Q&A with Blue Note pianist James Francies

James Francies is doing it all. A native Houstonian and HSPVA grad, the keyboard phenom earned major accolades with the release of his debut album, Flight, in 2018. He’s toured and recorded with jazz greats Eric Harland, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Pat Metheny and Chris Potter, among others, and gigged with Ms. Lauryn Hill, Common, and Nas, and can frequently be spotted performing with The Roots on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”

On November 2, he’ll be back in his hometown to kick off the Blue Note 80th Anniversary Celebration Tour with DACAMERA, joining his label-mates Kandace Springs and James Carter Organ Trio for an evening of sizzling jazz old and new. We caught up with Francies by phone from his home in New York, where we covered Blue Note, Astros baseball and what’s next for this major talent and rising star.

Tell me about the Blue Note Celebration Tour—what are you most excited about?

Blue Note Records is celebrating their 80th anniversary, which is a really big deal. They’ve chosen three people on their roster to do a US tour, going around the country each playing sets with our respective bands, and then at the end of the show we’re all going to come out together and perform something from the Blue Note catalog. It could be John Coltrane, Miles Davis—something fun.

Are we going to be hearing mostly songs from Flight?

There will be some songs from Flight, also some new music that we’re about to record that I’m looking forward to performing.

What does being part of this label mean to you? Did you listen to a lot of Blue Note artists growing up?

I did! I just put together this playlist for a radio show with all my favorite recordings from the Blue Note Catalog, and I basically grew up listening to all of this great stuff early on. It’s a blessing to be a part of such a legendary label.

Can you tell me a little about the artists who are joining you on the bill, Kandace Springs and James Carter?

We each have our own style, Kandace is a great vocalist and accompanies herself very well; James Carter is bringing an organ trio, which is such a specific sound; my trio is keyboards and that type of thing, so it’s a nice blend. I don’t think the listeners will get too much of one thing. It’ll be a nice dynamic.

Are you excited to kick off the tour on Houston?

I am, yes, I’m flying out in a few days, and doing some events with DACAMERA before the concert. By the time I’m there we’ll hopefully be in the middle of the World Series.

Are you repping the Astros right now up in New York?

Always. Definitely.

How is performing in Houston different?

I just feel at home, there’s so many people I grew up that are still here, so it’ll be very nice. Houston always shows great love.

Anything you always try to do while you’re here?

There’s a lot of food I try to hit: Whataburger, Frenchy’s, Pappas Bar-B-Q, all the Tex-Mex.

Tell me about how being raised in Houston influenced your music and your growth as a performer?

Houston has such a rich music history, just being around all those sounds influenced me. The trio I’m bringing for this performance [Jeremy Dutton on drums and Burniss Travis on bass] is from Houston, but we all live in New York. We have been playing together since before we moved—I actually met them before I started high school [at Houston School of Performing and Visual Arts], and we just naturally built a Houston sound.

Considering all your accomplishments and success with Flight, it’s easy to forget that you’re just 24. What are you looking forward to trying that you haven’t done yet?

You know, just continuing to play. I’ve been working with Mark Ronson and this singer/songwriter YEBBA, she was on My Day Will Come, and since then we’ve been working together a lot. I want to do more scores for films. Mostly I want to make sure at the end of the day I’m still stimulated by everything. Some people just keep doing the same thing and they get complacent. I always want to be challenging myself constantly.

The Blue Note Records 80th Birthday Celebration Houston performance is Nov. 2 at 8pm at Wortham Theater Center. Tickets start at $42.50 and are available here.