This Chicago Teen’s Hip-Hop Violin Routines at NBA Halftime Shows Will Leave You in Awe

Giovanni Mazza has fears just like any other 13-year-old. But for him, the jitters come when he’s about to perform in front of an NBA arena packed with people.

Giovanni Mazza has fears just like any other 13-year-old.

But for him, the jitters come when he’s about to perform in front of an NBA arena packed with people.

“I get kind of nervous right before I start,” Giovanni told, “but then once the music starts, I’m fine and I just have fun."

His skill? The violin. But Giovanni is a little different than most. Instead of playing classical music like Beethoven or Chopin, the teen wows the crowd with his hip-hop routine.

“I just love to perform, and the violin has been like a vehicle for me to perform all around the country,” he said, speaking from the green room of the Wells Fargo Center while waiting to take center court for the halftime show at a recent Philadelphia 76ers game.  

Giovanni, who is from Chicago, has been playing the instrument since he was just a toddler. He touched his first violin at an instrument petting zoo at his local library, and was fascinated by the smooth wood and taut strings.

“Out of all the instruments he could choose from, he picked a little, tiny violin,” Giovanni’s mother, Lisa Mazza, said.

He dropped and broke his first violin, but it’s only been uphill from there. “I haven’t dropped any violins since then,” he said with a laugh.

Aged 3, he was enrolled in group violin classes. At first, his parents had to bribe him with toys, such as Power Rangers, in order to practice. He’s come a long way since then.

“Now I have a huge collection of Power Rangers, but no one has to bribe me anymore,” Giovanni said.

When he was 9, his parents entered him into the Chicago Bulls Kids Talent Search contest, where young musicians and singers take the court at the United Center at halftime and do their best to impress fans.

“I didn't have any interest in the contest,” Giovanni recalled. “My mom was like, ‘Well, we'll do it for the free tickets.’ So, I did it.”

He lost the competition, but the Bulls were so awed by his abilities they asked him to perform during the 2016 NBA All-Stars Rising Stars game in Toronto.

The moment marked the beginning of his nationwide tour. Since then, Giovanni has played in more than a dozen cities and venues including Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

His family travels together when they’re on the road, making it a fun weekend away from home. “The day of the game, we let him take it easy,” dad Vito Mazza said. “He still has to practice his classical exercises and things like that, but as far as the pressure, we don't put any pressure on him on game day.”

Giovanni doesn’t have to miss a lot of school for the shows. “On a regular performance day, I usually wake up a little bit later than usual and practice a little bit at the hotel,” he said. “[When we get to the arena I] do an on-court sound check, and then perform, and then I get to cheer on the team.”

But when it's not a performance day, Giovanni practices for hours, his dad explained. “The balancing is a lot of practicing of three hours of classical music,” he said. “Then he's got school. He participates in basketball, soccer, so he's a very, very busy kid.”

Giovanni’s classmates are understanding of his rigorous schedule, even though sometimes he has to miss practice for the sports he participates in. “Sometimes, I have to go up to my soccer team and be like, ‘Sorry guys. I’m going to miss soccer practice on Tuesday. I’m going to be out in Boston.’ They’re like, ‘You're playing for the Celtics?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ They were sweet. So, they're really supportive.”

And Giovanni finds support in strangers, too. “Sometimes kids write me messages [on Instagram] that say that I inspire them, and that really means a lot to me," he said.

Added Vito: “He likes to help other people. He's very generous and very humble. He's a very humble kid.”