James Hurt, born on May 8, 1967 in Memphis, Tennessee in the historic Orange Mound Community, credits his mom for his early exposure to blues, jazz, and soul music. James became dedicated to the drums by age twelve. At age fifteen, James auditioned as a percussionist and was accepted into Watkins Overton High School of the Creative and Performing Arts. At age sixteen James did his first session as a recording engineer. Musically, James is genre bender who approaches music as a journey in sound.
Though James studied percussion while attending TSU, his harmony, counterpoint, form and analysis and applied piano instructor Dr. Donald Barrett, Oberlin Conservatory Alumnus, attempted to switch his focus to piano. Barrett exposed him to the classical piano literature of Bartok, Prokofiev, Ginastera, Liszt, Chopin, Gershwin, Legeti, and Rachmaninoff. James graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Master of Science Degree in Computer-Based Music Education yet was determined to pursue creative music further.
James moved to New York City by train in 1994 and gained a lot of press in a short amount of time by conducting, composing, and performing as a pianist in several bands nightly with his unique sound and spontaneity. Rashid Ali, Antonio Hart, Russell Gunn, Gregory Tardy, and Abraham Burton enlisted James simultaneously. James served as guest conductor and arranged for both the Tess Marsalis Swing Daddies at the Iridium and the Jason Lidner Big Band at Smalls. As a pianist James played in the Oliver Lake Big Band at the Knitting Factory in New York City, and on electronics, laptop, and keyboards in Butch Morris’s Nublu and Lucky Cheng Orchestras. Since 2008 James has performed with Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures Ensemble and Go Organic Orchestra as a percussionist.
As a recording artist James can be heard on such labels as Atlantic, Impulse, Motown, High Note, Fresh Sounds, Innerscope, Reservoir, Enja (Germany), Polygram Polydor (France), Red Records (Italy), Pi Records, Sony Music (South Africa), Small Records (NYC), DreamWorks Records and Adam Rudolph’s Meta Records. In 1995 Bruce Lundvall signed the Sherman Irby Quartet after hearing at their Smalls Jazz Club late night residency. Afterwards James recorded and released Dark Grooves Mystical Rhythms on the Blue Note Records label in 1999.
James recorded on Grammy nominated albums for Antonio Hart (Here I Stand), Abbey Lincoln (Wholly Earth), and Russell Gunn (Ethnomusicology Vol. I). James co-created and presented the first hip-hop band to play at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City under the group name the “Real Live Show”. MTV2 placed Shop Rockin’ and Come Back in their rotation from their CD Class is in Session. James secured placements for both HBO and FORD ad campaigns. Throughout his career James has shared his talents with several creative artists including Louis Hayes, Eric Wyatt, John Ore, Butch Morris, Adam Rudolph, Francis Mbappe, Dominick James, Greg Tate, Joseph Bowie, Donald Byrd, Q-Tip, M.C. Special Ed, Vernon Reid, Melvin Gibbs, Corey Glover, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Soul Live, DJ Logic, J.D. Parran, Vijay Iyer, Essiet Essiet, Eric McPherson, Meshell Ndegeocello, Reggie Washington, George Porter Jr., Bernie Worrell, Maceo Parker, Buster Williams, J.T. Lewis, Wil Calhoun, Jeff Tain Watts, Pheron Aklaff, Sarah Morrow, Kim Thompson, Nikki Glaspie, Brandon Ross, Pete Cosey, David Gilmore, Oliver Lake, Sam Newsome, Waddada Leo Smith, Nels Cline, Sherman Irby, Arto Lindsay, Mark Kelly, Gregoire Marett, Taurus Mateen, and Nasheet Waits. The foundation crafted by Mr. Hurt can be heard in several emerging artists of today’s creative music scene.