Justin Robinson Talks Bird, Trane, Roy Hargrove, and Long Tones

Justin Robinson Alto Saxophone
Photo by Bryan Thompson


Justin Robinson was born in Manhattan and first began playing saxophone at the age of 13. Justin attended the High School of Music and Arts (LaGuardia High School) in New York and cited his major influences were Charlie Parker and Jackie McLean.

Throughout his career thus far, Justin has performed with artists such as The Harper Brothers, Cecil Brooks III, Abbey Lincoln, Diana Ross, Little Jimmy Scott, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, and the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band.

In addition to his touring, as a teenager, Justin began running after-hours jam sessions at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City in the late 1980’s. Currently, Justin is touring with the quintet and big band of trumpeter, Roy Hargrove and this past may released his new album, Alana’s Fantasy.

The Interview

ZS: Who are some of your biggest influences on the saxophone?

JR: I would have to say that Charlie Parker is my biggest influence. I always recommend my students transcribe certain Charlie Parker solos to start. When listening to Charlie Parker I try to focus on his rhythm because this is a characteristic of Parker’s playing I believe he did so well. In addition to listening to Parker I enjoy checking out alto and tenor players such as: Vincent Herring, Bruce Williams, Joshua Redman, Joel Frahm, Eric Alexander, Antonio Hart, and the list goes on.

ZS: What advice could you give to saxophonists wanting to pursue a career in music, especially those who want to play full time over teaching?

JR: I would recommend that you practice as much as possible and play with as many bands as you can. I can tell you that playing jazz is not an easy way to support yourself, but by practicing, attending jam sessions, and playing with as many bands as possible, your hard work will allow you to support your love for playing music if teaching is not a part of music you want to pursue.

ZS: What does your practice routine look like on and off the road?

JR: At home, I practice more piano and flute than I do saxophone since I have a piano at home and have things I want to work on. On the road, I focus primarily on long tones as well as playing through my scales very slow and soft to build up my endurance and accuracy. In addition, I like to practice my scales throughout various songs such as “I Got Rhythm.” I highly recommend checking out Barry Harris teachings, which have helped me develop my practice routine and an understanding of chord progressions.

ZS: Do you prefer to lead your own group or be a sideman?

JR: I believe everyone wants to be a leader and have their own group, but being a sideman with Roy Hargrove has taught me a lot. Plus, as a sideman I can dedicate my time to focus on just playing music instead of having to think about the other responsibilities that come with running your own group.

ZS: What projects have you completed recently or are working on for the future?

JR: My album, Alana’s Fantasy was released in May.

ZS: Who are you currently listening to whether it be jazz or another genre of music?

JR: I have been listening a lot to Crescent by the John Coltrane Quartet.

ZS: Do you enjoy traveling or prefer to play locally?

JR: I used to enjoy traveling when I was younger and still do, but the airplane process gets old and tiring pretty fast. I do enjoy playing locally because it allows me to spend time with my family, as well as have more time to practice.

ZS: What was one of your favorite jam sessions you can remember and why?

JR: I was running an after-hours jam session at the Blue Note with Freddie Hubbard playing on stage, and Art Blakey and Mulgrew Miller ended up stopping by to see Freddie play and sat in on a tune which was a night I will never forget.


  • Saxophone: Yanagisawa 991 Un-lacquered alto saxophone
  • Mouthpiece: vintage Claude Lakey hard rubber mouthpiece- 9 opening, refaced by Mike Eberhardt
  • Ligature: stock ligature for alto sax. Simple two screw.
  • Reeds: Fibracell 3 1/2 or 4.

Justin in Action