James Chance, No Wave Icon & the Contortions Saxophonist, Dies at 71

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James Chance, the singer-saxophonist of the Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, who helped launch the No Wave scene in the late 1970s, has died. He was 71.


News of Chance’s passing was confirmed by his brother, David Siegfried, and shared through the late punk-funk artists’s Facebook page on Tuesday (June 18).

“His death was announced by his brother David Siegfried of Chicago, who did not specify a cause of death but noted that the musician’s health had been in decline for several years,” the lengthy post reads. “His final live performance is believed to have taken place in March 2019 in Utrecht, the Netherlands.”

Chance, who was known for blending jazz, punk and funk, died June 18 at Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in New York, according to the statement.

Born James Alan Siegfried in Milwaukee, Chance began playing piano while attending a Catholic elementary school and later took up the alto saxophone in his late teenage years. During his education at Michigan State University and Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, he formed the jazz band James Siegfried Quintet and the Stooges-influenced Death.

In 1975, Chance moved to New York, where he officially began using his stage name, and a year later formed the influential group Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with singer Lydia Lunch. In 1977, after studying with saxophonist David Murray, he formed the first version of the Contortions. The group released its debut album, Buy, in 1979. Chance was known for his confrontational stage presence and known to start fights with members of the crowd.

The Contortions broke up in 1979 and Chance reunited with some members of the band in 2003 for a series of shows, including All Tomorrow’s Parties in Los Angeles. They later toured together in the following years. Chance also performed with the Chicago band Watchers.

He is survived by his mother, Jean Siegfried; brother, David Siegfried; and sisters, Jill Siegfried and Mary (Randy) Koehler.

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