James Kitchman began playing piano at the age of six, before switching to guitar at age nine. Raised in 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 songs. Although the only musician in his family, he was captivated by his parents’ diverse record collection which spanned from Bach, to Beethoven, to Billie Holiday, to The Beatles.
As a teenager he wrote songs and played in many bands, before developing an interest in jazz and improvisation upon attending Newcastle College’s Performance Academy at age sixteen. Primarily self-taught until this point, he was enrolled in the weekend programme at The Sage Gateshead where he studied ear training/solfeggio, harmony, and composition as well as performing at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival.
At age 19 he won a full scholarship to study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. Soon after arriving in London he performed at Ronnie Scotts and The Vortex, and was commissioned to write a score for Upsomene 277 – a short film shortlisted for Sundance Festival. Whilst primarily focusing on jazz and composition, James was also a founding member of the London Soundpainting Orchestra – a large ensemble improvising from sign-language with performance highlights including 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 projects have encompassed a broad array of influences and carry a thread of eclecticism; he co-led the Southern Cone Quintet’s chamber music take on Argentinian, Chilean, and Uruguayan folk music; performing with this group at Union Chapel, and the BBC Proms – a concert that was broadcasted on national radio, 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 two sold-out concerts at Hackney Empire with Pete Doherty and Carl Barât of The Libertines.
His duo with German vocalist Sylvia Schmidt explores the Anglo/American folk songs of the Appalachian mountains, creating a sound that embraces the dynamic tension between forces of preservation and transformation. They released their debut album ‘As Long As Songbirds Sing’ in 2020, which features James’ arrangement of the song ‘I Wonder As I Wander’, selected by BBC Radio 3 to be played on the Christmas eve ‘Breakfast Show’.
Recently forming his own quartet, 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. The writing draws influence from the variety of musical worlds he traverses; from jazz, to chamber music, to contemporary folk. An album recording is currently under construction, with a release date to be announced soon.
As a guitarist, James has performed at many major venues in the UK and Europe. These include Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Kings Place, Sage Gateshead, Ronnie Scott’s, and Union Chapel. Other appearances include numerous international jazz, folk, and classical music festivals. He has toured and held residencies across Europe.
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
“A really expansive sound” BBC Radio Scotland