James Emery biography
James Emery, guitar virtuoso and the composer of over 100 works for a wide variety of formats and instruments, has carved out a distinctive niche in the often deconstructed environment of contemporary music. His sensibility as a musician draws in nearly equal measures on formal notions of structure and technique and a robust willingness to improvise, experiment and follow his musical instincts.
Emery has been acclaimed as "one of the world's finest guitarists and possesses an encyclopedic jazz vocabulary as a technician and composer ...staggering technical virtuosity, remarkable creative spirit..." (All About Jazz). The New York Times wrote "Emery is a fleet guitarist with a personal touch and sound...mercurial, poised and thoroughly satisfying." The German magazine Stereo lauded Emery's compositional skills, observing "the guitarist succeeds in something astonishing: shaping modernistic sound dimensions in an extraordinarily delightful way and making them accessible to a wider audience..." Down Beat magazine calls Emery's music "...groundbreaking... unmistakable beauty...radiance at every turn." JazzTimes put it succinctly: "James Emery is special."
Emery moved to New York in 1974 and since that time, he has performed his own works and the works of his colleagues throughout North America, Europe, East Asia, India, the Middle East and North Africa. He has performed as a soloist in many of the world's major concert halls, from Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York to the Royal Festival Hall in London, from Bunkamura Music Hall in Tokyo to Philharmonic Hall in Berlin.
Apart from his work with the String Trio of New York, Emery leads his own quartet and septet and performs solo concerts. He has recorded 6 discs of his compositions. His latest, released on Enja and titled Spectral Domains, consists primarily of new works for mixed septet. His critically acclaimed quartet CD, Standing on a Whale Fishing for Minnows (Enja), was selected on 1997 top ten lists in Jazziz magazine and The Tracking Angle. As a composer, he has written over 100 works including compositions for chamber groups, jazz ensembles, solo guitar and symphony orchestra.
As a sideman, he has performed and recorded with many of the leading lights of creative music, including Henry Threadgill, Joe Lovano, Anthony Braxton, the Human Arts Ensemble, Leroy Jenkins, Thurman Barker, Steve Reich, Leo Smith and many others.
Emery has received fellowships from, among others, the Guggenheim Foundation (1995), the National Endowment for the Arts (1985, '94), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1986,'90, '00), the Cary Trust (1991, '96, '99) and ASCAP Special Awards (1980 - 2001). His compositions have been commissioned with funding from the Cary Trust, the Meet the Composer/Rockefeller/ AT&T program, Meet the Composer's Commissions USA program and the MTC/Lila Wallace Jazz Program.
Emery was born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1951 and raised in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He began playing organ at age six and at age ten switched to the guitar. He studied guitar with Ann Stanley, David Trader and Ralph Russo and studied composition at Cleveland St. U., City College of NY and with composer Robert Aldridge.
For 20 years, James Emery lived with his wife Colleen in Greenwich Village, in New York. After the birth of their daughter Hannah, now 8, they moved to the greener spaces of Warwick, NY. When Emery is not composing or performing, he also enjoys spending time with his family, collecting art and observing nature.