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  • Smooth Jazz Network

Justin Lee Schultz: Behind the Beats

Updated: May 4, 2022

Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week, a recent interview with the now 14-year-old Justin Lee Schultz.


Never in smooth jazz history has there been as much buzz about a young musician as there is currently about 13-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. The following are some brief highlights from our recent ZOOM call.

Let’s start at the beginning… How did music come into your life?

My dad is a jazz guitar player, so he always took me to his gigs or rehearsals, and that is my first musical memory, from even before I started playing. This was when I was 2 or 3 years old. I started playing piano when I was 5. Then, from piano it went to ‘talkbox’ and then guitar.

Woah, Talkbox? You mean like Peter Frampton?

Yeah, but I use it with a synth. I started that last year. [2019]

Do you also sing?

Yeah, I’m working on it. It’s okay. I would like to write lyrics and sing in the future.

How did you get started on piano?

When I was five, there was a keyboard in the house… and before that I didn’t have any interest in playing, I just liked to listen. But, I just started fooling around with it and… I guess the rest is history (laughter).

How did you become so proficient on the piano?

My dad has always guided me, and taught me stuff. Even though he doesn’t play the piano, he knows what it should sound like and he taught me fingerings and chords. When we moved here to the states from South Africa, that’s when I got a teacher.

When did music become ‘serious’ to you… that it might be a career?

About three weeks after I started playing piano, we did this gig at a place called “East London” in South Africa. My dad called me up on the stage. It was my first time playing and when the crowd reacted to my playing, that was when I realized I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

And how old were you again?

I was five. It was three weeks after I started playing piano.

So, fast forward… Your debut was a TOP 10 single on our national chart titled “Just In” written by James Llyod. How did that come about?

I was playing a show in Detroit with Alexander Zonjic and sometimes James Llyod would come into town and sit in on some of his shows. We met there and he’s become like my uncle. My adopted uncle.

Are you getting into song writing as well?

Writing is kind of a new thing to me in terms of the process and stuff, but I did write one song on my album and I co-wrote one with my dad. One was called ‘Quarantine’ with Michael Pipoquinha and the other “Miracle”.

Tell us about covering Bob James’ iconic tune “Angela”.

I’m a huge Bob James fan. I was a fan of Bob James, even before I started playing, because I used to always watch his videos and his concerts with Fourplay. My dad suggested I do a Bob James song for the album and I was like, ‘yeah that’d be dope’, and we decided on ‘Angela’ and I did the arrangement, got some horns on it and super honored and blessed that Bob James got to play on it.

Favorite TV shows / Movies?

I like superhero movies, so all of the Avengers movies. One of my favorite things to do with my family. In terms of tv shows, I like watching Disney stuff, ‘Raven’s Home’, ‘Suite Life on Deck’… Spongebob!

Tell me about your social media following?

I started doing social media probably 4 or 5 years ago. I mainly just did the videos for fun. But it was kind of shocking for me to see the reaction of people who watched the videos, and I got a really huge following from my talkbox videos. I used to cover like Bruno Mars stuff, Michael Jackson stuff and that got me some followers, yeah.

You have somewhere around half a millions followers on the various platforms. How does it feel?

Well. I love it because it gives me a wider audience. For me to be able to do videos and for that many people to see it is really crazy to me, and a lot of the people that I look up to, they follow me on instagram and we can chat and stuff… so that’s pretty cool. It has created opportunities for me.

Who would you love to work with, but haven’t yet?

Stevie Wonder, he is at the top of my list. I would love to, like work with him in the studio or play with him live… yeah Stevie Wonder.

Stay in touch with Justin on Instagram , or get his latest album here.

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