James Demeny is a jazz musician, tap dancer, theatre artist, and educator in Chicago. He leads his self-titled jazz ensemble, playing video game music, new musical theatre standards, many sub-genres of jazz, and much more. James grew up playing video games, and mixing this affinity with a passion for creating music, James found a love for the soundtracks of Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Super Mario Bros., and much more. Together with his wonderful friends, James plays these iconic soundtracks with a fresh instrumentation. Using the historic art of tap dance, he comps and trades and supports and solos with his band, all by ‘playing’ his shoes as percussive instruments.
James uses tap dance as a musical instrument, rather than a visual spectacle constrained to the musical theatre stage. Rather than using choreography or focusing on the visual aspect of tap dance, James focuses on the music he makes with his shoes. James plays melodies, improvises over song forms, and replaces the drummer in the ensembles he leads. He has trained with Chicago drummers like Isaiah Spencer, Bob Rummage, and TJ Thompson, all with whom he learned about percussive soloing and phrasing, drum rudiments, the role of the drummer in an ensemble, and much more. His voice and sound through tap dance is not technical or flashy, but fairly pedestrian, and always focused on the music he makes. Having a tap dancer in place of a drummer creates an intimate sonic environment that makes you lean forward, watch, and listen. James’ music is influenced by his years of playing trumpet, vocal training in many styles, and his experience with classical music, musical theatre, video games and their soundtracks, and much more. James’ experience with tap dance began at Elmhurst University with a theatre-focused approach to the dance. Throughout quarantine, however, James began experimenting with improvisation. This quickly led to playing the melodies of jazz standards, improvising over those songs, and “playing his tap shoes” all over Chicago. James Demeny and his Wonderful Friends currently play concerts throughout Chicagoland. Keep an eye out for future shows at jamesdemeny.com!
As an educator, James teaches his students to develop their own voice within tap dance. It was designed to be an expression of movement and music, and a language, not for the glitz of Broadway and dance competitions. Rather than teaching pre-choreographed steps and combinations, James guides students through their own musical improvisation and exploration. Different than most other tap dance teachers, James’ students learn about music theory, and most importantly, the creation and execution of their own musical ideas.
James also teaches trumpet lessons! He has been playing trumpet since he started middle school band at age ten, working with a wealth of different ensembles. James has played with the Northern Illinois University Wind Ensemble, the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the marching, concert, and pep bands of Lake Park High School. Learning to play an instrument, especially a wind instrument, teaches delayed gratification in a way many art forms simply cannot. The study and practice of trumpet has taught James discipline, brought him endless creativity and fun, and is one of the best decisions he has ever made. His experiences with trumpet have taken him to competitions across the country, helped create so many memories and friendships, and made him the person and musician he is today. Though it is not his primary instrument anymore, James still works to spark a love for trumpet in his students.
"One of my favorite songs is the Route 228 theme from Pokémon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum. It’s such a melodically and harmonically interesting tune and I love playing it."