James William Bastien was born in Bellingham, Washington, on April 10, 1934. He received his bachelor's and masters degrees from Southern Methodist University. Hungarian pianist Gy‹rgy Sšndor was one of his teachers.
Bastien married Jane Smisor, a pianist and teacher, in 1961. He and his wife became a prolific pedagogical team; writing more than 300 instructional books aimed at both children and adults. Titles in various series include James Bastien Piano Basics, Musicianship For The Older Beginner, Bastien Favorite Classic Melodies, Bastien Pop, Boogie, Rock, Country, and Bastiens' Invitation To Music: Piano Party Book A.
The Bastien series present a carefully sequenced approach, with accompanying materials devoted to theory, technique, and performance. The Bastien method avoids teaching musical notation immediately; instead, beginners learn to play basic tunes by placing their fingers on particular keys and adhering to finger patterns. After several months, students learn how to read music.
Bastien taught at Notre Dame, Tulane University, and Loyola University as well as at summer institutes such as Tanglewood and what is now called the Interlochen Arts Camp in Interlochen, Michigan.
In recognition of their contribution to music and music education, Jane and James Bastien were awarded the 1999 MTNA (Music Teachers' National Association) Lifetime Achievement Award.
According to a blog published by his daughter Lori Bastien Vickers, a La Jolla-based piano teacher, a memorial concert was held January 28 and featured performances by students of the Bastien family. Their other daughter, Lisa Bastien Hanss, of Manhattan, is also a piano teacher. Both daughters have worked on books within the Bastien series.
Bastien died of Alzheimer's disease, according to his wife. He was 71.