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Justin Kauflin: Humble Beginnings

By Published: March 8, 2011
I was also thinking about covering other jazz musicians' tunes. There are a lot of compositions that I really admire, ones that I have always been listening to. I mean, the only way a song becomes a standard is by a whole bunch of people playing it. Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
wrote a whole bunch of tunes in the '60s, and a lot of people started playing his tunes. And it's like, I wonder why we don't do that as much anymore? There is the standards book that everyone plays from, and then everybody plays their own tunes.

So yeah, those are a few things I would always like to have added as part of the repertoire.

AAJ: Your style is very traditional and contemporary, but your original compositions show hints of a more modern approach, especially with arrangements like "Lucid Thoughts."

JK: [My style is] a hodge-podge, I guess. I would say—as far as what I write and how I try to play it, I don't really think in categories.

I never know what might come out any given day. I listen to a lot of stuff, and I am usually surprised at what actually comes through in my playing. I will go a long time without listening to somebody, and then a month later something will come out in my playing that is from them. And it's like, where did that come from?

That is a good way to have it; it's more organic, and whatever comes will come. I would say there are no boundaries that I lay for myself, as far as what I might get into in the future. It all depends on what I am into at the time. I am obviously influenced mostly by traditional acts; my go-to people are usually Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
1955 - 2013
, Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
and Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
, as far as piano players are concerned. It is definitely in the traditional vein, but that is not to say that I don't check out a lot of different stuff.

I am actually a big fan of Brad Mehldau's work with Jon Brion. I really dig that whole idea. It is just so sonically cool.

Who knows, you know? [Laughs]. Music is music, I guess.

AAJ: Jazz arrangements of hymns such as "Be Thou My Vision" seem to be uncustomary. Is this something you wish to exercise more? Does your faith play a large role in your musical decision-making?

JK: Yeah, it does. Like I said, the first of this album wasn't really planned; things just sort of came together, I guess. And those things just kind of rose to the top.

As far as faith is concerned, it is pretty integral for me. It is all pretty interconnected. I want to become a better musician, obviously: we always strive to be better musicians, even though we will never reach that point—at least I know I will never reach that point— where we'll say, "Man, I'm perfect." There is always room for improvement. You will always be approaching perfection, but you can never get there. And it's the same with life in general, just growing as a person. I guess I like them to be interconnected.

My faith life is the same as well; I am trying to grow spiritually. It only makes sense to have music be an extension of that. Because [my faith] is something that is so important to me, it is something that I want to show in my music, whether it is blatant with the songs that I choose or just in the spirit that I play the music in.

I am actually developing the ideas for my next project, and that is going to be pretty much exclusively a faith/spiritual-driven album. The theme, I guess. The one thing I wish I could have had a little more of for the first album was a central theme. So that is definitely what I want to revolve around. I am doing some digging right now for some more hymns that resonate with me, as well as writing tunes that are specifically based on my own spirituality and my own faith.

Definitely big stuff. [Laughs]. For me, at least.

AAJ: How did you feel about your first full-length recording project? Did you learn from anything? Anything that you might have done differently?

JK: Oh yeah, there are a lot of things I learned [laughs]. Like I said, we pretty much just jumped in. My mom actually ended up helping out a lot. Me being blind, it is hard for me to deal with some of the logistics, so she stepped in and helped take care of a lot of things.

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Download jazz mp3 “Exodus” by Justin Kauflin
  • Exodus
  • Justin Kauflin
  • Introducing Justin Kauflin