Meet Jumpin’ Josh, Des Moines' teen jazz phenom

Just a few months after Jumpin’ Josh Violette took up the guitar at age 8, he took the stage for the first time to play the blues at a Tacoma nightclub. Violette, 12, of Des Moines, added the harmonica to his repertoire two years ago. He added the saxophone last year. But the guitar remains his primary instrument.

‘Jumpin’ Josh Violette

‘Jumpin’ Josh Violette

Just a few months after Jumpin’ Josh Violette took up the guitar at age 8, he took the stage for the first time to play the blues at a Tacoma nightclub.

Violette, 12, of Des Moines, added the harmonica to his repertoire two years ago. He added the saxophone last year. But the guitar remains his primary instrument.

“Whenever I’m playing - it’s hard to describe - but it’s an amazing ball of energy I get from the audience,” Violette said. “It’s awesome when magic happens.”

Violette got the chance to take the stage with acclaimed blues trombonist Randy Oxford four years ago at Jazzbones Restaurant and Nightclub in Tacoma.

“He had only played for a few months and Randy had a jam and had Josh come up and play with him and he has always since,” said John Violette, Josh’s father.

Violette regularly plays at a blues open jam session Monday nights at the Fire Creek Grill and Raw Bar, 2019 W. Meeker St., in Kent next to the Riverbend Golf Course.

“That’s the future of the blues right there,” Oxford said after Violette performed with him last May.

A video of Jumpin’ Josh playing with Oxford and other clips of Violette can be viewed at www.youtube.com. Just search for “Jumpin’ Josh” to find the videos.

Violette, an only child, became interested in the blues because that’s the music his father and mother like to hear. They also have taken him to blues festivals since shortly after he was born.

“He’s always been interested since he was a little kid and he would listen to Eric Clapton,” the father of Jumpin’ Josh said. “He gravitated to the blues.”

“That’s most of what I heard,” Josh agrees.

John and Josh decided to take guitar lessons together four years ago at Highline Community College. It didn’t take long to discover that Josh had a natural talent.

“From there it just took off,” his father said.

Oxford gave Violette his nickname when he saw him at one of his shows at age 2. Violette came up on the stage and jumped around with Oxford.

“So then whenever we saw Randy he would ask, ‘Where’s Jumpin’ Josh?’” John Violette said.

The name has stuck ever since.

The 12-year-old plays at clubs and festivals throughout Oregon and Washington. He played with Little Bill (Engelhart) in September at the Blues by the Sea festival at Astoria, Ore. Earlier in the summer he played at The Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. He has played four years in a row at the Mount Baker Blues Festival in Bellingham.

If Violette plays at a bar or in a beer garden, he can only be on stage or in the bar as long as he is performing. In some cases, he has had to wait outside in the rain until it’s his turn to play.

“The good thing is you set up all of my stuff,” Josh quipped to his dad.

Violette, a seventh-grade student at Sacajawea Middle School in Federal Way, also plays guitar in the school jazz band and tenor sax in the regular school band. He excels in the classroom as well with mostly As and a couple of Bs. As long as Violette keeps up the good grades, he can play as much music as he wants, his father said.

“We’re making an opportunity for him,” John said. “Actually, it’s more like I answer the phone for him.”

Violette plays cover songs from Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others. He met King two years ago at a concert at the Tulalip Resort Casino. King autographed Violette’s guitar. The guitar now is filled with autographs of musicians the boy has met.

When Violette comes home from school, he often starts right up with guitar practice. But he doesn’t consider it a chore.

“I just sit around playing and pick on the guitar for a while,” he said.

The teen musician is developing his writing skills as well. When he plays or attends a blues festival, he comes home and writes about the festivals for a newsletter produced by the Federal Way-based South Sound Blues Association.

But if all continues to go well, Jumpin’ Josh plans to become a professional musician.

“I want to be able to do that,” he said.

See live blues

What: Blues open jam

When: 7:30-11 p.m. Mondays

Where: Fire Creek Grill, 2019 W. Meeker St.

Cost: Free


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