Gregory James’ compositions are rooted in Jazz, branching into an unscripted mix of fresh sounds and spontaneity. His skill as a guitar player developed in the heady atmosphere of the San Francisco 60s, where he was influenced by both bebop jazz and the rock music of the time. He finds inspiration in classical ethnic music of Northern India and in the music of Afro-Cuba, as well as the spirituality of Persian poetry. For more than 20 years, James’ explorations of contemporary jazz have interacted with this cultural mélange to reinvent what is fresh…now…today. .
James was interested in music at an early age and upon turning eleven he began studying guitar under David Le Roy Smith, continuing for seven years. By the age of 15, he was already playing professionally with some of the best acts in San Francisco…everything from bossa nova with Amandio Cabral to gigs with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete and pianist Vince Guaraldi. James’ music evolved quickly, beginning to blur boundaries between rock and jazz. By 1978, he was playing with Chico Hamilton in New York.
His versatility has remained without compromise, performing with a wide variety of musicians from Ray Charles and Van Morrison to Jean Luc Ponty, Bishop Norman Williams and Eddie Duran among others. Bola Sete, one of his teachers, started James on his long search developing his musical language, allowing him to explore a looser, more sensual style.
James’ first album, ALICIA (Inner City 1050) was released in 1978 with great acclaim, leading to both an east and west coast tour. He then returned to start the rock band Video Rouge, performing nationally for a year. In the mid 80s James put aside the electric guitar for acoustic, and began to explore the synthesis of jazz and world roots, producing three albums under his label Rogue Records: MADAGASCAR, TIBET, and ALPHABET TOWN. In 1996, furthering his improvisational and instrumental exploration, he released ANANDA (Tokuma/Moo), followed by THE SEARCH and TRAVELLER (both by Rogue Records).
Downbeat referred to James’ new direction as ‘bridg[ing] the gap between musical adventure and mass appeal’, while Guitar Player notes his range from ‘high energy polyrhythmic fusion...[to] pastoral impressionistic sketches…James’ guitar lines are simple, direct and melodic.’
Opening for Stan Getz, Variety called him ‘a first-rate electric guitar player’ and the Bay Guardian’s Derk Richards noted James as ‘a fine guitarist whose playing is reminiscent of Pat Metheny in its ringing melodies and pastoral harmonies.’ James has also double-billed with Max Roach, Vital Information, Group 88 and Chris Isaak. He’s opened the Berkeley Jazz Festival for McCoy Tyner and the Concord Jazz Festival for Ramsey Lewis and Rosemary Clooney.
James states, ‘music must respond to who we are now’. Thus, building from the sounds around him, his improvisational compositions form fresh stories, ever-changing, creating a musical space and tension that is, nonetheless, incredibly sensual.