Kakuyon Mataeh sits down with President and Founder, Melissa Walker for our Year-End Appeal to discuss how JAZZ HOUSE KiDS has gone the distance for him
Melissa: What do you love about this music?
KAKUYON: I used to practice in my backyard a lot, before I came to Jazz House. I forget who I was listening to, I think it was Freddie Hubbard, and he just sounded so expressive. He didn’t sound like he was being held down by all these chord changes. Like, he knew his stuff, but he just sounded so free. I’m not saying I love jazz because I can express myself, because you can do that with any music, but I feel like there are no limits with jazz, and it’s like it’s the truest music. Really genuine.
MW: I remember hearing you practicing a long time ago, and you told me, “That Jazz House Big Band, they’re so excellent, I want to get in there.” And you’re in the Big Band now!
MW: What did it take for you to get in?
KM: I definitely had to work on my theory, and I really just dove right into the music. There wasn’t a lot of stuff in my library maybe like 5 years ago, but now its just filled with just everything. Whatever I hear, whatever someone tells me to listen to, I add it right then and there, and later I really try to see what they are talking about.
MW: I know you’re balancing a couple of jobs and a heavy course load in high school. Is it hard to find the amount of time you want to practice?
It is, but mostly because of my course load at school. In the summer, I was practicing about 5 hours a day, throughout the day. Obviously there’s not that much time now. But I try not to complain about it too much—I’m just happy with what I can get in.
MW: How much homework do you have at night?
KM: Whew! A lot of homework.
MW: You never get the homework done, you just try and stay in front of it right?
KM: Yeah, it’s always something. Most of the time just preparing for the next exam.
MW: Can you tell me about your jobs?
KM: On Saturdays, I work at a hair salon that we live above—I do not do hair, I wish I could, that would be cool, I guess—but I sweep the floor, do the dishes. I’ve been working there since I started high school.
I used to work at the library, but now I work at Chrome Depot now in my school helping to scan Chrome books and put them away. Their hours are a lot more flexible, so if I don’t have time to go to work one day, I can just go home.
MW: And how does Jazz House Kids fit into your life and your schedule?
KW: I’m at Jazz House Kids Sunday, Monday, and Thursday. Mondays I get home from school at 4:30 and I relax for a half hour. Then I practice for two hours, and then I have Radam’s organ combo.
Thursdays, I don’t usually have a lot of homework, so I try to come home early from Chrome Depot and I just practice as long as I can, and then I have a lesson with Nathan [Eklund]. I get to practice on Thursday for about 2-and-a-half hours.
MW: So that’s a good day?
KM: That’s a great day! Because that’s when I not only get to practice at home for a long time, but then I go straight to Nathan right after he finishes with the Dynasty group, and we talk about theory and anything I’m having trouble with. I feel like I make a lot of progress on Thursdays.
Nathan is really organized, and that helps me because the work I have is not organized, and he is available 24/7. I texted him at 1 in the morning one time, and he replied right away. And when he is not available he offers to Skype me.
Saturdays I work most of the day, but Saturday night, I go over some stuff for Jazz House Kids, especially for Mike Lee’s combo. I just got into that, and I’ve learned a lot.
MW: It’s a top combo. Do you ever feel like you have too much work to do?
KM: In the beginning I thought that, but then I took a different approach because with all the work, it’s more of an incentive to make time. If you know you have something for a top combo due, instead of “ah man, I’m really tired”, you may stay up for another hour and do that. I don’t mind doing that because I love his combo. I don’t mind staying up an hour later to practice.
MW: And what is Sunday?
KM: Sunday is “Jazz House Day.” I get up at 9 and practice until 11:30, just to get stuff down for my lesson, or the things I need to get down just for a warm up. I don’t like coming here and not being warmed up.
I’m here from 12 to 5:30, and at night I do homework and if I have time I practice from 9 to 10.
MW: You’re very disciplined.
KM: I definitely feel like the work ethic I get from Jazz House Kids is really teaching me discipline, so every facet of my life got improved by being here.
MW: What does it mean to be here that much?
KM: Its awesome. If there’s ever a day where I feel like a cannot practice, I remember, well I have to be at Jazz House Kids the next day, so I’m just gonna make time. That’s shown me there’s never a time where I don’t have time to practice, because I can always make time.
Also, as you know, I live with my father, only my father, and sometimes finances are hard. But you guys don’t let that be a problem, and I’m still able to come here, you know, just experience this music with my friends. I got to know everybody too so that is a really awesome community.
MW: I remember a few years ago, I saw you walking home with some groceries at 8 o’clock or so. I asked how Jazz House was going, and I was surprised to hear you say you weren’t in a class. You told me you had a lot of school work but also you were working at your jobs a lot.
