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Justin Kauflin: Dedication

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Expectations for Justin Kauflin’s second album, produced by Quincy Jones, have been high following the success of Keep on Keepin’ On, the award-winning documentary about the young pianist’s close friendship with nonagenarian trumpet legend and jazz educator Clark Terry. Kauflin, who has been blind since age 11, met Terry-he affectionately calls him “CT”-as a jazz student at William Paterson University in New Jersey, where Terry is permanent artist-in-residence. After Kauflin’s graduation, Terry continued to tutor him despite Terry’s own serious health problems, including failing vision due to diabetes.

When filming began five years ago, the 23-year-old Kauflin confessed, “My sound is not where I want it to be. When you hear CT playing the horn, you know that it’s Clark. … I have to figure out how to be me.” Kauflin, whom the film depicts as suffering from crippling stage fright, can relax: The album is a mature artistic statement by a young pianist who is, by leaps and bounds, realizing his potential.

The 12 Kauflin originals on display here are mainstream and melodic, reflective and spacious, with blues and Americana influences; he uses the clean, disciplined arrangements as a springboard for some serious soloing. His classical training is apparent in his delicate touch, clear articulation, and his ability to unspool long, graceful, improvised melodic lines. Throughout he is ably backed by Billy Williams on drums and Christopher Smith on bass, with occasional appearances by guitarists Matt Stevens and Etan Haziza.

The title, Dedication, has two meanings: seven of the 12 songs are dedicated to Kauflin’s teachers, relatives and friends, including the late Mulgrew Miller. It also refers to the perseverance and commitment to craft that Kauflin has so demonstrably learned from his great friend CT.

Listen to or download this album at iTunes.

Originally Published