Westminster's Christopher James catched that train
6 min read

Westminster's Christopher James catched that train

Westminster
Apr 1
/
6 min read

Meet Christopher James

Christopher James is a celebrated blues musician from Westminster, Maryland. If you’re into the local blues and jazz scene, you probably know his music well.

That’s one of the great things about James. He’s immersed in the music world. A teacher at Coffey Music on Main Street, a performer, a session artist and a touring member of various groups, James has made a solid, storied and successful career without having to leave home. At least, not for too long.

We had the chance to catch up with Christopher James and chat about his story. How music continues as a key part of his life in Westminster, Maryland, his career in and out of town and how he strives to share his passion with students.

Making a musician

James has been drawn to music his entire life. He started playing instruments when he was young and got his first guitar when he was six.

James names B.B. King as an important early inspiration. “Seeing him play after I started playing the guitar, it wasn’t just something that was pretty good. It was that expression of something everybody feels, joy and hope and consolation.”

James dedicated himself to the guitar when he got his first electric guitar in the eighth grade. He continued his focus through high school, and eventually got a band together and started playing their first gigs around town. He started college in classical guitar, but quickly discovered this wasn’t the path for him.

“I was majoring in Classical Guitar and did it for as long as I could. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I left town with an amplifier, an electric guitar and I had a classical acoustic guitar too. I thought I would bring it just in case I had to sell something to get back.”

With a few hundred dollars in his pocket, James picked up and moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi. He chose Clarksdale because on one roadtrip, his family passed through town and visited some of the local landmarks like the Delta Blues Museum, and discovered the rich local history.

“A lot of blues players lived in and around that area, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.”

On his very first day in town, he heard music playing in a venue, walked in, introduced himself, and was quickly connected with a band in need of a bass player. He played on stage that night.

“I was down there for about half a year and it was like years packed into that time.”

Photograph by Paul Stachniak

Westminster as a connecting point

When James came back to Westminster, he wasted no time in getting another band together.

“There’s a lot of great musicians, great local musicians, in jazz and rock and with the blues, and we’ve always had a nice following of people who come out when we play at the local street festivals and around town.”

As the band grew they started to play in the mid-Atlantic area and Baltimore. They put out their first album in 1998 and won a competition to represent Baltimore at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, going up against bands from across the US and around the world.

Time passed and James put out some more music, picking up instruments along the way, eventually expanding his repertoire to include the mandolin. He also found himself spending more time teaching. He started teaching workshops at Common Ground on the Hill, a local arts initiative in Westminster that seeks to create learning opportunities for students with artists who are masters in their field.

By teaching mandolin at Common Ground, James eventually met and played with Guy Davis. He would go on to record with Guy and tour with him, playing blues shows across the country, in Utah, New York and Massachusetts.

Lifelong learning

James took up the mandolin to “just learn something for the fun of learning it.” In many ways, this sums up his approach to music.

“I found myself turning inward and doing a lot more learning and playing instruments, and I got into the mandolin. I taught myself to play from listening, taking what I know from music and putting it on the mandolin.”

Picking up different instruments and versatility is one way in which James sets himself apart as an artist, teacher and as a collaborator. As a teacher at Coffey Music, James leads lessons in guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, harmonica and more. He teaches private lessons to students of all ages (his youngest student is six and his oldest is over 80) as well as collaborative sessions where students can learn to make music together.

“A lot of teaching is getting people to be ready to learn and not be afraid… when you make music with your own hands, it’s a really wonderful thing.”

James has seen the arts and music scene grow up in Westminster, as it’s changed and evolved from events scattered across town into something more cohesive and communal.

“We want to keep seeing that growth continue to the point where, whenever you come to town, there’s always something going on in the music, in the arts. Westminster has enough talent and people interested in the arts to do that kind of thing. Music and the arts are going to keep on growing.”

Photograph by Paul Stachniak
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Christine Ottoni
Contributor

Christine is a writer and past contributor to Mural.

