Guitarist Kai Lyons was an alternate in the High School All-Stars program 2011-2012. Recently, he stepped back on the scene serendipitously: a quartet of All-Stars was performing at AT&T Park this summer when Kai approached them, introduced himself, and asked if they would like to add a guitar to the mix. For the next 45 minutes, the group played from the top of the visiting team’s dugout as though Kai had been a part of it all along, showing us what a professional who can adapt to any performance looks like.
Tell us about your school experience after the All-Stars.
“I received a full tuition scholarship to attend William Paterson University's Jazz Studies program directed by Mulgrew Miller in the NYC Metro area. After completing two years there, I decided to pause my studies and return to the Bay Area where I remain very busy. I gig regularly at Club Deluxe, The Burritt Room, and Mint Plaza. Until recently I worked at Creative Arts Charter School teaching Spanish through music. I am now taking a two-month break from to focus on my CCSF course load, composition, private lessons, percussion, guitar practice, and warm-heartedness.”
There are a lot of guitarists out there, but far fewer jazz guitarists. What is the most challenging thing about jazz guitar in your opinion?
“Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. It is easy to overlook what gives the music its heart and soul and jump into theory and harmony prematurely. The hardest thing about jazz guitar, in my opinion, is falling into this trap."
You do a lot of work with kids these days. Can you tell us what these projects are and about the trajectory in which you hope to take jazz and music education?
“For several months I directed a group of tweens and taught them how to play in a rock band together. They are called The KHEAS (pronounced "Keys") and taught me a lot about what it takes for ensemble music to sound GOOD. Even though we were playing rock music, I felt like what I learned about jazz pedagogy aided me tremendously in getting the group to good for their age and experience. In January I plan to start music classes at Balboa High School. I am looking forward to the novel experience of working with a different age group. As an educator, I am still fairly young and am still establishing what age group I work best with. A goal of mine is to gain proficiency in educating all ages.
As far music education is concerned, our society needs to reemphasize the value in providing music classes in the schools, acknowledging that not only does this make kids perform better in other subjects but it makes kids more musical. We need to cultivate a new generation of culturally intelligent people. Music is just a part of that puzzle. As far as jazz is concerned, I hope to continue to see the music in a larger context by drawing from music of all times and places that speak to me. This is a never-ending process to be savored every step of the way.”
Check out Kai’s solo and group projects below, and catch him playing guitar as well as 5-string bass at his performances around the Bay Area.