Innovative Album a Fusion of Jazz and Philosophy; James Tartaglia Is Both a Philosopher and a Musician - and He Has Finally Found a Way to Bring These Two Passions Together. He Talks to PETER BACON

The Birmingham Post (England), June 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

Innovative Album a Fusion of Jazz and Philosophy; James Tartaglia Is Both a Philosopher and a Musician - and He Has Finally Found a Way to Bring These Two Passions Together. He Talks to PETER BACON


EFORE he had entered his teens, James Tartaglia's future career seemed set.

BHis parents had bought him a keyboard when he was very young, he had benefited from music lessons and was composing his own pieces. And when his mother signed up to borrow records from Hereford library, the die really did seem cast.

"She let me choose one. I went for a compilation called Heavy Horns because I liked the cover; bendy, distorted images of saxophones and trumpets. It included three tracks by jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. The one called Another Kind of Soul (an extremely philosophical title, now I come to think of it) absolutely blew me away."

" James, it is clear, doesn't do things by halves. He formed a rock band, then a jazz trio. By the time he had left school he had mastered the saxophone to the extent that, having been awarded a Daily Telegraph Young Jazz Musician Of The Year prize, he won a scholarship toY attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts (its alumni include Quincy Jones, Diana Krall, John Mayer and Steve Vai).

But then, just as jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley had sparked one passion, so the philosopher Martin Heidegger sparked another. James had run out of money to remain at Berklee and returned to take up a deferred place to study economics at University College London.

"My interest was only in having a base in London to pursue my jazz career; economics was just something I'd done well on at A Level, and it was a topic which pleased my dad."

But still things would not go to plan.

"Economics was a drag for me, and considerably harder to bluff my way through while pursuing a career in jazz than I had envisaged. There was an option to take a module in a different subject, and I took Modern Philosophy.

Enter the 20th century German philosopher who wrote the book Being And Time.

"In my second year, I went to J.J. Valberg's lectures on Heidegger and the same kind of thing happened to me at 21 as had happened when I heard Cannonball Adderley at 11. I was hooked."

Which is why, in the summer of 2016, we are chatting over coffee in the refectory at Keele University, in the hills just west of Newcastleunder-Lyme, where James Tartaglia is senior lecturer in Philosophy.

Of course, he could have left jazz behind. He had classes of students to worry about, a book to write - it was published by Bloomsbury earlier this year under the intriguing title Philosophy In A Meaningless Life: A System of Nihilism, Consciousness and Reality.

While we stroll across the Keele campus - looking vibrant on this sunny day and feeling not nearly as fraught as it might appear in the run-up to exams - James's enthusiasm for his chosen subject is infectious.

"Once I was well and truly hooked, I started doing well in my philosophy degree. I wasn't really making any progress in jazz. Meanwhile I was able to secure funding to continue my studies into an M.Phil, then a Ph.D, then I was offered a teaching fellowship, then I got a lectureship."

Which is what prompted the journey north to settle in Birmingham.

"I already knew philosophers in Birmingham, the jazz scene was considerably more focused, accessible and arguably more innovative than in London, and we could afford to live right in the city centre and walk to all the kinds of attractions that London offers only via the Tube. …

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