José James Celebrates Bill Withers with New Video via NPR
As 2018 marks the 80th birthday of legendary singer-songwriter Bill Withers, critically acclaimed contemporary jazz and R&B musician José James announces a national tribute tour vetted by Withers himself. An ace genre-blurring vocalist and bandleader, James has won acclaim for his deeply felt tributes to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, but this is his most ambitious project to date. The two-year world tour playing the Withers songbook is backed by an incredible band handpicked for the job (Sullivan Fortner on keys, Brad Allen Williams on guitar, Ben Williams on bass, and Nate Smith on drums) and will culminate in a LP release next year.
The Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers tour kicks off on January 11th in New York and hits cities such as DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz. To give fans a taste of what's to come, James shares his "Better Off Dead" live video today with NPR.
While on the road these past few years, James found his live set slowly changing to make room for more Withers. First it was "Sunshine," coming out of a vamp following his neo-soul original, "Trouble." But soon, "Sunshine" grew to include "Grandma's Hands," then "Use Me," then "Just the Two of Us," and before long, the emotional peak of the show had become a 20 to 30-minute medley of Withers music that "people would just go crazy for," says James. "It's the power of performance: you can make those songs come alive again and people feel it in a way they can't on a record." And he has a point: with Withers retired from the touring life for over a quarter-century, his work while monumental is, to new ears, part of history.
We last heard from José James in early 2017 when he released his seventh album, Love in a Time of Madness, a contemporary R&B set that marked his turn away from the solipsism of jazz and, as he said back then, "toward music that's made for other people to enjoy." He wrote love songs as a salve for all the negativity in the air, but things have gotten a lot worse since. Which is another reason why he found himself considering the power of Withers classics like "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me," and "Lovely Day." "His songs reflect a love for community and unification," says James. "His music respects elders, values mentors, and explores male vulnerability. What better way to bring light to the world while challenging the racist, fascist, and sexist status quo?"
Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers
1/11: New York, NY @ Le Poisson Rouge (tickets)
1/27-2/3: Blue Note at Sea Cruise (tickets)
2/5: New York, NY @ Blue Note Jazz Club (tickets / tickets)
2/6: New York, NY @ Blue Note Jazz Club (tickets / tickets)
2/7: New York, NY @ Blue Note Jazz Club (tickets / tickets)
2/8: New York, NY @ Blue Note Jazz Club (tickets / tickets)
3/2: South Orange, NJ @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (tickets)
3/3: Washington, DC @ Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater (tickets)
3/4: Port Washington, NY @ Landmark on Main Street (tickets)
3/16: Aspen, CO @ JAS Cafe (tickets)
3/17: Aspen, CO @ JAS Cafe (tickets)
5/10: Santa Cruz, CA @ Kuumbwa Jazz Center (tickets)
5/11: San Francisco, CA @ SFJAZZ, Miner Auditorium (tickets)
5/14: Seattle, WA @ Dimitriou's Jazz Alley (tickets)
5/15: Seattle, WA @ Dimitriou's Jazz Alley (tickets)
5/16: Seattle, WA @ Dimitriou's Jazz Alley (tickets)
Photo Credit: Janette Beckman