James Jaffe

Cellist James Jaffe sees every performance as an opportunity to create authentic connections between art, artists, and audience members. He has performed as a soloist with the National Repertory Orchestra, CityMusic Cleveland, and St. John’s Chamber Orchestra. Chamber music appearances have taken him to Beijing’s Central Conservatory, the Casalmaggiore International Festival in Italy, concert tours of Switzerland and France, and the Robert Mann String Quartet Seminar in Manhattan (93-year-old Mr. Mann sat back and cheerfully asked his quartet, “What else can you teach me?”). His concerts have been broadcast on Cleveland’s WCLV 104.9, Virginia’s WVTF 89.1, San Francisco’s KDFC 90.3, and streamed live from the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. On the other hand, James has performed Hockey Night in Canada at a dive bar in Alberta, appeared in a music video for the metal band Machine Head wearing a full clown outfit, and attempted to make eye contact with headlamp-wearing quartet friends (it hurts) during a late-night performance of Beethoven’s Quartet op. 59 no. 2 at Union Lake in the Trinity Alps, which can only be accessed by a 5-mile foot or horse trail.

A visionary performer and collaborator, James co-founded Wave Chamber Collective, which brings chamber musicians into dynamic new relationships with poets, artists, and scientists, and became a prescribed fire practitioner through his work with the Fire and Music Project, a new initiative creating performances to inspire a shift in Californians’ relationship with fire. James is a longstanding member of the Groupmuse house concert cooperative, having performed at 150 Groupmuses to date, including a sold-out performance of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden at the Bay Area’s first Massivemuse. He also works as a core member and section leader of One Found Sound, San Francisco’s unconducted chamber orchestra. He is a founding member of the Sierra Quartet and serves as artistic director of Festival Rolland, a summer chamber music festival in Burgundy, France. While classically trained, he has been fortunate to collaborate across genres with Journey, Deltron 3030, Vanessa Williams, Brad Mehldau, and Ensemble Mik Nawooj.

The son of a musicologist and an orchestral conductor, James began his lifelong journey with music by listening to ensembles conducted by his father, and absorbing his mother’s joy at the power of music and nature. James began piano lessons at the age of five and cello lessons at the age of nine, and before graduating high school he had won local concerto competitions at the Sacramento Youth Symphony, the Diablo Symphony Orchestra, and the Peninsula Symphony.

James studied the cello with Louise Saunders in Stockton, Milly Rosner in Berkeley, and Richard Aaron at the University of Michigan, on a full merit scholarship. He completed advanced performance degrees at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Stephen Geber, and the San Francisco Conservatory with Jennifer Culp. He spent summers in training at the Aspen Music Festival, Banff Centre in Canada, Astona Academy in Switzerland, and Music@Menlo (one of the directors of both Music@Menlo and Chamber Music at Lincoln Center told him he’d never work in classical music again after he and his teenage dormmates took part in a short-sighted prank, which could explain why he prefers the term “art music”). His chamber music mentors include members of the Juilliard, Cleveland, Takács, Tokyo, Vermeer, Emerson, Brentano, Borromeo, St. Lawrence, and Kronos quartets.

Passionate about sharing music with the next generation, James has coached chamber music at the Crowden School in Berkeley, served as director of high school chamber ensembles at Baldwin Wallace University, and mentored students through the Detroit Symphony's Civic Youth Ensembles program. He has also appeared as guest faculty at the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra and the Northern Lights Chamber Music Institute.