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James Chance

James Chance
James Chance in 2010
Background information
Birth name James Siegfried
Also known as James White
Born (1953-04-20) April 20, 1953
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
Genres No wave, punk funk, punk jazz, post-punk
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, musician
Instruments Alto saxophone, keyboards, vocals
Years active 1976-present
Labels ZE
Associated acts Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance & The Contortions, James White and the Blacks, Lydia Lunch

James Chance, also known as James White (born April 20, 1953 as James Siegfried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin),[1] is an American saxophonist, keyboard player, songwriter and singer.

A key figure in No Wave, Chance has been playing a combination of improvisational jazz-like music and punk in the New York music scene since the late 1970s, in such bands as Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, James White and the Blacks (as he appeared in the film Downtown 81), The Flaming Demonics, James Chance & the Sardonic Symphonics, James Chance and Terminal City, and James Chance and Les Contortions.[1]

Chance differed from some of his no wave compatriots by possessing (and demanding from his band) a certain level of musical skill and talent. His music can be described as combining the freeform playing of Ornette Coleman with the solid funk rhythm of James Brown, though filtered through a punk rock lens.


  • Biography 1
  • Discography 2
    • Albums 2.1
    • Appears On 2.2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5
  • External links 6


Born and raised in Milwaukee and Brookfield, Wisconsin, Chance attended Michigan State University, then the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee.[1] There, Chance joined a band named Death, which performed covers of the Stooges and the Velvet Underground before moving toward original songs. At the end of 1975, Chance dropped out and moved to New York City after the dissolution of the band and the death of its singer.[2] He quickly became active in both the free jazz and no wave punk rock scenes.[3] His first band in New York in 1976 was an instrumental quartet with violin, drums and bass called Flaming Youth. After studying for a short time under David Murray, Chance formed The Contortions, who fused jazz improvisation and funk rhythms, with live shows often ending in violence when Chance would confront audience members.[1] The Contortions reached a wider audience with their contribution to the Brian Eno-compiled No New York collection of No Wave acts.[1]

While Chance was professionally and romantically linked with No Wave musical luminary Lydia Lunch, the duo created seminal No Wave group Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, whom Chance soon left.[1]

Chance was noted for engaging in physical confrontations, from forcing the audience out of their seats and getting in fist fights, his New York City audience, including rock critic Robert Christgau. At first this was just an attempt to engage the passive New York audience, but this practice is reported to have somewhat diminished after audiences came to expect the physical confrontations.[4]

James White 1981, SO 36, Berlin.

In 1979, Chance collaborated with Diego Cortez's film Grutzi Elvis.[1]

Chance's stage and musical persona were finalized by romantic partner and agent Anya Phillips, who died of cancer in 1981. Frictions between Chance and band members eventually led to a breakup of the Contortions in the fall of 1979.[3] The Contortions released one album, Buy in late 1979, and another album, Off White, under the pseudonym James White and the Blacks in 1980 (featuring Lydia Lunch under the pseudonym Stella Rico). Chance re-formed James White and the Blacks with a completely different lineup that appeared on the 1982 album Sax Maniac which was dedicated to Phillips. The group released one more album, Melt Yourself Down, a very limited Japanese release.

The first version of the Blacks was set up by Joseph Bowie. Shortly after, Defunkt emerged from the Blacks. In 1982 Chance toured with the re-formed James White and the Blacks with his brother David "Tremor" Siegfried and his band David and the Happenings from Carbondale, Illinois, playing Chicago, their hometown Milwaukee, and much of the Midwest.

Chance briefly relocated to Paris, returning to New York City in 1983 to record the album James White Presents The Flaming Demonics.[1]

In 1987, he contributed saxophone to The False Prophets' Implosion album.[1]

In 2001, Chance reunited with original Contortions members All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, and, in 2008, at the PS1 Warm Up series. Chance has also recorded with Blondie since coming out of his semi-retirement. Tiger Style records released the 4-CD box set retrospective Irresistible Impulse to critical acclaim in 2003.

