Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers, Sunday, April 14, 2:00pm, It's A Breeze and Hawk Haven Stage in Cape May Convention Hall

The Story

One of the most exciting new singers on the scene today, José James’ elevated his profile significantly on the strength of his 2018 Blue Note release, Lean on Me, a faithful tribute to the iconic ‘70s singer-songwriter Bill Withers. Included in this collection of 12 tunes is the timeless title track, a 1972 hit for Withers, along with soul classics like “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Just the Two of Us” and “Use Me.” With this rich baritone voice, James and his crew honor the original versions with subtle twists and modifications.

Often referred to as a jazz singer for the hip-hop generation, the Minneapolis-born New York City-based vocalist has seamlessly combined jazz, soul, drum’n’bass, and spoken word into his own unique brand of vocal jazz. While he states his main influences as John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye and Billie Holiday, his sound on also brings to mind the fluid crossover approach of Gil Scott-Heron. James released his debut album, Dreamer, in 2008 on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint. The album ended up earning him worldwide accolades for its blend of jazz, electronic, soul and pop styles and gaining him spots at the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Victoria Jazz Festival, Central Park Summerstage in New York and London’s Royal Festival Hall. He followed with Blackmagic in early 2010 and later that year made his Impulse! debut with For All We Know, a collection of standards performed in duet with Belgian pianist Jef Neve. James signed to Blue Note Records in 2012 and released his fourth album, No Beginning, No End, in January of 2013. His 2014 collection, While You Were Sleeping, blended rock alongside R&B and jazz while referencing Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and Al Green. His 2015 opus, Yesterday I Had the Blues, was a loving tribute to Billie Holiday with pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland. He delved into the suave side of R&B on 2017’s Love in the Time of Madness and paid homage to Bill Withers on 2018’s Lean on Me. “Meeting Bill Withers was one of the personal highlights of my life,” James said of his first encounter with the ‘70s soul icon. “He's a total genius and one of the coolest people I've ever met. I learned more in that one hour with him than I learned at music school or a decade's worth of live shows. We all adore him and any songwriter worth their salt knows that Bill is up there with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Smokey Robinson, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Elton John, Billy Joel – he's in the pantheon of greats. Plus he's an amazing singer and developed a sophisticated sound that blends funk, singer-songwriter, blues, R&B and gospel. I showed him my list of his songs and he absolutely loved it. I think he's happy that his music still has a place in the lives and hearts of people worldwide and that we all want to celebrate his life and talent.”

The Sound

José James showcases his rich and graceful baritone voice while blurring the lines between traditional and contemporary jazz, soul, funk, house and rock, among other genres. Expect him to lean heavily on smooth soul tunes from his Bill Withers tribute in his first visit to the Exit Zero Jazz Festival.

Where and When

It’s a Breeze and Hawk Haven Vineyard Stage in Cape May Convention Hall, Sunday, April 14 at 2:00pm

Blake Haney