Singer José James Eats Sashimi in the Studio

José James

Photo courtesy of José James.

This is SOUND ADVICE, a weekly destination for playlists curated by Interview’s friends, enemies, and lovers. Over the past few weeks, we’ve gathered playlists from Only FireTayla Parx, and Julie Ragbeer. This week’s guest is composer and baritone José James, who’s been lauded as the “jazz singer for the hip-hop generation” for his deep grooves and spoken word flourishes. A few weeks ago, the jazz vocalist warmed up our ears with “Dark Side of the Sun,” the thid single off his album, 1978, which honors the spirits of his hometown, Minneapolis, and ’70s soul (and drops this Friday). For this week’s Sound Advice, James put together a playlist and shared his input on NYC jazz haunts, the iconic style of Miles Davis, and high school acapella groups.


Where do you dance? Onstage mostly.

What’s a song that reminds you of your hometown, Minneapolis? “Purple Rain” by Prince.

Sunglasses inside, yes or no? Always.

What’s your national anthem? Jimi Hendrix version of The Star Spangled Banner.

Name your favorite artist no one knows about. Jharis Yokley.

What’s your favorite NYC jazz club, and why? The Village Vanguard. It’s the oldest jazz club in New York and the spirits of Coltrane, Miles Davis and Betty Carter are there.

What’s your favorite jazz festival, and why? Probably the Montreux Jazz Fest. The location is incredible, and where else can you see a giant statue of Freddie Mercury?

Blue-tooth or wired headphones? Bang & Olufsen H95s, wired with bluetooth option. Sound is killer.

What’s your fondest memory of being in an acapella group in high school? And what’s your worst? Both my fondest and worst memory of that is thinking that being in an acapella group was cool.

If you could play only one instrument for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Probably piano, because you can perform any kind of music on it and also write songs.

What’s on your reading list? Notes and Tones by Art Taylor, American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej and Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison.

Who is your style icon? Miles Davis. He went from 40’s-60’s impeccably tailored suits to 70s funk leather to 80’s Japanese avant-garde without missing a beat.

All-time favorite movie needle drop? Pulp Fiction – Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together.”

Who are your kings and queens of jazz? John and Alice Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Betty Carter and Nat “King” Cole.

What’s giving you spring fever? Right now I’m living in Pasadena near the San Gabriel Mountains. Seeing them everyday makes me want to drive up the coast on 1 to Big Sur.

What’s your go-to studio meal? Sushi, sashimi, edamame and miso soup.

You’re known for blending and defying genres. Who is your dream collaborator, dead or alive? Mark Ronson. Preferably alive.