The sound of Justin Hellman’s ensemble
has evolved over time. “It writhes --
with the fresh blood of locals Justin
Hellman on bass and Eric Vogler on guitar”
(SF Chronicle 8-05), who have been creating,
performing, and arranging together for
several years, developing an approach
that is exciting and fresh while rooted
in the jazz tradition. With influences
like Pat Metheny, John Scofield, and Wayne
Shorter, the group strives for a dynamic
sound that carries a great deal of tension
and release yet also possesses an element
Justin Hellman was born on March 25, 1980 in Chicago, IL, and he spent his childhood in Northbrook, IL. At age 16, his friends convinced him to pick up the electric bass so that they could form a band. Within 3 months the band, Vision Route, was performing for 2000 people at their high school’s Loyalty Day assembly. They performed rock covers as well as some of their own songs, which were the first tunes Justin ever wrote.
In 1998, Justin moved to California to attend UC Berkeley. Although he had only been studying the bass for 2 years, he decided to major in music and to begin playing the acoustic bass. He studied performance with the assistant principal double bass player of the San Francisco Symphony, Stephen Tramontozzi, and also focused on composition, orchestration, and counterpoint. While in school he wrote several pieces of classical music, including a symphony that he composed as an honors project during his senior year. When he wasn’t studying Beethoven and Bach he was taking private electric bass lessons from Michael Manring and Kai Eckhardt and rehearsing and performing with Wayside, a band he formed with some fellow students. Wayside shared the stage with bands like The Motet, Melvin Seals and Tea Leaf Green and Justin had the opportunity to jam with Bay Area greats Paul Hansen and Paul McCandless at some of their shows. They played one of their final shows at the High Sierra Music Festival in 2002, where guitarist Will Bernard joined them for a few songs.
After Justin graduated from Berkeley, he began teaching more private lessons and focusing on his jazz career. As word spread that he could play, he began getting more and more calls from musicians in search of a bass player. Through his freelance work Justin got a chance to perform with guitarists Henry Kaiser and Julian Lage. On top of that he played regular jazz gigs with Tangria, Echo Beach and his own trio, and he began working out his original “improrhythmic polyvisational” style with his fusion quartet Monkey Knife Fight. It was for this group that he composed most of the songs that he later recorded on his debut CD, Shakin’ It Like a Blue Funk Monkey.
In 2005 Justin took over the weekly jam session at Rasselas in San Francisco, where he had the chance to perform with pianist Taylor Eigsti. During his 2 year residency at Rasselas he also played with Terrie Odabi, who inspired him to form the R&B/Soul band Sugar Shack. In this band he found an outlet for the vocal tunes he had been writing over the previous 2 years. Shortly after forming Sugar Shack, Justin joined Plum Crazy, a well established Pop/Rock/Jam band out of Sonoma County that tours regionally.
2005 also saw the birth of Monkey Music Productions, Justin’s private event entertainment business, and he founded Social Funktion to be the company’s flagship band. In addition to doing all of the booking for MMP, he performs at the events with Social Funktion, his jazz trio, as a solo pianist, and as a DJ.
In December of 2006 Justin went into the studio with his quartet to record 10 of his original compositions. The resulting CD, Shakin’ It Like a Blue Funk Monkey, was released in August of 2007. After his successful CD release party with Dave Ellis on sax, the album started getting regular airplay on KCSM, the largest jazz station in the Bay Area. It features saxophonist Roshywn Bullock, drummer Tyrel Willis, and guitarist Eric Vogler, 3 stellar musicians who have played with the likes of Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Stevie Wonder, Ira Sullivan and Freddie Hubbard.
Today Justin continues to perform with his trio and quartet, Sugar Shack, Social Funktion, Plum Crazy, Tangria, Echo Beach, as a solo pianist, as a DJ, and as a freelance bass player, and he has several recording projects in the works. Needless to say, he is keeping busy.
For Booking Information Contact:
Justin Hellman 510-338-0015