Home » Jazz Musicians » James Carney

James Carney

Pianist, keyboardist and composer James Carney is an improviser who draws inspiration from many different sources of music, and he has been fortunate to work with a wide variety of great musicians and artists throughout his career. [Ravi Coltrane, Christian McBride, Michael Cain, Darek Oleszkiewicz, Tim Berne, Nels Cline, Todd Sickafoose among many others.]

Carney was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, and in late 2004, he moved from Los Angeles, his home of eighteen years, to New York City.

James Carney has cultivated a reputation for developing an original, polystylistic approach to making music - a philosophy that respects and explores both tradition and the avant-garde. He has recorded five albums as a leader - his last two for the Songlines label. "Green-Wood" (Songlines 1566) was released in 2007 to wide acclaim, and "Ways & Means" (Songlines 1580) will be released in July 2009. The septet he leads on both recordings, also known as the James Carney Group, features some of New York’s most creative and in-demand musicians: trumpeter Ralph Alessi, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, trombonist Josh Roseman, saxophonist Peter Epstein, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Mark Ferber.

"Ways and Means", a long-form composition and virtual film score, was commissioned by Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Carney is also working on a new commission for the Puffin Cultural Foundation, which will be premiered in October 2009.

His previous recordings include: Thread (2002); Offset Rhapsody (1997); Fables from the Aqueduct (1994) all on the Jacaranda label. Other commissions have come from the California Arts Council, The Extension Ensemble brass quintet, and the Syracuse International Film Festival.

The James Carney Group is the 2009 recipient of the ASCAP / Chamber Music America “Adventurous Programming” Award. James Carney also won the 1999 Thelonious Monk International Composers Award, a California Arts Council fellowship in composition (2000), and two American Composers Forum Subito Grants (2001 & 2004). He received “Best Jazz Artist” honors at the 2002 LA Weekly Music Awards, and he was on the roster of the California Arts Council Touring Program from 1998-2004.

He has been a visiting artist at The Eastman School of Music, New York University, Cal State Los Angeles, the University of Nevada at Reno, Ithaca College, Williams College, Saddleback College, California Institute of the Arts and the University of Missouri at St. Louis. He is also on the faculty of the School for Improvisational Music in Brooklyn.

James Carney began to focus on the piano at fifteen, and spent years playing many types of rock and pop music as a keyboardist around upstate New York and New England. He graduated with a B.F.A. degree in jazz piano performance from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he studied with Charlie Haden, James Newton, David Roitstein, Nyomen Wenten, Alfred and Kobla Ladzekpo, and the late John Carter.

Read more


Album Review
Read more articles
"Mr. Carney, a sharp pianist and a broadly imaginative conceptualist and composer, leads a cadre of adventurous and versatile players"...[On the album Green-Wood] "This music is harmonically sophisticated, texture crazy, groove driven but unconcerned with swing: in other words, a distillation of concepts that have gained traction on the left margin of jazz’s mainstream." - Nate Chinen, The New York Times

"Green-wood is the best new jazz of 2007." - Will Layman, Popmatters.com

"Keyboardist and composer James Carney might be described as a friendly iconoclast, an artist who enthusiastically explores new concepts at the cutting edge of jazz...His excellent composing transcends the established musical borders and stares down current definitions of what jazz should be." - Terrell Holmes, All About Jazz / New York, August 2007

AMG Rating for Green-Wood: (4 stars) "Each of the horn players has his moments in the spotlight but the complex ensembles, the impressionistic themes, and Carney's versatile work on piano and electric keyboards make Green-Wood particularly special

Read more

Primary Instrument


Willing to teach

Beginner to advanced


Teaching music and piano to others is important to me, and I work regularly with a number of keyboard students at my studio in the south Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The studio is equipped with a German grand piano, a fender rhodes, and other keyboards for playing duets. Lessons may be archived via audio/video for future reference. Although creative jazz improvisation and composition are my focus, I also teach beginning and intermediate levels of classical piano. Students may also study blues, rock, and New Orleans style piano playing, music theory, jazz keyboard theory, ear training, transcription and orchestration. Areas of study for more advanced players may include sound and tone production, rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic development, voice leading, compositional forms, arranging, development of velocity, harmonizing standards and original music, developing a fearless musical aesthetic, open improvisation, expanding the timbral palette, and the art of creative practicing. Since 1991 I have taught as a visiting artist at many fine colleges and universities, including the Eastman School of Music, New York University, Cal State Los Angeles, the University of Nevada at Reno, Ithaca College, Williams College, Saddleback College, California Institute of the Arts and the University of Missouri at St. Louis. I have also taught privately throughout the years, working with students from the ages of 8 to 80. Friends & families may study with me in a group lesson format, and parents are always welcome to attend lessons with their children. Please e-mail me for further information, including rates and available lesson times. My studio is located within easy walking distance to the R, M, F & G subway lines.

Clinic/Workshop Information

Read more


Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Pure Heart

Sunnyside Records


Ways & Means

Songlines Recordings



Songlines Recordings






Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.