It is not always going to be sunshine and rainbows (don’t ask me how many times I yelled at my kids today). But this is a precious time to spend with my family, and to be grateful we have each other. I am looking forward to more rolling around on the living room floor with two toddlers on top of me trying to feed me raisins, as though it’s the most hilarious thing they’ve ever seen. I want to be present with my family and not always think about the million things that are needed of me at any given moment. This time can be seen as a gift within the walls of our home. A time that we can cherish.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Kolnick, Founder and CEO of Jam With Jamie.
Jam with Jamie is a nationwide children’s entertainment company specializing in music for birthday parties, events, public and private classes/playgroups and preschool music education. Their mission is to bring music into children’s lives and spark the little musician that lives inside every child. Jam With Jamie has over 50 performers jamming their way into the hearts of families across the country.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely! It’s pretty funny because I did not intend to be an entrepreneur and completely fell into this Children’s music biz accidentally. My life’s goal was always to be on Broadway. My mom told me I came out of the womb singing and she said I had the highest pitched voice- “almost annoying” (thanks mom). I sang and acted through my childhood, notice I left out dancing because I am NOT a dancer. Repeat. Not a dancer. Remind me to tell you about that time I did a dance call for the show “Chicago” and ended the audition in a double lunge instead of a double split, it wasn’t pretty. Alas, I was a performer and as a child I performed at a local children’s theater in Miami called “ Actors Playhouse.” A Christmas Carol, Babes in Toyland, and Aladdin were just a few of the shows I performed in.
When I moved to NYC after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, I started working in children’s theater again- you might know me as the Velveteen Rabbit at The Players Theater? No? Anyone? Crickets. Hey, it was $30 a show that I didn’t have before so not nothing! Clearly that wasn’t paying the bills, and I was a horrible waitress so I started teaching children’s music classes at a private family club in Soho called “Citibabes.” I was the lead singer of the Bandmates band where we did rock and roll baby classes. I loved performing as a means to make (some) ends meet and I loved working with children and families. It was a very natural transition into starting Jam with Jamie and spinning off on my own. My plan was not to grow it to where it is today. I honestly just loved singing with kids and my mom told me she was cutting me off and to figure out how to make money! So this was it. I started off slow, maybe 1 or 2 parties a month.
At the same time I kicked off my business in late 2008, my mom unfortunately declined health wise. Her breast cancer metastasized to her liver and in March 2009, she passed away. By that point my business was really picking up and all of my children’s musician friends helped me with the gigs while I was home in Miami. Shout out to my magical community. Before my mom passed away she said “Jamie, one day you are going to be doing parties for celebrities. I just know it.” I replied “Yeah, yeah, mom” thinking she was just hopped on too many meds! She really believed in me and what I was doing, she even came up with the name of the business. When I returned to NYC, I came back with a vengeance to make this something. To make my mom’s faith ring true. Parties picked up and I landed an off-broadway show called “Wanda’s Monster” with music by Laurie Berkner. You might know me as the rock n’ roll granny? No? Anyone? Well, It was definitely a bigger deal than the Velveteen Rabbit and since it was all weekend shows, I needed to get covers for my Jam with Jamie parties.
That was when I started to hire and train other people. It was a very natural progression from there- performers I hired and trained would move to another state and say “Hey can you get me gigs in Chicago?” or “Can you get me gigs in Nashville?” I took a leap of faith and said, “Yeah, sure!” And here we are now with 50+ performers nationwide offering music classes, parties, and events for families. And now the silver lining of this whole pandemic- I get to show off all of the incredible talent we offer on our virtual platform to families globally and help bring joy to children with music when they need it most.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“Many Lives, Many Masters” by Brian Weiss. I picked it up off of my mom’s bookshelf after she passed away in 2009 and it helped me gain a different perspective on life. One that allowed me to see the light in the darkness and have hope that we could all be together again. It is about reincarnation. I have experienced a lot of tragic losses and I was searching for answers, for something to make me feel like we are more than just specks of dust on the earth’s floor. That we learn something in each life we have and our souls keep growing. That even if we have lost someone in physical life, there is an eternal life and somehow in between there is a bigger meaning and we are still connected even if not physically.
