James Irsay, born in New York City, began piano study at the Buffalo School of Music. Before he entered the fifth grade, his family moved back to New York so James could attend the Juilliard Preparatory Division, where he studied piano with Anne Hull, a student of Ernest Hutcheson. He also studied composition there with Peter Schickele (“PDQ Bach”) and Jacob Druckman. After private study in New York with the man who taught him the most, Sascha Gorodnitzky, he studied at Indiana University with Jorge Bolet, and John Ogdon, and composition with Frederick Fox.
James spent many years as an award-winning radio broadcaster, at WBAI, WNYC AND WQXR in New York, and on WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. His extra-musical pursuits include collecting and translating old books and manuscripts of practical kabbalah (Hebrew magic) and Jewish polemical writings. He has translated a (legendary) Jewish life of Jesus from a rare Hebrew manuscript in his collection.
He tries to keep his fingers in shape, but is busy working as a teacher to keep up rent payments for his overpriced apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He loves to fish for bluefish and striped bass in New York waters. His travels have taken him to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Morocco, Nepal, India (where he joined and traveled with a circus), Pakistan, Yemen, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and more. He plans to visit Europe soon, so he can pay his respects to Chopin.