Concertmaster, conductor and violinist who graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1940 and landed in Artie Shaw’s orchestra a year later.
His earliest available recording, however, seems to be Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book, conducted by Nelson Riddle and released in 1959. In 1960, he appeared on Bobby Darin’s This is Darin and Helen Humes’ Songs I Like to Sing!. More songs James liked to perform on are included in The Complete Capitol Singles Collection of Frank Sinatra , which surfaced circa 1961. In 1962, he played violin on the soundtrack of How the West Was Won. Then it was time to head back east for Songs of New York with Mel Torme. In 1964, he reunited with Sinatra on his collaboration with Count Basie entitled It Might as Well Be Swing. Another swinger he worked with was Bobby Darin on his album Venice Blue, which hit the shelves in 1965. In 1966, he appeared on The Beach Boys’ groundbreaking album Pet Sounds, The Mastery of John Coltrane, Vol. 3, Bobby Darin Sings The Shadow of Your Smile, and Mel Torme’s Right Now. He collaborated with the group Love on Forever Changes in 1967 and found himself in the studio with Lalo Schifrin recording one of his most famous tracks, the theme to Mission: Impossible. James also recorded a pair of Nancy Wilson albums the same year, For Once in My Life (a.k.a. Welcome to My Love) and Hurt So Bad. Frank Zappa recruited him for a pair of his albums, as well, Absolutely Free and Lumpy Gravy. In 1968, he fiddled around on Michael Nesmith’s first solo album, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, and The Mason Williams Phonograph Record. He ended the decade with David Axelrod on his William Blake-inspired Songs of Experience. James also recorded the world premiere of David Baker’s “Concerto for Violin and Jazz Band”.
In 1970, he was a member of The Cannonball Adderley Quintet & Orchestra. Projects with the Coltranes peppered the early ’70s, including Alice Coltrane’s Lord of Lords and Reflection on Creation and Space and John Coltrane’s Infinity. In 1972, he did a musical 180 on Jerry Reed’s Hot a’ Mighty. More film work followed in 1973 on the soundtracks of Electra Glide in Blue and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. In 1974, he performed Live! with Marvin Gaye and was a member of the strings on Supersax Plays Bird, with Strings. Things got really busy in 1975: He appeared on Joan Baez’s Diamond & Rust, David Bromberg’s Midnight on the Water, Harry Chapin’s Portrait Gallery, The Tubes’ White Punks on Dope, and began recording Fever with Ronnie Laws. The American bicentennial was no less frenetic: He made Beautiful Noise with Neil Diamond , appeared on Jaye P. Morgan’s self-titled album, re-united with Harry Nilsson on That’s the Way it Is, and joined up with Upp on This Way Upp. In 1977, he appeared on one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever: He also appeared on the soundtrack of Washington: Behind Closed Doors, Neil Diamond’s I’m Glad You’re Here with Me Tonight, served as concertmaster on Dave Mason’s Let it Flow, and fiddled on Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again. He made more movie magic with John Travolta in 1978 another big-selling soundtrack, Grease. In 1979, he appeared on Billy Cobham’s self-initialed B.C. and Frank Sinatra’s boxed set, Trilogy.
He opened the 1980s as the concertmaster on Cher’s Prisoner album and as a member of the string section on Side Effect’s After the Rain. At the beginning of the decade, he got heavily involved in film, performing on the soundtrack of The Jazz Singer and Elmer Bernstein’s score for Stripes, and arranging and conducting the music for Sharky’s Machine. Other ’80s albums on which he appeared were Patti Austin’s The Real Me and Rita Coolidge’s eponymous 1989 CD.
He began the ’90s as he did the ’80s, in the film studio, as concertmaster on the soundtracks of Dying Young and The Prince of Tides. He also helped add to the lush sound of Natalie Cole’s tribute album to her father, Unforgettable: With Love. In 1993, he was a member of the strings on Scott Hamilton with Strings, added his name to the credits of Leah Kunkel’s self-titled album, and took a Paid Vacation with Richard Marx. He teamed up with Jennifer Holliday on On and On and Stevie Wonder on Conversation Peace, both released in 1995. In 1996, he cooled off with Marian McPartland on Silent Pool and appeared on the anthology, The Songs of West Side Story. He re-united with Richard Marx on 1997’s Flesh & Bone, and rounded out the decade on Lee Seung Hwan’s His Ballad I. His last recording appears to be the Daryl Hall & John Oates reunion album, Bigger than Both of Us.
He passed away peacefully at his home in Marina del Ray, California in September 2015. He was 93 years old.
He’s concertmaster here on “Manhattan Skyline”….