Earning his stripes | Monocle

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Jacob Collier springs through an assault course of cameras, lights, speakers and a dragnet of cables to alight at the grand piano, jolting it into life with the strutting chords of “Wherever I Go”, a choice cut from his new record. The photographer snaps away, sensing an instant win, as Collier drops his quiff to the keys and allows the riff to dissolve into some romantic Ravel, some dramatic Debussy – like a slight Liberace, pantomiming emotion, just for fun, in his trademark technicolour clobber.


It’s a press day for the release of Djesse Vol. 4, the latest in a run of albums, each an exquisite exercise in the young Londoner’s voyage through genres of pop music and beyond: self-written and self-produced but bedecked with dream duets and star collaborators. So do you just text Chris Martin or John Legend? “Oh, well, everyone’s busy,” says Collier with a chuckle. “Some are my friends, or became friends making these records. But I really seek to learn and want to jam with people who light me up.”

Thinking of Collier’s journey through the music world – often seen as loaded with more booby-traps and snake pits than an Indiana Jones adventure – calls to mind, say, a line of cartoon dynamite fizzing inexorably towards a comedy explosion that spells “genius”. Collier, not yet 30 years old, has won six Grammys and, at this year’s ceremony, played with Joni Mitchell in a celebration of the great Canadian artist’s 80th birthday. Collier has also worked with singers such as Shawn Mendes, John Mayer and Oumou Sangaré, film tsar Hans Zimmer and music’s Zeus, Quincy Jones.

Of course, people want to search for the source of such prodigious talent. “My earliest memory is sitting on my mother’s lap, looking up and seeing the violin above me being played,” says Collier. His mother, Suzie, is a violinist, conductor and teacher, and, naturally, took her micro-Mozart to concerts as she brought up her three children. “I was probably about two years old when I’d watch my mother conduct. That feeling of someone jumping off the ground and raising their arms – and then the music would begin. Part of it is about process, accuracy, dictation, yes, but you’re also throwing around permission, joy, questions and answers,” adds Collier, conducting his own memories with sweeping hands.

Collier is kinetic when he talks music. He won’t be drawn on genre (“I hadn’t really heard of genre until I was 16”) or musical terminology. Instead, Collier talks in colours, textures, weights, materials. “Yeah, I love telling an orchestra that it needs a bit more wool.” He also loves playing live – surely a good way of keeping such an insatiable musical mind limber. He’ll break off a number to improvise a piano solo or guitar riff and is now famous for his “audience choirs”, in which tens of thousands of fans, after being divided into musical parts, will provide gigantic, self-affirming choruses to the songs that they love. At least 77 dates, stretching from São Paulo to Seoul, await on Collier’s current monster world tour. No wonder he likes someone else to do the singing now and again.

So how do you make a record with artists as musically diverse as your highly classically trained mum, with her arpeggios and descending minor sevenths, and the groundbreaking grime artist Stormzy? “Well, it depends,” says Collier with a shrug. “But really, as you know, they’re both legends.” Just like that. A world of grand pianos, and more Grammys, surely awaits. — L

The CV

1994:Born in London
2004-2010: Singing in works from Mozart to Benjamin Britten while attending Mill Hill County High School
2011: Begins releasing Youtube videos of songs such as Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” that feature Collier’s trademark virtuosity
2016: Releases debut album “In My Room”, almost entirely composed and played by Collier
2017: Wins the first of six Grammy Awards
2018: Releases Djesse Vol. 1,featuring Laura Mvula and Hamid El Kasri
2024: Accompanies Joni Mitchell on “Both Sides Now” at the 66th Grammy Awards and releases Djesse Vol. 4

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