Born March 10, 1986 in Silver Spring, MD, Justin began music at age 4 with Suzuki violin. After a decade of classical violin and piano, he switched to jazz piano in high school at the Governor's School for Performing Arts (VA) studying with Liz Barnes and Old Dominion University's John Toomey. He attended the Vail Jazz Workshop (CO), Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead Residency (DC) and received top honors in jazz festivals across the U.S. He began performing jazz professionally at age 15, most notably with the Jae Sinnett Trio.
In 2004, Justin attended William Paterson University (NJ) where he was taken under the wings of legendary trumpeter, Clark Terry and became a member of the Clark Terry Ensemble. He also had the privilege of learning from his heroes, Mulgrew Miller and Harold Mabern. He graduated summa cum laude, moved to NYC and at age 23 produced, led, composed and performed on his debut CD, Introducing Justin Kauflin.
In 2012, he served as House Pianist at Havana Nights Jazz Club (VA) where his trio headlined regularly. In that year, he won the VSA International Young Soloist Award, was voted VEER's Jazz Artist of the Year and was selected as semifinalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition.
During this time, Justin's relationship with mentor Clark Terry was being chronicled by friend and fellow musician, Al Hicks. Five years in the making, the resultant documentary, Keep On Keepin' On, won numerous awards and made the Oscar's Short List. Justin composed the film score and was subsequently signed for management by legendary producer and music icon, Quincy Jones, who also oversaw Justin's second and fourth full-length albums, Dedication (2015) and Coming Home (2018), the latter produced by Derrick Hodge. Dedication debuted at #6 on CMJ Jazz chart, #10 on Billboard's Traditional Jazz Chart, hit #1 on JazzWeek's chart and remained in the top 10 spot for 9 straight weeks. Justin went on to record on 10 more albums, 3 of which he produced as leader, and brought the film/workshops & performances around the world. He produced a very personal project, a full-length solo Christmas album Silent Night which was released Dec 1, 2017 and features Jacob Collier on the title track.
In 2019, he completed an extensive Europe/Asia/USA Tour promoting Coming Home, and worked on new music for release in 2020 as well as original score for promotional videos and the documentary, Liv Forever. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA and serves on faculty or as adjudicator for several jazz camps and clinics.
"He's a monster on the piano! And, one of the greatest people I know”
"Simply beautiful cat...you can feel it in every note he plays"
"His playing is beautiful...his spirit & spirituality shine through"
"Kauflin’s execution, his ability to ripple waves of notes flawlessly and evoke colorful meadows of sound is unquestionably superb…."
"Being blind is only a part of who we are ... it should never be something that defines us." jk
Justin was diagnosed with exudative retinopathy, with knife-like folds enveloping the macula in both eyes, at 7 months of age. He received special services in physical and cognitive therapy at age 2 and learned literary Braille in 5th grade. After undergoing 13 surgeries between the ages of 5 and 11, he lost all vision. Two subsequent surgeries include the enucleation of his right eye at age 12, and his left eye at age 24.
Aided by itinerant Vision & Vocational Rehab Services from the public school system, he learned "Orientation & Mobility" with the white cane and added music and math Braille while simultaneously taking AP courses in Physics, English & Music Theory. He graduated with a 4.2 GPA, and earned a Presidential academic scholarship to attend William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Another invaluable service was obtained through the National Library Service of the Library of Congress which delivers brailled classical scores upon request, free of charge. Following graduation from WPU he moved to Brooklyn, NY which spurred him to attend The Seeing Eye in NJ, training 24/7 for a month with a black lab named Candy.
Programs such as the U.S. Department of State Tours, which incorporated "Disability Awareness" into their Jazz Week Tour, send an encouraging note to countries lacking assistive programs along with showcasing world-class jazz.
In addition to these services & programs, companies like Apple (built-in screen readers & GPS on their phones), Native Instruments/Komplete Kontrol & Avid Sibelius (accessible music production & software) and Amazon (groceries & everything else) have enabled Justin to live, travel and work as independently as possible.
Photo by Mark Robbins
Justin Kauflin is an American jazz pianist, composer, producer, educator and Quincy Jones & Yamaha Artist. "His story is one of exceptional talent & artistic maturity, but it's also one of triumph & optimism" (L.A. Times). He performs worldwide, is recorded on 31 albums (6 as leader & producer), composed original film score for 6 projects including the critically acclaimed documentary 'Keep On Keepin On,' published 84 original compositions & arrangements, and serves on faculty for several jazz camps. Justin is currently recording music as a tribute to his "unsung heroes," piano greats Mulgrew Miller, James Williams, Harold Mabern & Larry Willis.
Photo by Amanda Reynolds