On the morning after performing at the Tin Pan for the Richmond installment of his international concert tour, jazz pianist and Virginia native Justin Kauflin visited Trinity for an informal performance and discussion with Trinity music students.
Having lost his vision at the age of 11, he has devoted his life to music, and has been fortunate to learn under the mentorship of some of the top names in jazz — such as Jae Sinnett, Clark Terry and Quincy Jones, the legendary producer who has worked with Kauflin on his most recent recordings.
“A lot of people think jazz is just a free for all,” said Kauflin, “but there is so much studying that goes behind it. You spend time learning all of these rules and mechanics so that you can have freedom. I found that it is really similar to learning a language. The more you learn vocabulary and how to articulate your sentences, and how to really reach another person, the freer you are because you have all of these options.”
After performing a few original compositions, he took some questions from the Trinity students, who were eager to learn more about his improvisational techniques.
“The nature of improvising is that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't,” Kauflin said. “When it is good, I am just as excited and surprised as the audience. When its good it’s great, and when it’s bad it tends to be pretty bad. In order to have the great moments, you have to take the risk of having those bad moments happen.”
Performing Arts Department Chair Brian Rollins was thrilled to be able to welcome Kauflin (back) to Trinity that morning. “This is the second time that he's been on our campus,” said Rollins. “The first time he was a member of pro drummer Jae Sinnett’s trio, who were the inaugural visiting artists when we opened the Perkinson Arts Center in 2013.”
Rollins had planned another topic for his senior-year IB Music class that followed Kaflin’s visit, however they quickly became immersed in a discussion about Kauflin’s journey and what music means to them personally. Rollins shared some of the students’ observations and realizations:
“You have to reach out and get help from folks that are established, network just like in any field..."
“...it seems like a tough journey but he seems so happy...”
“...you don’t have to rely solely on performing, most career musicians do several things, they teach, they perform, they write…”
"….I don’t know if I would want to be a career musician but I can’t imagine not having it in my life to a significant degree...”
Trinity students often have the benefit of witnessing music-making at the highest level by visiting professional musicians like Kauflin. “While for some students these visits offer a glimpse into music as a career,” said Rolins, “our overall goal is that these experiences inspire them to actively seek out what making music means to them and how they’ll incorporate that into their lives. It’s also very valuable in our view that students get to interact with the artists so that they realize they are regular people, in particular an artist like Justin who is only a few years older than the students, has a particular resonance.”