Jakayla Douglas, 12, is one of Matt Bott’s students at Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, a nonprofit serving 8,600 kids each year. She said Matt, who has been BGCC’s arts director since February 2013, taught her how to play no fewer than three instruments – saxophone, clarinet and trumpet.
Jakayla had no previous music experience or training. How did she learn so fast?
“Mr. Matt, he can explain things in ways other people can’t,” she said. “He’s awesome.”
Another member, Karoline Torres, said, “I wish everyone in this world had a Mr. Matt. (He) is the greatest teacher and best friend anyone could have.”
Matt took over a BGCC arts program that consisted mostly of an occasional crayon-and-pencil drawing class and grew it into a cultural powerhouse providing youth with an array of offerings, including ballet, creative writing, band, guitar, African dance and drums, fashion design, graphic design, art, contemporary dance, drama and studio recording. He has been nominated for a Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio.
Matt is beloved by his kids – 85 percent of whom live at or below the poverty line – because he will do whatever it takes to provide them with great experiences. He is passionate about his work.
In the fall of 2015, he helped arrange an amazing and touching performance by the BGCC band for the legendary Smokey Robinson at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. By the end of “My Girl,” a smiling Smokey was clapping and singing along with the kids. This past spring, Matt accompanied the band on a trip to Detroit, where the kids performed and visited iconic cultural sites, including the Motown Museum, the Henry Ford Museum and the Charles Wright Museum of African American History.
Closer to home, Matt seizes opportunities for the kids to perform and create, regardless of whether they are after school, at night or on weekends. The band plays at numerous neighborhood events, including Gather in Glenville, Parade the Circle and Akron’s Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival, which Matt helped launch in an effort to bring the genres to a more diverse community. The BGCC ballet and band programs performed before a Cleveland Indians game at an event we called Plazapalooza. Matt’s great relationships with the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland enable young BGCC artists to take regular field trips to these revered institutions. He also helped arrange a special in which supporters were able to purchase artwork done by Club kids, with the youth keeping a portion of the money.
One of Matt’s strength as an arts educator is his willingness to try new things.
He launched a graphic design program at our Clubs, and our kids – particularly teens and pre-teens – embraced the opportunity. One of the charter members of the program, 13-year-old Kamden Pearson, became so adept, so quickly that he was hired to design a Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland vehicle wrap for a van donated by Liberty Ford. A similar scenario played out when Matt started a ballet program at the Clubs; within months, the kids were performing with grace before crowds.
Perhaps the most intriguing venture initiated by Matt was the construction of a new recording studio at our Broadway Club in conjunction with Notes for Notes, a Nashville-based nonprofit. Matt felt Club members and other at-risk youth in our community could benefit greatly from a place packed with guitars, drums, keyboards and synthesizers, and DJ gear and featuring a stage with lighting, podcasting stations, and full recording studio facilities. Today, the studio is abuzz with activity.
A graduate of Cleveland State University, Matt taught in the Cleveland School of the Arts, the Cleveland Municipal School District All City Arts Program, Laurel School and Literacy Through the Arts. He is the former leader of Mojo: The Generations Big Band and toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra for two weeks in 2012 as the lead trumpet substitute. He also performed and toured with the 55th Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes as principal trumpet and cornet soloist.
He has studied with Clark Terry, the former trumpeter of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie Orchestras; John Schantz of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra; Charles Couch, retired principal trumpet player for the Cleveland Orchestra; and Geoffery Hardcastle, a former member of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Matt lives in Lakewood, Ohio with his wife Sarah, son Dexter and daughter Stella.