R.I.P. no wave icon James Chance

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James Chance

Variety reports that James Chance, legendary saxophonist and bandleader of The Contortions and pioneer of no wave, died Tuesday in New York City. He was 71.

The official James Chance Facebook page made the announcement, which reads in part, “His death was announced by his brother David Siegfried of Chicago, who did not specify a cause of death but noted that the musician’s health had been in decline for several years.”

Born James Siegfried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he joined a band called Death in the mid-’70s—though not the same Death that formed in Detroit around the same time—playing covers of songs by The Stooges and Velvet Underground. He moved to New York City in 1975 and began playing in both the punk and free jazz scenes, eventually combining the two sounds into the noisy fusion of his band The Contortions, who released their debut album, Buy, in 1979. The group also was one of four bands to be featured in the Brian Eno-produced compilation No New York, which introduced them as key players in the no wave scene, along with Mars, DNA, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks—of which Chance was also a member.

The Contortions’ live performances became known for Chance’s own confrontational physical presence, a practice which later waned after the novelty wore off. Following Buy, the group released an album with more of a mutant disco sound, Off White, under the name James White and the Blacks. Chance released another album as James White and the Blacks with an entirely different lineup in 1982, Sax Maniac, followed by Flaming Demonics in 1983, and Melt Yourself Down in 1986. He also collaborated with Debbie Harry and Blondie, as well as Blues Explosion, The False Prophets, Elysian Fields and Kirin J Callinan.

Chance reunited with the original members of The Contortions in 2001 at All Tomorrow’s Parties, and in 2016 the group released their first new album in decades, The Flesh Is Weak. Last fall, Chance was hospitalized and was in poor health according to a statement from his brother, who launched a GoFundMe to help him recover.

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