Bassist Andre St. James is a cornerstone of the rich, thriving Pacific Northwest jazz scene and works regularly with his own quintet, the Andre St. James/Roger Woods nonet, Mel Brown, Dan Balmer, Gordon Lee, Renato Caranto, Sandy Dennison, and Carlton Jackson among others. One of the best-known and most respected figures of Portland’s jazz scene, St. James currently teaches at Portland’s Northwest Academy and was a faculty member of the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz from 1989 to 2004. He first came through Oregon in 1979 (on tour with the San Francisco-based Gregory James Quartet), liked what he saw and soon after relocated to the Eugene area and eventually to Portland (in 1986).
Over the last three decades, St. James has worked with an astonishing who’s who of modern jazz including giants like Sonny Rollins, the Harold Land-Blue Mitchell Quintet, Andrew Hill trio and large bands, Bobby Hutcherson, Charlie Rouse, Pharoah Sanders, James Moody, Alan Shorter, Nancy King, and George Cables. St. James’ strong sense of lyricism, buoyancy and surging momentum, as well as a deep respect for both tradition and innovation, have taken him to both ends of the jazz spectrum-from torch songs and two-beat to bop and beyond. He has enjoyed freewheeling, open-ended avant-garde combustion-with keepers of the flame like Judy Silvano/Cathi Walkup/Andrea Wolper, Ron Steen, Joe Pass, Kai Winding, Herb Ellis, Greta Matassa, and Houston Person as well as trailblazers like Julius Hemphill, Marty Ehrlich, Eugene Chadbourne, Michael White, India Cooke, Kash Killion, Mal Waldron, and Sun Ra, to name a handful.
St. James grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, graduating from Berkeley High School in 1968. Originally inspired by bassist Ortiz Walton, classical bassist with the Boston Symphony, with whom he studied for three years, St. James as a young artist embraced the innovations and solid grounding of such influential players as Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, Paul Chambers, George Tucker, George Duvivier, Albert Stinson, Henry Grimes, Peter Kowald and Jimmy Garrison. Two years at Laney College in Oakland and studies with Alvo D’Amante, Ed Kelly and Thomas Hiddon, and two years at the New College in San Francisco yielded a degree in Composition and Performance, a minor in modern dance and entrée to the thriving Bay Area jazz scene of the ’70s and stints with David Murray- Butch Morris Quintet, Eddie Moore, Prince Lasha, Dewey Redman, Idris Ackamoor, and the great Smiley Winters among others.
Possessing a voracious appetite for all forms of jazz, classical and improvised music, St. James counts among his all-time favorites the venerable ensembles of Charles Mingus, Horace Silver, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane’s classic Quartet, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lee Morgan, Mel Lewis-Thad Jones Orchestra, any of the kaleidoscopic array of Ellington Orchestras, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and the groundbreaking groups of both Dave Holland and Barre Phillips. All about camaraderie and community, St. James has a certain birds-of-a-feather impulse that has lead him into duos, trios, and larger ensembles in the company of other restlessly inventive bassists, including Junie Booth, Peter Barshay, Wilber Morris, Robert Miranda, Ed Kelly, Glen Moore, and Michael Bisio among others. Currently St. James is developing plans for a large, extended multidisciplinary collective that would anchor a nonprofit arts and cultural performance space.