José James, outstanding Panamanian multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, producer; is a three time Minnesota Hall of Fame inductee as a member of Willie & The Bees, Shangoya, Ipso Facto. He was voted Best Brass/Reed Artist at the Minnesota Music Awards in 1994.
Born in Ancón, Canal Zone, Panamá, he grew up listening to a wide variety of music like Calypso, Cumbias, Salsa, Samba, R&B and Rock N’ Roll. His first instrument was a nylon snare drum his parents bought him for Christmas, later developing an interest in the trombone. He began playing the Alto Saxophone at age 12, and at 14 was playing in the high school band, while studying music theory and classical flute at the Conservatory of Panama. At an after class jam session with friends in the town of Pedro Miguel, he joined his first professional “Combo” called The Scepters. Heavily influenced by the Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix and James Brown, they played at parties, boat rides, school dances, clubs and military bases, where he bought his first John Coltrane album “Impressions”. Later, his friend Anthony Gerald introduced him to “Milestones” by Miles Davis and “Cannonball Adderley with Sergio Mendez Bossa Rio Sextet” - music that changed his life forever.
In an effort to broaden his musical knowledge, he moved to the United States in 1975. While attending the University of Minnesota, he performed with the Jazz Ensemble directed by Dr. Frank Bencriscutto touring with Clark Terry, ending with a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. During this time he also played and learned from Eddie Daniels, Bob Brookmeyer and Art Pepper. In 1978 he joined Willie and the Bees, an R&B institution in the Twin Cities led by Willie Murphy. They recorded “Out of the Woods”, one of the first digital albums for Sound 80 Records with José writing “Let Me Be Your Friend” and co-writing “Stone Broke” with Murphy.
After leaving the Bees in 1980, he formed a Jazz Fusion/Dance band called Top Secret, making appearances on television shows such as Night Stage, Almost Live!, KITN TV, KTWN Live! From Riverplace, and performing at Sweeney’s until 1986. He worked with the reggae band Shangoya, writing horn arrangements, playing in the horn section, and recording an album called “Red Pants Jam”. In 1987 he joined the rock reggae group Ipso Facto in Minneapolis. After touring for two years, they entered the 1989 Yamaha Soundcheck Band competition, winning the Best Band award in the United States. This created the opportunity to represent the U.S. at Band Explosion ‘89 in Tokyo, Japan. They competed against 22 bands from 23 countries around the world, winning the first place platinum prize and subsequently signing a recording contract with Sony/Epic Records. Ipso Facto went on to record four CDs, touring with UB40, Tracy Chapman, Third World, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Shabba Ranks, The Kinks, The Clash, Alexander O’Neal, Richard Marx and many more……..
In 1992 José formed bands under his own name, opening shows for Jimmy Walker, Nipsey Russell, George Wallace, and Larry Miller; and performing with Paul Williams, Doc Severinsen, Bonnie Raitt, Rubén Blades and Prince. In 1998, he joined Lorie Line & her Pop Chamber Orchestra playing World Percussion, touring the United States until 2004. During that time he released “Jungle To Jungle” an electro/acoustic dance album, PhD “Sixx P’s” a Football rap CD, and “With Faith/Con Fé” a CD of Latin Pop music.
He is currently touring the United States, Europe & Africa with The Bernard Allison Group. In addition, he continues to perform with other artists and with his own group for audiences around the world.