When Serena Geroe was young, she vividly remembers car rides with her family spent listening to music blasting through stereo speakers.
“My dad would play Louis Armstrong’s Hello Dolly on repeat,” she recalls. “I remember liking the sound of the guitar sliding into the chords.”
Around the same time, her mother’s musical interests also made an impact. “I remember listening to her shred on the guitar when I was a kid, which was super cool.”
Now just over a mere decade and a half later, the guitarist who started playing when she was 8 years old has built on that early musical foundation and established herself as one of the jazz world’s youngest and most promising stars. Currently attending Massachusetts’ Smith College as a freshman, the 18-year-old spent much of her life in the North County, living in Carlsbad and attending Canyon Crest Academy.
In short order, she’s collected an array of impressive accolades. In the past two years alone, Geroe was a 2019 National YoungArts Foundation winner, a member of the 2019 YoungArts LA Jazz Combo, participated in the 2018 Brubeck Institute Jazz Colony and was a 2018 Grammy Jazz Camp finalist. Last year, she received a full tuition scholarship to attend a summer program at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
It’s a stacked resume that can be traced to both a passion for the instrument and an ongoing discipline. “I keep a practice journal and outline my goals for every session,” Geroe explains, who plays so much she notes she begins every session with hand and arm stretches to prevent tendonitis. “Practicing generally consist of chunks of time in which I focus on learning jazz language, implementing that language into my playing, learning tunes, and freely improvising.”
Most recently, Geroe performed as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival, a highlight in her already esteemed career. She was part of a group of the 21 most accomplished high school jazz musicians nationwide to make up an all-star jazz orchestra. “Being able to play with musicians of such high caliber really brings you up a level, and I think that we were all amazed by each other,” she explains of her bandmates. “Monterey is unique in bringing together a range of diversity in performers to play in a large number of venues. In between my own performances I raced to hear other musicians.”
Geroe points out the diversity for good reason, referring to a genre of music that for many years have been male-dominated. Lately, that’s changing with Vanity Fair noting in a spread in its August issue that highlighted female jazz artists: “For a century, the closed world of the jazz musician was a men’s club,” they wrote. “Today, it is women at the vanguard shattering what’s left of jazz’s so-called brass ceiling.”
Geroe is no doubt at the frontlines of the charge. “One of my favorite parts of playing music is getting to meet people of diverse backgrounds and experiences,” she explains, bringing up her youthfulness, another outlier quality in the genre. “Age is just one factor in that, and I think working with so many people has broadened my world perspective. Specifically, playing with people older and more experienced than I am has taught me a lot about the music and the history of the music.”
That’s not to say that music is her only interest. Despite her bright career, she’s planning on supplementing her guitar playing with a degree in engineering. “I am still figuring out which area I want to focus on, but right now I am thinking biomedical or materials engineering,” she says. Of course, she’ll never let her passion for melodies go by the wayside. “Music is such a huge part of my life; I will always keep myself busy gigging and playing in bands.”
Find out more about Geroe at serenageroe.com, Instagram at serena.sixstring, and on Facebook at Serena Geroe.