‘… on saxophone, bass clarinet, flute and oboe He moves effortlessly from bebop to free jazz and back...’

‘Plays solos that must leave the inside of his instrument molten…’

‘A hidden talent -versatile in any idiom from contemporary music to the West End…’

‘James is a talented improviser who plays in many acclaimed bands and leads his own varied projects.’

James is Musical Director for one of the greatest living Ethiopian musicians - Dr Mulatu Astatke.


Born in central London, James was taught at school by the late great Don Rendell for 12 years. James then went to Oxford University to study music and continued to have lessons with jazz messenger Jean Toussaint. After this, there was a brief diversion into the world of transport planning for a couple of years; however, his love of music was burning and he decided to make his fortune playing jazz saxophone. So, he then attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for his masters in performance, composition and arranging, and studied with Pete Churchill and Tim Garland. James also won an Archer’s Scholarship for two years running at Trinity College of Music in London to study with Bobby Lamb and play with the Bobby Lamb Big Band. In addition, he has studied in New York with Ralph Alessi and saxophonist Bob Mintzer.

A few key saxophone influences are Evan Parker, Getatchew Mekurya, Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley.

James is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays all saxophones, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, clarinet, vocals and piano, and is a versatile creative musician who is comfortable in vast array of musical situations. He can do a psychedelic oboe solo; but, to be fair, he is not very good at yoga or tap dancing.

Performance Credits

James has worked with, and recorded for, a wide variety of artists. His experience ranges from being a special guest soloist playing Will Todd’s Mass in Blue with the London Concert Choir at Cadogan Hall in London, to playing latin jazz with the great conga player Robin Jones at Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club. He has also played at the 02 with the O’Jays, performed ethio-jazz at the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Royal Festival Hall, and the Met in New York (but not all at the same time!)

Apart from the countless weddings and corporate gigs that all musicians have done, James has worked with and recorded for The Heliocentrics, Family Atlantica, London Concert Choir, London Vocal Project, Molotov JukeBox, The O’Jays, DJ Gaslamp Killer, Down to the Bone, Mary Wilson, Brazilian rapper Criolo, Talib Kweli, Snowboy, producer Tony Visconti, Jim Stapley, Robin Jones Latin Underground Orchestra, King Salsa, Steve Waterman, NYJO, David Axelrod, The Kooks, Maxi Priest, Steve Brookstein, Digby Fairweather, Rufus Reid, Byron Wallen, Finn Peters, Alexander Hawkins Large Ensemble, The Glen Miller Orchestra, Saravah Soul, Miss Hoodoo and the Delta Boys, The Black Jesus Experience , Joe Stilgoe, Big Band Metheny, David Okumu, Seb Rochford ,Tom Herbert, Steve Nieve, Camille O’Sullivan, Jolie Holland, Terry Edwards , St Etienne, Roy Hemmings, The Spike Orchestra, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Alex Kapranos, Sam Amidon, Jason Lindner and last but not in the slightest least, The Hackney Colliery Band.

James has performed at many dance halls and very exclusive office cupboards throughout the land. He has also performed at various festivals in the UK, most notably Glastonbury, in Europe (Montreux Jazz Festival), Australia (Melbourne International Jazz Festival), Japan (Fuji Rock), and Canada (Montreal Jazz Festival). He has also played in Russia, South Africa Brazil and America.

He has performed live on the BBC National Radio and TV, which was fun.

West End and show experience includes: Queen of the Night (James sadly was not the Queen in this one), Jersey Boys, Dancing in the Streets, and Daddy Cool. A particular highlight was taking a centre stage solo wearing a tight muscle vest and shades while pretending to be the stepson of Michael Jackson.


Follow: facebook page jamesarbenmusic for listings, news and live dates.

Musical Director for Mulatu Astatke

As a result of playing with the well-regarded experimental band The Heliocentrics, James became Musical Director for the seminal Ethiopian musician and creator of the genre “Ethiojazz” - Mulatu Astatke. James works closely with Mulatu - rehearsing and directing various bands, and arranging Mulatu’s music for different ensembles. James is Musical Director of Mulatu’s London band (Mulatu Steps Ahead), and has worked with bands in South Africa, Australia (The Black Jesus Experience), and recently worked with keyboardist Jason Lindner to set up a US band which will tour later this year (2017).

Learn more

A to Z

James co-leads and writes for this this band with long standing friend and collaborator - guitarist Fabio Zambelli. A to Z has released two albums - Look Right and Uncertain Times, both are available on iTunes.

Look Right Uncertain Times A to Z has also toured in Europe and Italy, and played at the London Jazz Festival. For more information and bookings please get in contact

Molotov Jukebox

James plays baritone and alto sax with this genre-crossing band and recorded on their second studio album, Tropical Gypsy (2016). Molotov Jukebox have headlined various large festivals in the UK and overseas.

Listen to James Baritone solo on “If I knew” on the latest album Tropical here.

To purchase this album please click here iTunes For more information, please go to: www.molotovjukebox.com

Down to the Bone

James recently joined this veteran funk/acid jazz band on alto sax. Down to the Bone have released 11 albums and have UK and US bands. In his tenure with the band he has so far played at the Hideaway and Ronnie Scotts. For more information, please go to: 'Down to the Bone' on Wikipedia

Robin Jones Latin Jazz Sextet

James has recently been asked to join this band on tenor, alto, flute, and baritone sax. Robin Jones is a veteran UK percussion and conga master. This band performs regularly at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea, London.

Other projects

James has recently been asked to record for the Alexander Hawkins Large Ensemble on flute, tenor sax, and bass clarinet. He regularly plays with the Hackney Colliery Band and the Spike Orchestra. James also runs his own jazz band and music agency, The JazzCats.


James is a keen educator - teaching saxophone, harmony, and all common woodwind instruments. He has taught in schools, universities and privately for over 20 years and passionately believes in the intrinsic cross-disciplinary value of musical education.

He teaches privately; runs ensembles and bands, leads instrumental and jazz workshops. He is currently teaching saxophone at Forest School in East London, and Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith.

With regards to higher education, he lectures and examines at The BIMM Institute London and is a guest speaker at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, also in London.

James is on the examiner panel for Trinity College, London.

James also enjoys teaching privately; for lessons and any advice, please get in contact here.


To purchase A to Z’s latest albums please go to:

www.cdbaby.com Look Right Uncertain Times


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