Get to Know Dennis James

Kenyon Hall

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The thrilling era of silent films in performance returns with Dennis James and his Silent Film Concerts. "James is not just a master performer of film music, he is a master of the world to which such live performances permit privileged access- a world of Junes, spoons and harvest moons, of swirling waltzes and breathless romances, a world of sunsets and happy endings." wrote one reviewer describing James’ historical revival film screenings that take the audiences back to the early 1900s when he accompanies classic films from the silent era just as they were made to be seen AND heard – with live period-sensitive music and synchronized sound effects.

Dennis James performs historically-informed, period-inspired and stylistically-correct shows featuring authentic musical accompaniments to preserved classic silent films. His Nickelodeon Era programs for smaller theaters feature accompaniment scorings that precisely recapture the original exhibition era's film sound textures together using of the genuine period-published manuscripts for recreation performances that are now hailed worldwide for being both historically accurate and hugely entertaining for both silent film aficionados and general audiences.

“Dennis James is one of the best silent film performers, if not the very best. He possesses a rare combination of showmanship and scholarship that truly set him apart. The recent and rapid revival of interest in silent film music seems both extraordinary and exciting. New accompanists to this burgeoning field, however, can only dream of attaining Dennis’ level.” Margaret Parsons, Head, Dept. of Film, National Gallery of Art


"To followers of the concert circuit, Dennis James really required no introduction. The programming for this concert was obviously well planned and therefore produced the desired effect, a nostalgic trip to another era. There was a sufficient amount of familiar music, plus the variety of tunes which were momentarily rescued from utter obscurity. The organist's performance was most effective in terms of technique, registration and appropriate harmony, being truly representative of what was heard from theatre organs in the 1920s. If Dennis James were to be given a title descriptive of his programming and performance, it should be 'Mr. Authenticity.' IN SHORT, HE PLAYED IT LIKE IT WAS." - Grant Whitcomb, Convention Review

Lillian Gish announced,
"Dennis James' playing brought tears to my eyes . . . his score was just what we intended it to be when we made the film" at James' debut performing the accompaniment to her MGM 1926 silent film classic LA BOHEME at the Chicago Civic Opera House inaugurating a six year U.S. tour as Miss Gish’s personal accompanist.

“Without question Dennis James has taken the mantle of the No.1 silent movie film music accompanist discarded with the passing of such people as Parmentier, Erwin and Gaylord Carter.” - Alan Ashton, Organist Magazine

“He’s not only a fabulous organist, he brings a wealth of knowledge. He talks with the audience and fills them in on nuances, telling stories about the film. He really brings people into the silent movies in a unique way.” - Tom Iovanne, executive director, Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Olympia, WA

Theatre Organ Journal reviewer writes,
"In commenting on the art of silent film accompaniment, it should be pointed out that a proper performance involves much more than 'chase' music, pratfall sound effects, or 'hamming it up' by introducing familiar song title interludes designed to attract titters from the audience. Considerable hard work is involved in terms of research, scoring, practice and timing in order to create a musical accompaniment which is both appropriate and unobtrusive while enhancing both the action and the mood of what is taking place on the screen . . . At the conclusion of this film a sophisticated audience loudly proclaimed that Dennis James had done his homework well, resulting in a truly excellent job of silent film accompaniment."

Working for many years with representatives of major silent film collections worldwide, including the original Hollywood studio archives, private collectors and both government and academic archives, in recent seasons Silent Film Concerts has provided programs presented under the auspices of, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Cleveland Cinematheque, Washington D.C.'s American Film Institute, National Gallery of Art, the National Film Theatre in London, the Louvre Museum in France, the Palazzo Delle Esposizioni in Rome, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Philharmonie in Cologne and the Deutsches FilmMuseum in Munich. Regular festival clients include the Washington D.C.'s FilmFest, the San Francisco Int'l Film Festival, the Goethe Institut-presented Berlin & Beyond Festival, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Orphans Film Festival, the Philadelphia Int'l Film Festival among many others.

Of Dennis James' silent film scoring Dr. Ed Mullins wrote,
"James' accompaniment was one of the finest backgrounds I have ever heard to a silent film. His performance was flawless. Its sensitivity to the action on the screen was an emotional experience bringing lumps to the throat and tears glistening in the eyes of an awestruck audience. It was superb."

"Silent films are a rare and precious art form of tremendous historical importance, and the art of live musical accompaniment to a silent film is a discipline of equally important historic value. Dennis James is both a musician of tremendous artistic scope and range, and a scholar who strives to preserve and restore this unique 20th century musical practice. He is without doubt the greatest practitioner of the art of solo silent film accompaniment. To witness a contemporary audience experience the beauty and power of silent film through the overwhelming symphonic dynamism that Dennis James unleashes with unerring skill on the theatre organ is an absolute revelation. He's a national treasure." - Stephen Salmons, founder of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

"Dennis James is one of the only living musicians who understands what is musically, historically, and cinematically appropriate for silent films. His choice of music (some of which is original) subconsciously guides the listener into many moods, tension, bliss, excitement, despair, terror, and hilarity. He is able to accomplish this while remaining correct for the period of the film. In other words, if Mr. James' performance had been played when the film was first exhibited, it would have been considered contemporary. He would never attempt to modernize the feeling of the period by creating a score that would clash." - Peter Mintun, New York pianist and cultural historian

"Dennis James is the best collaborator a silent movie ever had." - Dr. Russell Merritt, UC Berkeley film professor


YouTube INTERVIEW video made at Kenyon Hall
PLAYING historic "Blind Boone" 19th c. grand piano

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