José James Live for KCRW

All photos by DAVIS BELL

José James has an incredible voice.

Throughout his career, the Minneapolis-born musician has used that incredible instrument in different ways.

On his early albums, he worked with producers like Moodyman and Flying Lotus. Then he signed to the legendary Blue Note records, becoming a modern day jazz man and successfully reinvented the genre for a younger audience.

Now, he has his sights set on a contemporary R&B sound.

On his latest record, the aptly named “Love in a Time of Madness“, he adopts a more modern, sexier soul sound. He visited our studios to play a couple tracks from the record — the upbeat “Closer” and a couple ballads, including a song I’m absolutely obsessed with at the moment, “To Be With You“.

I can’t help it, I’m a romantic at heart.

It was written here in LA and one of the co-writers of the song , Talia, was here in studio for the session and José talked about being completely wowed the first time he heard it. He actually released it on Valentine’s Day as a dedication to his fans.

He also did a couple incredible covers. He introduced his version of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” (at the 17 min mark) by saying “he’s one of the greats and inspires me to no end.”

Bill is based in LA and doesn’t make many public appearances. Apparently José let him know he was playing at KCRW and invited him. I was secretly hoping the elusive musician would walk in the door throughout the entire session!
José described Billie Holiday as one of the greatest singers of all time and the “the prototype for all modern R&B,” before singing a spine-inducing rendition of her song “Strange Fruit“.

The whole session is fantastic and you can listen below.

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