James Kelly's Biography and Reviews


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James Kelly Short Bio (to download in .pdf format, click here. )

James Kelly, a native of Ireland, is one of the greatest Irish traditional fiddlers alive today. He learned his music from his father John Kelly, the renowned fiddle and concertina player from County Clare. After years of careful study and practice, James began his recording and touring career at age sixteen. That year he won first place in the prestigious "Fiddler of the Year" competition and recorded his first album, a duet with his brother John. Since that time, James has toured Europe, the US, Canada and South America, and was a member of several influential Irish groups, including "Patrick Street" and the legendary folk group "Planxty." He was a presenter of the "Pure Drop" series for Irish TV and has appeared several times with the Grammy award winning Irish group, "The Chieftains." In the US, James has performed several times on Garrison Keillor's national radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion." In recent years he received the prestigious "Florida Folk Heritage Award" as well as the "Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Folk Arts Award." James was the TG4 Irish traditional musician of the year, having been awarded the "Gradam Ceoil TG4 2006 Irish Musician of the Year" award in recognition of his outstanding musicianship and contributions to Irish music (TG4 is Ireland's Irish-language TV station). He has 18 albums to his credit and recently released his latest recording, "Melodic Journeys." He is currently working on a teaching DVD for fiddle students, as well as compiling his over 800 compositions for publication. He continues to tour with some of Irish music's leading accompanists.

"James is one of the most outstanding Irish musicians of this or any generation." --Dr. Mick Moloney, Musician and Folklorist, New York University

"As a virtuoso violinist and exponent of Irish Traditional Music, James ranks among the very best in Ireland today." --Tony MacMahon, Senior Producer, Radio Telefis Eireann

"James Kelly is widely recognized as one of Ireland's leading traditional fiddle players." --Dermot McLaughlin, Traditional Music Officer, Irish Arts Council

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Selected Reviews of James Kelly's Concerts and Recordings

To download in .pdf format, click here.

"Kelly's show was profound: perennial variation in pieces tantalisingly teased to ecstasy. His unique bell-like tone was scooped from the strings with a breadth-suspending calmness, his lazy rolls and delayed triplets flicked off the fingerboard, folding like poured honey into a luxurious resonance. Here is one of the most deceptively calm personalities in traditional music. He takes the listener out on a country walk, but before they know it they are in full flight on a roller coaster" - Fintan Vallely, The Irish Times

"No performer eclipsed the brilliance of Dublin born fiddler James Kelly. The apparent ease with which Kelly played masked an astonishing level of virtuosity. His ornamentation always served the melody, lending a near-pointillist touch to tunes through idea rich phrasing and an unerring tempo. He knows the difference between finesse and flash, preferring to elicit the structural soul of a tune rather than "sell" it superficially through an overheated technique. Kelly's playing over the weekend conveyed the absolute essence of Irish traditional fiddling and Irish traditional music together" - Earle Hitchner, The Irish Echo

"He is one of the top 10 fiddlers in the world" - Christine Cole, Orlando Sentinel

"You couldn't wish for better fiddling in the Irish style" Alex Morgan - The Living Tradition magazine

"James Kelly, master fiddle player, has produced a recording that is a must for music lovers, students and musicians" - P.J. Crotty, writing about James' CD "Melodic Journeys"

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James Kelly Long Bio (to download in .pdf format, click here. )

James Kelly, a native of Ireland, is one of the greatest Irish traditional fiddlers of our time. Born in Dublin, James grew up listening to and playing traditional Irish music. His father, John Kelly, the renowned fiddle and concertina player from Co. Clare, began teaching James to play at the age of 3. James' father was also a founding member, with Sean O'Riada, of "Ceoltoiri Cualann", a traditional group that, in many ways, was responsible for the modern revival in Irish Music. James' love of the music and his ability as a player launched, at age 14, his performing and recording career with several broadcasts for R.T.E. (Irish National Radio and T.V.).

At the age of 16, he won first place in the prestigious Fiddler of the Year competition and he also recorded his first album, a fiddle duet with his brother John. During that time, he joined the group Ceoltoiri Leigheann (Leinster Musicians), that included his father John, Paddy O'Brien, Mary Bergin, and Paddy Glackin. He recorded 2 albums with this group before emigrating to the U.S. in 1978. He spent the next three years touring the U.S with Paddy O'Brien and Daithi Sproule and recorded two albums for Shanachie records.

