One listen to Justin Young’s swirling maze of saxophone designs on his debut album On The Way mixed by Paul Brown and you are hooked. He has the fluent skills of Kenny G. and bold diversity that is indicative of Andrew Neu. Every track on the album has its own calling card and chord expressions while maintaining a smooth jazz coda.
Young proclaims, "I am a person that likes variety. That's why I play soprano, alto and tenor saxophone because they are different voices! Why just use one voice when you can play three? So, the audience will definitely be hearing something different in each song."
Young is a musician whose work is greatly influenced by the music he listened to while growing up in Detroit, Michigan like "Maceo Parker, Lenny Pickett and Gerald Albright," he lists. "I listened to a variety of music on the radio while growing up. There were so many bands that I wanted to hear live: Earth, Wind and Fire, Boney James, Gap Band, Herbie Hancock, Commodores, Michael Jackson, the list goes on and on and on."
Young was also influenced by the music his father performed in the house which significantly broaden his scope of playing as he explains, "My father has been a professional musician ever since I can remember. He plays guitar and keyboards and actually told me about the saxophone. In fourth grade, I actually picked the drums first, but once I brought them home, it was my dad that said, ‘Did you ever check out the saxophone?’ Also, my dad has been the leader of an R&B/Top 40 band and he would always host practices in the family room, so growing up, I was always curious while listening to band practices and the sounds of different instruments."
Young began playing the saxophone in elementary school. He tells, "I started playing saxophone in the fourth grade band. I was taught in school and took private lessons, but a lot of my learning came by trying to imitate melodies I heard on the radio." He notes, "My first music experience was playing ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You" in the fourth grade talent show. But it was when I was 16 years old that I played my first professional gig in a band at a wedding. I played mostly in bands when I started doing professional gigs, but it was in the last 6 years I started playing as a solo artist."
He describes about that wedding gig, "The majority of the solo playing occurred during dinner, so everything felt ‘stuffy and quiet’ since everyone was eating dinner. But it was there that I learned that I loved playing live! After a couple songs, the crowd warmed up and it was a lot of fun."
Due to his father’s regiment, Young learned the importance and value of practice sessions. He conveys, "I devote at least two to three hours a day practicing." he says. "The benefits of practicing are shown when what you think is what you can do on the saxophone. The saxophone then becomes an extension of your body."
When he was not practicing or playing a live show, Young made time to go to college. "I graduated from Michigan State University and finished with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, but music is my first love. I chose engineering because I loved putting things together and taking them apart. Now I know my first love is putting music together."
He also took advantage of the opportunities which the city of Detroit offered to him. "City of Detroit was great," he endorses, "because they offered a variety of places to showcase my talents such as Greektown Casino, MGM Grand Casino and Motor City Casino. I also played at various restaurants on a regular basis most recently at Signature Grill. Detroit is a city with lots of soul. That's why my playing has a lot of ‘soul’ in it."
Young received wider recognition in the jazz community when he won the Capital Jazz Fest in 2007 (www.capitaljazz.com). He recollects, "The keyboardist of Spyro Gyra, Tom Schuman wrote three songs with me on my latest album On The Way. His wife Yvonne told me about the competition. I entered and it was an unbelievable experience. There were six finalists, many of whom I became friends with. Winning was indescribable because after all the effort that was put into rehearsing, the benefits were very rewarding because we played the following day on the main stage and that was a treat. Also, I heard I was #2 best overall selling artist at the festival; so that is great!"
He reports, "The Capital Jazz Fest was the first tournament/competition I have entered. That competition was very stressful because there were a lot of things that were out of our control that did go wrong such as sound and amount of time to set-up and sound check between artists. But now that we won after going through all of that, we have even more confidence. I also learned that in the entertainment industry, you have to be able to roll with the punches. Nothing can go perfectly. In the Capital Jazz Fest, there was a lot of camaraderie among the competitors, many of which I consider to be friends. All the finalists just wanted to do their best and have a good time."
After his big win, Justin Young felt it was time to unleash his debut record On The Way. "My On the Way album came about with a large group of collaborators," he shares. "I met the keyboardist of Spyro Gyra, Tom Schuman backstage at a show at Chene Park in Detroit, Michigan and mentioned to him that I am a new artist trying to write some songs. We met at his house in Las Vegas and wrote ‘Luv Handles,’ ‘Evening Dance’ and ‘Expressway 94.’ I also collaborated with Norman Brown's musical Director, Gail Johnson on ‘A Minor Groove,’ ‘On The Way Here’ and ‘Just Her And I.’ I met Gail backstage at a concert in Southfield, Michigan and she mentioned we should get together and we wrote one song in Los Angeles and two in Michigan. I also collaborated with Noel Hall on ‘JY Funky.‘ Noel is gospel producer/keyboardist that has a long track record of success including writing hits with Fred Hammond and Martha Munizzi. Finally I wrote ‘Sunny’ and ‘New Day’ with another gospel producer/keyboardist Rod Long. He has worked with many gospel artists."
Young composed some beautifully sinewy saxophone lines on "JY Funky" which he expresses, "I wanted to get a percussive hook on a funky song and the E and F sharp notes had that tension and funk sound to it and once we played through several hooks in the studio, one stuck and it was JY Funky."
When creating his saxophone parts, Young reveals, "I think of trying to sing with my instrument when I write songs. When I am in different moods, the songs that come out are sometimes like those moods whether it is slow, fast or funky. When I listen to the improv king on the sax, Charlie Parker, I think one song of his could be 20 different melodies, so inspiration for me could come off of something he played or trying to get someone to ‘feel’ your mood. For instance, someone would groove if they heard ‘JY Funky‘."
His aspirations for his music is to touch people the way musicians have touched him. "I would like to be someone that people look up to for their 'sound' in both their writing and as a saxophonist," he reflects. "Boney James did a great job with this because his songs are always changing. By that, the moods he provokes with each song is unique. Plus, he was a keyboard player before he was a big time sax artist, so he knows how to write a song, a real song. Long term goals consist of having a long term and successful career. Other long term goals are getting an MBA, starting a successful business, travel around the world with my wife and live a long and healthy life."
He confirms, "I will be on tour soon. Currently we are doing radio promotion on my single ‘Sunny,’ so once we get on the charts, the sky is the limit."
Young has seen many of his dreams come to fruition but one very important hallmark moment was meeting his all time idol Dave Koz. "I consider Dave Koz to be an idol," he remarks. "He's been supportive and with such a successful career like his, who wouldn't look up to him?
When Young isn’t working on his music, he tells that he enjoys "Being with my wife Rachel, Running and traveling."
His favorite travel destination he regards is, "St Lucia......The carnival festival there is amazing!!! The different rhythms and vocal expressions are very unique!"
As a musician who is making his way through the smooth jazz currents, Young has enough experience under his belt to offer some viable suggestions to young artists. He recommends, "Keep writing, keep doing the work of 10 men and one day you will get an opportunity. The key is always to keep going. There is no ‘good way’ to break into the music business, just keep trying and try to be happy when you do it because life is short."
For Justin Young, the sky is the limit as far as he is concerned. His music is vibrant and wide in its scope of creativity. His debut album has all the markings of a mega hit with a host of collaborators that have guided him and honed his skills as a saxophonist. Now all Young is waiting for is that time catches up with his own vision of where he sees himself.