It’s hard to come up with a more evocative sound than a Fourplay song – the flowing funk undertones of drummer Harvey Mason and bassist Nathan East, and the wonderful keyboard work of Bob James support the memorable themes they have created for over 25 years. Their newest guitarist Chuck Loeb is joined by Fourplay alumni and Jazz guitar icons Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour on Silver, the newest album from this seminal group.
Composer, producer and keyboardist Bob James is well known for writing such evocative themes as “Angela”, a song so singular that it can serve as the theme of a sitcom as well as the backing track to the newest Cee Lo song. The Fourplay member/founder sat down with us in this edition of Deezer Five Questions:
Bob James and Nathan East have been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Arrangement, Instrumental/A-Cappella category, for “Ghost of a Chance”, from the album “THE NEW COOL”, at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
James and East teamed up for this project, each bringing their own previous Grammy experience to create something special. James, prior winner of two Grammys, also wrote the theme song to the hit television series “Taxi”. East is hot off of his own Grammy nomination for his first ever solo record, 2014’s “NATHAN EAST”, and a Grammy Record of the Year win for laying down the bass on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”.
When discussing straight-ahead jazz, Miles Davis’ quintet (1965-1968) of Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams comes to mind. If West Coast cool jazz becomes a matter of discourse, let’s talk Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. Fast-forward to the 1970s, when smooth jazz sailed over the airways into bars and music halls, then we are talking about the pianist, arranger and composer Bob James.
In 1990, having already earned recognition as a marquee headliner and producer James joined forces with an elite group of musicians to form Fourplay, the only smooth jazz group worth discussing. Fourplay is a stellar group of musicians who became household names within the smooth jazz arena while playing in a variety of genre configurations. They are: the drummer Harvey Mason (Herbie Hancock, Barbra Streisand and Notorious BIG), the bassist-vocalist Nathan East (Barry White, Eric Clapton, Toto and Phil Collins) and guitarist Chuck Loeb for the last five years (Hubert Laws, Chico Hamilton, Stan Getz and Joe Farrell) following guitarist Lee Ritenour’s exit in the mid-1990s.
James is best known for his classics “Westchester Lady” (off the album “Three,” CBS Records) and “Angela,” the 1978 theme from the TV sitcom “Taxi.” Individually they are vibrant musicians who have influenced generations of young artists. Together as Fourplay they have turned the genre of smooth jazz into their own kettle of home-brewed gumbo whose spiced ingredients include pop, funk and jazz.
Their recent 25th anniversary celebration at the West Village’s Blue Note jazz club was an intensified fusion of improvisation. Such a term is rarely used to describe a smooth or contemporary jazz group, but these aren’t your regular type of smooth cats, this is Fourplay, the leaders of the pack.
Talking about Fourplay’s silver anniversary from the stage of New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club on Dec. 1, the formidable bassist Nathan East related his wife’s reaction to the group’s milestone. “I don’t know—25 years of Fourplay? Isn’t it time to get down to … ?” East didn’t need to finish the sentence for the capacity crowd to start giggling.
The slightly risqué name, however, has always had more to do with the playful nature of the all-star instrumental jazz/pop quartet (Bob James on keyboards, East on bass, Chuck Loeb on guitar and Harvey Mason on drums), which delights in tossing melodic and rhythmic ideas around the bandstand like the Harlem Globetrotters moving up the basketball court. That kind of synergy only gets better with age.
As longtime fans of the Jazz supergroup Fourplay, we had the ultimate pleasure of attending the first show of their 6-night gig at the acclaimed Jazz club, the Blue Note New York located in the heart of Greenwich Village on December 1, 2015. Although we were well familiar with their style and talent seeing and hearing this multi-talented band perform live made for a remarkable evening that will go down as one to remember in our musical memory banks.
The contemporary jazz group Fourplay, made up of four legendary jazz musicians in their own right, is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the aptly titled album Silver, which was released on November 20.
Harvey Mason, the quartet’s drummer and one of the founders of the group, said that the band members’ experiences playing with a variety of artists before coming to Fourplay contributes to their staying power as a group.
“We learned when to support and when to step back or step out and support and to work hard on projects and I think that is a big part of it,” Mason said. “We’re all team players, so to speak, and we’re able to support and know when to give and take….Each guy is a very smart guy, I think that’s a big part of it.”
The group’s pianist, Bob James, said that the group operates as a “democracy,” and said there’s “a strong desire to have all of us represented equally.”