BY LIZ RUSSELL
Florida Weekly Correspondent | March 7, 2019
Isaac James, the new guy in town, has taken in the musical landscape. He likes what he has seen. “It’s very hungry for music,” he said the other day while enjoying a morning coffee at The Bean on 41 in Punta Gorda. “It’s not like there’s too much of it. The community is very hungry for the performing arts, which is a very promising thing.”
Mr. James, an accomplished classical pianist, will perform a benefit concert with tenor Skip Potter on March 17 at the Congregational Church of Christ in Punta Gorda. The concert will benefit the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition of Charlotte County.
Mr. James moved to Punta Gorda Isles from Upstate New York when he recently took over as the musical director for the church.
Mr. James and Mr. Potter will put on a show that will include Irish music without focusing on St. Patrick’s Day. A quick glance at their extensive performance list reveals music from Puccini to Andrew Lloyd Webber to Leonard Bernstein to Stephen Sondheim. “It will feature a large variety of music from ever genre,” Mr. James said.
The son of an Anglican minister, Mr. James, 30, was home-schooled and privately trained. He grew up in Vermont and Upstate New York. His reaction to the piano was instantaneous. “I actually hated the piano with a passion in the very beginning,” he laughed. Once he stopped resisting and sat down at the old upright piano in his home, he found he could play by ear. He was 6 years old. “From 6 to 12 years old, it was all by ear,” Mr. James recalled. “I’d hear something and, for a day, I would fumble around with it. Nothing was ever serious.”
He didn’t start taking formal lessons until he was 12. He studied under about a half-dozen different teachers, the most influential of whom was Janine M. Johnson of Watertown, New York. “She was very strict, very strict,” Mr. James said. “She was classically trained and very detailed in her approach. She gave me the structure I needed. She didn’t perform, but she had all the contacts to perform. I would do a lot of accompaniment work that she couldn’t do.
“After a month, month and a half, it was like wildfire. The two of us putting our heads together, it really worked. A lot of my performing career is due to her.” He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2012.
Mr. James got away from classical piano for a while and delved into jazz. He still enjoys playing it and performs it.
He was familiar with the area before he moved here, visiting friends in Punta Gorda Isles regularly. He loves to golf, sail and fly and discovered it was pretty easy to do all three without having to wait for summer to come around. The event that persuaded him to move here permanently was the death of his mother, Cassondra, who died at 49 of cancer in 2016.
“It was time for a new start,” Mr. James said, “just to get out and broaden my horizons a bit. I’d never lived outside the Northeast.”
The opportunity presented itself when the Congregational Church began looking for a musical director. He was hired Jan. 1.
“It couldn’t be any more perfect,” he said
Mr. Potter is a friend of Mr. James’ from Vermont. They have performed together before, and they’re booked to perform on a Norwegian cruise in June. Mr. Potter came down to rehearse, and Mr. James decided it would be a good idea to hold a concert to benefit a local nonprofit as a way of introducing himself to the area. He plans a solo concert in the near future.
On March 17, they plan to “bring really good music, music that is really intimate to the audience,” Mr. James said. “Some concerts you go to, the music is great, but it doesn’t quite fit your soul. The one thing I can guarantee is that I play and he sings from the soul. The emotional connection is there.”