Losing a key member isn’t easy for any band. Especially a quartet. And especially an all-star ensemble like the smooth jazz “supergroup” Fourplay.
But after guitarists Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton, keyboardist Bob James says Fourplay’s third man in the spot, Chuck Loeb, has been the charm.
“Taking nothing away from Larry or Lee and our past history, like a lot of things in life a little shakeup is not necessarily a bad thing,” notes James, 71, a U-M graduate best known for his theme to the TV sitcom “Taxi.” “Chuck is so full of energy, and he knew our music really well so it didn’t take him long to get into the flow — especially because we really told him to be himself and not try to duplicate what the other guys have done before him.
“So he quickly carved out his own territory.”
James says the change impacted the rest of the band — which also includes bassist Nathan East and percussionist Harvey Mason — on its latest album, “Let’s Touch the Sky.” Fourplay’s 11th, it features guest vocals by Anita Baker and “Amer-ican Idol” champ Ruben Studdard, and debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart when it was released last October.
“We knew we were embarking on new territory,” says James, who spends most of the year living in Traverse City. “Chuck was not sure how adventurous to be, and he actually submitted a number of songs to us thinking that we might want to go for the more commercially viable things.
“But we sort of chose the opposite, especially with his song ‘Above and Beyond.’ It was very challenging and sent us back to the drawing room a little bit, which was so much fun. So we can’t wait to do more together.”
Fourplay and Spyro Gyra perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at Sound Board in the Motor City Casino, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $44 and $42. Call 313-309-4700 or visit www.motorcitycasino.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to