Music teacher is featured on Grammy-nominated album

With a return to in-person school, Redwood’s campus is once again filled with the sound of aspiring young musicians practicing in the 500s wing. These students fine-tune their musical skills with the help of Jeff Massanari, a guest teacher who assists Redwood’s music director John Mattern in teaching the performance workshop and jazz classes.

This year, Massanari was featured as a guitar player on Kenny Washington’s “What’s The Hurry,” an album nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album in the 63rd Grammy Awards. It was Massanari’s first time working on a Grammy nominated project.

“It was a complete surprise. I got a really cool phone call from the producer and he was tearful about how excited he was about it. We didn’t end up [winning], but that’s really secondary to me,” Massanari said.

Massanari has enjoyed an extensive music career leading up to the album’s nomination. He has played guitar since age 13 and knew at 15 that he wanted to be a professional musician.

Playing guitar has been Massanari’s passion since he started at age 13. Photo courtesy of Soundcloud.

“It just became really clear early on that [music] was what I wanted [and] had to do,” Massanari said. “I grew up in a family where music was important, but it was mostly classical music. I got into blues and jazz and rock on my own. This was in the 1970s, and everybody wanted to play guitar. A couple of friends and I formed a blues band and played parties.”

Constant playing and practicing throughout high school career brought Massanari to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and after college he moved to the Bay Area to start his professional career at age 24. Since then, he has released five albums and performed at acclaimed venues such as Davies Symphony Hall. He has also played internationally in China, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Guam and Italy. 

“I just immersed myself in the music scene. I’d go to jam sessions, … restaurants and clubs and just get gigs. And then I started teaching,” Massanari said.

Massanari currently teaches at multiple colleges, including the University of California, Berkeley and the California Jazz Conservatory. His 15-year teaching stint at Redwood began after he met Mattern at a performance. 

“We played a gig together first, and then I realized he was such a fine musician and guitarist,” Mattern said. “He doesn’t have an axe to grind or an ego, and that’s really cool. Some musicians do have this ego and they want to show you [what] they can do, and then when you bring them in to teach, it isn’t their forte. For Jeff, it is.” 

Within Redwood’s music department, Massanari educates students on music theory and helps to develop their guitar and bass skills. Senior Ryan Barcy has been taught by Massanari for all of his four years at Redwood and credits his strong foundation in jazz to Massanari.

“Jeff has more of an interactive teaching style where he makes sure that everyone’s involved in what we’re doing,” Barcy said. “He also has a lot of patience when it comes to teaching jazz. … He’s really good at making the students comfortable with learning how to play such a complicated genre.”