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.