After a five year hiatus, Syracuse Jazz Fest is back and better than ever for 2022. Headlining saxophonist, Boney James talks with Steve Infante and Sistina Giordano about what it means to play in Syracuse and his background as a successful saxophonist on the heels of releasing his 18th studio album.
Sistina: “Thanks for joining us. So. how would you describe your music?”
Boney: “I like to just try and get away with calling it, ‘Boney James music’ but I have a lot of different influences. As I said I came up playing in R&B bands. I grew up in the 70s when it was a little bit more of an eclectic musical scene. I have R&B music, but I play the saxophone so that tends to lean you more towards jazz. So it’s a little bit more of a mesh between R&B and jazz.”
Steve: “So you’re based in Los Angeles, do you notice a difference between east coast and west coast? And if so, what is it?”
Boney: “I was only in my teens when I lived on the east coast before we moved to California. I’ve done most of my musical development out here on the west coast. I’ve heard a lot of people say that there’s a west coast sound and an east coast sound, but I don’t know much about it. I just do my own thing.”
Sistina: “Speaking of your own thing, you’re going to be here for jazz fest. What’s it like to be back in person and back performing at festivals like this?”
Boney: “Oh my gosh, I am so excited. It’s great to be coming back to Syracuse because it’s been so long since we’ve been here. Playing live is the reason I got into playing in the first place, its just such a wonderful and exhilarating feeling. I love making records too, but there’s nothing like that communal feeling of playing on a stage with your band when the crowd is into it. Festivals are wonderful too because you get to hang out with a lot of other musicians. It’s a bit like band camp backstage, but just the ability to be back on the stage. COVID was very, very difficult not being able to do what I love.”
Steve: “Can you speak to the state of jazz music today? With everything shut down for a couple of years? How is the state of jazz music?”
Boney: “Jazz music is pretty vibrant these days in general. Streaming was a little bit negative at first, but now I’m noticing that people are discovering a lot of my older music that they might not have found have they just been on CD. Because the internet is such a great conduit to music. My records are still selling! The record company is still happy and I’m happy. My next record is going to be my 18th CD which is coming out in September. I’m still getting away with it!”
Sistina: “How did you come to play the saxophone?”
Boney: “It was just fate. I started on clarinet when I was 8 years old, because that’s all they had at the music store when we went to rent an instrument. Two years later there was so many clarinetists in the band, the teacher kind of leaned on me to make the switch as maybe I was the best clarinet player. I resisted at first because it was a much heavier case that I was going to have to carry to school. He convinced me because the stage band came from the high school to visit and they had a drummer and electric guitar and electric bass and snazzy satin jackets. He said ‘If you play saxophone, you can be in the stage band.’ That was what swayed me. I never looked back. It became my favorite thing to do pretty much right away.”
Steve: “Album number 18 is coming out, I’m curious. How often are you working on new material? Is it a constant thing? Is it every few weeks when you have time to sit down? Or is it constantly evolving?”
Boney: “Well the pattern has been whenever I turn a record in, I feel like I’ve just had a baby and I can’t think of having another baby. It takes me a long time before I feel like writing again, but generally speaking about a year and a half to 2 years later after I turn a record in. I start to get that itch to be creative again. I come out here to the studio where I’m sitting right now in my back yard and I just start messing around and before you know it I have enough ideas to start a record!”
Boney James and his band take the main stage Saturday, June 25th at the main stage at 7:30 pm. For more information and to see the full line up, go to syracusejazzfest.com.