Award-winning jazz pianist Justin Kauflin, middle of 5 children, was never lost in the crowd. His talent, obvious at age 2, was nurtured with classical violin and piano. From age 6, he began performing in concerts, home visits and weddings, eventually becoming concertmaster for several orchestras.
However, it was during this time that he also endured numerous trials, particularly when he lost total vision by a rare eye disease.
"Be Thou My Vision is a meaningful choice for Kauflin, who has been blind since the age of 11. He brings new meaning to the hymn, re-harmonizing it and igniting it with impassioned playing."
Justin switched to jazz piano in high school and began performing jazz professionally by age 15, most notably with the Jae Sinnett Trio. While attending the Governor's School for Performing Arts, he had the privilege to study with Liz Barnes and Old Dominion University jazz professor, John Toomey, attending Master Classes with Peter Nero, Steve Wilson, Bill Cunliffe, Lewis Nash, Ken Peplowski, John Clayton, and Terrell Stafford, receiving top honors in jazz festivals across the U.S. and performing as distant as Miyazaki, Japan.
Justin graduated alongside his sighted peers in the top 1% of both Salem High's and Governor's School for the Arts' Class of 2004 receiving several academic scholarships to attend William Paterson University in New Jersey. It would be here where he'd be taken under the wings of the great Clark Terry, winner of 2010's Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz and influenced by jazz giants Mulgrew Miller, Harold Mabern, Wynton Marsalis, Ornette Coleman, Randy Brecker and the late James Williams and Billy Taylor.
"He hears something once and it's somehow impressed on his mind. He has extraordinary ability of aural recall...an exact touch and a singular style...."
David Demsey on Justin Kauflin
Saxophonist, Author, WPU Jazz Prof
The proximity of William Paterson University to NYC afforded him the opportunity to sit in, or perform with his own trio, in the jazz mecca of the world (Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, the Blue Note, Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, ,and The Kitano), as well as up and down the east coast (Monclair Museum of Art, The Kennedy Center, Blues Alley, Twins Jazz, Bohemian Caverns, Ella Fitzgerald and American Theatres).
He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Music/Jazz Performance and, at age 23, produced his first CD.
"...Justin Kauflin has, with Introducing Justin Kauflin
immediately established himself as a
stellar jazz player, composer, leader and producer... He has a touch and imagination that is immensely appealing."
In 2011, Justin was one of twelve pianists selected worldwide to compete in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition where it was noted:
"Among the few exceptions was Justin Kauflin, a blind VA Beach native... Kauflin's soloing had more shape, heft and narrative rigor than most of his peers. The audience seemed to appreciate his approach more than the others, though it's possible they were also wildly applauding who he was as much as what he played..."
Eye on the Arts, NY
Simultaneously during this time, Justin was followed by a film crew as a character in an upcoming documentary, Keep on Keepin' On, a biopic about his mentor and jazz legend, Clark Terry. And, in a totally unrelated event, had a Homearama scholarship house named after him, The Justin Kauflin House by the Tidewater Builder's Association, with proceeds replenishing their scholarship fund.
In 2012, he was voted "Jazz Artist of the Year" in VEER Magazine, and in June, Justin performed at the Kennedy Center as the recipient of the VSA International Young Soloist award . In the Fall, he had the opportunity to play in the Flint and Vail Jazz Festivals with such luminaries as John Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, Warren Wolf, Houston Person, Byron Stripling, and Terrell Stafford as well as rising stars Scott Tixier, Joe Sanders, Corey Fonville, and Christopher Smith.
For the past year, Justin and his trio headlined regularly at the singular straight-ahead jazz club in Virginia, Havana Nights Dining and Jazz, where he also served as House Pianist. He continues to perform and record with artists on the east coast, as well as in jazz festivals across the country. He remains a featured artist for the Visionary Media Group in NYC and has recently been added to Quincy Jones' Artist Roster. He is currently working on his next CD with hopes of completion this year.