Jazz Club
Interview with James Harvey Russell...Grreeaat
East Leeds Magazine, June 2012

James Russell was born and brought up in Newcastle. He wasn't from a musical background although his parents were both involved in acting. James first picked a saxophone up about the age of ten and played in school bands, local big bands & orchestras before landing in Leeds to do a Jazz Degree at Leeds College of Music.
"After finishing my degree, I kind of split my time between Newcastle and Leeds. I worked up North with my Dad restoring MG's which was great and paid the bills but I was also immersed in the Leeds Jazz scene and doing a little peripatetic teaching."
His first major music project was a commission to write a Jazz score based on the Shakespeare classic Romeo & Juliet for the Peoples Theatre in Newcastle.
"One thing followed another, I worked with various function bands, bands for theatres, more teaching session work, ending up playing for the likes of Michael Roach, Johny Mars, Al Wood, Joe Longthorn, Darren Day, Tony Christie, Jason Donovan and loads of Jazz Festivals.”


James swapped stotties for breadcakes permanently in 1999. He lived in Manston then Burmantofts before settling in Whitkirk. “I’ve always liked East Leeds, everything is convenient and I’ve made good friends in the area.”
For the last seven years James has played with the legendary Roy Wood, (The Move, ELO & Wizard) lately supporting Status Quo on their Christmas Tours.
"Roy's a true musical legend, he's actually quite a shy bloke but I've done a lot of work for him now and consider him a good friend. I love doing the tour, everything about it's just a good laugh, we rehearse at Roy's studio in Derbyshire, then we’re on tour, it’s brilliant with Status Quo, the crowds, the atmosphere, it's Christmas every day!"

James also keeps himself busy by playing saxophone for Jamiroquai, which as well as recording and touring, has seen him appear on Jools Holland, Jonathon Ross, Allan Carr and Comedy Rocks with Jason Manford among others. "Jamiroquai are still a massive act just about everywhere in the world. We saw the new year in by playing the Sydney Resolution New Years Eve gig, we were on just before the countdown to welcome 2012. We did the Nobel Peace Prize Concert with Herbie Hancock as well as Rock in Rio, Quilmes Rock in Argentina, just about all the major festivals throughout Europe and South America. We did an arena tour of the UK last year and also played the Hyde Park Calling Gig supporting Stevie Wonder."
With international tour dates being added, James is in for a busy autumn this year but mention Jamiroquai/ Jay Kay and you naturally want to talk about bad press, fast cars and Adidas trainers.
"He's a nice guy is Jay and very talented. Y'know he's sold over 25 million albums and that gives him the freedom to pick and choose what he does and who he deals with. I think he's had some bad press in the past which makes him a little wary of the media here. For instance his famous collection of cars, he doesn’t just go out and buy the latest Ferrari or Porsche because he can. The truth is, he’s a collector, he’s more likely to by a car for it’s history or rarety. We rehearse at his place in Buckinghamshire, he took us out in his helicopter when we were recording the album, I was terrified but I loved it! He gets sent an endless supply of Adidas trainers and clothes for tours, he kits us out and I’ve got a cupboard full Adidas SL72's, shirts and jackets."


In 2005 James set up J2 Productions with friend and fellow musician Jim Heald. “J2 is a writing and production team that has had some success in the past but recently we both seem to be busy doing other things. It is something we are looking to expand on in the future. We have various projects on the go and we are looking to involve my brother Charlie (who has produced and worked with the likes of Kasabian, Coldplay and Beady Eye among others). I’m building up a studio in Leeds and we can offer soundscape, audio identity, advertising multimedia, pop production, big band score or a full orchestral composition.”
Along with fellow Jamiroquai saxophonist Jim Corry, James co-leads A Tribute to Atlantic Jazz. A seven piece band which pays homage to the record label that embraced the 60’s and 70’s Soul and Jazz music.
"I love that era, it's a massive influence on me and my playing. Quite simply I think the likes of artists such as David ‘Fathead’ Newman, Leroy ‘Hog’ Cooper, Marcus Belgrave and James Clay deserve to have their legacy honoured. We’ve got lots of gigs and festivals lined up over the next few months.”
James still finds the time to do a bit of private tuition. "I enjoy the one to one tuition, in it's own way helping a budding young sax player develop is as bigger buzz as playing live. Whether it's just learning to play or studying for exams I've a lot of experience to pass on. I still have close ties with Leeds College of Music and keep my eye on the local music scene.”