Westminster's Christopher James catched that train
6 min read

Westminster's Christopher James catched that train

Westminster
Apr 1
/
6 min read

Meet Christopher James

Christopher James is a celebrated blues musician from Westminster, Maryland. If you’re into the local blues and jazz scene, you probably know his music well.

That’s one of the great things about James. He’s immersed in the music world. A teacher at Coffey Music on Main Street, a performer, a session artist and a touring member of various groups, James has made a solid, storied and successful career without having to leave home. At least, not for too long.

We had the chance to catch up with Christopher James and chat about his story. How music continues as a key part of his life in Westminster, Maryland, his career in and out of town and how he strives to share his passion with students.

Making a musician

James has been drawn to music his entire life. He started playing instruments when he was young and got his first guitar when he was six.

James names B.B. King as an important early inspiration. “Seeing him play after I started playing the guitar, it wasn’t just something that was pretty good. It was that expression of something everybody feels, joy and hope and consolation.”

James dedicated himself to the guitar when he got his first electric guitar in the eighth grade. He continued his focus through high school, and eventually got a band together and started playing their first gigs around town. He started college in classical guitar, but quickly discovered this wasn’t the path for him.

“I was majoring in Classical Guitar and did it for as long as I could. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I left town with an amplifier, an electric guitar and I had a classical acoustic guitar too. I thought I would bring it just in case I had to sell something to get back.”

With a few hundred dollars in his pocket, James picked up and moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi. He chose Clarksdale because on one roadtrip, his family passed through town and visited some of the local landmarks like the Delta Blues Museum, and discovered the rich local history.

“A lot of blues players lived in and around that area, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.”

On his very first day in town, he heard music playing in a venue, walked in, introduced himself, and was quickly connected with a band in need of a bass player. He played on stage that night.

“I was down there for about half a year and it was like years packed into that time.”

Photograph by Paul Stachniak

Westminster as a connecting point

When James came back to Westminster, he wasted no time in getting another band together.

“There’s a lot of great musicians, great local musicians, in jazz and rock and with the blues, and we’ve always had a nice following of people who come out when we play at the local street festivals and around town.”

As the band grew they started to play in the mid-Atlantic area and Baltimore. They put out their first album in 1998 and won a competition to represent Baltimore at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, going up against bands from across the US and around the world.

Time passed and James put out some more music, picking up instruments along the way, eventually expanding his repertoire to include the mandolin. He also found himself spending more time teaching. He started teaching workshops at Common Ground on the Hill, a local arts initiative in Westminster that seeks to create learning opportunities for students with artists who are masters in their field.

By teaching mandolin at Common Ground, James eventually met and played with Guy Davis. He would go on to record with Guy and tour with him, playing blues shows across the country, in Utah, New York and Massachusetts.

Lifelong learning

James took up the mandolin to “just learn something for the fun of learning it.” In many ways, this sums up his approach to music.

“I found myself turning inward and doing a lot more learning and playing instruments, and I got into the mandolin. I taught myself to play from listening, taking what I know from music and putting it on the mandolin.”

Picking up different instruments and versatility is one way in which James sets himself apart as an artist, teacher and as a collaborator. As a teacher at Coffey Music, James leads lessons in guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, harmonica and more. He teaches private lessons to students of all ages (his youngest student is six and his oldest is over 80) as well as collaborative sessions where students can learn to make music together.

“A lot of teaching is getting people to be ready to learn and not be afraid… when you make music with your own hands, it’s a really wonderful thing.”

James has seen the arts and music scene grow up in Westminster, as it’s changed and evolved from events scattered across town into something more cohesive and communal.

“We want to keep seeing that growth continue to the point where, whenever you come to town, there’s always something going on in the music, in the arts. Westminster has enough talent and people interested in the arts to do that kind of thing. Music and the arts are going to keep on growing.”

Photograph by Paul Stachniak
Christine Ottoni
Contributor

Christine is a writer and past contributor to Mural.