He first showed his musical abilities by banging on pots and pans in his grandmother’s kitchen when he was only three or four years old.
And his talents continued to grow from there. Indeed, a child prodigy, Justin Faulkner entered the jazz scene at the age of 13 with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma of Ornette Coleman’s Primetime band. In the years that followed, he also served apprenticeships with many well-known musicians.
And on his 18th birthday, Faulkner began his tenure with the Branford Marsalis Quartet. “This association has been going on for 13 years and it’s wonderful. We’ve played in some of the biggest music halls in the world,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner currently holds the drum chair of the Grammy Award-winning/six-time Grammy-nominated Branford Marsalis Quartet.
And of course, as a proud alumnus of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Faulkner proves that you can, indeed, come home. He was named director and conductor of the new Philadelphia Youth Jazz Orchestra (PYJO).
The new program hopes to provide advanced instrumental music students with the opportunity to learn from world-renowned and highly experienced professional conductors, musicians and teachers, rehearse professional-level jazz orchestral literature, and to perform at top professional venues in the greater Philadelphia area.
Set to audition potential band members on September 10 and 11, Faulkner says his main goal is “to help educate young people, to help them appreciate this kind of music and to help them understand jazz. within the framework of the fine arts, what really is is.”
In deciding who will be invited to join this division, Faulkner says he looks for qualities that include “those with a higher technical level, someone who has an understanding of what jazz is, who has played in a jazz band, and those who have a sense of unity for being part of the jazz tradition. This will allow them to understand their role and have a great attitude and ability to work with others.
Faulkner also hopes to incorporate what he himself learned as a student at PYO. “We were taught to arrive on time, to know our music and our role. And also to care about the person next to you. And I hope to encourage my students to always do their best and give their best. Life is a learning process and I hope they can all learn it.
In addition to his music, his new role, and his appointment to the faculty of Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University, Faulkner teamed up in 2015 to create the Community Unity Music Festival. This festival is a family-run philanthropic enterprise that creates music education opportunities for young people in the Philadelphia area.
The mantra, “Lay down your guns and pick up an instrument,” changed the way his family viewed the problem of gun violence in Philadelphia. Directly affected by this terror, having lost two cousins, the family decided to make a difference by offering free music lessons, free instruments and free interactive concerts with some of the best musicians in the world.
“These are just starting points for creating social change and hope in our community,” Faulkner concludes.