Wednesday, June 10, 2015

High School All-Stars Alumni Interview: Kanoa Mendenhall

Many of you know that last month, High School All-Star Kanoa Mendenhall took the coveted Education Award at the SFJAZZ Gala. This High School All-Stars scholarship stands alone at SFJAZZ as our only peer-nominated award; the pack itself identifies the star in its midst. What you may not have picked up on were the myriad other honors that this young bassist racked up during the spring of her senior year: 2015 Ravinia Steans Institute Fellow, member of the 2015 Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and Downbeat Student Music Award for Arranging. You might find it hard not to get attached to this incredible player and brand new alumna just as she plans to depart to study at Columbia University & Juilliard School’s partner program in the fall… but we’re fairly sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

Kanoa with SFJAZZ CEO, Don Derheim © Drew Altizer

Your primary instrument is bass; have you ever played any others? What made you decide to focus on the bass?

"Back when my father was teaching high school, I would love to try all the instruments in the band room...bassoon, euphonium, oboe, and violin were all on my wish-list, but after listening to Oscar Pettiford playing the cello, I was hooked. I then started playing the trombone through my 5th grade band program, went through a phase strictly devoted to the Japanese shamisen, and finally in middle school I landed on the bass because my dad needed a bass player to play on his gigs. Right now I'm trying to learn Brazilian guitar and working on piano, but I will always remain on the bass because of the tone and feel, and its versatility in music."

© Drew Altizer

Congratulations again on being given the SFJAZZ Education Award this May at the annual gala! Your family has some well-respected Bay Area musicians in it -- what was their reaction?

"Thank you! It's a huge honor to receive this award and to perform with members of the SFJAZZ Collective at this year's Gala. My parents (both pianists) are happy for me and thankful for the support SFJAZZ has given us over the past four years."

Kanoa with All-Stars Orchestra Director, Paul Contos, and SFJAZZ Director of Education, Rebeca MauleĆ³n © Drew Altizer

What will you miss about the San Francisco music scene and performing jazz in the Bay Area when you head to college this fall?

"I have learned so much on the bandstand from the pros and my peers here in the Bay Area. Many of these musicians have become family to me. I'll miss going to rehearsals every Tuesday and playing with my SFJAZZ friends, but I know I'll see many of them in NYC."

© Drew Altizer

What are you most looking forward to in New York? At school? Outside of school?

"I have never had a steady bass teacher because of my family's frequent moving, but now I have the opportunity to study regularly with some great teachers. NYC is a cultural epicenter - I can't wait to explore the museums, the parks, and the food! I love the Bay Area's laid-back nature, but New York's intensity will hopefully challenge me in new ways both musically and academically. My high school life has been centered around music, so I'm looking forward to taking interesting courses at Columbia while studying music at a world-class conservatory."

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