R.I.P. Thomas "Tangier" James, 1941 - 2007

Arguably the greatest "unknown" Jazz trumpeter who ever lived, I was deeply saddened to hear this news. Saw him play once when I was seventeen at two a.m. in Philadelphia's Ortlieb's Jazz Haus...He was obviously suffering from years of horrible addiction, but for the few people who were there, he was unforgettable.


From L'Express

Thomas "Tangier" James, Jazz Trumpeter, Dies At 66
By Damon Gryka

Published: August 7, 2007

Thomas "Tangier" James, known as a "the trumpeter's trumpeter," passed away yesterday at his home. Mr. James, 66, had been suffering for sometime with heart trouble, his wife said.

A bridge between the be-bop tradition of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, and the World Music influences that emerged in the late 1960's and 70's, Mr. James, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recorded with Jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and Hugh Masakela, as well as James Brown. He is widely regarded as one of the last great trumpeters of his era.

Said music critic Nat Hentoff in 1989, "Although little known outside of jazz circles for most of his career, his major achievement is that he opened up music to a whole new generation, he fearlessly took his influences from his travels and created an unmistakably unique sound."

Thomas Nelson James was born in Philadelphia in 1941 to Etta and Reverand Thomas James Sr. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer he remembered, "I was a troublemaker, typical preacher's son, no direction, just another kid destined to be a dime store hustler on the streets. Then, one day after my father kicked me out of my house for Lord knows what, I saw a trumpet in a hock shop in my neighborhood. I don't know what it was, but I had to have it. I went home that afternoon, cleaned up my act and started working after school to buy it. Six months later I did, and the first time I put the horn to my lips, that was it, I was done."

In 1962, he attended and dropped out of The University of Pennsylavania after less than a year. "Nothing against them, but they try to can you up, stick you in a box and ship you out. It just wasn't for me," is all he ever said of his music education.

Mr. James travelled extensively through Europe, the Middle East and Africa throughout his life picking up musical influences almost everywhere he went. His nickname "Tangier" was given to him because when asked where he had dissappeared to, it was said he almost always replied, "Tangiers." Ironically this was one of the few places James never made it to.

Mr. James, who never led a band of his own, began his career with the late pianist Bobby Timmons. The two artists' midnight shows at Philadelphia's Ortlieb's Jazz House, just before Timmons death from alcoholism, have become legend within the jazz world, the two sometimes playing for five straight hours with no break. There is no known recording of these shows, a fact which has only added to the myth of them. Said James in 2002, "I don't know if they were all they were made out to be. I was so young and Bobby, he was so free. He was just doing what he was born to do, and I followed his lead."

But nothing would effect Mr. James' music as much as his friendship with the cult sculptor and multi-media artist, Elias Myers. Mr. James once said of Mr. Myers, "When I saw his work for the first time a whole new world opened up to me musically. Maybe it was the fact we were working in two different mediums and there was that distance between us. There was no competition. He (Myers) could get more feeling in a piece of plaster than most people could get in a football field. I wanted to play music like he sculpted, every note a life and a death by any means necessary, and that's what I always tried to do."

But by 1985 James had largely disappeared from the music scene and many believed him to be dead. After battling addiction for nearly two decades, Mr. James re-emerged to live what has been called a triumphant re-birth over the last three years. His music has been sampled by many hip hop artists including Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, and Kanye West. In 1995, in one of his last interviews, Tupac Shakur acclaimed the rhythms of Mr. James trumpeting as a direct influence on his vocal style.

Mr. James last concert was recorded this past Spring over three nights in Brussels at Jacques Pelzer's Jazz Club with Andre Vida, Ravi Coltrane, and J.D. Parran who said of James, "I wouldn't be the musician I am today if I hadn't heard his recordings as a young man. (James) lived to have his redemption and he cherished every minute of it. He'll be missed as much for the person he was as his mastery of the music he gave his life to."

Mr. James commented last year, "The explosion of digital music rescued me from the void and introduced me to a whole new generation. Without it, I don't know where I'd be, certainly not here. I have many, many regrets, but what's happening to me now, I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Mr. James is survived by his wife, Joan Farber, and his five year old son, Elias. A private memorial will be held at James' home in Philadelphia on Sunday.