b. 7 December 1906, Beggs, Oklahoma, USA. After moving to St. Louis, Missouri, as a youth, James began playing clarinet and various saxophones with popular local bands, including some of those organized by band contractor Charlie Creath for work in hotels and on riverboats. In the late 20s James tried his luck in Chicago where he played with Jimmie Noone and also led his own small outfit. In 1931 he joined Louis Armstrong for several months, then played in a number of New York bands including the Savoy Bearcats, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Benny Carter, and Teddy Wilson. After a spell with Lucky Millinder he led his own bands in New York and other eastern cities during the early 40s. In the mid-40s he was with Claude Hopkins, Noble Sissle and others before forming a band of his own, which he continued to lead intermittently during the next two decades. During the 70s and early 80s he became well known internationally through tours as a member of Clyde Bernhardt’s Harlem Blues And Jazz Band. James was a competent sideman and could also deliver good solos when the opportunity or need arose. Indeed, his alto playing is one of the highlights of Armstrong’s 1931 recordings with what was otherwise a rather inferior band.
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