I thought I’d take a second to introduce myself and this web site.
As my Bio will tell you, I’m just a working drummer and college jazz professor. I’ve lived in FL, NYC and now Atlanta. I’ve played with a pretty wide range of musicians in a pretty wide range of settings. What it won’t tell you is that I struggled early on to understand what and how to listen, and what and how to practice, and certainly what and how to play. Through the years and with the help of my peers and my teachers, I’ve come up with some answers that I believe can help others who have or had those same issues.
Whatever I have achieved musically and professionally, I owe to my many great teachers and peers. That includes the teachers I had who I never met. The ones who taught me while I wore headphones or sat in the audience. I’ve always enjoyed learning and equally enjoyed passing that knowledge on to others. Hence this site. I believe too many great pieces of advice have been handed to me to not jot them down somewhere for others to learn from.
I also want to host a community where we can learn from each other, where I can not only share my experiences but also invite other musicians and teachers here to share their wisdom with you. So, if you are looking to get better at playing jazz drums (or just the drums, or just jazz), this will be a place you can come for inspiration, support, and (if you need it) a kick in the pants.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Justin Varnes began studying music at 10 – on the trumpet. His father – an avid jazz listener – exposed him to Stan Kenton, Nat “King” Cole, and Erroll Garner. After attending Douglas Anderson School of the Arts on trumpet, Justin studied drum set with Ray Charles alumnus Rick Kirkland. Then he studied music at the University of North Florida under Charlotte Mabrey, Bill Prince, and Bunky Green while continuing to take privately from Rick Kirkland. After graduating with degrees in jazz studies and percussion, Justin relocated to New York City where he continued to study at the New School and study privately with Jojo Mayer. In New York, Justin began touring with Phoebe Snow, with whom he performed on the Roseanne Barr Show, as well as National Public Radio’s “World Cafe” (Justin would later perform on “World Cafe” with “Five for Fighting”).
While in New York, Justin also studied with Vernel Fournier, Reggie Workman, and Joe Chambers. Outside of private lessons, he received a healthy education on Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Small’s listening to Kurt Rosenwinkle (with Jeff Ballard) and the Sam Yahel Trio (with Brian Blade). He also developed musically through regular rehearsing and performing in groups led by Coby Brown, Oscar Perez, Bob Reynolds, Nate Shaw, and Doug Wamble.
Currently residing in Atlanta, GA, he splits his time performing and teaching at Georgia State University. In Atlanta he performs with Audrey Shakir, Kevin Bales, Mace Hibbard, Joe Gransden, and Gary Motley.
Justin has performed with Mose Allison, Wesell Anderson, Kenny Barron, Ann Hampton Callaway, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Vincent Herring, The Earl Klugh Trio, Oscar Perez, Marcus Printup, Bob Reynolds, Lew Soloff, David Sanchez, Annie Sellick, Phoebe Snow, Ira Sullivan, Christian Tamburr, and Doug Wamble.