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Justin Kauflin: Humble Beginnings

By Published: March 8, 2011
It was basically like going back to school. Dealing with the business aspect of it, I had no idea what I was getting into as far what to do after the CD was done. I was like, "Okay, I recorded it; that's that." But no way, man. After that is when the work starts. We didn't even know that we had to register with the jazz radio and Billboard charts. That is something that matters when you are trying to get radio airplay. We really just went from the ground up as far as building contacts in the radio industry and getting [the album] played. We basically did it on a personal level; we shipped it to the DJ, and if they wanted to play it they could. It actually went pretty well, but now we've learned a lot of things. I think, for the second CD, we will know what we're doing. So we will basically just have to go down the checklist of, "okay, we did this, we did that," and so on.

As far as the recording process is concerned—now that I have been there and gotten one under my belt—I think I can take a little bit of time now to solidify what I want to do before I even start rehearsing with the band. This [album] came together in a short period of time, but I have done it and I have a little bit of experience of how to run the session effectively and not waste time and not butcher a song by playing it too many times. [Laughs]. You have got to make time for breaks. I was like great, I've got eight hours; I'm going to use those hours! But you have got to take some breaks, man; people can't play for eight hours straight.

Now that I have done it, I think I can take time to just be really prepared for the next one. I am not going to be as prepared as I would like to be—that is just the way it is— but I have a theme now and an idea of what I want to get across. I think I have grown a little bit in my writing, and at least I am not hating my stuff as much as I used to.

I am excited. I am hoping to get the next project done within the next year. We'll see, we'll see.

AAJ: Have you considered expanding your live performance to areas outside of the North and East Coast?

JK: I think absolutely. I would definitely be interested in doing a bit of traveling; it is just a matter of forming the contacts to make that possible, and making sure I am in a financial state where I can afford to lose money. [Laughs] I think that is why I have been focusing on doing another project: so I can have a little more material to draw from, as well as to have more things to throw at people to establish some contacts and set up some mini-tours in different areas. I know I would be into it, and I know the group would love to play.

It is more of an independent project because I am doing this all on my own; I am not dealing with managers or agents or anything like that. It is very homegrown, and if we can form the contacts within that industry to make it possible, for sure. Definitely.

I am just taking my time. I definitely do not feel any rush to make anything happen. In jazz, you are not really in it to be a star or anything like that. I have no problems taking this very slowly.

AAJ: Do you recall a moment in particular when you realized music as a career was meant for you?

JK: To be honest, it probably came shortly after I lost my sight at 11. Music had always been in my life. It was all stuff that was there, but it wasn't like, "I'm so into music." It was more like, you know, I had lessons; it was just like school.

When I lost my sight, it wasn't like, "Oh no! I can't be an astronaut," or something like that. I had been playing music for a while, and I gravitated—naturally, I guess—toward playing the piano a little bit more because I didn't have all of the peripheral things that were essentially distractions; I didn't have PlayStation and basketball to take up a bunch my time. I think it just came about naturally, and the way [I got into jazz] was when I went to high school and got into the magnet program for the arts in my area. That is where I got into jazz band.

Once I started learning jazz, and realized how it worked, and found out that it is essentially an auditory music—it is all about what you are getting aurally—as opposed to passing out sheet music and reading it down, I realized this was something I could do; it is not dependent on my ability to see things. This was something I could do and make money at it, and as far as playing the music, I was not at a disadvantage. There are other ways that I am at a disadvantage—[such] as the business aspect and getting around—but as far as the music is concerned, we are all on level ground. That appealed to me a lot, so I [decided] I was going to do this. I have never really thought of anything else since.

[Music] is a very leveling type of thing; it brings people together. Language barriers and any type of cultural barrier can be extinguished through music. It is a very universal thing.

AAJ: Who are some of your biggest heroes as a jazz musician/pianist?

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Download jazz mp3 “Exodus” by Justin Kauflin
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