Composer, bassist and guitarist Ford James

Arts Profile

Posted: Thursday, February 08, 2001

'This One Moment:' Ford James recorded four albums and an "Austin City Limits" program with folk musician Kate Wolf in the early 1980s. Three years ago he released a CD of his own jazz instrumental compositions, "This One Moment."

He plays both guitar and bass on the recording. "This One Moment" took two years to record and even longer to write, James said.

"The material I wrote over the course of eight years. That's typical for a first CD. Usually it's the culmination of years of work. Then you throw out the worst and keep the best," he said.

From Kate Wolf to the Millennium Prophets: James, 43, pursued music professionally for many years before he settled in Alaska. In his five years in Juneau he's worked with The Cook County Blues Band, Millennium Prophets, Teri Tibbett and the Tibetans, Buddy Tabor, Jane Roodenburg and Robert Cohen.

"I grew up in the San Francisco area and started playing guitar in high school," he said. "I added the bass a few years later in college and started playing professionally a year later."

He picked up the bass initially for practical reasons. In college, guitar players outnumbered bassists 10 to 1, and he knew he'd get more gigs as a bass player.

Music and computers: After a few years working as a musician, he wanted to try something different and took a job with an accounting firm that did bookkeeping for rock bands.

James found himself proficient in two areas, music and computer programming, that on closer inspection are not so different. James said balance, relationships, dynamics, tension, structure, accessibility - all elements of composition - also applied to writing a good computer program.

Jazz and Folk: A friend turned him on to jazz when he was 9 years old, and it's been his favorite style of music ever since. When he was initially approached to work with singer and songwriter Kate Wolf in 1980, he was reluctant.

"They were doing a recording and needed a bass player," he said. "I was kind of a jazz snob and didn't want to do folk music."

He agreed, and the deal with Wolf included a tour to support the recording. Her second recording, "Give Yourself To Love," was a commercial success, and James found himself with plenty of work.

Wolf died of leukemia in the mid-1980s, and James spent the next five years in India and Japan. He taught English, traveled, and lived in Kyoto for three years writing brochures for an advertising agency. He moved to Gustavus in 1990 and built a house with a friend before moving to Juneau. He works as a programmer for the state Department of Labor, and is starting work on a second CD of original instrumental jazz.

James plans to record it at a recording studio in his home and at Juneau recording studio Skatebottom Sound. "This One Moment" is available through

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