Last spring, Boney James was wondering if he'd ever play his sax again. As he sat in traffic on a Los Angeles highway, his car was rear-ended by a drunk driver. While the vehicle was totaled, James was lucky: He suffered a fractured jaw and lost two teeth.
Almost a year later, James says his inability to blow for six weeks is, thankfully, "a rapidly fading memory." Now he's back with a new manager (Barbara Rose), a new agent (ICM's Bob Zievers), a new label (Verve Records)-and a new album, "Contact" (March 29).
The set, featuring Heather Headley, Mario and Donell Jones, veers from synth grooves and trip-hop to slow ballads and funk. It's already gaining traction, thanks to two singles. The funky instrumental title track nabbed Greatest Gainer honors last week with a 24-7 jump on Billboard's Smooth Jazz Songs chart. This week, it rises to No. 2. Currently going for urban AC adds is the soulful ballad "When I Had the Chance," featuring LeToya Luckett.
"When you have a sax in your hands, you're immediately a jazz artist," says James, who produced, arranged and co-wrote his new CD. "But I've never thought of myself that way. And Verve fits me in terms of crossing over."
James' 2009 set, "Send One Your Love" (Concord), has sold 91,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and spent eight weeks atop Contemporary Jazz Albums. Besides himself, the Verve roster includes urban artists Ledisi, Trombone Shorty, Sunshine Anderson and Avant. "The decline in smooth jazz radio stations is a challenge," Verve Music Group senior VP/GM Nate Herr says. "That's why it's important that Boney-who takes chances musically and has criss-crossed between contemporary jazz and adult urban for several years-is able to cross into another format with a single like 'Chance.' "
While James' summer tour is still being planned, he has 12 dates lined up between April and June. He'll guest on an upcoming episode of "The Mo'Nique Show," and take over Sirius XM's Watercolors channel for a day during release week.