One of an increasingly rare breed, pianist/ arranger/producer Bob James has worked extensively in the smooth jazz vein and loves easy, catchy melodies. Not unlike David Sanborn or Grover Washington Jr., he knows his music and certainly holds his own in more mainstream jazz settings. And thanks to James's catchy mega-hit, "Angela (the Theme from Taxi)," just about everybody has heard James's music, whether they know it or not. A young James began his career when he took a trio out to the 1962 Notre Dame Jazz Festival and caught the ear of Quincy Jones. With a man the stature of Jones singing his praises, James moved quickly into the New York session scene, recording a few trio albums of his own (one, oddly enough, on the defiantly spiky, free jazz label ESP), working with players such as bassist Ron Carter, and even spending a few years as Sarah Vaughan's musical director. Since then, James has lent his airy compositions and playing to countless sessions and achieved much success as both an A&R man for CBS Records and a member of the smooth jazz supergroup, Fourplay. In a few years, it might be fair to think of James as a Dick Clark of the smooth jazz scene. Nearly four decades on, he still does his populist jazz thing, and it seems to have taken no toll on the ageless pianist. On a recent four-hands concert tour with fellow smooth pianist Keiko Matsui, James has been featuring material from his latest recording, Dancing on the Water
. The album features, in typical James fashion, the accomplished Joe Sample and the aforementioned Matsui, as well as players more apt to linger at the more challenging end of the improvisational spectrum, such as bassist Dave Holland.