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Bob James Biography

Born Robert McElhiney in 1939, Missouri native Bob James began piano lessons at the young age of four. Three years later, a music teacher noticed that James possessed “perfect pitch,” and the following year James broke into music, playing piano for the school’s tap dancing classes.

After dominating the Missouri State Fair Piano Competition as a teenage, James moved north to attend the University of Michigan, where he wrote two musicals. One of them, Lands Ho, was awarded by BMI Music Publishing the “Best College Musical of the Year.” After receiving his Masters, James married his college sweetheart in 1963 and the couple moved to New York City after James returned home from serving 6 months as an Army reserve.

Bob James’ career came into fruition after catching the attention of Quincy Jones while playing in a trio at the 1962 Notre Dame Jazz Festival. This led to work in New York City as a sought after session pianist and arranger. Later the same year, Bob signed a recording contract and released two trio albums, Bold Conceptions in ’62 and Explosions in 1965.

In the years following, James exploded onto the music scene. After working as Sarah Vaughan’s musical director, releasing numerous solo albums, and writing music for Freddie Hubbard and Ron Carter among others, in 1976 James accepted a job as Director of Progressive A&R for CBS Records, where he worked with icons such as Paul Simon and Neil Diamond. In 1979, he released the album One on One, a collaboration album with Earl Klugh, Winning his first Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

But perhaps James’ most recognizable tune is the theme for the hit television show Taxi. One of televisions most familiar themes, James did many versions of the song, always starting the same but expanding into different musical ideas that kept the theme fresh through the show’s life.

In the 1990s, James lent his musical talents to a group effort known as Fourplay. Their premiere album, Fourplay, climbed to #1 on the Billboards Jazz chart, where it stayed for 34 consecutive weeks, making it James’ first gold record. Throughout the rest of the decade, James released numerous albums that garnered many awards, including further collaborations with Fourplay.

From record sales to critical praise, one of music’s most sampled artist, Bob James has left in indelible mark on the music world. Showing no signs of slowing down, James has numerous albums scheduled for release in the coming years and is still actively performing for enthralled audiences around the globe.