In conversation with: Reuben James

Critically-acclaimed jazz musician and AWF patron Reuben James was just 17 when he was asked to join Abram’s band, offering him a chance to raise his profile and develop his skills as a pianist. In 2013 Reuben was approached to play with a then up-and-coming singer called Sam Smith. He’s subsequently toured the world with Smith, performing on his multi-award winning albums and co-wrote title track The Thrill Of It All from Smith’s most recent record. Reuben has collaborated with a range of artists from Soweto Kinch and Jason Marsalis to KINDGM, Bruno Major, Liam Payne, Little Mix, Tom Misch and Tori Kelly, plus acted as music director for pop star Calum Scott.

Our founder and CEO Jennie Cashman-Wilson caught up with Reuben as he released his debut EP Adore.

Jennie: 2019’s been a huge one already for you as a solo artist with Adore.  Tell us a little bit about the record?

Reuben: It’s so exciting to finally release some original music. It’s a collection of some songs I’ve been working on for the past couple of months that I really wanted to share with the world. I got some of my favourite musicians involved and it all just kind of came together really nicely.

Jennie: There are some amazing collaborations on the EP, who would you love to work with in the future?

Reuben: I would love to work with PJ Morton, I’m a huge fan. I also would love to work with Noname, I thinks she’s dope. And Syd as well – she’s amazing.

Jennie: Tell us a secret or a highlight of life on tour with Sam Smith?

Reuben: A highlight is definitely getting together in the dressing room and dancing before the performance every night with the band!

Jennie: You’re kindly playing at an assembly for us later in the year, as part of our multi-arts programme for young people. What does this mean to you?

Reuben: It means everything to me. I love teaching and sharing knowledge. It’s so important to bring more kids into the music. I’m so blessed to have had incredible mentors that have paved the way for me, it’s only right to share everything I know and create the same chances for the next generation. 

Jennie: What are your top tips for young musicians who dream of playing professionally as a career? 

Reuben: Play with your friends as often as you can, nothing can recreate the practice of actually playing with real people especially if you all are into the same music. It’s always good to play with people better than you as well because they will always push you.

Jennie: What’s in the diary for the rest of 2019?

Reuben: Hosting my label Rufio Records‘ first ‘Residency’ night at Laylow in London on the 1st August with some special guests. On the 17th November I’ll be headlining at Birmingham Symphony Hall and I can’t wait to play in my home town! I’ll also be announcing a headline Ronnie Scotts show later in the year.

Abram valued the power of teaching. He stood out as a creative and passionate educator, providing a unique opportunity for much younger musicians to learn from him through rehearsals and gigs. We’d love your support to help us champion the careers of up-and-coming jazz artists through our Career Development Programme – join us as an Abram Wilson Foundation Trailblazer now!