Sometimes you have to travel far and wide to unearth gold, and sometimes there’s treasure right in your backyard. Justin Kauflin is performing right here in Dubai, and you don’t want to miss him.
The 31-year-old jazz pianist, who has just as much joy-rousing charm as he does preposterous skill, has a residency at Q’s Bar and Lounge at the Palazzo Versace until October 28, where he’ll play a mix of jazz and classical R’n’B, as part of a jazz trio.
The young composer began playing violin at age four and became blind at age 11. As an adult, he was the subject of the 2014 documentary Keep on Keepin’ On, wherein he overcame intense stage fright with the help of his late teacher and mentor, legendary trumpeter Clark Terry.
Now a Quincy Jones protege — Jones opened Q’s Bar in 2016 — Kauflin told Gulf News tabloid! what people can expect from his sets, and why starting out young was exactly what he needed.
Why did you take on this residency in Dubai?
Gosh, let me see if I can abbreviate. Quincy Jones and I share a common teacher, so we both met at Clark Terry’s house about maybe five years ago. It was a very chance encounter. Thankfully he heard something in me. We began working together shortly after.
How do you approach your sets at Q’s Bar?
The residency is a unique thing. It’s actually something that doesn’t exist all that much in the world anymore, especially in a venue like this. This is a new market in Dubai, who may not be familiar with all the jazz repertoire I’d be playing, so we start the evening with jazz and then we segue into classic R’n’B.
How would you describe Quincy Jones?
Quincy is a remarkable individual. A lot of people don’t even know that in the beginning [before he worked with Michael Jackson] he was primarily arranging, writing and performing jazz. He’s a very warm and extremely generous person to be around, and I think it’s [remarkable] that at his stage in life, where you would think he would slow down, he’s actually picked up momentum.
Looking back, do you feel Keep on Keepin’ On accurately captured your time with Clark Terry?
It’s 100 per cent honest when I watch it, because there’s some painful parts in the film. It takes me right back to the moment.
Was it challenging to start in music so young?
I started taking violin lessons at four. I think it was perfect. I didn’t stick with the violin, but the ear training and memorising I learned from my violin teacher was really integral when I lost my sight.
How much did your learning techniques change after losing your sight?
I just had to get quicker at memorising things and also, I really had to rely on my ear, and I developed a much stronger ear because of that. It got to the point where most songs, I could hear once and recall pretty well.
What projects are you working on right now, aside from this residency?
There’s a CD that I will be releasing early next year, produced by Quincy. The time we spent in the studio was really magical. While I’m here, I’m working on recording a mini-Christmas album.
Minimum spend at Q’s Bar is Dh250 per person and the age restriction is 21+. The venue is open from 12pm to 2am. Justin Kauflin takes the stage at 9pm.