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Saxist Boney James happy to still be alive, playing after auto accident

for Journal Register Newspapers

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It's been more than 16 months since saxophonist Boney James suffered a fractured jaw and other injuries when his car was rear-ended by a drunk driver in California. He's fine now -- and touring behind his latest album, "Contact" -- but he admits there was "definitely nervousness" for a time about continuing his career.

"I was determined that no matter what I'd get back into it," says James, 50, who was born James Oppenheim in Massachusetts. "It was just a matter of how was it going to go on? The part of my face that was injured was important to doing my job.

"I had shows booked around the time I was going to be allowed to try to play the horn again, and I didn't cancel them. I was only able to put my horn in my mouth about a week before the first show, so it was nerve-wracking. It hurt to play, at first, but I toughed it out. I just feel gratitude that I wasn't hurt worse or killed."

That feeling informs some of the songs from "Contact," which came out in March and topped the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. Though the set features guest vocals by Mario, former Destiny's Child member LeToya Luckett, Donnell Jones and Heather Headley, James says his instrumentals are also "introspective and more artful" and hopefully convey as much as the tracks with lyrics.

"I try to write music that connects emotionally as I'm playing," James explains. "I've kept going down the path that felt most right. It's the internal compass you follow, all instinctive. The ones I put on record are the ones I feel like there's some sort of vibe that's communicated, even if they don't have lyrics telling you what the song's about.

"That's the great thing about successful instrumental music. It conveys a feeling but doesn't have to be about anything in particular, so the listener can interpret it for himself or herself."

Boney James, George Duke and Marion Meadows perform at the Jazz Superstars show at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. Tickets are $75, $65 and $45. Call 313-227-7464 or visit www.motopera.org.

Web Site: www.motopera.org

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