KM: That year in particular the tuition just hit us hard. It was my freshman year, but after a while I got a little more financial aid [from Jazz House Kids]. It’s still hard, but it’s not like my dad and I are saying, “Hey, we need to do more hours at work so we can do this.”
I usually know where we are financially. It’s definitely a group effort.
MW: You’re proud of your dad?
KM: Yeah, he does a lot, yeah.
MW: Does he know about Jazz House KiDS?
KM: He’s tired a lot, but he knows that this is where I am every Sunday, Monday and Thursday.
MW: And you do a lot of the grocery shopping?
KM: I do all of the grocery shopping. Every week. I used to go to Acme, because they had the cheaper prices, but now I just go to Whole Foods and get chicken and rice, because that pretty much is all I know how to make.
MW: Do you cook?
KM: I do cook. I’m not saying it’s good, I just cook.
MW: Is that what you have almost every day?
KM: Almost every day, but I try to mix it up.
MW: Any veggies come in there?
KM: Yes, sometimes I have lentils. They are really gross, but someone told me they are really good for you so I try to put them in there.
MW: I’m going to bring you some lentil soup, and I think I’m gonna change your mind about lentils being gross.
KM: Yeah, I mean, I can,t cook them, so I wouldn’t trust my opinion.
MW: Do you pay for groceries out of the money you earn?
MW: So do you get yourself on a budget?
KM: Yeah, I have to always manage how much I have. That’s one of the reasons I do the hair salon thing, because it’s a quick 50 bucks for 5 and a half hours and I use that for groceries. I mean usually on Sundays, I’ll treat myself and maybe get something a bit better than what I can cook, but usually I always make sure that I have 45 dollars for the week just to get groceries.
MW: You know all these life skills that you honed? You organize your time, you organize your money, you reach goals. Those are things that you need in life, and at a young age, you’ve already mastered them. When you go to college, you’ll know how to organize your time, how to set a goal, how to stick to it. So after that time I saw you outside of Acme, that’s when we came up with a plan through a donor to give you some support. If you had more support could you eliminate another job?
MW: If I had enough money to pay for groceries, then probably yeah.
MW: What would you eliminate?
KM: Probably the hair salon, just because I never really have time to anything on Saturdays.
MW: Would you like to do that?
KM: Not entirely sure, I mean, they kind of need me, but they’re really nice too, they helped me out for a long time. I remember I was in the 4th grade, when I got my first trumpet. I was practicing in the backyard, and they were cheering me on. They called me “K” cause they don’t know how to say my name but I am okay with that. I moved up the street for a while, and then I moved back, and they said, “Wow, you sound a lot different” and I said, “Yeah, ‘cause I’m in Jazz House KiDS.”
But, yeah, if I had help with food, then on Saturdays I’d be able to finish my homework early in the morning and those could be my shed days, because I don’t really have a lot of those.
I definitely don’t think I will be making chicken and rice every night! I can probably start learning how to cook better, eat healthier stuff. And it will definitely take the stress off, because if I ever ran out of 50 dollars for that week or from the Saturday job, I’ll be fine. I still have to figure out if I want to keep the Saturday job, though.
MW: So you can cook better, eat better, it will take some stress off. It give you some options right? Is there any kind of other help we can give you ? How about your applications for college?
KM: Oh yeah, I was gonna see my counselor about a fee waiver for my first college application.
MW: Will you be the first in your family to go to college?
KM: My mom did not finish college, my dad has a degree.
MW: Where will you be applying?
KM: My parents and I were oriented to Stanford, just because I was thinking about technology. Math is my strongest subject. I’ve finished my application, they just need my parents to review it. I also want to apply to all the Ivy League schools, and also Rutgers and William Patterson for jazz.
MW: What did you talk about in your essay?
KM: I wrote about jazz.
MW: What was the big moral of the story?
KM: It was winter and my neighbors did not really want me to practice inside the house, so I went outside, and it was snowing really bad. But I just practiced for like two hours, and it was a bad day, but it was also good because I got to practice. I just thought that same work ethic applied to everything in my life.
MW: If you were just to summarize, what is Jazz House to you?
KM: I go to a really athletic school—everybody is really sports oriented. People don’t really understand that music is to me like sports is to them, so when I say, I play the trumpet, they don’t really consider it like an actual activity. But when I come here, everyone is just passionate about it, and quite frankly there are some people here that are a lot better than me. That is awesome because you get to play with them, you get to see what they’re doing and you get to learn from everybody.
MW: Will you continue playing?
KM: Yeah, I’m going to play for the rest of my life.
MW: You’re gonna play for the rest of your life?
KM: Yeah. I don’t know what else I would do.
MW: So do you think one day you would want to help an organization like Jazz House KiDS?
KM: I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could just get rich and give it to Jazz House Kids. I think about that a lot. I would give it to an organization like this. Especially being a part of it, I know exactly what it is about.
MW: You’re pretty awesome. We are honored to have you here.