James Francies is a musical lord. Not Headliner’s words, but Mark Ronson’s. The promising and obscenely talented pianist, keyboardist and composer explains why he lets his piano do the talking.
Plenty of young musicians show promise, but very few enjoy the sort of meteoric rise that pianist, keyboardist and composer, James Francies is currently experiencing. At only 24, the Texas-born musician has played with jazz headliners like Pat Metheny, Chris Potter, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Stefon Harris, Eric Harland and Terrace Martin.
He’s also found the time to carve out quite a name for himself in hip-hop and R&B circles, having played with Lauryn Hill, José James, Common, and Nas, in addition to featuring on Chance the Rapper’s Grammy-winning hit No Problem, working with powerhouse vocalist, Yebba, and regularly appears with The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon alongside his mentor and friend, Questlove – also one of the producers of Broadway musical, Hamilton.
Used to regularly traveling for various projects as it is, Francies is likely to be a lot busier from now on after being praised by Mark Ronson after featuring on a stripped back version of Ronson and Yebba track, Don’t Leave Me Lonely.
“If you don’t know who James Francies is, he’s a 24 year old musical LORD signed to Blue Note who played on No Problem and tours with Pat Metheny!” said Ronson in an Instagram post. “He and Yebba have an incredibly special musical connection – like a psychic connection – which you all will get to partake of when Yebba’s album comes. So basically for this recording, I just sat James at the electric piano, plugged in Yebba’s mic and got the f**k out the way, like I was in a Ludacris song. James adds his own emotiveness to this song, a little more Radiohead/Glasper vibes, and Yebba’s vocals bring chills as always.”
Speaking to Headliner from his home in New York, (at the time of writing he has just flown back from performing with Ronson and Yebba on Later...with Jools Holland in London) a jetlagged Francies is a man of few words: “I enjoy being able to describe life through sound. To me, that's what makes music relevant; speaking on a subject without words." Forever humble, he is taking all the recent accolades, collaborations and dream projects in his stride.
“I first did a few sessions with Mark and Yebba, and Mark took a liking to me. He’s been working with her, so we both thought it would just be natural for me to join him. So everything's kind of circular. He's got a great sense of humour as well,” he adds. “Oh my gosh, he's really funny. Everyone in the UK has this sense of humour that's incredible; very dry, very sarcastic – I love it.”
Francies has been called “a pianist with liquid dynamism in his touch,” playing the piano for the first time aged four, then becoming a standout pupil at HSPVA – the renowned performing and visual arts high school whose alumnae include Beyoncé, Jason Moran, Chris Dave and Eric Harland, later earning a full scholarship to Manhattan’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.