James Kitchman began playing piano at the age of six, before switching to guitar at age nine. Raised in rural Northumberland, he made his first concerts performing traditional folk music at Ceilidh dances. At age ten he received his first electric guitar, and was soon learning Jimi Hendrix solos by ear and writing his own music. Although the only musician in his family, he was captivated by his parents’ diverse record collection which spanned from J.S. Bach, to Billie Holiday, to The Beatles.
In his teens he wrote songs and played in numerous bands, before developing an interest in jazz and improvisation upon attending Newcastle College’s Performance Academy at age sixteen. Primarily self-taught up until this point, he enrolled in an education programme at The Sage Gateshead where he studied harmony and composition, as well as performing at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival.
At nineteen, he won a full scholarship upon audition for the jazz programme at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London. Within months of his arrival in the capitol, James was active on the jazz scene, performing at leading clubs such as Ronnie Scotts and The Vortex. In 2011, he was commissioned to write a score for ‘Upsomene 277‘, a documentary shortlisted for the Sundance Film Festival. During this period, James was also a founding member of the London Soundpainting Orchestra – a revolving multi-disciplinary ensemble of musicians and contemporary dancers, improvising from sign-language. Performance highlights include ENO London Coliseum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, amongst others.
Since graduating from Trinity, James has become one of the most sought-after jazz guitarists of his generation, frequently appearing at London’s most prestigious venues in collaboration with UK and international artists. His work has encompassed a vast array of styles and carries a thread of eclecticism; he co-led the Southern Cone Quintet’s chamber music take on the folk music of Argentinia, Chile, and Uruguay; performing with this group at Union Chapel, and the BBC Proms – a concert broadcasted on BBC Radio 3; he was part of the Orpheus Sinfonia in Grammy-nominated composer Tarik O’Regan’s electro-acoustic opera ‘The Wanton Sublime’ at Grime-Born Opera Festival, and recently performed a series of sold-out concerts at Hackney Empire with Pete Doherty and Carl Barât of The Libertines.
In collaboration with vocalist Sylvia Schmidt, in 2017 he formed ‘Kitchman / Schmidt‘ – a duo exploring the Anglo/American folk songs of the Appalachian mountains. Whilst rooted in the folk and jazz traditions, they used techniques from 20th century classical music, ambient soundscapes of reversed guitars, and wrote additional lyrics; creating a sound that would embrace the dynamic tension between forces of preservation and transformation. In 2020, they self-released their album ‘As Long As Songbirds Sing’ to critical acclaim. James’ arrangement of folk carol ‘I Wonder As I Wander’ was selected by BBC Radio 3 to be played on Christmas Eve. Together, they have been described by The Arts Desk as ‘Two seriously talented musicians’.
James’ current focus is firmly set on his own quartet, a group he put together in 2019, featuring a cast of London’s finest improvising musicians: pianist Bruno Heinen (Denys Baptiste), bassist Tom McCredie (Elliot Galvin), and drummer Shane Forbes (Empirical). James has composed music specifically for this group, drawing inspiration from the musical worlds he traverses; from jazz, to chamber music, to contemporary folk and ambient electronica. His maiden voyage as composer/bandleader, ‘First Quartet’ was released on Ubuntu Music in 2022; receiving airplay on BBC Radio 3, Jazz FM, and Worldwide FM; a rapturous reception from the jazz press, and over 150k Spotify streams within the first month of release. With recent performances with the group at London Jazz Festival and Tsimisoara Jazz Festival (Romania), James is looking forward to touring with this group – when such things can happen again.
James has performed at major venues across Europe including Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Kings Place, The Sage Gateshead, Ronnie Scott’s, and Union Chapel. Other appearances include numerous international jazz, folk, and classical music festivals. He has toured and held international residencies, and has had his work broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (‘In Tune, ‘Night Tracks’, ‘J to Z’, & ‘Breakfast Show’), BBC 6 Music, and Jazz FM.
Recognised for carrying his distinctive voice across all of his work, James is in continual pursuit of artistic development.
“Huge amounts of style and panache” BBC Radio 3
“James Kitchman plays a mean jazz guitar” The Arts Desk
“Quietly rebellious” Songlines Magazine
“An exalted lyricism and a sophisticated grasp of harmony” All About Jazz