In addition to limited engagements with the original Contortions, Chance has occasionally performed and recorded with the Chicago band Watchers. In Europe he performs with James Chance & Les Contortions, French musicians who have been his backing band since 2006. They played a 15 show Europe tour in April and May 2007 and were back in Europe in October 2007. In May 2012 they released the CD Incorrigible! on the French label LADTK, comprising seven Chance originals and two covers, all of them brand new recordings.

In 2009 Chance made occasional appearances playing keyboards in NYC with a trio, with the material restricted to close readings of jazz standards. In June 2012, Chance played in Portland, OR with local group Ancient Heat as his backing band. They played a number of songs from various points in his career, including a new cover of Gil Scott-Heron's "Home is Where The Hatred Is."

Chance appears on the video release James Chance - Chance of a Lifetime: Live in Chicago 2003 backed by the Chicago band Watchers.


Chance at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival


  • Buy (ZE-Arista 1979) (The Contortions)
  • Theme from Grutzi Elvis (EP ZE 1979)
  • Off White (ZE-Buddah 1979) (James White & The Blacks)
  • Second Chance (ZE-PVC 1980)
  • Live aux Bains Douches (Fr. Invisible 1980) (The Contortions)
  • Live in New York (cassette tape ROIR 1981) (The Contortions)
  • Sax Maniac (Animal 1982) (James White & The Blacks)
  • James White Presents The Flaming Demonics (ZE-Island 1983)
  • Melt Yourself Down (Selfish Records Japan 1986)
  • Soul Exorcism (tape ROIR 1991) (The Contortions)
  • Lost Chance (ROIR 1995)
  • Molotov Cocktail Lounge (Enemy Records / Zebralution 1996)
  • White Cannibal (ROIR 2000)
  • Christmas with Satan (single Tiger Style 2002)
  • Irresistible Impulse (retrospective Tiger Style 2003)
  • Sax Education (2004)
  • James Chance & Terminal City - Get Down and Dirty! (Wind bell 4 2005)
  • Pre-Teenage Jesus, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (EP ZE 1978)
  • James Chance & Terminal City - The Fix is in (decade 01 / Interbang Records IBR005 2010)
  • Twist Your Soul - The Definitive Collection 2xCD (History Records 2010)
  • Incorrigible! James Chance and Les Contortions (LADTK 2012)

Appears On

  • No New York (compilation Antilles 1978) (with The Contortions)
  • No Exit (Blondie album), Blondie guest artist, alto sax (Beyond Records 1999)
  • Downtown 81 (1981)
  • Medium Cool (1991), Chet Baker tribute with Alex Chilton, Adele Bertei, and Angel Torsen[5]
  • Somewhere in the City (1998)
  • James Chance - Chance of A Lifetime: Live in Chicago 2003 (RUNT 2005)
  • "Contort Yourself (Original Version)" (listed as influential artist) (Mojo Magazine Label Compilation 2004)Red Hot Chili Peppers Jukebox
  • TV Party (2005)
  • Rabble Watchers (guest artist) (Gern Blandsten 2006)
  • Vampire Driver Watchers (guest artist) (Gern Blandsten 2006)
  • Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin (2006)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i
  2. ^ Reynolds, 2009, p. 132
  3. ^ a b Masters, Marc, 2007, pp. 83-95
  4. ^
  5. ^


  • Masters, Marc. No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-906155-02-5
  • Moore, Alan W., and Marc Miller (eds.). ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery. New York: Collaborative Projects, 1985
  • Pearlman, Alison, Unpackaging Art of the 1980s. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Reynolds, Simon. "Contort Yourself: No Wave New York." In Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978–84. London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 2005.
  • Reynolds, Simon. Totally Wired: Post-Punk Interviews and Overviews. London: Faber and Faber, 2009. ISBN 978-0-571-23549-0
  • Taylor, Marvin J. (ed.). The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, foreword by Lynn Gumpert. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-691-12286-5

External links

  • Official website
  • Discography at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
  • Biography of James Chance on ZE Records
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