By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 11, 2003 at 5:27 AM

{image1}It's not often that a Milwaukee musician has a profound effect on a vibrant and internationally-acclaimed and influential music and art scene, but local boy James Chance did just that a quarter-century ago and a thousand miles away.

The downtown New York art rock scene in the mid-1970s was one of the most vibrant scenes in modern history. The confluence of artists like Basquiat and Warhol and of countless musicians exploring the traditional boundaries certainly rivaled Paris' Montparnasse in the 1910s or the '50s New York art scene.

One of the most engaging musicians of the No Wave was Milwaukee native Chance, aka James White, who had two bands that electrified that scene and released records that define the moment.

The Contortions and James White & The Blacks blended funk, jazz, rock, disco and soul into an indescribable avant garde sound that was also accessible, danceable and exciting.

Chance, whose real name is James Siegfried, is the second of the four children of a suburban school administrator and his wife. Chance was a smart kid and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist in high school. Chance, whose mother played piano, started off on the instrument but took up the saxophone when he was 19.

When he first heard John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," he's said, a whole new world was opened to Chance and he devoured with works of avant garde jazz masters like Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor. The musical freedom and exploratory spirit he learned from them would influence his own music heavily.

While Chance studied at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, he later claimed to have been disgusted by his experience there and he high-tailed it to New York City in 1976 with fellow saxist David Murray. Within a year, he was engrossed by the new wave -- and the No Wave -- scene downtown, which centered around clubs like The Bowery's CBGB.

But Chance never was able to string together enough commercial success to become a bonafide star like some of his contemporaries -- Talking Heads and David Byrne, Debbie Harry and Blondie, Patti Smith or even Tom Verlaine and Television.

However, "Irresistible Impulse" (Tiger Style), a four-disc boxed set released earlier this year, collects his best work and reminds us why the vibrant sax man and his eclectic, electric music was -- and remains -- so popular among those in the know.

The beautifully-packaged set has the LPs "James White's Flaming Demonics," The Contortions' "Buy," The Blacks' "Off White" and "Sax Maniac," alongside a bevy of EP tracks and previously unreleased material. Milwaukee trumpeter Brian Lynch makes an appearance on a 1988 session.

James Chance returns to town Thurs., Nov. 13 for a 10 p.m. show at Onopa Brewing Co., 735 E. Center St. Call (414) 264-3630 for more information.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.