Carmel Valley drummer performs at this year's Grammy Awards

Drummer David James with his band at the Grammy's.
Drummer David James with his band at the Grammy's.

By Diane Y. Welch

When the GRAMMY Foundation selected 30 high school students to participate in its jazz ensembles for this year's Grammy Awards, local drummer David James was one of them. Chosen from hundreds of students nationwide, David, 16, a junior at Canyon Crest Academy High School, was awarded one of only two drummer places available.

Prompted to apply by a friend, David sent an audition tape and his application to the foundation last October. “Then I got a phone call about a month later telling me I had been selected for the Grammy Quintet,” he said.

The foundation sent out its official announcement to the selectees in December. Each student would participate in choir, jazz combo or jazz band. David was chosen to play drums with the jazz quintet ensemble that would perform on stage during the internationally-televised Grammy Awards show.

When the night of the awards aired, on Feb. 13, bassist Esperanza Spalding, who had just been recognized as Best New Artist, played with Davis and his jazz ensemble. “It was a really great experience!” David said.

That performance was only part of a whirlwind week that involved David taking part in several jazz performances that included a gig at the Spaghettini Italian Grill and Jazz Club with Esperanza Spalding; playing at the Grammy Nominee Reception; performing for MusiCares Person of the Year event — Barbra Streisand was the honoree — and an hour long set at the Grammy Awards after-party.

The students, representing 30 cities and 12 states, convened in Los Angeles under the musical direction of Justin DiCioccio of the Manhattan School of Music, Dr. Ron McCurdy of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, and Dr. Leila Heil of Colorado State University, according to Christina Cassidy, representative of the GRAMMY Foundation.

Prior to the awards celebrations, the foundation sent music and detailed instructions to participants to prepare them for their performances. The pressure was on.

“We each also arranged songs and had just over a month to learn everything,” David said. In Los Angeles, there were three full days of intensive rehearsals and a visit to Capitol Studios in Hollywood where the ensembles collectively recorded a CD.

In addition, each selectee's school received a cymbal courtesy of the Zildjian Company. As a drummer, David was able to personally choose a cymbal from Zildjian's vaults which will be donated to Canyon Crest Academy.

The Grammy jazz ensemble’s selectees are eligible for college scholarships made possible through the GRAMMY Foundation's college partners: Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and USC Thornton School of Music.

David has already secured a place at Manhattan School of Music in New York on the strength of his musical participation during the awards week, but is also looking into other New York-based music schools to earn his degree.

A passion for drumming started early in life for David who was born and raised in England. “He got his first toy drum when he was a year old,” said his mother, Sharon James. A year later he received his first drum set and has been drumming avidly ever since.

David's past accomplishments include Outstanding Soloist Award at Stanford Jazz Camp in 2008 and participation in the inaugural 2010 San Diego Drum Summit—just two of several awards and accolades earned. He said that he sees his future as a professional musician, touring with a band and recording music. For now, David may be seen drumming Sunday mornings at Elevate Church, which meets at 10 am at Torrey Pines High School, and Sunday evenings at the Jazz Jam, sponsored by radio's Jazz 88.3, at Busalacchi's Spahetteria in Little Italy.

To find out more about David, visit, To find out more about the GRAMMY Foundation and opportunities for young musicians, visit



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