Never in smooth jazz history has there been as much buzz about a young musician as there is currently about 16-year-old Justin Lee Schultz. The multi-instrumentalist has turned the heads of Quincy Jones, Robert Glasper, Najee, Gerald Albright, Jonathan Butler, Dave Koz, Harry Connick Jr and literally ANYONE who has experienced his presence.
A genius is a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, creative productivity, universality in genres or originality. Seldom is the use of this term so justified as in the case of the now thirteen-year-old multi-artist Justin Lee Schultz. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa he came in contact with music for the first time, when he learned to play keyboards in an unbelievable age of 5 years. After six months he played like a graduate of an university. By the way Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart also started to compose in the same age.
Over a year ago I became aware of Justin, who is known in the social media like a colorful dog, through numerous video clips. Speechlessness and enthusiasm are the most frequent reactions to his numerous appearances at shows, music fairs and wherever you find an audience. In music circles he has been welcomed with open arms, be it Bob James or Quincy Jones.
He is currently planning to perform with the group Pieces Of A Dream when he is not appearing with his own group, the JLS Experience, consisting of him and his siblings. As far as I know he plays piano, keyboards, guitar, bass and the harpejji, an electric stringed musical instrument. Everything, of course, on a level that corresponds to a virtuoso.
His debut album Gruv Kid will be released November 2020 on Shanachie Entertainment. His fellow musicians are literally clamoring to appear on his album. Thus the list of musicians is a who’s who of contemporary jazz, as can be seen from the credits. The album was produced by Julius Schultz (Justin’s father), Justin Lee Schultz, Stephen Johnson, Paul Brown, Kim Waters, James Lloyd and Jeff Lorber.
With African Chant, Justin builds the connection to his old home country South Africa. Already in the intro Justin unfolds his virtuosity on the piano. Najee provides together with vocalist Natalie Rungan the sensitive emotional factor on the flute. Out of all Bob James tunes is the classic TV theme Angela Justin’s favorite. What could be better, if you can record your favorite song together with your idol.
Stevie Wonder wrote Do I Do in 1982 for his album Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I. The famous Dizzy Gillespie is featured on the original track with a trumpet solo. With his cover Justin ignites a musical firework, using the Talkbox, which you can hear again and again at his performances. Also to be heard are FunkyardX, which cause a lot of turbulence with powerful brass instruments.
When you think of the music of South Africa, you usually associate it with South Africa’s greatest musical ambassador, Jonathan Butler. Over S.A. is a song that he gives his imprint to. Gruv Kid has a great groove with a fantastic piano solo and a superb rhythm guitar. The title song is followed by a Miracle. A spirited awe-inspiring theme that however reveal Justin’s mastery on piano and guitar even in a slow-tempo track.
James Lloyd’s morning gift to his new protégé Justin is Just In, a nice pun. In the typical style of Pieces of A Dream, Gerald Albright on the saxophone joined in at the last moment, making it to a true hit. On Better Days Justin meets Jeff Lorber, both are playing Rhodes and I honestly have to admit I cannot hear a difference. By the way Justin’s piano performance is so groundbreaking well, that you just have to listen.
Color Blind is Justin’s second collaboration with Jeff. On this track Justin performs piano and synth, both with a mastery which is out of this world. Although Justin expresses his virtuosity in virtually every piece through solo interludes, Back On The Moon is literally designed to tease it out to the last bit. Chapeau! The final tune Quarantine brings Justin together with young Brazilian bass virtuoso Michael Pipoquinha. It is the only piece that Justin wrote alone, obviously tailored to the virtuosity of both exceptional jazz musicians.
You have to keep this in mind. Gruv Kid is the debut album of a thirteen years old musician. Here we meet a creative person who, at a young age and with his artistic maturity, far surpasses most musicians of his time. The prospects for Justin Lee Schultz are boundless. The whole world is open to him and will soon be at his feet.