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James Francies: Cleared for Takeoff

At 23, the keyboardist has made a grand debut

James Francies
James Francies (photo: Jati Lindsay)

James Francies appeared humbled and startled to see a full house for his gig at New York’s Jazz Standard. It was a chilly Friday evening in early November, and it was pouring outside. “Wow. I’m glad y’all came out in all of this rain,” he said, after introducing members of his band. “If I didn’t have to be here, I would be at home watching Law and Order or something.”

The audience had reason to brave the elements. Not only is the 23-year-old Francies one of the most talked-about pianists in jazz today, but the concert was celebrating the release of his auspicious Blue Note debut, Flight. Hailing from Houston and having attended the city’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts—alma mater to such jazz luminaries as Jason Moran and Robert Glasper—Francies has quickly risen to the high ranks of his generation. He’s already played with Pat Metheny, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Stefon Harris, as well as hip-hop royalty like the Roots, Common, and Nas.

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