A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Katherine Tom, via

Photo by Katherine Tom, via

Throughout 2014, The Jazz Gallery has paired today’s leading jazz musicians with some of New York’s most exciting up-and-comers in our Mentoring Series. As the year heads into its final months, we are proud to present the fourth and final pairing in our series: Jason Lindner’s Now vs. Now featuring the young pianist James Francies.

A Houston native and alumnus of the prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) like Jeremy Dutton, a fellow Gallery mentee, Francies has spent the last year in New York studying at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. During that time, he has already become a regular at venues across the city, playing with the likes of Stefon Harris, Chris Dave, and Mike Moreno. Francies and Lindner’s Now vs. Now will inaugurate their Mentoring Series performances this Thursday, November 20th, 2014, at SEEDS::Brooklyn Arts (617 Vanderbilt Ave.).

We caught up with James this week by phone to talk about the joys and challenges of playing with one of his favorite current pianists.

The Jazz Gallery: Can you tell us a bit about your experience with Jason’s music? When did you first hear it and what drew you to it?

James Francies: I first heard Jason’s music when I was a sophomore or junior in high school. I remember really enjoying the fact that he could make anything groove, no matter how complex or how tightly-arranged something was. He can use all these keyboards and synthesizers, but it would never get in the way of the flow of the music. It was just brilliant. It became something that I really tried to incorporate in my music as well.

TJG: In the past, you’ve talked about your varied musical upbringing—getting jazz from your dad and Earth, Wind & Fire from your mom, as well as funk and R&B from your uncle. Were you drawn to how Jason draws from this combination of styles as well?

JF: Definitely, because if you listen to some of Jason’s music—like the song “Worrisome” that we’re going to do—it just grooves so hard. When I first heard the trio version, I was like, “Oh, my goodness! This is great!” It sounded like something that should be heard on the radio, like D’Angelo or some other neo-soul-type thing. But at the same time, it challenges the listener because not everything is in 4/4 time. It’s not completely typical. I could see people my age who aren’t necessarily into jazz or aren’t musicians listening to it and really getting into it. In some ways, that’s the ultimate goal for me.

TJG: For this project, you’re going to be playing with Jason’s trio, Now vs. Now. First off, what’s it like playing with another keyboard player? This is something that doesn’t happen a lot in the jazz world.

JF: Jason’s setup is pretty ridiculous: he has a Rhodes, and a Prophet, and a Moog or some other synthesizer, and I’m using a Rhodes and this analog synthesizer. I’m really excited about all of this because it’s going to push myself to be more empathetic to what’s going on. Especially with all these sounds, it’s really easy to indulge in oneself. I think it’s going to be a great challenge for me to play a little bit less and focus on textures more than just lines. It won’t be like Jason and I are comping for each other, but more of a team effort to make the music come together.

TJG: Since Now vs. Now is an established group with its own sound, how do you think about fitting into their music?

JF: Jason’s music usually has a lot of different parts, so I’m thinking a lot about what I can bring to each section to help the song build. Jason, Panagiotis [Andreou], and Justin [Tyson] have played this music so much and are just so tight, so I want to let them do what they do so well and think carefully about what I can add that fits into what they do so well already. Like for Panagiotis, the way he interprets the music and adds stuff at the same time is completely mind-blowing. You don’t hear, “Well, here’s a bar of 7, and here’s a bar of 5, and here’s a bar of 3.” Everything is music; everything is groove.

Pianistically, Jason and I are so different. It will be so interesting to see how our different styles work side by side. My hope is that in this new context, Jason might do something a little differently, or Justin will do something a little differently, or I’m going to do something that I don’t usually do. We don’t know what’s going to happen because we’re throwing a big variable into the equation. The results are endless.

TJG: So this is both a way for you and Jason to get outside your comfort zone a bit and see what comes of it.

JF: Exactly. When we’re playing these tunes, I may interpret something a bit differently than Jason and then the whole piece can change compared to what happens on the record. And we’re also planning to do a couple of my tunes as well—maybe not at SEEDS, but certainly at The Jazz Gallery next month.

Jason is always down to try whatever. He’s really open. We were talking about how to split up different parts in some of his tunes, like on the album he overdubs piano and Rhodes, so it would be cool to have us both playing those parts at once. It frees him up a bit to try out something different.

TJG: In your last interview for Jazz Speaks, you talked about how synesthesia affects your compositional process. Since you’re playing with a lot of electronic sounds with this project, does synesthesia also come into play in terms of choosing and designing certain patches?

JF: That’s a great question. I’m not going to try to let my preconceptions get in the way. There are certain sounds that I like and certain sounds that I’ve been working on and trying to develop. It will be interesting to see what I come up with in the moment. I’m all into spontaneity in terms of texture. I don’t want to go into it saying, “Well, here’s patch one for this tune and patch two for this tune.” I want to be thinking, “What does this song need at this moment?”

Although the songs are set, the textures can definitely change in the moment, which, for me, really makes Jason’s music special. There’s always room for improvisation within the forms, and I want to reflect that in how I use my sounds. Even the different spaces will change what we do. SEEDS just has a Rhodes, so we’ll be doing all electronic stuff, but then ShapeShifter Lab has an acoustic piano, so we’ll see what that adds to the mix there.

Jason Lindner’s Now vs. Now featuring James Francies performs their first show as part of The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series this Thursday, November 20th, 2014, at SEEDS::Brooklyn Arts. The performance will feature Jason Lindner on piano and keyboard, Panagiotis Andreou on bass, Justin Tyson on drums, and James Francies on keyboard. There will be one set ONLY at 9 p.m., $10.00. Tickets will be available at the door.