OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Drive a police squad car slowly through certain parts of south Oklahoma City and the last thing you’d expect anyone to do would be to stop and listen.
OKCPD Sergeant Justin Echols sees the perceptions his badge creates and even uses them to communicate, just not in the way you might expect.
In front of a group of Hispanic kids, Echols sits down at a piano keyboard and begins to play.
He stops for a moment and tells them, “Okay, so the next part of jazz is improvisation right? You have the melody and after that you play around with the melody.”
Children at the Hathaway Park Community Center might have seen Echol’s badge first, but they quickly gathered in other things that changed their perceptions of him.
Justin is an educational outreach officer with the police department now.
This class session is part of the Police Athletic and Activities League.
Echols says, “There’s a psychological transition that I have to make from officer to musician. It’s taken a while to be able to be both at the same time.”
There was a time when Sgt. Echols thought his police shield and a military MP uniform would be the major chords of his career, but a car accident changed everything.
He took up the piano eight years ago for therapy.
Justin taught himself Jazz chords, improvising his way to a new path in life.
“Yeah,” agrees Justin. “improvisation applicable to tragedy.”
He still loves to teach. He loves to break down the barriers that keep children like these from finding success.
“I’m wanting to expose them to art. I’m wanting to expose them to music,” he says.
When he’s not doing this kind of police work Justin plays his music.
He tours all over the world as a rising star in Jazz, blasting away stereotypes with ever note.
“I like both jobs,” he insists.
If Jazz is playing with the melody of an old song, Justin Echols jazz is a complete re-write of a thin, blue standard.
Echols will tour Europe once more this summer.
While at home he has a regular gig at the Hefner Grille.
Justin also has a CD out called ‘Justin Time’.
If you’re interested in learning more about Echols’ music or his story his personal website is http://www.justinechols.com