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James McEleney

This week we feature bassist and composer James McEleney, who graduated from the jazz program at York University in 2008. Since then, James has become active in Toronto's jazz, bluegrass, and folk communities. He performs regularly with numerous groups including “A Sondheim Jazz Project,” “The Unseen Strangers,” and “The Andrew Collins Trio.”

James took part in the Jazzology program in 2007, while completing his studies at York University. Here he discusses his memories of the program and talks about his musical activities:

1) Describe your experience with the program. What was your favourite aspect?

I found it to be exciting and frankly intimidating. The artist I chose to speak about was Charles Mingus, and having what were essentially demo recordings of my tunes played in between some of the best Mingus compositions was ... intimidating.

2) What is your strongest memory of the program? Are there any funny stories or incidents that come to mind?

I love to talk, but hate hearing the sound of my own voice so I remember being pretty nervous about having to speak on air. I don’t have a specific story but Larry Green was quite the character. He made the interview very comfortable but trying to keep up with him was a real hoot.

3) Would you recommend this experience to other young musicians?

Definitely! An opportunity to gather and or record your music for presentation is valuable and rare. As a developing artist learning how to talk about your music in a non-technical way is crucial. Ideally you won't be performing and making records for other musicians. Listeners want to know about you, your music and why you do the things you do.

4) How has this experience helped in your personal and professional development?

Certainly it did. If you want to get comfortable being interviewed and talking about your music, the best way to do so is to do so.

5) This program is made possible by our generous donors at RBC who strongly believe in the importance of arts education initiatives. If you had the opportunity to thank them in person, what would you say?

Thank you for giving young artists an opportunity to share their art and inspiration. As you can see from the participants in this program, these initiatives are indeed fostering the future of jazz music in Canada.

6) Why is music education important?

For the music appreciators Jazzology gives them a glimpse at young artists in process, the audience gets to hear what they like, why they like it, and how they've synthesized it into their music. Understanding why and how an artist makes music always draws me in and enhances my appreciation of their music. I feel that is likely true for others.

For musicians in a shrewd sense it gives you a technical and conceptual leg up. This is important if you want to have a career in music because there seem to be less and less opportunities to “work it out” on the bandstand. The lessons I learned while studying at York have given me a lifetime’s worth of homework and simultaneously accelerated my journey to musicianship.

7) Since participating in the program, what have you been doing?

I’ve stayed focused on performing but my musical world has expanded to include things like bluegrass and roots music. I’ve been busy a few groups such as "A Sondheim Jazz Project", "The Andrew Collins Trio" and "The Unseen Strangers.”  All of these groups have released records within the last year and "A Sondheim Jazz Project" just recorded a concert at Hugh's Room for the JAZZ.FM91 Cabaret Series.

8) What music are you listening to at the moment that you find particularly inspiring?

Artie Roth's Currently Experiencing. His debut record came out when I just started at York and made a lasting impression upon me. I found the compositions to be earnest and the playing extremely visceral. This record is more of the same. To paraphrase or misquote it’s just twelve notes and the truth.

I've also been listening to Iris DeMent, an exceptional country/folk singer with a piercing voice and gift for writing beautiful but unrelentingly sad songs, which I have a real soft spot for.

9) What are your plans for the future?

I'm gearing up for a couple of tours with "The Unseen Strangers" and "Friendly Rich and The Lollipop People.” There are also some recordings in process, one with a beatnik surf punk group called "The Holy Gasp" and an unnamed jazz trio project featuring Bobby Hsu on saxophones and Sly Juhas on drums. I'm really looking forward to writing and preparing more music for that group as they are two of my favourite musicians.

10) How can people learn more about you and your activities?

Twitter: @jamesmceleney

Jazzology is proudly sponsored by RBC Emerging Artists Project.


About RBC and the Arts
RBC sponsors a wide-range of grassroots and local initiatives that contribute to the cultural fabric of our communities. Proud to support events and passions that resonate with our clients and all Canadians, RBC provides opportunities for up-and-coming artists through programs such as the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, one of the largest competitions of its kind in the world; and the RBC Emerging Filmmakers Competition, part of our commitment as the Official Bank and major sponsor of the world’s top public film festival – the Toronto International Film Festival®.

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