SFJAZZ.org | Get To Know Hannah Mayer

On The Corner Masthead


May 15, 2020 | by Erin Putnam

Hannah Mayer

Each year, The SFJAZZ High School All-Stars vote for whom they believe should receive the $1000 SFJAZZ Education Award, based upon high-level musicianship, dedication, and leadership qualities. Given the 2020 award winner’s incredible playing over multiple years with the ensemble, her ability to rise to occasion when asked to step outside her comfort zone, and her utterly egoless calm, it’s no surprise that this year’s Education Award went to Oakland School for the Arts pianist Hannah Mayer. As one of her myriad peer-fans wrote, regarding their reason for nominating Hannah, “Do I even need to explain?” We couldn’t agree more...
As we close out our Education season, we touched base with Hannah regarding some of her program highlights, fun reminiscences, plans for the future, and advice for the next wave.

Hannah Mayer performs with Chucho Valdés

Hannah Mayer performs with Chucho Valdés

Q: What was it like to play alongside Chucho Valdés at the 2019 SFJAZZ Gala?

A: It was amazing! At first I thought I would be intimidated, but upon meeting him, I could immediately sense his warmth and encouragement. He is such a kind person and it was so exciting to get to trade ideas back and forth with him during the performance.

Q: Tell us about a valuable experience you had on the High School All-Stars' trip to Brazil.

A: At the school we visited in São Paulo, two other High School All-Stars and I were in a piano sectional led by the Brazilian pianist Edson Santanna. He could not speak much English and we could not speak much Portuguese, but he was still able to teach us through his playing. This experience made me truly realize how music has no language barrier. On another note, I am also a swimmer and I will never forget the experience of getting to swim at Ipanema Beach!

Recording with SFJAZZ at Skywalker Sound

Recording with SFJAZZ at Skywalker Sound

Q: With the understanding that everything is very fluid at the moment, what is your current college plan?

A: I was fortunate enough to receive generous merit scholarships to Manhattan School of Music, the New School, the Peabody Institute, USC Thornton School of Music, and Berklee College of Music, but due to the uncertainty of the virus, I have decided to stay local this coming year. I will be attending the California Jazz Conservatory in the fall and I am looking forward to continuing to explore all that the Bay Area music scene has to offer! I do eventually hope to go to school in New York City.

Q: Is there anything you would tell current middle and high school musicians that you wish you knew as you were starting to dive deeper into the jazz world?

A: This past year at Oakland School for the Arts, I have begun teaching several sixth grade students (and I am still working with them weekly during the shelter-in-place). I have gotten a lot out of sharing my approach to music and hope to continue mentoring younger musicians in the future. I would say: listen to this music and learn about the history! Find the artists (or even general aspects of music) that most resonate with you and draw from them in your own playing and composing. I also feel that it is important to connect with other student musicians, because there is something so motivating about playing and improving alongside other students like you. It is all about collaboration, communication, and expressing yourself through music!

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