Afourth generation San Franciscan, Gregory James was born on October 11, 1952. Growing up in a musical family, he listened to show tunes, jazz, opera, classical music, and music from around the world on a short wave radio. In what has been called the golden age of entertainment, TV variety shows would have acts as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Lily Pons and Elvis. Originally attracted to piano, the British Invasion inspired him to take up guitar at age 11. He studied theory and composition under David L. Smith for the next 7 years. A few months after his first lesson, a chance find at a record store introduced him to a Kenny Burrell recording with John Coltrane, and a whole new world opened up.
By age 15 he was sitting in at clubs with Eddie Duran, Amandio Cabral, and Vince Guaraldi. Over the next few years he would jam with Jimmy McCracklin, Brother Jack McDuff, Van Morrison, Jean Luc Ponty, and filled in for a night in London with Ray Charles. In the mid 70’s James founded the Gregory James Quartet with Baron Shul, Randy Merritt and Andre St. James. They were signed to the prestigious Inner City label, and released their first recording, Alicia. Moving to New York, within 3 months James was reviewed on the front page of the January 1, 1980 edition of Variety, while opening for a week at The Other End for Stan Getz. “A first-rate electric guitarist”. The Quartet also was billed for a week at San Francisco’s Keystone Corner with Max Roach. While in New York James played with Chico Hamilton, who likened him “to another guitar player of mine, Gabor Szabo”.
Gregory James has been billed with acts as diverse as McCoy Tyner, Ramsey Lewis, Rosemary Clooney, Mark Isham, Vital Information, Shana Morrison, The Broun Fellinis and Sergio Mendes. In the early 80’s, with change in the air, Gregory returned to San Francisco and started the fiery punk jazz band, Video Rouge with Baron Shul. They shared the Mabuhay Gardens stage with Silvertone (Chris Isaak) The New Models, and The Soul Rebels.
In 1982 James founded Rogue Records (now Valence Records, Inc.) and released Madagascar, Tibet, and Alphabet Town. His genre-bending playing was praised by Downbeat in a 4 ½ Star review “Bridges the gap between musical adventure and mass appeal” and Guitar Player “high energy polyrhythmic fusion….. to pastoral impressionistic sketches. In both, James’ guitar lines are simple, direct, and melodic.”
In the 90’s Gregory James began formally studying flamenco with Jason McGuire and Chuscales, and recorded Ananda with Marc and Paul Van Wageningen, Ron Miles, Paul McCandless, and Peter Michael Escovido. It was his first collaboration with producer/engineer Cookie Marenco, and they have worked together ever since. A duet recording with Kai Eckhardt, The Search, followed. The new millennium started off with Traveler, a funky exploration with saxophonist Mark Russo. 2001’s Reincarnation found James playing acoustic guitar and saz with Kai Eckhardt, Jenny Sheinman, Deszon Claiborne, Peter Horvath, African drummer Rasaki Alakodun, DJ Fly, and the spoken word of Craig Easley and Catie Murphy. Come to Me, produced by Benny Rietveld (Miles Davis/Santana) in 2003, features Karl Perrazo, Raoul Rekow, Tom Coster, and beautiful string arrangements by Mr. Rietveld.
Samsara is an acoustic guitar recording with Baron Shul, Deszon Claiborne, and Jonathan Herrera. Coltrane’s Naima, and the Lennon-McCartney And I love Her (both written in 1964) are highlights.
2010 saw James forming The Valence Project with Brain (Primus/Tom Waits) Kai Eckhardt, and vocalists Melissa Reese and Deborah Charles, Baron Shul, Emily Palen, and Eamonn Flynn guest. Songs were composed on the fly in the studio. A contemporary jazz fusion band, TVP is both exotic, and accessible.
Set for formal release on January 20, 2013, Cult of Beauty is high energy contemporary electric jazz, with Kai Eckhardt, Deszon Claiborne, and Osam Ezzeldin. The songs were completely improvised in the studio, and James’ believes it is his finest recording to date. Expect the unexpected from Gregory James.