James Chance, Influential Singer-Saxophonist, Dies at 71

by Barbara

James Chance, the singer-saxophonist known for his unique blend of funk, jazz, and post-punk, passed away at the age of 71. His death was confirmed by his brother, David Siegfried, who stated that Chance died on Tuesday in New York. Although no specific cause of death was provided, Siegfried mentioned that Chance’s health had been in decline for several years.

Born James Siegfried in 1953 and raised in Wisconsin, Chance trained at a music school and drew inspiration from both rock’n’roll and jazz. In 1975, he moved to New York City with aspirations of becoming a jazz musician. However, he later admitted, “I just didn’t fit into the jazz scene at all. My whole attitude, my own personal style and everything was more out of rock’n roll.” This led him to form the instrumental quartet Flaming Youth and later, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, after meeting singer and poet Lydia Lunch at the iconic punk venue CBGB. Despite their brief catalog, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks had a significant impact on the music scene.


Chance emerged as a pivotal figure in the “no wave” movement of the late 1970s, which distanced itself from both the polished sounds of new wave and the perceived conservatism of punk. The movement favored minimalism and avant-garde noise, often combined with danceable rhythms. Both Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and Chance’s other band, Contortions, were featured on the seminal compilation “No New York,” produced by Brian Eno, which remains a crucial document of the no wave scene.


The Contortions, who later performed under various names including James Chance and the Contortions and James White and the Blacks, were known for their energetic drumming, funk guitar riffs, and Chance’s distinctive saxophone and vocals. They achieved a dancefloor hit with “Contort Yourself,” remixed by August Darnell, also known as Kid Creole.


Chance was known for his confrontational stage presence, often engaging audiences with aggressive antics. He famously attacked rock critic Robert Christgau during a performance, explaining later, “I would do it on the beat – I would jump into the audience and slap someone on two and then I would get back on to the stage on three, and then back and forth.” This confrontational style also led to frequent lineup changes within the Contortions, with the announcement of his death noting “acrimony over issues of credit and compensation” during those years.

After the release of “James White’s Flaming Demonics” in 1983, Chance’s output slowed considerably. However, he re-formed the original Contortions lineup for live performances in 2001 and occasionally thereafter, continuing to tour with other musicians until 2019. Additionally, he played saxophone for Blondie on their 1999 album “No Exit,” which reached No. 3 in the UK charts.

James Chance is survived by his mother, Jean Siegfried, and his sisters, Jill Siegfried and Mary (Randy) Koehler. He was preceded in death by his father and biggest supporter, Donald Siegfried, in 2019; his romantic and artistic partner, Anya Phillips, in 1981; and his longtime partner, Judy Taylor (Bozanich), in 2020.

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