Liany Mateo: This is the place for me
Jan. 29, 2019
Liany Mateo is a senior in the College of Music who will earn her bachelor’s degree in jazz studies this spring, majoring in bass performance. In January 2020, she was the only bassist recognized for Outstanding Bass at the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jack Rudin Jazz Championship, a competition in which MSU Jazz placed third nationally.
As a middle school student in Jersey City, New Jersey, I knew that I wanted to play bass. I liked a lot of rock bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who, and my favorite was always the bass player. So I got an electric bass and, the first day I went to school with it, my teacher showed me a video of Wes Montgomery. It was my introduction to jazz, but as great a guitar player as he was, I realized I was paying attention to the bass player in the back. I had never seen an upright bass before, and immediately I knew that’s what I had to play.
By high school, I didn’t think college was going to be an option. I’m first-generation American. My mom went to college in the Dominican Republic, but her degree didn’t translate over. My dad dropped out of school, and my high school had a really low graduation rate. If I was going to go to college, out of state probably wasn’t an option.
I had some good mentors in high school, though, and they helped me attend a jazz symposium in Utah. It was there that I met Professor Rodney Whitaker. He helped me see that I had a lot more options. He wanted me to go to MSU, but he also gave me a lot of confidence to apply to other places that weren’t in my comfort zone.
I got accepted to Oberlin and Michigan State, and that was really important for my confidence. But I knew MSU was the place for me. The first time I was on campus, I realized I had the same feeling that I had the first time I saw an upright bass. When I met the other professors and staff, the feeling was instant. This is where I need to be. This makes sense.
Since then, I’ve made the best friends here and had some amazing experiences. Everyone in our class is really tight, and it has helped to have a support system like that. I’ve grown a lot having people to talk to, exposing me to new things, making me try food I haven’t tried before, and pushing me out of my comfort zone in good ways.
The professors here are so connected and that helps us. I sought out mentorship from Regina Carter, for example. She’s one of my heroes and I was able to sit in with her and keep in touch. And the Jazz at Lincoln Center thing—amazing! Placing third in this national competition that included so many great schools is something I will always be proud of, and the fact that I got honored individually is special.
I’ll never forget the people who have shared these experiences. We’re always on the lookout for each other, giving high fives, or we might all meditate together and give positive affirmations. We use group discussions a lot, too. It’s the most supportive program I’ve ever known, and I’ve learned a lot that I’ll carry into my professional life.
Every day I’m reminded that coming to MSU was the best decision for me. Even though I’m far from home, I’ve never felt homesick. My friends at other schools say they never get to see their professors or maybe they only have one small group of friends. At my school, I’ve always felt like I belong here. And I remember that every day.