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Donald James


Visiting Lecturer

Ph.D. Candidate, University of Chicago


Fields: Ethnomusicology, American, Jazz and popular music


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Donald James is an ethnomusicologist who researches jazz, popular music, and American musics. He specializes in examining musics in relationship to cultural politics and music industries. His teaching interests extend to world music, Irish traditional music, and topics in rock and popular music.

James received his BA in Music from Boston College and is a Ph.D candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago where he studied with Travis Jackson. His dissertation, titled "Playing Outside: Cultural Politics and Jazz Style on the Scene in Paris,” addresses the lives and careers of jazz musicians playing in Paris over the past decade and is based on field research conducted over three years in Paris. During this time, James was a researcher in residence at the University of Chicago Center in Paris and a fellow at L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). James is currently at work on two articles extending from his dissertation, and has begun work on two other research projects that examine Irish music-making in Boston and cultural labor among rock and country musicians in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. 

Prior to teaching at Holy Cross, James taught at the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois Chicago, Babson College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. James is also an adjunct lecturer at Boston College and Fitchburg State University.

James has presented papers on jazz and cultural policy, jazz historiography, jam band tapers, and “liveness” in podcasting at conferences in the US and Europe. Among his public lectures, James has been invited to speak as part of the Copenhagen Philosophy Forum’s lecture series on Jazz and Philosophy, the University of California Santa Barbara’s Ethnomusicology Workshop, and as the central speaker for an event at Boston College celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Band’s The Last Waltz. James wrote the the entry for Django Reinhardt in the Encyclopedia of Jazz, and was the Maryland Historical Society’s discographer for pianist and composer Eubie Blake. Outside of his scholarly work, James remains an active performing rock, country, and jazz guitarist, and writes for WGBH’s Front Row Boston.