February 26, 2024

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Interview with Christopher James: A Rose in The Canyon: Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz pianist Christopher James. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?



Christopher James: – I grew up in Southern Oregon. Amazingly, and thanks to my parents, I was exposed to all kinds of art: Theater, Music, Dance, from a very young age. I took to the piano quickly and focused mostly on classical piano. I was very good but not a natural performer. That became clearer as I got older. But I always was fiddling and changing certain classical pieces, Mostly Baroque period things. And that migrated to composing songs. I majored in music in College and fumbled around for awhile after before deciding to head back to Munich where I had studied in 1978-79. I got some lucky breaks writing music for German TV programs,a few jingles and other commercial projects. None of it very artistically satisfying, but I was making a living and that was exciting. In 1989 I changed course and began a career at PolyGram Records in the International department. During that time I began to feel like I was losing touch with my personal relationship to music. I went to Ed Eckstein who was the president of Mercury Records and he allowed me to make 3 albums under the name Val Gardena. You can not imagine how unusual that was and I eternally grateful to him for supporting me. My partner on these albums was Portland, OR Bass player, Jeff Leonard. The 2nd of those albums, On the Bridge did quite well on the trade charts and even reached top 10 with the track “Northern Lights’. In 1994 I was promoted to run the Classical and Jazz business for PolyGram. I pretty much decommissioned my composition needs for nearly 20 years. When I left Universal in 2011 I started composing and recording again. The Christopher James music has evolved into a unique place sitting somewhere in the Classical and Jazz worlds. Certainly with this new album I looked to combine written out music with some improvising. There are some great solos on the album – Gil Goldsteins piano playing is inventive and brilliant. Jim Beard captured the touch and sensibility I wanted and really opened up on a few pieces. There is also a staggering Clarinet solo on “Baile de los Perros” by John Nastos.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Christopher James – A Rose in The Canyon, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

CHJ: – I do love this album. We recorded it live over 4 days in November 2021. It was just before Omicron kicked in so getting the musicians was pretty easy. We tested everyone before the dates as was required by Power Station studios. There is such joy in collaboration. I was producing but not conducting or playing so the vibe was free of ego and me worrying about my playing. I cannot say enough about Gil Goldstein and Rob Mathes and their role in conducting the musicians and keeping the spirit on the proper wavelength. They are enormous talents and
their presence in the room was critical to the result. I am starting to write a few new things and some of it is similar to this album but there are also some minimalist pieces – very film soundtrack oriented that might form the approach to the next project but it’s too early to say for at this point.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

A Rose in the Canyon - JAZZIZ Magazine

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

CHJ: – Gil Goldstein and Rob Mathes(2 of the orchestrators) and I discussed which instruments needed curation but many of the players on the sessions were sought out by the wonderful music contractor, Sandra Park. John P and I have worked together on 2 previous albums, Better Days and Across the Divide. We had known about each other for years so it was natural to make it happen. Andy Snitzer( saxophonist) was also very helpful in directing me to Alex Sopp, Flute and Cole Davis on Bass.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

CHJ: – My music is a stimulant to take the listener where they want to go. I don’t believe in imposing a direction on anyone. By its nature music is abstract: You can’t see the live music, or touch or smell the music. So to have too much expectation is unrealistic.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

CHJ: – I really miss the tactile experience of buying music. I worked in several record stores when I was younger and it was such an effective way to experience new music and discovering past recordings. The new vinyl trend is great but its not the same.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

CHJ: – Old recordings are the road map to the future. Classical music is not irrelevant if it is written centuries ago. I see jazz the same way.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

CHJ: – I lived in Munich during the late 70’s and ECM was/is based there. The label had many ECM concerts in places like Domicil and the America Haus. Eberhard Webers group really took me to a new place. I also heard Weather Report at the Zirkus Krone. That really spun my head around.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

CHJ: – Old recordings are the road map to the future. Classical music is not irrelevant if it is written
centuries ago. I see jazz the same way.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

CHJ: – I really miss the tactile experience of buying music. I worked in several record stores when I was younger and it was such an effective way to experience new music and discovering past recordings. The new vinyl trend is great but its not the same.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

CHJ: – When I was working on the latest album I could not get enough of Oliver Nelsons large ensemble recordings.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

CHJ: – My musical message is simple – music should enable the listener to have an emotional experience. It stimulates our memories and all sensory touchstones.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

CHJ: – This is intriguing question… I’ve always wanted to be alive and old enough to appreciate the 1950’s. Jazz, Classical, Fine Arts, politics, profound social change and danger were all co-existing at the same time.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Jazz news: Christopher James Releases 'A Rose In The Canyon' August 19th!

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