What do you feel about the album now that is almost out… How does it compare to what you’ve done before?
We had the release party in New York last night and it was fantastic. I just feel like it’s a huge step in my development. I really feel it. I think the songwriting is deeper: it’s broader and I think I’m able to touch more people in different ways and I feel like the production has advanced in leaps and bounds. I’ve really loved everything that I’ve done. I’m not the sort of artist that looks back with disdain on my first album. I just think there’s no comparison in terms of production. It feels more immersive to me and it feels like a more personal statement than anything I’ve done.
Beyond this album, what are your musical ambitions? Is there anything else in the pipeline we should know about?
Well, I have three projects that I’m working on right now actually, one as a producer. I’m working with one of the co-writers on my album, Talia Billig, who wrote ‘U R The 1’ and ‘Without You.’ She’s doing a solo album that I’m helping produce and write for which is really cool. And then I’m doing a special project next year for Blue Note in tribute to Billie Holiday for her hundredth birthday anniversary. So that’s going to be with Jason Moran and Christian McBride. Don Was is producing that one. And then I’ve started writing a future José James album. Right now I’m thinking of doing a series of duets with all female singers. Hopefully that can happen. I’ve been dreaming of working with people like Corinne Bailey Rae for about four years now. There’s something about the duet that I love, especially like Marvin Gaye and all the duets he did: I think it brings out something different in him.
Will you be writing your own material for that or will you be using covers?
Who knows? We’ll probably laugh about it when the album actually comes out but right now I’d like to do original stuff. I think that would be cooler.
Just before you go, you did a great little album with Jef Neve a few years ago for Impulse! called ‘For All We Know.’ It won a couple of awards. How did that recognition feel?
It feels great. That was a really special album. It’s funny: we actually just did it on a whim. We each had a day off. We barely knew each other but had this great musical rapport and after a few glasses of champagne after his radio show I said hey, what are you doing tomorrow? I have the day off. He said: nothing, I have the day off. I said let’s make an album. Are you serious? Yeah, let’s do it. So we just went into the studio and did the whole thing in a day and really did it for ourselves and kind of as a joke but for fun and as we were driving back from the studio, like an hour from Brussels and it was raining, I’ll never forget it, we were listening to it and I said holy shit, I think this is really good (laughs). So to go from that to trailing all over the world and winning prestigious jazz awards felt pretty awesome. And not to mention that being on Impulse! was like another dream.
Yes, you’ve now recorded for two of the jazz’s most iconic record labels….
Yeah, my jazz nerd self is very pleased.
JOSÉ JAMES NEW ALBUM ‘WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING’ IS OUT NOW ON BLUE NOTE