• James Francies Portrait
    Jazz '17

    BFA Piano ’17, School of Jazz and Contemporary Music

    What are you working on now?

    I’m working on a lot of different songwriting and producing for other artists. I’m also working on a new album for myself. I’ve been doing a lot of producing and songwriting over the last few years, and a lot of new stuff should be coming out this year.

    When you started your program, what did you think you would be doing?

    At The New School’s College of Performing Arts [CoPA], I always knew that I wanted to collaborate with a bunch of people in my genre and class and that I wanted to play my own music, tour, and work with other artists. But then things just started picking up and snowballing from one thing to another. A lot of the things that have happened to me I could have never predicted, but I always had a feeling I would be still doing music.

    What was a new way of learning that you experienced at The New School?

    At CoPA, you get a lot of freedom to tailor your studies to what you want to do and what you’re trying to learn. I think learning to trust yourself, as well as learning to do things that intrigue you, is a big part of that. Thinking outside of the box and just experimenting are other big things I learned at CoPA. A lot of my time at The New School was experimenting and seeing what worked and what didn’t work musically and just trying new things. I think it’s similar to being in a science lab at CoPA; it’s a lot of trial and error.

    How did that change your way forward?

    I actually took a few lessons with a singer, Bilal Oliver, who goes by Bilal as his stage name. He also went to The New School, and now he’s a GRAMMY Award–winning singer. During my freshman year, when I took lessons with him, he had me do things outside the box, just getting me out of my comfort zone in terms of composing. I remember him saying things like, “OK, you did it like this. Now flip it upside down. What’s it sound like?” Or “Use only this octave”—things like that. It was such a different way of seeing music, where you learn from someone who is a creative but also knows their instruments so well and is able to switch back and forth between them and various modes of thinking. I think that really affected me as an artist.

    There was also a regimen and stricter learning within the different lessons I’ve taken. But on the more creative side, the cool thing about The New School was that you can take a test to pass out of an instrument proficiency; if you do pass out, you can study with whomever you want for private lessons. I passed out—I think in my first semester there—and through that program, I was able to study with different artists and musicians. I had private lessons, which are not traditional lessons. You know, you can study with a guitarist; you can study with a vocalist; you can study with other pianists; you can study with people from many different genres— they didn’t have to be people on the faculty of The New School. You could essentially study with anyone in New York City.

    Where do you see yourself in five years?

    That’s a really great question! I hope I’ll still be making music and continuing to get better. I just want to keep building on what I’ve already built so far and reach more people, collaborate with more people, make more albums, and improve as an artist. I think I’ve always just loved that feeling of getting better and improving.

    How do you want to leave your mark on the world?

    Just as somebody who’s a nice person and made the music they want to make. A good person first of all.

    I love teaching, too. There’s an ensemble class that I teach once a week, and I give private lessons here and there. I’ve also taught some master’s students this past semester. I definitely want to start my own program somewhere. The cool thing about teaching is you have to know something so well to the point where you can articulate it to someone who’s coming up. There’s that saying: If you can get a five-year-old to understand it, then you really know something. Whenever I teach, I feel that I’m just getting better, too, because you sometimes have to repeat things and really get under the hood to see how it all works.

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