Empty Hands Carried Me Home

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A Conversation with Julian Ketchum

Composer, Musician & Believer



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Harford County Living presents Conversations with Rich Bennett, coming to you from the Freedom Federal Credit Union studios.

In this episode, Rich and cohost Colleen Curran have a conversation with Julian Ketchum, aka Juls K. Julian has released two albums, the first in 2014 titled By Inspiration Only, and the second in 2021 titled Enjoy the Journey. Julian is a very talented musician and composer; both of his albums will leave you mesmerized. 

About Juls, from his website:

“Juls K was born on February 27, 1972 in Baltimore, MD, 2 months ahead of schedule. His interest in music also came early, while in elementary school. Several instruments were brought into the classrooms for the children to choose which one(s) suited them. Juls chose drums. That turned out to be a good choice as he was a natural. He had a good ear for rhythm and practiced often (albeit on his mother’s furniture). To save her sofas & loveseats, she bought him a toy drum set, which he pummeled at every opportunity.

As he grew, so did his musicianship and interest in music. One day, he saw the world-renowned Liberace on TV, and was immediately enthralled.  He asked his mother if she would buy him a piano. She agreed, but only if he would agree to a 5-year commitment of lessons. He agreed, and a Kimball upright was purchased. As the years progressed, so did his skill level; and unfortunately, his disdain for lessons. He wanted to quit in the worst way but had to stick to his commitment. It wasn’t that he no longer wanted to play; quite the contrary. He just did not like playing song after song, week in and week out. It was clear his creativity was starting to outweigh his classical teaching. He realized he could play almost any song he heard by ear, from songs on the radio to compositions from the Les Misérables soundtrack. He also realized he had the ability to compose his own songs.

His piano teacher, Mr. Celmer, recognized his work ethic slipping and spoke with his mother. She said she wanted him to stick it out, but Mr. Celmer convinced her that Juls had lost interest, and it was a waste of time for them to keep meeting. The even greater waste was the talent of a gifted young man, so he asked Juls if he planned to continue playing. Juls assured him he would. Mr. Celmer then asked what he planned to do, since he would not be taking lessons any longer. Juls said he would write his own songs. Mr. Celmer was perplexed as he had not taught him how to do that. He decided to issue Juls a challenge: “Okay, tell you what; you write a song for me. Not one you’ve already written, but a brand-new song; written out, note for note, on staff paper. Bring it to me next week, and if it’s good enough, you’re released. If not, you finish out your commitment. Deal?” Juls accepted the challenge and got to work. He spent every day that week, laboring over a new song. Once he had it, he wrote it down, note by note (this was circa 1986, prior to musical software programs). The day finally arrived, and he was ready. He sat down and played the song for Mr. Celmer, who was pleasantly surprised. As much as it pained him, Mr. Celmer honored his word, and that day was Juls’ last piano lesson. Oh, the song was appropriately titled, Impromptu.

Around this time, his skill on the drum set began to equal that of his piano playing. Back in elementary school, he attended a middle school concert and saw a middle-schooler named Eddie Burns perform a fantastic drum solo. Afterward, he leaned over and told his mother that would be him one day. When that day came, he was an 8th grader in the same middle school. He asked his mom to come to the concert that night because he was going to have a drum solo. She actually did not believe him, because she had never seen him play a drum set; only snare drum, bass drum, and several percussion instruments. He assured her he did play and asked her to purchase a drum set for him. She told him if he proved he could play, she would consider it. Another musical challenge. He performed the drum solo to Land of a Thousand Dances and received a raucous standing ovation. His mom remained seated in the front row, smiling and in tears. There also happened to be a reporter there from the town newspaper who featured him in the following day’s music section. Needless to say, he got the drum set.

Now juggling 2 major instruments, and all the percussion instruments, he had the daunting but rewarding task of improving at all of them. That he did. He continued to excel in the music programs in middle school and high school, all the while composing song after song. He also arranged an entire Christmas medley, and performed it at his high school’s Christmas concert. It didn’t stop there. The most memorable accomplishment during those years was the song called I Love My Senior Class which was played at the Senior Assembly (where he was given the award for Excellence in Music), the day before high school graduation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the building.

With no lessons and no one from which to glean, his skill level on all instruments plateaued, until 1993 when he met keyboardist extraordinaire, Reginald “Reggie” Drummond Sr. at Freedom Christian Bible Fellowship in Philadelphia. Having grown up in a quaint, small town, Juls hadn’t been exposed to many accomplished musicians. After hearing Reggie, Rashiid (drummer), Curt (bass), and Russell (guitar), it was apparent he had lived a sheltered life with respect to music and had MUCH to learn.  After sitting under Reggie’s tutelage, his very basic chord base expanded dramatically, opening his style to a whole new world of possibilities. The new & improved sound, coupled with the Lord’s anointing, caused him to be inundated with requests to provide recordings of his playing. Being in college, he did not have the time or resources to do so. After he was married, however, his bride purchased a Korg Triton keyboard with a 16-track sequencer in which to record his compositions. Songwriting was going well, but took a welcome back seat to the arrival of his first child in 2001. His second child arrived in 2003, and his third in 2006. Family always being the priority, music projects were worked on whenever there was opportunity. With the undying support of family & friends, and a steady and balanced work ethic, his debut project, By Inspiration Only, was released in 2014, and his sophomore project/EP, Enjoy the Journey, is now available! 

Every note was inspired by God and written for you. Enjoy it to the fullest!”

Thank you to Julian Ketchum for the conversation. Here are some links for Julian:
Juls K (godaddysites.com)
By Inspiration Only
Enjoy the Journey

Recommended podcast –Learn Jazz Standards Podcast

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