James Chance Dies at 71: ‘No Wave’ Saxophonist is No More

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James Chance, the late 1970s No Wave movement pioneer and singer-saxophonist of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and the Contortions, passed away. He was seventy-one.

James Chance Cause of Death:

According to his social media, James Chance, the provocative and combative saxophonist and vocalist of the Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, passed away in New York on Tuesday. He was a crucial figure in the No Wave movement in the late 1970s in New York City. He was seventy-one.

According to the announcement, “his brother David Siegfried of Chicago announced his death, noting that the musician’s health had been declining for several years but did not specify a cause of death.”

The statement said, “His final live performance is believed to have occurred in March 2019 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.”

Chance embodied the “No Wave” spirit in Downtown New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, bringing together punk, funk, and jazz in a unique sound and style. Chance was a significant player in that scene for a while, which existed on the periphery of the more well-known new-wave coterie that included Blondie, Talking Heads, the Ramones, and others. He was known for his sharp features, white tux, and intensely aggressive stage presence. Legend has it that he would start fights with audience members.

James Chance: Who was He? And His Career

Chance, born James Siegfried in Milwaukee, was a band James White and the Blacks member and went as James White.

Additionally, he performed his improvised jazz-punk-noise with groups like James Chance and Les Contortions, Flaming Demonics, James Chance & the Sardonic Symphonics, and James Chance and Terminal City.

Chance relocated to Milwaukee to perform in a band called Death before joining Flaming Youth in 1976. He formed Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with his similarly noisy roommate, Lydia Lunch. With some help from singer-scenester Adele Bertei, he founded the Contortions in 1977, and they were featured on Brian Eno’s compilation CD “No New York.”

The albums by The Contortions included “Buy” in 1979 and “Off White,” released in 1980 under the moniker James White and the Blacks and featured Lydia Lunch. Chance wasn’t nearly as talented as those performers, but that wasn’t the point. The band’s sax-driven funk was similar to that of James Brown, Ornette Coleman, and Iggy Pop, and it had influences from many other bands that came after, whether or not they realized it.

However, Chance’s sometimes insane conduct led to unstable lineups; according to a second-hand account, he once stabbed himself in the chest with a shattered bottle because a club owner refused to pay him. The lineup for the James White and the Blacks album “Sax Maniac” from 1982 was entirely different.

Led by Chance’s audacious yelps and free-sax squawks, Contortions spew out ferociously rhythmic compositions powered by Jody Harris’ wiry guitar lines and Pat Place’s whirling slide guitar. Marc Masters penned these comments in the liner notes for a reissue of “Buy.” While “Contort Yourself” is a nihilistic dance song where Chance tells listeners to twist into knots physically and psychologically, the opener, “Designed to Kill,” blasts sound sparks in all directions. He growls, “It’s better than pleasure; it hurts more than pain,” before pleading with her to “try being stupid instead of smart.”

Chance contributed to Blondie’s “No Exit” and Debbie Harry’s “Rockbird” album in 1986. After his reunion with some of the original Contortions members in 2001, they performed twice at the All Tomorrow’s Parties event. They went on several tours and gigs together in the following years. Chance also played with Watchers, a band from Chicago. 2016 saw the release of his first music video in two decades, including a new rendition of the song “Melt Yourself Down.”

His mother, Jean Siegfried, sisters, Jill Siegfried and Mary (Randy) Koehler, brother David Siegfried, and his spouse, Donna Seaman, all survive him. Judy Taylor, his lifelong companion, passed away in 2020.

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