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Stafford is Founder and President of Top Hat Music Society, Inc., a dinner/concert music series including Jazz, Classical, Operetta and Cabaret with international artists. Also in 2011,Stafford's composition "That's what dreams are made of" is utilized in the French film "Le Grand Restaurant" by Pierre Palmade, starring Gérard Depardieu, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry L Hermitte, Chantal Lauby, Gérard Damon, Nathalie Baye, Pierre Cassignard, Marie Bourlet, Alex Lutz, Maxime Godart, Virginie Hocq, Anne-Elizabeth Blateau, plus a stellar cast of others.  


In 1973 he toured Europe for the first time with Gary Bartz. In 1974, he was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. At the same time he met Betty Carter, sparking a lifelong friendship, and Woody Shaw. During this period, he started teaching at the United Nations International School in NYC. His first album as a leader in 1975 on the Horo label featured Enrico Rava, Dave Burrell and Beaver Harris. In 1976 he founded a quintet, featuring bass, cello, saxophones, drums and percussion which also toured Europe. He met Dexter Gordon there while touring with Al Cohn and recorded Homecoming with him upon his return to the United States. He then toured Europe with John Scofield and performed on his album Rough House. After this he recorded his second album as a bandleader, The Stafford James Ensemble in 1978 featuring Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern and Louis Hayes.


In the early 1980s James toured Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, and South America. In 1983 he began collaborating with Jimmy Heath, and did more work with Woody Shaw, including a world tour with the United States Information Service. In 1986, he composed an Ethiopian Suite for two basses, string ensemble, drums and dancers for the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival Dance. That same year, he arranged compositions by Duke Ellington for an ensemble consisting of himself, pianist Mulgrew Miller and cellist Akua Dixon. In 1987 he composed Sonatina for viola d'amore and double bass, premiered at Bates Recital Hall at the University of Texas, Austin and at the European Music Festival in Stuttgart in 1988.

In 1989 James moved to Paris, collaborating with Pharaoh Sanders, Barney Wilen and Lavelle, after which he formed the Stafford James Project. Then studies with Ludwig Streicher in Vienna. In 1991 he played Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird on tour with the Ukrainian National Orchestra of LVOV. In 1994 he played in his trio with pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs and drummer Ronnie Burrage. He then composed Les Alpes aux Carpates for solo bass, two pan flutes, string orchestra, women's choir, synthesizers and drums in 1995.


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