Blues society’s youth jam aims to instill musical storytelling

01/03/2014 7:20 AM

01/03/2014 7:21 AM

Blues is all about telling a story with music; it’s a vehicle for expression, for interpreting feeling, and it’s a form in which the rules aren’t as set in stone as other music forms.

This is why Jim Lanzrath, president of the Wichita Blues Society, sees the Wichita Blues Society’s youth jam as a great tool for kids to become interested in music.

From 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, the Wichita Blues Society will hold its monthly Youth Jam at the Underground, 1628 George Washington Blvd. beneath the Henry Reese Dance Studio. A drum set and piano are provided – though drummers should bring sticks – but kids may bring their guitars, small amps and brass instruments or even their singing voices.

The music is not limited to the blues, though local blues musicians will be on hand to share blues fundamentals and songs.

“We felt we should expose blues music to them,” Lanzrath said. “Blues really started a lot of it, whether it be country or rap. It’s all about telling a story.”

A jam master oversees the jam, which begins with adults running through a song they want to work on. Kids sign up on a sheet, and they are mixed in with the adults.

“We want to make sure that we make the kids comfortable,” Lanzrath said. “We don’t want it to be all beginners. We mix them in with each other, so the others can lead them through it.”

About halfway through the jam time, it opens up to youths who have a song they want to try.

“The last thing we want to do is hold down someone’s creativity,” Lanzrath said. “How one kid feels the music is maybe different from another kid. It’s an expression of himself.”

Most important, musicians at any level are welcome, Lanzrath said. Youths are encouraged to be respectful, because everybody brings something different to the jam.

“We don’t want people to be scared,” Lanzrath said.

Since the program’s incarnation, which was a little more than a year ago, the volunteers have seen it grow to between 10 and 20 kids ranging from 8 to 21 years old, Lanzrath said.

“We try to keep it under 21 if we’re calling it a youth jam,” Lanzrath said.

Most of the growth can be attributed to kids spreading the word, given that their “social network is beyond anyone else,” Lanzrath said.

“Anytime you give someone the opportunity to express themselves in a positive way, it’s a good thing,” Lanzrath said. “Kids deal with more today than ever before. This is giving them a way to express themselves.”

Because different volunteers work with the youths each month, the young musicians are exposed to different styles of playing, Lanzrath said. This also helps them meet people in the Wichita music scene.

Growing up, Lanzrath was really interested in sports, he said. As he’s grown older, the days of football may be behind him, but he can still play music.

“It’s a lifetime skill,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do for these kids, whether it’s for them to make money or for their enjoyment.”

It’s especially neat when the kids come together, Lanzrath said – drummers playing with guitarists, more-experienced players reaching out to the less-experienced players.

“We see someone new every time that brings a different dynamic to the group,” he said.

Perhaps the most rewarding element is seeing not only an improvement in musical ability but also in the ability to interact with other musicians, Lanzrath said.

“It encourages them to practice in that month between jams,” Lanzrath said. “They see something someone else does that they can’t do, and the next thing you know, they can do it.”

The jam correlates with the Wichita Blues Society’s Blues in Schools program, which has provided harmonicas for children, has shared presentations on the evolution of music and has hosted other activities. It evolved from a guitar workshop at C Major Guitars, 110 S. Hillside, before the dance studio approached them. The workshop proved limiting as it focused solely on guitar work, Lanzrath said.

“I like doing this, because it involves the kids,” Lanzrath said. “With the schools’ financial crunch, they cut more and more of these types of programs, so if we can provide that, it’s a plus.”

Ultimately, Lanzrath would like to see the Wichita Blues Society develop a complete youth band that it could promote in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge.

“It gets better each month, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Lanzrath said.

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