Cellist James Waldo leads a diverse, genre-defying career as a freelance chamber musician, presenter, and educator. Currently pursuing doctoral studies as a fully-funded University Graduate Fellow at University of Wisconsin-Madison, James is fortunate to have a place in the studio of his long-time mentor, the uniquely-gifted cellist and pedagogue Uri Vardi. James is taking the opportunity to study the theory, performance practices, and histories of jazz. Having spent the last ten years in Manhattan, James maintains a leadership role in the uptown community-building chamber music project he co-founded in 2013, called Listen Closely. As a classical recitalist, James tours regularly around the U.S. with his wife, Russian pianist Alyona Aksyonova as A.W.Duo, making appearances on stages at Piccolo Spoleto, Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival, the Alice Tully Hall, the Columbia Museum of Art, and numerous colleges and universities. The duo completed their first tour of northeast China in March of 2017, playing before enthusiastic crowds regularly topping 800 people.
As a New York Freelancer, James appears regularly as principal cellist for Cecilia Chorus’ semi-annual concerts in Carnegie Hall, and is a regular guest soloist with the Chinese Ensemble of New York. Active also in the historical performance circuit, James is a founding member of the critically-acclaimed consort LeStrange Viols, and performs regularly on the Salon/Sanctuary concert series. James received a master of music degree as well as a professional studies diploma from Mannes College, where he studied as a merit scholarship student with renowned cellist Timothy Eddy of the Orion String Quartet.
Coming from a musical family, James has always had a penchant for experimenting with different forms of music-making. But James’ first real encounters with improvising in public began at age 18 when he met Dave Sewell, a life-time blues musician who busked nightly on State Street in Madison, WI. James and his classmate, Matt Pickart, began regularly joining Dave on the street to play for whoever would stop and listen, taking orders from Dave on the fly and slowly learning what it felt like to create music on the spot. This formational experience inspired many subsequent explorations outside the classical realm; James went on help found an orchestral folk ensemble called Spirits of the Red City, devoted to the original music of songwriter Will Garrison. James served as a principal orchestrator/part-writer and ensemble coach for the group, which included musicians from the Old Time/Roots, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, and Classical traditions. The group actively toured from 2008-15, released two enthusiastically-received records and several 7inch EPs, and performed in prestigious venues such as the Boulder Theater, Daytrotter, and the Doe Bay Music Festival. This past May, James’ adventures in improvisatory music came full-circle when he and Matt Pickart found themselves taking the stage at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center, supporting Grammy-nominated pianist Robert Rodriguez for a special two-night run of Robert’s own Noche de Boleros.
While music is “all that and a bag of chips,” James enjoys few activities more than preparing breakfast and dinner every day for his beautiful wife Alyona and joyous little 2-year-old, Sofia.