpet, timpani, and percussion. From 1950-56, he competed at the Missouri State Fair piano competitions and walked away with several blue ribbons. He remembered that "cows were being judged at adjacent buildings."
James initially attended the University of Michigan and began earning his bachelor's and his master's degrees in music. However, during the first semester of his sophomore year, James transferred to Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts. During college at Berklee College of Music, James's roommate was Nick Brignola, who has become one of the great baritone saxophone jazz artists.
His first professional music job was when he was eight years old, playing for a tap dance class at Mercy Academy. During his adolescence, James music career proliferated. Early jobs included being a member of the Earle Parsons Dance Band (c. 1952-55) which played various engagements around the Marshall area. During this time, he penned his first dance band arrangement.
During the summer of 1955, at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, James 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 water skier that summer!" At age 16, a solo engagement followed in the summer when James 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.
While in college at Michigan, James played free jazz with musicians in Ann Arbor and Detroit. In 1962, his band entered the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, where the judges included Henry Mancini and Quincy Jones. After James's band won the competition, Jones signed James to an album deal with Mercury Records. Mercury released James's first album, Bold Conceptions (1963), a free jazz exploration that was produced by Quincy Jones and that differed from the smooth jazz for which he would later become known.
In New York City, James worked as an arranger and was hired as piano accompanist for jazz singer Sarah Vaughn. He reunited with Quincy Jones when Jones asked him to do some arranging for studio sessions. Creed Taylor, producer and founder of CTI Records, was at the sessions and hired James to work for CTI as a producer, arranger, and studio musician. In the 1970s, James worked on albums by Gabor Szabo, Milt Jackson, Stanley Turrentine, Grover Washington, Jr., and Maynard Ferguson.
Creed Taylor invited James to record a solo album. The result, One (CTI, 1974), contained the song "Feel Like Making Love", which Roberta Flack already had as a hit. James had been hired to play piano for the song on Roberta Flack's album two weeks before recording a version of his own, using the same band. Radio stations played both and contributed to the commercial success of One. The album was notable for adapting classical music to a modern-day scene, e.g. "In The Garden" was based on Pachelbel's Canon in D and "Night On Bald Mountain" was a cover of Modest Mussorgsky's composition of the same name.
After three solo albums, James founded his own record label, Tappan Zee. Immediately thereafter, he cut a disco version of the Theme to Star Trek: The Motion Picture a 45 of which was included with the soundtrack LP and recorded the album Touchdown (Tappan Zee, 1978). Among the songs on the album was "Angela", the theme song for the TV show Taxi. James provided all the music for Taxi and collected some of its music, including "Angela", on The Genie: Themes & Variations from the TV Series Taxi (1983). When he toured in 1979, he was supported by a marketing campaign that included posters of him at the wheel of a New York yellow cab. The performances were documented on the album All Around the Town (Tappan Zee, 1980), with a cover of James at the wheel.
James turned from smooth jazz to classical music to record Rameau (1984), his interpretations of Baroque-period composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. In later albums, he interpreted the work of two more Baroque composers, J. S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti.
A year after Rameau, he collaborated with David Sanborn on Double Vision (Warner Bros, 1986). The album won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion Performance. His collaboration with Earl Klugh, One on One, won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1980 and has sold over one million copies. Another collaboration with Klugh, Cool, (Warner Bros., 1992) was nominated for a Grammy, as was Joined at the Hip (Warner Bros., 1996) with Kirk Whalum, recorded Flesh and Bone in 1995 and another solo album, Joyride (Warner Bros., 1999).
James was looking for a bass player while recording the album Grand Piano Canyon (Warner Bros., 1990) with drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Lee Ritenour. Mason and Ritenour suggested Nathan East. After working with them for a while, James suggested they form a band, which resulted in the contemporary jazz quartet Fourplay. The band has recorded over ten albums and has seen a couple of personnel changes, with guitarist Larry Carlton replacing Ritenour and then Chuck Loeb replacing Carlton. Fourplay celebrated its 25th anniversary with the album Silver (Heads Up, 2015).
"Nautilus" has been sampled by Eric B. & Rakim in "Let the Rhythm Hit 'em", Run-D.M.C.'s "Beats to the Rhyme", Ghostface Killah's "Daytona 500", DJ Jazzy Jeff's "Jazzie's Groove", Jeru the Damaja's "My Mind Spray", Freddie Gibbs's "Extradite", and "Farandole (L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2)". It appears on the Funcrusher Plus LP from Company Flow and Nangdo's "Nikes". The bassline from "Nautilus" appears in "Children's Story" by Slick Rick.
"Take Me to the Mardi Gras" incorporates in its first four measures a bell-and-drum pattern that is one of hip hop's basic breakbeats. Crash Crew's "Breaking Bells (Take Me to the Mardi Gras)", Run-D.M.C.'s "Peter Piper", LL Cool J's "Rock the Bells", the Beastie Boys' "Hold it Now, Hit it", Missy Elliott's "Work It", will.i.am's "I Got it from My Mama", "This Is Me (Urban Remix)" by Dream, "I Want You" by Common, and "Take It Back" by Wu-Tang Clan.
With Hank Crawford
With Johnny Hammond
With Chet Baker
With Ron Carter
With Paul Desmond
With Jackie and Roy
With Hubert Laws
With Don Sebesky
With Gábor Szabó
With Gary Burton