Jazz Profile: Justin Ray

Justin Ray, photo by Frank Zipperer

by Eddie LeShure

“My fondest memory of Justin was at the Las Vegas Hilton in 2006. During Justin’s astounding high-energy solo on “Smile” one night, a lady in the audience rose to her feet to applaud his performance. She turned out to be Justin’s mum and looked so proud of her immensely talented son up on stage. It was a truly remarkable reaction to an overwhelming performance. As much as Justin plays his heart out every night, you couldn’t help but feel that he’d found a little something extra that evening, just to give his mum!” ~ Singer Michael Buble

“I’ve been in Buble’s band for almost 10 years. We’re on hiatus for the moment, but I’m generally on the road about 5-6 months of the year with him.”

Born July 1, 1975, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Justin received a scholarship after high school to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston where he graduated with a Degree in Music Education and performed with a number of different ensembles. He completed his Masters Degree at the University of Southern California and fast became one of the most in-demand jazz trumpeters in the region, performing with artists including Bill Cunliffe, Alan Pasqua, Joe LaBarbara and Kurt Elling.

“I think I was 11 when I first picked up the trumpet. My first two choices were drums and saxophone, but I guess the trumpet thing worked out okay. I go through phases where I’ll spend a lot of time practicing other instruments, but I never connect with them in the same way. I’ve been singing for the last year or so, and I’ve really enjoyed that.”

“Justin is one of the most communicative musicians I’ve ever heard or played with. Where other players push people away, Justin always draws you in.” ~ Drummer Michael Davis

“I was about 16 when I became interested in playing jazz, which was when I decided to take trumpet lessons. My first teacher was a jazz musician and he turned me on to improvising, so I started listening to some of the jazz trumpet greats, mostly Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, and especially Lee Morgan. I still listen to them and find something new every time. I’m also a big fan of Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but I also like more current stuff like Coconut Records, one of my favorite indie rock bands.”

Justin’s first album for commercial release, the self-titled “Justin Ray”, came in 2006. It features ex-Bublé band member Randy Napoleon on guitar, New York drummer Quincy Davis, and the sought after Hammond B3 organist Jared Gold. “I also recorded “Love Songs,” which features my music behind the works of some well-known poets.”

“Justin is more than a melodic trumpet player with an impressive command of the instrument. He’s a probing, searching player who is a rhythm section’s dream as he leaves tons of space in his solos for us to jump in and interact – the essence of jazz! His approach puts him in the elite company of very few trumpet players – Wynton Marsalis and Miles Davis come to mind – who’ve learned how to use space to build tension rather than relieve it. The sky’s the limit for him.” ~ Pianist/composer/professor Bill Bares

“I’ve done quite a bit of composing, but am now getting into creating longer form pieces. I’ve received a grant from the Asheville Arts Council to do a semi-symphonic work for jazz quintet and string quartet which will be premiered at the Altamont Theater in downtown Asheville on December 12. I’m really excited about that!”

In Asheville since 2008, Justin performs with “almost too many groups to mention. Stephaniesid, The Archrivals, Hard Bop Explosion, and the Alien Music Club are those I play with the most consistently. My groups are J Ray Goes Beatnik (a jazz and poetry combo), plus the J Ray 5, where I sing and play jazz standards. I’ve been fortunate to perform with a number of really amazing musicians since moving here, and I’m thankful to live where I’m surrounded by such creative people!”

First CD, www.cdbaby.com/cd/justinray
Love Songs, www.cdbaby.com/cd/jray5