This Jazz Pianist Is Achieving Greatness Because He Embraces Risk

T.S. Eliot, the famous poet, wrote, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Most people understand this best in the context of physical barriers, like working for increased athletic prowess or exploring the polar ice caps, but the arts depend upon risk like few other disciplines. The success of a creative mind demands innovation, and every effort to advance a discipline comes with a very real risk of failure. A writer like Eliot would know that the greats carve their own paths into and through the unknown, regardless of the jeopardy.

Enter James Francies, a pianist who graduated from The New School’s College of Performing Arts with a Bachelor’s of Music in Jazz Performance. If there is no reward without risk, Francies accolades point to some pretty big chances taken. He’s the youngest recipient of the of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) President’s Youth Award and he was awarded twice for Composition and Jazz Arrangement by DownBeat magazine. Revive Music named him one of 8 Artists You Should Know.

You also might recognize him from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where he sits in with The Roots.

Clearly, this is a man destined to accomplish amazing things, but that shouldn’t be a surprise because that was Francies’ plan all along. As a 14-year-old in Houston, Texas, he began dreaming of attending The New School, the private university in Greenwich Village.

“One of the main reasons I chose to go to The New School was to change things,” he says. “My friends and I were like, ‘Let’s all go to The New School and build something there, a music community. That way we can work on our own music, and play, and truly develop something.’”

Developing something means conceiving and implementing big ideas, and that’s a path fraught with opportunities to fail. But Francies had The College of Performing Arts to help guide him. There he found the tools to create a personalized path. Through his college experience, he was able to unlock his creative potential without ever feeling restricted. In fact, the draw of The New School was that its unique approach granted a freedom that would allow him to face setbacks while striving for greatness.

For some young people, moving to NYC fresh out of high school and designing your own path is anxiety-inducing, but with The New School on his side Francies was able to embrace the risk.

“I know for some people, that much freedom can be a little scary,” he explains. “Prior to attending college, people are used to being told what to do, which direction to go. And then, you get to The New School and they’re like, ‘Here’s a blank canvas where you can have all the resources, now you can kind of turn it into whatever you want.’ If you are focused, it can be an amazing experience that develops your sound as a musician, which I think should be the main goal going to an art school.”