Jim Pinkerton (1950 – 2018) will be remembered for his exuberance, kindness, and hearty laugh. He was many things: a concert pianist and harpist, a member of the “President’s Own” Marine Band, fourth place winner in the 1976 Israel Competition, White House performer for multiple presidents, solo touring artist for Columbia Artists, and later one half of a musical duo with John Escosa, registered nurse and nurse practitioner, nurturing mentor to his students at Temple College in Taylor, Texas, patron of the arts, harp technician for the Lyon & Healy Technician’s Guild, quilter, motorcycle and vintage car enthusiast, storyteller, and a loving friend to all who crossed his path. He was always eager to help other harpists with regulation, music, markings or even loaning his harp when needed.
Jim’s passion for the harp began at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. A piano student in Miles Mauney’s piano studio, Jim was enthralled by the sound of the harp. Fellow harpist Jacquelyn Bartlett recalls him lurking outside her practice room, and suggested he enroll in beginning harp with Lucy Lewis. He then studied harp for a year with Suzanne Davids. From Oberlin, Jim entered the Marine Band as a harpist.
Harpist and friend Faith Carman remembers first meeting Jim in the green room after a concert with harpist Dotian (Carter) Levalier. “Jimmy was 19 at the time and looked magnificent in his full dress uniform and handsome to boot. I will never forget that evening.” Ray Pool remembers being regaled by Jim’s stories as they traveled on the train from lessons at Lucile Lawrence’s Larchmont, N.Y., home to Manhattan. Ray remembers Jim telling him about his prized photo taken with soprano Beverly Sills the night Jim accompanied her at a White House state dinner, and that Jim’s reaction to playing solo in the White House foyer for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth was, “the diamonds were blinding!”
Colleague Kathy Kienzle recalls how impressive Jim looked competing in his dress uniform at the 1976 Israel Competition and his story about learning the Handel Concerto. In his early days with the Marine Band, Jim played a lot of background music at the White House. According to him, the senators would have three-martini lunches and not really care what he played, so he practiced the Handel slowly at 60 to the quarter note while they lunched.
After his time in the Marine Band, Jim won a spot as a solo and orchestral touring artist for Columbia Artists. It was a fierce schedule and lonely life as he was the artist and the driver. Later, he and John Escosa traveled as a harp duo for Columbia Artists. Faith recalls John Escosa saying “Jimmy was his best partner, and he (Escosa) never played Debussy’s En Bateau again with any other harpist.”
The financial uncertainties of a musical career led Jim to pursue degrees as a registered nurse and master’s of science in nursing. His fieldwork led him to teaching, where he was a dedicated and nurturing mentor to his students.
Jim returned to the harp world as a technician and harpist in the summer of 1999. In 2004, he and partner Jack Harrington commissioned Sonnett 22 by Joel Hoffman to celebrate their 30th anniversary. The Washington Men’s Camerata and featured harpists Susan Jolles and Deborah Hoffman premiered it in 2006.
The Austin harp community, of which I am a part, celebrated Jim’s 2005 arrival in our city with a multiple harp concert. Jim agreed to participate with the stipulation that the second half would be him playing jazz standards with a rhythm section. This was during Jim’s “Harley Period.” Ever the showman, he shed his tuxedo at intermission and appeared bare-chested in a leather motorcycle vest, boots, and jeans for his jazz set. Jim Pinkerton is survived by his friend and loving partner of 44 years, Jack Harrington.
—by Delaine Leonard