When the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival kicks off on April 26, José James will be there paying tribute to Bill Withers on behalf of his 2018 Blue Note covers album Lean on Me. In advance of that performance — one in a series of similar concerts launched last year — James is treating fans to his latest video from the 12-track set, “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
The clips sees James performing the song live in a studio and later walking the streets of Greenwich Village; the black and white video fully illuminates the despair and yearning evoked by Withers’ enduring 1971 hit. One pivotal fun fact further heightens the video’s intensity: director Clay Patrick McBride asked James to record “Ain’t No Sunshine” live in one take.
“This was a spur of the moment thing, which I love,” James tells Billboard. “We wanted to capture the rawness and discovery of just voice and guitar, just as Bill originally wrote it. Then we drove over to Greenwich Village — where all the folk and jazz people used to hang out around West 4th Street — to capture the artistic heart and myth of New York.”
“My intention,” adds video director Clay Patrick McBride, “was to create something full of sadness that is both timeless and iconic. ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ is a classic soul banger with an honesty that cuts me to the quick. José nailed it. As we filmed, I remember having goosebumps because his voice summoned a ghost of melancholy.”
James’ summer tour itinerary includes performances in Washington, D.C. (June 14), San Francisco (June 15), St. Paul, Minnesota (June 21) and Aspen, Colorado (June 22-23). He will begin an extensive European tour in July.
Watch “Ain’t No Sunshine” below.