Singer Jose James releases his album No Beginning, No End today. For a little while longer, you can still hear it via NPR Music's First Listen series. Plus, James recently gave an interview to host Melissa Block for today's episode of All Things Considered.
It's not exactly a jazz record — it "sounds like the result of the black-pop continuum, jazz and soul and hip-hop and R&B, slow-cooked for more than 50 years," according to Ben Ratliff of The New York Times — but it definitely comes from someone who's spent a lot of time learning jazz. James has performed in straight-ahead styles with masters like Chico Hamilton and Junior Mance, Wynton Marsalis and McCoy Tyner. He calls himself a "jazz nerd/musician," and his study of the tradition shows: There's a lot of extended improvisation and even standards in his band's live performances.
"There's a lot of jazz in my set, but I want to make sure especially young people feel comfortable," he says. "I want to break down the wall of, you know, you have to put on a jacket and tie, and you have to act a certain way, and you have to know how to order the right kind of wine. All these things have suddenly been built up around jazz and the way it's presented. And I feel like me, Christian Scott, Robert Glasper and a lot of people coming up behind us are just knocking it down."
One topic in the interview that had to be cut for time was his relationship with more traditional jazz practice, especially with respect to touring with McCoy Tyner. James, a "huge John Coltrane freak," was clearly delighted to perform with Coltrane's pianist. Here's that little segment of raw audio: