Setup/Gear/Manufacturer of Instruments:

For electric: Yamaha & Casio
For acoustic: Estonia

Why did you begin studying music?

I began studying music at the age of 4 when my parents enrolled me in piano group classes. Up until my freshman year in high school I only studied classical music; the number of competitions I’ve done and pieces I’ve played are countless, and this study also included (and still includes) studying music theory in a 10-year theory program called Certificate of Merit (MTAC.org). In my first year of high school I did my first concerto with the community orchestra – one of the greatest and scariest memories of my life.[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]

Keyboardist Rachel Cantrell

Located in Stevenson Ranch, CA

  • Keyboards and Piano
  • 12 years of playing


Teen Jazz Artist Badge

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Jazz, however, began my freshman year when I showed up for an audition for the jazz program at my high school. To be honest, I had no idea what jazz was — chord symbols made absolutely no sense to me at all. For some reason, I still placed in the advanced jazz band. But this still frustrated me — how could it be that I understood so little about something I loved so much? So for an entire year, I studied all I could about jazz — especially piano jazz — including chord symbols, rhythm changes, and standard tunes. I even enrolled in an arts program at CalArts (which is in my area) for jazz, where I learned the most about improv.

I’m now in my third year in the jazz program (and in jazz in general) and I love it — I love the music, the history, and the groove. I lead the rhythm section in the jazz band in regards to the whole band in general.

What are you doing with music now?

Currently I participate in the advanced jazz band at my high school and take community arts classes at CalArts and through SCVYO. My case is a bit unique — my focus isn’t entirely on jazz piano, but it’s also on my jazz blog which I started up this summer after listening to a few jazz players in my area. I’ve got a big passion in writing — so to be able to combine both of my passions is great for me. The blog is at www.thejazzpost.com, and I’ve been writing about my favorite jazz musicians and the shows that I attend — In fact, today I’m going to the Jazz Through the Generations show in Palos Verdes to check out the performers and KKJazz’s LeRoy Downs.

I’m also taking part in starting up the jazz combo program at my school and I’ll be in our first jazz combo — something that I’m very excited for.

I also teach basic piano — I know that piano lessons are expensive, but I do not believe that it should be a reason that children do not get exposed to music, especially a core instrument like piano. I only charge $10 for half an hour so that I can expose them to music without being a burden on their parents, and pass them on to more experienced teachers when I feel that they are ready, or I introduce them to new instruments if piano’s just not their “thing.”

Who are some of your influences?

My biggest influence is Count Basie (and his orchestra, including the All-American rhythm section), mainly for his simplicity in his improvisation and his influence on the jazz world. I also look up to the new artist, Hiromi Uehara, and her group, SonicBloom; I can connect to her love for piano and to her Japanese heritage.

Another one of my influences is Marian McPartland, who is managing one of the longest-running radio shows in history, Piano Jazz, through NPR. McPartland is both a jazz pianist and a journalist, which is what I aspire to be.

Who have you studied with?

I study classical piano with Elizabeth Petersen, who attended Juilliard and teaches piano privately in my area.

As for jazz, my jazz director is Robert Babko; I study privately with Daisuke Iwasaki, who studied jazz piano at the Berklee School of Music, when I visit Japan. (His site is at http://www2u.biglobe.ne.jp/~qnm47791/index.html; but it is all in Japanese.) Currently I take lessons with Mark Nilan (www.marknilanjr.com); please see his “about” page there.

What would you like to do with music in the future?

I believe that the greatest thing about music is that no one can hate it, since it possesses such a wide variety of genres. With this kind of influence, I think that music can be used to advocate anything. I plan to continue my blog (www.thejazzpost.com) and work in writing about music, as well as playing jazz for the purpose of influencing those younger than me. Jazz never ages — it sounds just as great from someone as old as Dave Brubeck as it does from someone as young as Esperanza Spalding.

I love piano; I want to give as much back to music as it has given to me.


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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.