Jazz Prodigy Justin Kauflin to Play the Blue Whale

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Keep on Keepin' on
Keep on Keepin’ on: piano prodigy Justin Kauflin prepares for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competiiton alongside his mentor, the great trumpet legend, Terry Clark. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Downtown LA’s premier jazz club owner Joon Lee of blue whale really knows how to pick talent. Nightly, this vibrant, intimate space buzzes with patrons, among them enthusiasts and musicians alike. It’s become a true mecca for ardent jazz fans.

Thursday, Jan29: Justin Kauflin Trio

Performing this Thursday at blue whale is 28-year-old jazz piano virtuoso, Justin Kauflin. He may not be a household name just yet, but I have no doubt that he will be soon. I first learned of him last year, when he started making headlines for his performance in the documentary, Keep on Keepin’ onwhich received countless awards at many of the major film festivals. Co-produced by Quincy Jones, this film paints a touching portrait of the wonderful relationship shared by Kauflin and his mentor, jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry. A living legend at the age of 94, Terry was a former member of both Count Basie and Duke Ellington’s bands, and is hands down one of the best trumpeters of the 20th century.

Justin Kauflin & Clark Terry
Justin Kauflin performs together with Clark Terry (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Over the course of the story, Terry’s eyesight begins to fail due to diabetes. Kauflin plays a crucial role in helping him through this difficult transition, having lost his own vision at age 11. By learning musical braille and switching from classical violin to jazz piano, Kauflin was able to find his own unique voice through improvisation. The two met during Kauflin’s piano studies program at William Patterson University, where Terry mentored and groomed him for the prestigious 2011 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition. Without giving the whole story away, I’ll just say it’s an incredibly transformative film, celebrating their mutual love and admiration for one another. You have to see it.

Kauflin’s latest album, Dedication.(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

More recently, Kauflin has also been taken under the wing of the film’s co-producer, Quincy Jones, another former student of Terry’s. After hearing Kauflin play for the first time, Jones not only came onboard as co-producer of Keep on Keepin’ onbut invited Kauflin to perform for his 2013–14 world tour.

Kauflin now brings his musical gift to LA’s blue whale this Thursday to debut his new album, Dedication, which was also produced by Jones. It’s a gorgeous tribute to the many who have both supported and inspired Kauflin along the way.

Performing alongside Kauflin will be his bassist, Christopher Smith, and drummer, Billy Williams. Two sets have been scheduled for Kauflin’s album release party—one at 9 PM, and then again at 10.30 PM. Don’t miss this!

Mentor and producer Quincy Jones introduces Justin Kauflin at the 47th annual Montreux Jazz Festival.

Official trailer for the documentary, Keep on Keepin’ on.

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