James has toured Europe, the U.S., Canada and South America and was a member of many groups, including: "Kinvara" (Dolores Keane, John Faulkner, Jackie Daly); "Bowhand" (with Paddy O'Brien and Daithi Sproule, later with Paddy and Bernie Mc Donald); "Patrick Street" (Kevin Burke, Andy Irvine, Gerry O Beirne, Triona Ni Domhnaill and Declan Masterson); and the legendary Irish folk group, "Planxty" (Liam Flynn, Andy Irvine, Dolores Keane, Bill Whelan, Arty McGlynn). He has appeared several times with the Grammy award winning Irish group, "The Chieftains." In recent years he received the prestigious "Florida Folk Heritage Award" as well as the "Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Folk Arts Award." James was the TG4 Irish traditional musician of the year, having been awarded the "Gradam Ceoil TG4 2006 Irish Musician of the Year" award in recognition of his outstanding musicianship and contributions to Irish music (TG4 is Ireland's Irish-language TV station).

In addition to his performing career, James has composed over 800 tunes and has considerable experience in teaching Irish music. He established weekly fiddle classes at Na Piobairi Uilleann (the Piper's Club) in Dublin in the early 1980's, he has taught for many years and continues to teach at the prestigious Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare as a master fiddle teacher; and he has participated in the student-teacher program sponsored by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, giving fiddle exhibitions. He has twice been awarded grants to teach as a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program. In the field of research, he was a co-worker with the late Breandan Breathnach, the great authority on Irish music, in compiling his complete index (over 10,000) of traditional Irish dance tunes. In 1983, James wrote a review of a publication on Sligo fiddle styles in the Irish journal "Ceol".

Although he has played and recorded with some of Ireland's premier folk groups, it is as a solo performer that James has made his reputation. He has played many of the major U.S. folk festivals, including the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Wheatland, the Milwaukee Irish Festival and more. Additionally, James has appeared a number of times on Garrison Keillor's national radio program, "A Prairie Home Companion." In 1988, James was a presenter of the "Pure Drop" series for Irish T.V. hosting six shows of this 12-part series about the traditional music and musicians of Ireland.

James recently released his third solo CD, is compiling his 800+ compositions for publication, as well as recording an instructional DVD for fiddle students. James continues to tour the U.S., Canada and Europe with some of Irish music's leading accompanists.

Two of the major influences on his playing are the Clare and Sligo styles, named for two counties in Ireland long famous for their fiddle music. The Clare style is even-flowing and highly ornamented, while the Sligo style, though equally ornamented, is bouncier. These influences along with many others have helped create a style which, to the ears of aficionados, is unmistakably James' own.

"James is one of the most outstanding Irish musicians of this or any generation."
Dr. Mick Moloney, Musician and Folklorist, New York University

"As a virtuoso violinist and exponent of Irish traditional music, James ranks among the very best in Ireland today."
Tony MacMahon, Senior Producer, Radio Telefis Eireann

"James Kelly is widely recognized as one of Ireland's leading traditional fiddle players."
Dermot McLaughlin, Traditional Music Officer, Irish Arts Council

ALBUMS FEATURING JAMES KELLY

1) "John & James Kelly" (fiddle duet) Tara 1008.
2) "Crooked Road" (with "Ceoltoiri Leigheann") CEF.046 Gael-Linn.
3) "Star Of Munster" (with "Ceoltoiri Leigheann") CEF.047 Gael-Linn.
4) "Is It Yourself" (with Paddy O'Brien & Daithi Sproule, Bowhand).
5) "Spring In The Air" (with Paddy O'Brien & Daithi Sproule, Bowhand) 29018 Shanachie.
6) "Words And Music" (with "Planxty") 451 Warner Bros (WEA).
7) "Sail Og Rua" (with Dolores Keane & John Faulkner) Gael-Linn.
8) "Up The Airy Mountain" (with Sean O'Driscoll) 001 Green Linnet.
9) "In Our Time" (with Danny McGinley) Bui-001B Bunnan Bui.
10) "Capel Street" (Solo Album) Bow.0001 Bowhand.
11) "Irish Times" (with "Patrick Street") 1105 Green Linnet.
12) "My Love Is In America" (with 16 Irish Fiddlers in Boston, MA, 1990) 1110 Green Linnet.
13) "The Ring Sessions" (duet album with Zan McLeod) SPINCD 999 Claddagh Records (Ireland) / Rounder Records (U.S.A.).
14) "Music In The Meadow" (live from Wolf Trap, festival C.D.) Greater Washington Ceili Club.
15) "James Kelly" (Solo Album) CD896012 Capelhouse Records.
16) "Gaelic Roots" (Boston College Gaelic Roots Festival 1996) KM-9514 Kells.
17) "Handprints" pianist Donna Long's new solo CD.
18) "Melodic Journeys" James' new CD release (JKM 0147).

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