Claire grew up in Lincolnshire where she began learning the piano and flute at an early age. She gained Grade 8 piano at the age of 13, Grade 8 flute at the age of 14 and by 2006 had achieved the ABRSM Diploma in Piano Performance. In 2011, Claire graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music with a First Class honours degree, having studied piano with Sallyann McLeod. In the same year, she won the RNCM John Ireland Prize and the Principal’s Prize for Improvisation. She has had lessons with Phillipe Cassard, Nelson Goener and Michel Beroff and has performed across the UK.
As a jazz pianist, Claire performed regularly with the RNCM Big Band alongside acclaimed musicians such as Tina May, Jiggs Whigham, John Taylor, Gwilym Simcock and Diana Torto and her trio have appeared at the Manchester Jazz Festival and the London Jazz Festival, as well as during the BBC Proms Plus Series which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The Claire James Trio EP ‘Lines’ was released on the Manchester-based Efpi label, and was well received nation-wide.
More recently, Claire performed in Andy Scott’s ‘Mancunity’ band, a commission for the 2019 Manchester Jazz Festival, and also composed the original piano score for Rob Cope’s acclaimed 2019 film about jazz trumpeter Richard Turner, ‘Richard Turner – A Life in Music’. In July 2020, Claire released her debut album as bandleader of the septet Ensemble C, where she is joined by acclaimed UK jazz musicians Brigitte Beraha, Jack Davies, Jon Ormston, Tom Varrall, Ed Babar and Rob Cope.
Claire is also a passionate educator, and since graduating from music college has garnered a wide range of experience as a piano teacher. Currently, she works as a piano tutor for Donhead Preparatory School in Wimbledon and at Wycombe Abbey Girls School in High Wycombe. In March 2017, Claire was awarded a distinction level Fellow of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in piano performance, and in April 2018 became a Grade Examiner for the ABRSM.
In addition to these roles, in 2015 and 2016 Claire travelled to Kenya with the Volunteers Foundation to assist in the establishment of a music project for children living in the Kibera slum in Nairobi. This involved setting up individual piano, recorder and music theory lessons for a number of students, as well as co-leading a choir project.
Outside of music, Claire is passionate about travel and the outdoors. She has travelled much of Europe, as well as to many parts of the USA, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Hong Kong, Kenya, Morocco, Iceland, Vietnam, and Malaysia and Borneo. She loves hiking, running and cycling, and has walked the 32km Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand as well as the roughly 70 mile Jurassic Coast path from Devon to Dorset. She has also cycled London to Oxford and the incredible 87km Timber Trail on New Zealand’s North Island. In 2021, Claire hopes to achieve one of her great ambitions: cycling from Lands End to John O Groats!