LOCKPORT – When LeAnn Maland of Joliet heard that Kidz Jam needed a youth drummer for its house band, she knew her 12-year-old son AJ Maland could fill the spot.
AJ has played drums since he was 3, taken lessons since he was 6 and played in group settings through summer band camps. AJ started drumming with Kidz Jam in December and he loves the variety of music he’s learning.
"It's good to play in bands,” AJ said, “because they [musicians] learn to cooperate with the other people and get to know them."
Kidz Jam is a monthly open mic experience for youth up to 17, said Monica Minogue of Lockport, who began Kidz Jam in September. The event has attracted a wide range of ages and experience. The youngest performer – so far – is just 7 years old.
"It's such a boost to their confidence," Minogue said. "Some have never performed to a live accompaniment and others have more experience. It's also giving kids that are serious about music with the goal of learning some new songs."
Each jam session lasts two hours and is currently attracting 15 performers, with about three to five "new to the studio" musicians each month, Minogue said. The venue itself –-William Alexander Wine & Music Studio in Lockport – is a "warm, intimate space" where no one feels "pressured to order," although "a lot of kiddie cocktails are being served.”
"And popcorn for whoever wants it," Minogue added with a smile.
Scott Guzik – Kidz Jam host and emcee, and husband of Sandy Guzik, owner of the William Alexander Wine Studio – encourages child performers of all artistic mediums to participate. That includes poetry readings.
"I'd love to have a child comedian," Guzik said. "That would be fabulous."
This is not the first youth musical program Minogue has created. Minogue is the founder of StagePlay: Musical Theater for Kids! This is a 14-week musical theater program Minogue has offered area park districts since her children, Olivia Minogue, 10 and Martin Minogue, 12, were young.
"I was looking for a career change," said Minogue, a former event planner. "I was commuting into the city and I wanted something that had the flexibility of being at home with my family while getting back to something I was passionate about."
As a theater student at Ball State University in Indiana, Minogue enjoyed taking classes in children's theater. Minogue wanted to offer youth the chance to create a music production from "start to finish," learn about music and performing, and "build a little confidence along the way.”
Minogue divides StagePlay students into three groups: 3 to 5 year olds, 5 to 8 year olds and 9 to 15 year olds. They perform at high school auditoriums, park districts, middle school gyms and multi-purpose rooms – on an actual stage, whenever possible.
"You see the pride and joy that the kids have in what they're doing, the excitement in coming to class and the disappointment when they're at the end of rehearsals and have to leave," Minogue said. "I can't imagine my life without it."
Last year, Minogue brought her two children to a family-friendly open mic event at William Alexander Wine Studio, where Olivia sang and Martin played trombone. Since they enjoyed it so much, in July Minogue invited families associated with StagePlay to join them. The concept succeeded enough for Minogue to open it to youth in the surrounding communities.
Kelly Carl of Joliet said AJ had contacted her daughter Dakota Carl, 16, about Kidz Jam, as the two kids had performed together in summer band camps. Dakota, who plays the electric bass in Kidz Jam's house band, is also part of the jazz ensemble at Plainfield Central High School. Kidz Jam, Carl said, gives Dakota the opportunity to play popular music.
Dakota, who favors classic rock and alternative for the variety of "interesting" bass parts, said Kidz Jam is a great way for the community to hear quality live music from "ridiculously talented" youth.
Liz McCully of Joliet agreed. Her daughter, 10-year-old Jordan McCully, has been a singer since she was 3 and a guitar student for several years. Jordan performs with both the house band and solo, giving her the opportunity to showcase her music without it overtaking her life.
Jordan, who learns two new songs each week (her favorite artist is Taylor Swift), occasionally feels nervous but once people start "singing and clapping,” the jitters vanish. Plus, Jordan added, Kidz Jam is "a great way to express myself."
Other members of the Kidz Jam house band are Alexus Maldonado, 12, of Joliet on electric guitar and Madison Menchaca, 13, of Plainfield on acoustic guitar. Minogue is currently seeking a keyboardist.
That house band, along with other yet-to-be- selected youth musicians, will be part of a StageKids live band for this summer's rock-themed production. Kidz Jam, however, is for any young person interested in getting involved, Minogue stressed.
"I'm not looking for a certain caliber of talent," Minogue said. "It's open to anyone willing and brave enough to get up there and share their passion for music with other people."
What: Kidz Jam
When: 3 to 5 p.m. March 30
Where: William Alexander Wine Studio, 900 S. State St., Lockport
Etc: The March 30th session is full but the community may come to listen.
Register: To participate in the April 27th event, contact Minogue by April 11.
Contact: 815-954-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.