James Witherite (b. 1986), Western Pennsylvania native, has had music in his veins from the very beginning, picking out melodies on his grandmother’s Wurlitzer organ long before setting foot in a classroom. In his teenage years, he was already deep into learning all he could, transcribing the horn section parts from Chicago records (you remember them, right?) to develop his ear well beyond what his formal training availed him. Primarily a trumpet player in his school years, he developed a proficiency that gained attention and led him to study music, with a focus in jazz and composition, with Mike Tomaro, Sean Jones, and David Cutler at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University.
While completing his studies, James embarked on a career outside of music, relocating to Delaware and beginning a seven-year stint as the racecaller at Harrah’s Chester (now Philadelphia) Casino and Racetrack. During this time, he suffered a major injury which had the potential of jeopardizing it all. A fallen horse shattered his left elbow in a 2009 equine training accident, but James was convinced he’d be able to regain full hand and elbow motion and dexterity – an absolute must for most musicians. Determination paid off and after time, it all came back.
By 2010, James was aggressively back in the game as a more multi-dimensional musician and composer than before. For the next couple years, he spent his weekends in club and wedding bands—frequently covering the role of bass player with his left hand while also juggling keyboard and vocal parts. During this time, James fully rededicated himself to the music he truly loved: jazz. He dusted off a few of his Duquesne-era works for big band, edited them, and also wrote a few new pieces for “+17”, a collaboration with the Zeropoint Big Band based in State College, PA.
Since the release of “+17”, James fell in love with jazz organ, owing to his piano chops and his knack for on-the-spot orchestration. Under the guidance and tutelage of B3 great Tony Monaco, Witherite blossomed into a capable jazz organist himself, having released “Modern Organ Trio” (2013) and “Please Do Not Clap On One and Three” (2014) with his Pittsburgh-based trio featuring guitarist Ken Karsh.
Original compositions remain at the fore, solidifying James’s role as composer as he enters his fourth decade on this earth. Just this past winter, James delved into sacred music, composing the “Mass of the Epiphany” (2016) for use at the Catholic parish he attends in northern Pennsylvania during the warmer months.
Outside of music, James enjoyed an eleven-year stint broadcasting horse races for national audiences, describing the action at Harrah's Philadelphia from 2007 to 2013 and at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in upstate New York from 2014 to 2016. He additionally served as the bugler at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey from 2013 to 2016.
James calls Dover, Delaware his home with his wife Lauren, who teaches biology at a local community college, and his cat Mingus.
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