James Martin’s music roots extend to his earliest years spent visiting his grandparents’ home in New Orleans. There he found an authentic alternative to the musically inspired toys and plastic replicas of instruments his parents had lovingly given him…in his grandparents’ organ. He managed to teach himself his first song—“When the Saints Go Marching In,” and shortly afterward he acquired his first instrument, a forty-dollar pawn shop guitar, which he eventually mastered through practice so relentless his parents had to pull him away to attend school, eat, or go to sleep. From there he moved to tenor saxophone, as his school jazz band had no place for the young guitarist. Discouraged in his desire to audition for the advanced band at his music school because of his status as a novice saxophone player, James took it upon himself to learn all the music required for that audition and made the cut. During his senior year of high school, he enrolled in the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).
At NOCCA, James began his professional music career, performing with Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. His first year with Shorty included performances at New York’s Apollo Theatre and Central Park, as well as at French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest in New Orleans. He matriculated on full scholarship at Loyola University, New Orleans, while performing several times a week at local clubs and touring the United States, Europe, and South America. Though offered a full scholarship by the University of New Orleans to continue his music education, James decided to continue touring with Shorty’s band.
In December 2008, after seven years of playing with Trombone Shorty, James decided to pursue a solo career. A month later he recorded an album of original material and began appearing with his own band, Happy Jack Frequency. The band performed throughout the south, as well as at Harvest the Music at Lafayette Square and the Gulf Aid Concert benefitting those affected by the BP oil spill. He also began working regularly with Louisiana Music Hall of Famer Ernie Vincent, as well as with other New Orleans mainstays like Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Flow Tribe.
James is a prolific songwriter and producer, working with artists such as Ivan Neville, Paul Sanchez, and Franklin IV (of BET’s “Sunday’s Best”). In 2011, He earned a spot playing guitar on the introduction to ESPN’s Monday Night Football with fiddler Amanda Shaw (with whom James has recorded and performed numerous times). In 2012, he was featured in a scene on HBO’s Treme along with Ernie Vincent and legendary saxophonist James Rivers. The same year, he began performing regularly with dynamic trombonist Glen David Andrews.
James’ album Blue was released November 17, 2012, in commemoration of the 250th wedding anniversary of his ancestors François Martin and Marguerite Denes at the St. Louis Cathedral (then a wooden chapel). A month later, James was nominated for Best Saxophonist in New Orleans by OffBeat Magazine. In January 2013, OffBeat published both an article on James and a review of Blue. The album boasts a Latin-inspired version of New Orleans R&B legend Ernie K-Doe’s “Certain Girl” (featuring James Andrews), a cover of Dr. John’s “Qualified,” and several original compositions. “O Discordia” recounts a harrowing stay in James’ family home on the Mississippi coast as everything around it is destroyed by unstoppable tidal surge and whipping winds. “Set Yourself Free” was written while James was on the road with Trombone Shorty, and Shorty and the band regularly played it live. James unleashes some traditional blues with “West End Blues” and “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” the latter of which features James Andrews on vocals and trumpet. Other tracks include “Louisiana 1927” and “Another You.”
Biography written by Karen Lozinski
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