While reading through a Billboard magazine article that celebrates Quincy Jones’ 80th birthday, a Music Section staff person stumbled on a name that looked very familiar. In the article, from the March 16th issue of Billboard, she found that longtime NLS music patron Justin Kauflin was named one of the “Six Acts to Watch on Jones’ Own Roster.”
When I was told about this, I have to admit that finding Justin’s name in the article was not the shock it might have been. That is because in June of 2012, by chance, I saw his name listed as one of the performers at a Millennium Stage concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I had to go. Justin was one of the recipients of the 2012 International Young Soloist Award by the VSA. He performed along with three other musicians: a blind classical pianist from Spain, a blind saxophonist from Thailand, and a physically impaired French horn player from Minneapolis. All were great.
It was the concert performance itself that took me by surprise.
Back in 2003, Justin had borrowed “Primer of Braille Music” and “How to Read Braille Music” from the NLS collection: two primary books for learning braille music. He was soon borrowing easy and then intermediate piano works in braille by classical composers: Mendelssohn, Debussy, and Schumann. By 2007, he had started borrowing more advanced material, but the composers were still the likes of Beethoven, Chopin and Haydn. By 2008, he had continued to borrow standard classical material from Scriabin, Scarlatti and Brahms. What else could this be but an up and coming classical pianist? So I thought at the time.
Well, it turns out that he is a very talented jazz pianist — but with classical training. Or, in the words of Clark Terry, “He’s a monster on the piano. And he’s one of the greatest people I’ve met.”
I can now attest to his playing. Scintillating! When I went up to meet him after the VSA performance and introduced myself, he first thanked the Music Section for always promptly sending out his requests for scores, and then quickly added that he was going to return the Chopin he was working on very soon! [I thought he was a classical pianist, and he thought I was a stereotypical librarian.]
Justin is still busy performing –-and somehow, also finding the time for composition. One of his pieces at the Kennedy Center concert was his own composition, titled “Exodus.” He can be tracked on his website, and is featured in the documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On” with Quincy Jones’ mentor, Clark Terry.
We have definitely not heard the last of Justin Kauflin, whether in jazz clubs, the concert stage or in this blog. He is a wonderful example of why we have music services at NLS, and what can grow from mere instructional books in the hands of a great talent. And this talent we will have the good fortune to hear on October 22, 2014, when Justin will perform in concert at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library’s Jefferson Building.
We’ll keep you posted.