Saxophone recording artist Justin Klunk will be the featured performer at a cool jazz benefit concert for the Grateful Crane Ensemble to take place on Saturday, July 23, at 7 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.
A Torrance native who grew up in Southern California’s Japanese American community, Klunk has gone on to become a rising star in the smooth jazz world as two of his original tunes have recently hit #1 and #2 on the smooth jazz musical charts.
Entitled “Guide Me Home,” the concert will feature saxophonist Klunk and his band performing 90 minutes of electrifying melodies, foot-tapping R&B tunes as well as his latest chart-topping hits.
“This concert truly does feel like a homecoming for me,” said Klunk, 31. “Little Tokyo was such a hub for me growing up with all the small businesses, restaurants and coffee shops. I’ve performed at the Aratani a number of times as part of other performances, but this will be my first time headlining the theater.”
Along with his band, joining Klunk on stage will be two guest vocalists including Cheesa, a finalist on TV’s “The Voice,” and Annie Dingwall, who has worked with Klunk in their band RAINNE. Opening the show will be vocalist Miko Shudo, musician/vocalist Michael Murata and drummer Danny Yamamoto of the Grateful Crane Ensemble’s Grateful 4 performance group.
It was with Grateful Crane where a young USC college student found connection with the community he grew up in, and learned the history and stories lived by previous generations. He said he remembers performing for seniors in JA nursing homes, and as a band member in Grateful Crane’s shows.
“Seeing everyone’s reactions to the performances was always something I remembered vividly,” he said.
So when Grateful Crane’s board chair Michael Murata — a long-time friend going back to their days of playing in youth bands at the Faith United Methodist Church — asked Klunk if he would do a benefit concert for Grateful Crane, he was all in.
“I’m so happy to have reconnected with everyone at Grateful Crane, and put on this fun night of music with them!” said Klunk. “Grateful Crane has always been such a giving organization, and it’s really fun to do an event with them to help support what they do.”
After graduating from USC, Klunk began his journey as a professional musician and has played on tour with Ariana Grande, Saint Motel and Lindsey Stirling. He has also performed with an array of artists including David Foster, Leon Bridges, David Benoit, Earth Wind and Fire, Melissa Manchester and The Steve Miller Band, to name a few. On TV, he has been seen on the American Music Awards and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and his music can be heard on shows such as “Wanda Vision,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” “Modern Family” and “Dr. Ken.”
And then, the pandemic hit in 2020 and shut him and the entire music industry down. Performing live was no longer permitted, so Klunk found himself pivoting to music video editing, and eventually started performing saxophone and woodwinds virtually in streaming shows.
“After a while, though, the pandemic made me really reflect on my own goals,” said Klunk. “This led me to really jump back into getting my own music off the ground.”
Using the experience he gained from touring with a group of talented artists and composers, Klunk began to focus on writing his own music.
“For the first time, I felt very comfortable with my own sound and I think the new music really reflects that now.”
And that’s what he will be bringing to the Aratani Theatre on July 23 — an evening of his high-energy original music, where he wants audience members to forget all their troubles and enjoy the moment.
“I want them to leave wanting to be a positive energy to those around them,” said Klunk. “I like to think of my music as generally happy music, and I love the live shows to reflect that same energy. As long as people are smiling while we’re performing on stage, then I will consider the show an absolute success!”
The Aratani Theatre is located at 244 S. San Pedro St. in Downtown Los Angeles. Tickets for the concert are $45 (premium orchestra), $35 (orchestra) and $25 (balcony). To reserve tickets, go to the JACCC’s website: https://jaccc.org/events/