Jiving With Justin Kauflin

By Lee Mills • December 30, 2013

The word “prodigy” doesn’t begin to describe this jazz pianist, who was already tickling the ivories at age two. Overcoming the loss of his sight at an early age, Kauflin recently completed a world tour with music legend Quincy Jones. Take note.

HOMETOWN/HOMEBASE: Virginia Beach, Va.


LONGEST SONG I’VE EVER PLAYED: I play jazz… they’re all unnecessarily long! Weddings come to mind, though they might just feel very long.

WHEN I’M NOT PERFORMING, I ENJOY: Reading. I like C.S. Lewis a lot.


DREAM COLLABORATION: Robert Glasper and Jacob Collier.

DREAM VACATION: Anywhere in Italy.

FIRST SONG I LEARNED HOW TO PLAY: Probably “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” That’s the first recording I have of me doing anything; I was two years old.

411: Under the tutelage of legendary trumpeter Clark Terry, Justin Kauflin has blossomed into one of jazz music’s brightest talents. Their relationship is the subject of the documentary Keep On Keepin’ On, which is under consideration for the Sundance Film Festival. His debut album, Introducing Justin Kauflin, was released in 2010.


1. How did you get to know jazz legend Clark Terry?

While I was at school, Clark was living pretty close to campus. A few of the students got to know him, and I was in that group. He would always pick me up from the dorm and we’d just hang. Because we would go over so much, he started a small ensemble with the school. I think one of the things that helped us connect was that he had just started losing his sight and was kind of freaking out. Having me around helped him put things in perspective, I think.

2. What was it like when you first met Quincy Jones?

Surreal. Clark moved to Arkansas, and I go down to visit him every few months—I play piano and he sings. One of my trips happened to coincide with Quincy visiting—Quincy was Clark’s first student. The entire time, Clark kept saying, “Have you seen this blind kid play?”

3. You’re also featured in a documentary, Keep On Keepin’ On, which was just submitted to Sundance.

An Australian company was thinking of doing a feature on my drummer friend Al [and Clark], but that fell through. But Al was like, “let’s just do a film anyways,” and that’s pretty much how this documentary came about. The filming was about three years.

4. What’s been the most memorable show you’ve done so far?

Quincy [Jones] brought me on tour this summer. The biggest show was 7,800 in Hiroshima, and that’s the one I like to remember, because I wasn’t freaking out with nervousness. The tour started in Montreal, and it was my first experience playing in front of such large crowds. Hiroshima was the final performance, so I had grown a little more accustomed to being onstage with that many people watching.

5. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I want to continue doing what I’m doing—I want to write, and I want to share this music. Because I’ve had the opportunity to spend so much time with someone like Clark, I want to make sure that sensibility does not go away when these guys are gone. The thing I got from Clark is the beauty of mentorship, and a real respect for music is perpetuated.


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  1. quincyjones
    Quincy Jones This kid is incredible. Thank God for Clark Terry!

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