CHICAGO (CBS) – A young Chicago jazz musician is making all the right moves, creating sweet sounds and helping others.
His name is Thaddeus Tukes and he's one of Chicago's Hidden Gems.
"For me, it's just a blessing to be able to do it," Tukes said. "I just am excited every time I get to play music. Every time I get to play my instrument, I consider it a blessing."
His music, and his vibraphone, have taken the Chicago native all around the world.
Donlon: "Where's the favorite place you've played?"
Tukes: "Hm, I'm gonna go with New Orleans. I do love Dubai though!"
His love for music started early in his South Side home.
"My first musical memory, hm, probably being about 4 or 5 years old, younger than that, singing in the kitchen with my mom," he said. "Dad cheering us on, definitely with mom. She used to hold my hand and dance with me."
For Tukes, it's all about family.
"My great grandmother, it's always family, there was a woman who went to her church that taught piano lessons. So my mom and dad enrolled me in piano lessons at 5," he said.
So he began with the piano and then the drums, but then, he discovered the vibes almost by accident.
Donlon: "No many people play the vibes. What was your attraction to it?"
Tukes: "I come across this CD, a guy wearing a bow tie, and he's holding mallets."
"That guy" was jazz great Lionel Hampton.
"I put the album in and I only played 'Flying Home,'" Tukes said.
He added, "I played that over and over and over and over."
Roger Harris spent 25 years as the jazz big band instructor at After School Matters. The program was founded in 1991 by former Chicago first lady Maggie Daley as a way to give kids good things to do after classes.
Harris said the first time he heard Tukes play, "We recognized right away that he had talent."
"When they found out I played vibes, they said, 'If you can get a vibraphone down here, we'll let you play,'" Tukes said.
Harris said Tukes had a "bubbling personality."
"He just smiled all the time," Harris said. "We've always just enjoyed having him and his mother."
His mother, Celeste Tukes, said she is her son's No. 1 fan.
"I have fights with people over who the number one fan is," Celeste said. "Everybody else comes after me."
Tukes credited his parents for all he's able to do.
"They really set us up for success and being a whole, healthy person," Tukes said. "You have to walk with the utmost integrity."
CBS 2 took a walk down memory lane, down a Whitney Young High School hallway where Tukes played in the band for four years and forged longtime relationships.
These days, Tukes has his own band with other talented musicians, including Harris. The two still have a close bond.
"To this day, Roger's still one of my favorite piano players," Tukes said. "I used to run home and tell my mom and dad all the time about I just thought he was the coolest cat."
"We're friends, and I have to stop him from calling me Mr. Harris anymore and to call me Roger," Harris said.
Tukes is still a student. He's pursuing a master's degree in music therapy at Illinois State University and works with at-risk youth.
"They thought they were just learning music, but I'm actually teaching them OK this is how you deal with that level of anger," he said. "This is how you work through your thoughts, so you don't have to feel like you're so overwhelmed."
Oh yeah, Tukes also has another job. About three years ago, Harris decided to retire from After School Matters.
You might be able to guess who the new teacher is.
"We had no doubt Thaddeus would be the one that we would pick," Harris said.
It was a full-circle moment. The student became the teacher.
"Not only could Thaddeus play, but he could conduct. He could arrange, and he had a certain charisma that held the students' attention," Harris said.
Tukes said his goal is to keep helping others through music. Those close to him are on board.
"I want him to be happy," Celest Tukes said. "To find what his biggest heart's desire is."
Harris added, "He's accomplished so much in his life and has yet a lot to do, and I look forward to watching him grow and develop."
"I'm just happy to be able to have this avenue where I can help inspire and make people's lives better, and I enjoy it," Tukes said. "It's the best of both worlds."
To learn more about Tukes, you can visit his website ThaddeusTukes.com.
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