James Keith Zimmerman, a native Washingtonian, is a preserver of African American musical culture and history. As a vocalist, he is an exceptional interpreter of songs. Steeped in the time honored tradition of the great jazz vocalists, his voice has been described as like that of a horn, and his performances are presented in an original, authentic style. In performance, he evokes the imaginative spirit of the masters who have inspired him—artists such as Jon Hendricks, Oscar Brown, Jr., Sarah Vaughan, Eddie Jefferson, Bill Henderson, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Al Jarreau, Jobim, and Djavan. James’ repertoire is filled with gems that include the best of jazz standards, bebop, swing, Broadway musicals, and Bossa Nova, interpreted with feeling including using vocalese and scat improvisation. James was a founding member of Cloudburst (2010-2014), the D.C. vocalese group interpreting the works of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. He also performs as a solo artist in a variety of ensemble configurations and was a featured vocalist with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO). He has been awarded multiple grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts including: in 2013, a City a Project grant, Cultural Hero: The Musical World of Oscar Brown, Jr., and in 2012, a City Arts Grant to present a tribute entitled Jon Hendricks: Vocalese Jazz Messenger. In 2008, he was awarded two grants—An Artists Fellowship, and a City Arts Project grant to produce a concert series, Storytellers and Crooners: African American Male Jazz Vocalists whereas he performed the music of Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks, Oscar Brown, Jr. Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman, and Bill Henderson. In that year he also was selected as a finalist in Baltimore’s 2nd Annual Cab Calloway Vocal Competition. James studied with several esteemed jazz masters including Sheila Jordan, David Baker, Lawrence Wheatley, the late Calvin Jones, pianist Doug Carn, and vocalist Mark Murphy. In 1993, James received a scholarship to attend the esteemed Jazz in July, a jazz improvisation training program at UMASS-Amherst.
James serves on the staff of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in the Office of Programs and Special Initiatives as Senior Programs Producer. In that time, he has produced numerous successful events and activities for the museum. Prior this, James served as Executive Director for the SJMO—2000-2006 where he was responsible for shaping the mission and direction of the SJMO; and Producer— 1994-2000 during which time he enhanced the orchestra’s reputation and substantially increased audience outreach through strategic development of diverse programs. He has served on the staffs of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts; and was a consultant/contractor to the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in Baltimore, where he conceived and co-founded the Living Legacy Award in 1994.
Other career highlights include: researching and conducting extensive oral history interviews with jazz vocalists: Jon Hendricks, Oscar Brown, Jr.; and Bill Henderson. He also wrote liner notes for the CD, Bill Henderson Live at the Kennedy Center and conceived and produced the Louis Armstrong Education Kit, developed and written by Luvenia George and David Baker.