The Terminal Degree Jazz Band was originally called the “Kenn, Ben, and Chen Trio.” It originated at the graduate student housing complex at University of California Santa Cruz in 2009. Guitar player, Kenn Knowles wanted to get back into playing music, and inquired with his good friend, Sherol Chen, who had minored in Jazz as a saxophone player at the University of Delaware. At the time, Sherol was the Graduate Assistant for the housing complex and through reviewing the applicants, strategically, housed Trumpet Player, Benjamin Akiyama with Kenn Knowles. Also, they were both vegetarian (at the time). Kenn was studying for his PhD in Computer Science, Sherol was also Computer Science, and Ben Akiyama was just starting his degree for a PhD in Molecular and Developmental Biology.

The three of them practiced out of the Real Book in the grad student lounge, where Kenn stored his upright piano. The band practiced on Saturdays, often to the ambient sounds from CNN. They made their start doing open mic nights at the Abbey, a local coffee shop, and, later, played for food and gift certificates at official university events. In their first year, they also acquired Rachel, PhD student, from the Biology department on keys, and occaisionally, Jason, an undergrad in Philosophy, on bass.

The following year, Sherol used her administrative capital at graduate student housing to find bass player, Yu Yahagi, coming from Japan to get a PhD in Electrical Engineering. The band got back together in 2010 when pianist, Olivia Frise, wife of a PhD student in Philosophy joined, who recruited her friend, Josh on guitar, who is studying for his PhD in the Humanities (I think I might have just made that part up… Oh well, good enough for now).


After the end of the 2010 school year, the band dissolved over the summer and into the start of the following school year. Towards the spring quarter, in 2011, Sherol was contacted by the School of Engineering for the Terminal Degree Jazz Band to play at the open house. Two days before the event, Sherol contacted Yu Yahagi, who happened to be free at lunch time that Friday. Then, from the class she was TAing for, she recruited undergrad grader, and game design major, Devon Wyland to play keyboard.

At the School of Engineering open house, the trio: Sherol on sax, Yu on bass, and Devon on keys, played through the Real Book and drew the attention of Wes Souza, math major and student for the game design course that Sherol and Devon were both asisting. Wes, a guitar player, was quite serious about getting involved which created enough momentum to bring back the band.

Terminal Degree with Sherol, Yu, Devon, and Wes, started taking gigs again. Conveniently, Ben Akiyama, from the original trio was the housemate of Sherol and became an automatic addition. They played for a couple charity events enlisting some guest appearances from Sherol’s musician friends. The next three notable additions were Jensen, Daniel, and Raj.

Jensen Tan, visiting from Singapore, met Sherol at a retreat with grad students from Stanford, Berkeley, UCSF, and UCSC. At the retreat, Sherol provided a violin for him to jam on, and they’ve been friends ever since. Daniel Brown, working towards his DMA in Music Composition, was an old friend of Sherol’s from an algorithmic music composition course they took in a prior year. Daniel, cellist, was recruited for a gig at the annual videogame awards ceremony in Santa Cruz. Sherol met Raj at a graduation party for a mutual friend while she was playing chords from a jazz app on her android phone. Raj got recruited 2 weeks prior to the videogames gig, is a pianist, and currently studying for his Masters in Electrican Engineering.


The Sammy Awards was a big milestone for the Terminal Degree Jazz Band, as they sought to arrange and performed various charts from popular video games and local indie games. Since then, the group has been meeting every weekend to jam and come up with interesting endeavors, utilizing the skills from all aspects of their lives, and playing in parks for the heck of it.