Everything you wanted to know about James, but were afraid to ask
James Witherite keeps on moving forward, constantly giving and creating in so many areas with a meticulous edge that has to be seen or heard to be believed, and the results have been impactful. I’ve known him for several years, continuing to be impressed with the art he produces in areas that normally lack the connections we would readily conjure. As for his music, I’m increasingly sure he’s been the best-kept secret in Mid-Atlantic jazz. It’s not such a secret any longer. You need to know two small and personal stories from my own life to appreciate the uncommon talent this man has.
One day, I called James and told him I was in front of a piano and really wanted to be able to play a Christmas carol. In just five minutes, James had me and my otherwise total lack of talent at playing piano pounding out “Silent Night.” He could do it for you. And that’s not all.
Another day, I called him to share that I was stepping up to announce harness races in California that upcoming Saturday afternoon. An hour later, an email arrived with his stunning creation, a picture-perfect color graphic guide for the races I would be calling. This too, he could do for you. And that too, is not all.
I tell you of those two moments to show you ways James presents a multi-dimensional array of work in life, getting the attention of many different audiences otherwise often having little in common. In the course of many a week, James performs live modern jazz, calls horse races, and at so many other times, he’s still that man composing vibrant music at home on the piano. He’s wanted this world almost all his life and he very well went out and got it. There is no other jazz musician calling horse races. There is no other racecaller performing live jazz.
Introduced to jazz as a child and latching onto it quickly, James followed this genre of music into Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, where he studied with Mike Tomaro, Sean Jones, and David Cutler and earned a composition degree. After early successes and motivated spunk resulted in his 2006 debut release “West by Northwest”, James played numerous jazz gigs, gaining a reputation for being a steady, dependable sideman. James paid the dues, being available to many musicians throughout the east that needed the playing style and ability James could offer. This made for many all-night drives and sacrifice for the love of the craft.
Additionally, he later recorded “Live in Pittsburgh”, a 2007 performance with the Duquesne University Jazz Ensemble. In the last year, James has teamed up with the Zeropoint Big Band based in State College, PA for the recording of "+17", a collection of original work for big band, released in the summer of 2012 to strong reviews.
More recently, he brought a Philadelphia influence to the studio, producing "Modern Organ Trio" with renowned Pittsburgh guitarist Ken Karsh and Maryland drummer Shaun Chesley. They perform in an organ trio setting throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The audiences love it and the CD’s sell.
Today, James performs at various venues throughout the eastern United States, as he expands his working reach around the nation. In addition to live performance involving diverse instruments, James is an accomplished composer with a reputation for thorough, complex work impressing numerous audiences. Hum something at him and he could likely give you a richly articulate orchestration an hour later. His skill is that good. James has premiered dozens of pieces and brings more out there all the time.
Some of you know James as a horse racing announcer. During his time at Duquesne, James practiced that deceptively tough art several nights a week at area tracks, often rushing from rehearsals to make first post! James made his debut at Ontario's Flamboro Downs in 2006 and after a summer of announcing in the Michigan fair circuit, he landed at his last position at Harrah’s Philadelphia, giving this track seven excellent years of service. In 2014, he’ll be moving on to call races at Tioga Downs in upstate New York, plus leading an increasingly new concept in racing, best described as “fan education.” While there have long been guides and seminars at racetracks, James is kicking it up a notch with easily understood presentations that can help many of all skill levels get a much better experience at the races.
James has narrated Thoroughbred and harness races at over sixty North American tracks. Think about that for a moment. Some of the most ardent supporters of horse racing don’t even visit half as many courses in their lifetimes – and James is 27. James is respected for his polished narrative of the action in some of the world’s most impressive harness racing performances of late, including numerous world records.
When living the life of a road warrior between all his activities, James resides in Dover, Delaware and is often seen with freshly-brewed tea or coffee in reach. He enjoys even more elaborate travels, microbreweries, and live theatre. He’ll be married in 2014.
In an era of popular music created via computer and auto-tuning, James takes you back to honest music created in earnest, with an air of strong accessibility that has introduced many newcomers to a style that isn't getting near the airplay it deserves today. Get to know this man’s work in whatever activity he’s involved in that gets your interest. His respect for language and quality sound is immense. You’ll not be disappointed.
Leighton Worthey, Autumn 2013