Take Five With Justin Kauflin

AAJ Staff BY

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Meet Justin Kauflin:

At the piano, Justin Kauflin has an improvisational zeal matched by a technique that is equal parts lyrical and emotional. His sound can be best described as dynamic and vibrant, with a genuine sense of feeling and appreciation for the soulful essence in jazz music. Although classically trained, Justin prefers the improvisational opportunity jazz provides, which is readily apparent in his mastery of the piano. His musical style reflects a steadfast, day-to- day trust in God, drawing influence from all forms of music. With this inspiration, he hopes to bring a true and pure musical experience to all who hear him play.

Justin graduated summa cum laude from William Paterson University, NJ in May 2008 (Bachelor of Music/Jazz).

Plinking tunes on the piano since age 2 led to 9 years of classical violin and piano, his first gig at age 7 (violin) and performing professionally on piano at age 15. Jazz was introduced at the Governor's School for the Performing Arts and Old Dominion University during his high school years.

As a high school sophomore he performed in Miyazaki, Japan and the Vail Jazz Workshop in Colorado, and was selected as 'outstanding soloist,' 'outstanding rhythm section' and 'best ensemble' at Jazz Festivals in Chantilly, VA and N. Texas.

Since then, he has performed:

- With Clark Terry at the Blue Note and Village Vanguard, NY

- With his trio in Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, NY and Kennedy Center, DC

- In Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead, Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

- With WPU's Jazz Ensemble in the JVC Jazz Festival, NY

- With Randy Brecker at The Sandler Center, VA

- With the Lango Brothers in NJ, NY, and Boston.

- With Jae Sinnett at Blues Alley, DC and venues all over Virginia

In 2008, Justin performed with his own Trio, predominantly around the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. He recently relocated to Manhattan, New York and recently recorded his debut CD at Bennett Studios.

He is forever grateful to Clark Terry, Harold Mabern, Mulgrew Miller, Steve Wilson, John Toomey, Jae Sinnett, Gary Kirkpatrick, Terrell Stafford, Ornette Coleman, Suzanne Schreck, Ginny Koun, Elizabeth Barnes, Rich DeRosa, and Bill Mobley for their incredible instruction and wisdom...and to Wynton Marsalis who generously "gave me the most humbling, most exhilarating lesson ever."

PERSONAL BACKGROUND Born 1986 in Silver Spring, MD, Justin has three brothers and a sister. Despite losing his vision to 'proliferative exudative retinopathy' over a decade ago, he remains focused on his abilities, excelling academically while constantly honing his art in jazz piano. Following his graduation from William Paterson University, he moved to Brooklyn, NY. Difficulty with orientation and mobility led him to train with a lovable black lab named 'Candy' at The Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ. She is his constant companion and guide throughout the streets and subways of New York City.

Aside from music, Justin's passions include his faith, reading, Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches, languages, physics and P90X.

"Solo Deo Gloria"



Your sound and approach to music:

It's hard to really define something that is always in progress. My sound, like anyone else's, really reflects where I am in my life and my growth as a person. It will never stop evolving. If I were to put any words to how I feel about my sound and my approach, I'd have to say that I strive to provide as much support to those around me musically. My sound is very much defined by my surroundings. The most important thing to me is simply making some kind of connection with those listening. I hope to leave folks with a memorable experience. As long as people are feeling good when they hear my music, I'm happy.

Your teaching approach:

When introducing jazz to anyone, it is important to cover the essentials—a basic understanding of swing. Swing, in my opinion, is the defining factor of what is real jazz. I believe that a person should have a good grasp of their instrument. Once a comfort level with the instrument is established, it's time to dive in and enjoy exploring the world of jazz. I say 'enjoy,' and really think that is absolutely necessary. In order to really get something out of anything, one must really enjoy the thing he or she is doing!

Your dream band:

My dream band would include the people that I connect with personally as well as musically. I couldn't really come up with a "dream band," mainly because I don't know if I'd connect with people I've never played with before.

Favorite venue:

I've never played here, but it is my absolute favorite place to go. I love the Jazz Standard. I would love the opportunity to play there someday, for sure. The staff treats everyone great and the venue is just fantastic.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Keith Jarrett's "Whisper Not." Man, what an album.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

The one thing that I feel I bring to the music is a sincerity. I have a sincere love for God, and that's the one thing I pray comes out in my playing. I don't have anything fancy to offer, just simple love for God, and music, and for those around. Forgive the corniness!

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

The state of jazz, like the state of many things in this time, is a bit fragile and has definitely seen better times. I mention that with regard to the amount of awareness and appreciation jazz receives. I believe that artists are just as creative as they ever were, but the audience keeps shrinking.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

People are just not aware of jazz. They aren't familiar and have nothing to grab onto when they hear it. If people had a better introduction to jazz, and not just in hotel lobbies or during a wedding reception dinner...If people were introduced to something that they can relate to, there might be some growth in general appreciation for this great music.

What is in the near future?

At the posting of this interview, I am in the process of mixing and mastering my first album. I'm extremely excited about this. I recorded with some really amazing musicians and beautiful people. It should be coming out later this year, or perhaps early 2010. If you're interested, please check out the website www.justinkauflin.com. Updates are posted regularly, and, once available, the CD can be purchased through it.

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