Many young musicians show promise, but very few enjoy the talent and meteoric rise that pianist, keyboardist, producer and composer James Francies has experienced . Since his debut album, Flight , captivated listeners in 2018, Francies has expanded personal explorations of sound bending and orchestral approaches to music. Collaborations across stylistic realms, including those with Childish Gambino, Pat Metheny, Mark Ronson, The Roots, YEBBA, Chris Potter, Common, Eric Harland, Marcus Miller, DJ Dahi and Ms. Lauryn Hill, have enhanced his development and refined his sound.
The New York Times, in a recent article, speaks of him as, “a pianist with liquid dynamism in his technique”. Francies began playing piano around the age of 4, with classical training and an education in church music. Blessed with perfect pitch and synesthesia (or the ability to hear in color), he attended his first jazz concert, by Houston-born piano legend Joe Sample, at age 6, and began studying jazz in high school.
Many profound influences followed, some of them surprising. Along with pianists like Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Mulgrew Miller, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Taylor Eigsti, an old friend, Francies points to guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Mike Moreno and trumpet masters like Nicholas Payton, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan. A highly decorated tenure at HSPVA, including spots in the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.
While earning his degree, Francies was also quickly rising through the jazz ranks and building a professional career. Early time on the bandstand with Jeff “Tain” Watts helped him pull teeth and raise his profile, as did his first international tour, with Chris Dave and Drumhedz. Chris Potter selected him for his trio along with drummer Eric Harland, and Pat Metheny formed a trio with Francies and drummer Nate Smith. He met Questlove and Roots keyboardist James Poyser a few years ago, and has since become a go-to resource for Quest and company, filling in for Poyser on Roots concerts and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; participating in the Roots-produced cast recording of Hamilton , in addition to other film and television scoring work.
Releasing Purest Form, his second release for Blue Note, Francies accesses the intimate chambers of his art, interpreting love, pain, fragility and strength. The album’s core trio includes Francies’ longtime collaborators Burniss Travis on bass and Jeremy Dutton on drums, three Houston-bred artists who have been playing and developing together for over a decade. Additional musicians featured throughout include his Blue Note labelmates, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and vibraphonist Joel Ross, as well as guitarist Mike Moreno and vocalists Elliott Skinner, Peyton and Bilal.