Influences: Jazz drummer Justin Faulkner

Publication: Los Angeles Times
Author: Scott Timberg
Date: February 22, 2012

For the last three years, audiences have been walking into shows by Branford Marsalis and other headliners and walking out talking about Justin Faulkner.

The drummer joined Marsalis’ group on his 18th birthday while still a high school senior; Ben Ratliff of the New York Times described him soon after as playing with “the cutthroat sensibility of the very young with something to prove. At the same time, Mr. Faulkner is listening and attuned to sound.”

Faulkner, who’s nearly 20 now, grew up in Philadelphia and attended public schools; singing in the choir, he said, taught him about balance and blending with other voices. He started playing gospel, R&B and classical music at 7; at 13 he began weekly gigs with the funk/free-jazz bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma. He’s since completed high school, toured Europe and Asia with various groups, studied film scoring for two years at Berklee College of Music and begun studying classical composition with a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The drummer is in town Saturday as part of the trio led by jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel; expect to hear music from the album “Reflections,” a lush reading of standards. (The show, which also includes bassist Ugonna Okegwo, is part of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast series.)

Faulkner, who will record the guitarist’s next record in a few weeks, praises Rosenwinkel’s harmonic knowledge: “I’ve been in bands where I just hated everything that’s going on. But with Kurt’s band, you find exploration. He gives you the map, but you know there might be a left turn or a right turn, or a detour. And there are certain changes where you just hope for the best.”

We spoke to Faulkner about his influences.

Vernell Fournier: In terms of groove, a lot of drummers I’ve heard don’t understand the concept. But listen to him on Ahmad Jamal’s “Live at the Alhambra” album. On “We Kiss in the Shadows,” he orchestrates, while keeping things as sophisticated as possible. The old statement, “the highest form of sophistication is simplicity” –- he embodies that.

Bernard Purdie: He’s the most recorded drummer in the world, as of now. All of the hip-hoppers sample him. He’s one of guys who showed me the beauty element. The way that he presents the music -– he alludes to the next aspect of the song.

Dimitri Shostakovich: My love for Shostakovich comes because my whole approach to playing music is about simplicity. The Seventh Symphony –- the “Leningrad” Symphony -– is one of my favorite pieces. He builds till there’s a moment of combustion. You can hear the soldiers marching down to the war. His ability to evoke emotion is an inspiration to me.

The John Coltrane Quartet: The element of intensity is missing in most of what I hear. But listen to McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones -– they all served the purpose. There was a selfless aspect to the music they were creating that was really amazing. Coltrane made room for the others. That’s something Branford does; that’s what jazz is to me.

Billy Higgins: There’s this record by Lee Morgan called “The Sixth Sense”; he plays on Coltrane’s “Like Sonny” and it became the standard mambo. I saw of video of Higgins playing: There’s something beautiful about someone’s spirit when they can smile while they’re playing. At the end of the day, we’re here to enjoy it.

Submitted by Courtney on March 5th, 2012 — 10:38am

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