Hightstown, NJ — James Witherite is known to harness racing fans for his years of race calling and occasional performances as a bugler for major stakes events. Away from the track, though, Witherite’s musical talents extend far beyond, most notably as an accomplished composer and jazz musician.
This past Monday, Witherite opened that world to an audience on Facebook with the first in a series of streaming concerts, “Live from the Jazz Bunker.” Witherite hopes the concerts, which will be 1-2 p.m. (EDT) every Monday and Thursday, can provide a welcomed diversion for people asked to stay at home as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s said that in times of trouble and pain that art is a great uniter and healer, and hopefully that’s the case here,” Witherite said. “Being that we’re all kind of left in the lurch, this is the new normal for right now. I’m not doing anything monumental or earth-shattering, but I hope these little windows of live music, which are intended to be in the background admittedly, can bring some light into an otherwise murky and uncertain situation for all of us.”
Witherite has released four jazz albums in his career, ranging in scope from big band to organ trio. His streaming concerts on Facebook Live will feature solo jazz organ.
“Everything that you will hear is either written by me, written by one of my friends who has said to go ahead and use the song, or is in the public domain,” Witherite said. “I’m a big stickler when it comes to copyright law, so I’m following it to the letter.”
The 33-year-old Witherite graduated from Duquesne University in 2007 with a degree in composition. He was first drawn to music at the age of 3, when he found his way to his grandmother’s Wurlitzer organ. He taught himself to read music, picked up the trumpet in the third grade, and soon added the piano to his repertoire.
He recently set up a studio in his home, in part to provide online lessons to students. Once the studio was functional, he decided to offer his twice-a-week concerts.
“I saw other musician friends were streaming live music at various times, so I thought why not join in,” Witherite said. “I was really happy with the first (concert). I had a good turnout, I thought, and a nice cross section of my very diverse world.
“Even though I know jazz isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, I hope it does put a few smiles on faces and help people get a little bit of a respite from the new day-to-day life. You can listen actively if you want, or you can listen passively if you want. You can have it in the background and it’s there. Hopefully it’s a pleasant wallpaper for those 120 minutes a week.
“A little bit of happiness, a little bit of light, I think can go a long way.”
To watch a replay of Monday’s concert on Witherite’s Facebook page, click here.