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David James


David James is a San Francisco-born composer, guitarist, vocalist and bandleader who draws from his years of experience in hip-hop, film and theater scores, afrobeat, and more, bringing these influences to bear in his “ … thoughtfully composed, boundary-blurring new music.” (All About Jazz)


James’s compositions often join a sing-song-y melodicism to his explorations of rhythms and textures from across the African diaspora and beyond. This can be heard in the political instrumentals and songs of the rhythm-horns-and-strings sextet GPS, which features clarinet, trombone, viola, electric guitar, acoustic bass, and drums.  From 2010 to 2020, David co-led Afrofunk Experience (all manner of afro-grooves); and currently co-leads Russian Telegraph (an anything-goes collective of players from the funk, jazz, rock, and new music worlds). 


While beginning to develop his own compositional voice, David was a recording and touring member of Spearhead, The Coup, and the Beth Custer Ensemble.  He has performed chamber jazz at the community-level salon Red Poppy Art House (SF); live scores to silent films in the screening rooms of MoMA and SFMOMA; and hip-hop at the Glastonbury Festival (UK)

September 2023 brought the premiere of "Mission Rebel No. 1: Looking for Rev. Jesse James", a musical contemplation of David's father, a San Francisco activist.  The 12-part song cycle for GPS and additional vocalists was performed at the historic BRAVA Theater in San Francisco's Mission District. 

David James has been awarded grants from:

  • InterMusic SF (as San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music) in 2015, to record the GPS album Billionaire Blues;  

  • San Francisco Arts Commission in 2020 and 2022, to compose, develop, and premiere "Mission Rebel No. 1".

  • Zellerbach Family Foundation in 2023 for the premiere presentation of "Mission Rebel No. 1"


Audience praise for "Mission Rebel No. 1":

  "SUPER show. The writing, playing, production, feeling, all of it."

  "That performance was next level! All of it. Compositions, Vocals, Visuals, Humans, Players, History. Powerful work... We were mesmerized."

  "It was so beautiful!!!"

  "I will treasure that concert as long as I live."

  "Mission Rebel Number 1 was truly awesome."

Critical praise for Billionaire Blues:

  “… an array of styles…lithe reggae, sinewy bop, playfully cartoonish bounce, and elegant Afrobeat … a striking achievement “  (NPR’s California Report) 

 “ … (a) great new record … a tasty blend of Ellington-flavored horn parts, sweet-and-sour riffs, and prime improvised solos.”  (San Francisco Chronicle)




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