James Buffington is one of the few French horn players identified with playing jazz, and is often credited as the first man to record an improvised solo on an instrument often left in its case at jam sessions. Because of its unique transposing character, the French horn doesn't even have its own jazz fakebook. Buffington's long career can't really be described as being devoted to making a breakthrough in this situation. Most of his activity has been as a studio musician, a decision for which he can't really be blamed considering the public's lack of interest in jazz French horn solos. On studio projects Buffington sometimes swings into action as an arranger and collaborates with an incredible range of artists, from Miles Davis to Moondog, from Carly Simon to James Brown.
Buffington was self-taught, inspired by a father who played both piano and trumpet. Eventually, however, the up-and-coming French horn player replaced this educational status with a degree from the Eastman School of Music. He began gigging on the New York scene in the '50s, often linked with bassist Oscar Pettiford in various ensembles. His shot heard around the jazz world would have to be Columbia sessions involving Davis and arranging buddy Gil Evans. Much less known are Buffington's own projects, such as the MGM album A Touch of Modern with Stu Phillips.