My 18 year old brother died in a car accident in 1998, his name was Alan and he was the funniest, most charismatic human being. He was the most popular kid at school and I was cooler just by being associated with him. He would have celebrated his 40th birthday this past March 31st. After he passed away, my mom became incredibly spiritual (full on Brian Weiss and John Edwards groupie) and my dad turned to Judaism. I was thirteen and more interested in what boy was going to ask me out. Only 5 years after Alan died, my dad passed away from Leukemia. His sickness was a complete shock as he had never been sick a day in my life. After my mom passed away, it got really real really quick. Thankfully, I have my brother Mike who is an incredible life guide to me and huge support and the two of us have always turned to joking about how absolutely ridiculous it is what we have been through. Laughter for the win, always. And with laughter, comes searching for meaning. Searching for what can still tie us to the family we have lost and omit the pitiful “why us?” Replace that pity with purpose and infuse every single thing we do in this life with that drive. That’s what I am doing now. That is how I work daily to lead my life with joy and passion.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
We all have our stories, the tragedies, the challenges. We ALL know what it is to struggle, albeit in very different ways spanning a huge spectrum influenced by socio-economic factors and more, and we have all done this before- in one way or the other- overcome a challenge and GROWN from it. This is just one more challenge to add to the beautiful roster that makes up our life’s challenges- bring it on COVID. Look, I know this sucks, I just recovered from this virus. It wasn’t fun and it was scary, unpredictable, and I was completely anxiety ridden throughout. But here I am, I’ve surrendered to what is happening and thankfully I am on the other side of it realizing that so many other people will not be as lucky as I am. This realization is even more grounding, and in my perspective the only option is to recognize, uplift, and support our health care workers in any and every possible way. To see, hear, appreciate and shift our way of thinking and policymaking moving forward so that the majority of our society that lives without access to basic health care and that needs rent forgivance now, gets that and everything else they need and that we emerge on the other side of this not only as stronger individuals, but as a better, more just society that can say they took on this crisis with compassion and solidarity, as a time for societal self-reflection and growth. We can and must do better.
There is 100% a light at the end of the tunnel. We are constantly hearing right now “This too shall pass.” Cliche, but it’s true. It will. We will all lose a ton of money, potentially lose employees, businesses, potentially lose our own jobs or more, husbands and wives — quarantining with your family can be rough (JK I’ll keep my husband- shout out babe, love ya!) And in months from now, or maybe a year- the dust will settle and we will find our path to being whole again. We will be better because of the challenge we overcame and even if we may feel weak now, we will gain strength on the other side.
Five reasons to be hopeful during the Corona Crisis:
1. Family. It is not always going to be sunshine and rainbows (don’t ask me how many times I yelled at my kids today). But this is a precious time to spend with my family, and to be grateful we have each other. I am looking forward to more rolling around on the living room floor with two toddlers on top of me trying to feed me raisins, as though it’s the most hilarious thing they’ve ever seen. I want to be present with my family and not always think about the million things that are needed of me at any given moment. This time can be seen as a gift within the walls of our home. A time that we can cherish.
2. Time. This isn’t forever. For those at home with your families, this is a sacred time and there should be no pressure to do anything or be anything. Just exist in your circumstances. Embrace. Surrender. I know that is easier for some than for others, and not everyone has that choice. Hold space for them.
3. Perspective. When we come out of this quarantine hotbox we will be forever grateful for the freedom to live our lives. Touch the subway pole, hug a friend, open the mailbox without thinking about immediately washing our hands. We take so much for granted in life, and the freedom to exist without fear of contracting a virus is something you can never prepare for. Now that we’ve gone through the fear, contracted the virus, and on the other end of it but still very much in it, we see the world with a different lens. We know that when we come out of this we will not take that free, fearless life for granted. We will honor the people who have sacrificed and suffered and in this newly gained perspective, I hope with my whole heart, we can come together to fix the many deep rooted societal issues that were present way before this pandemic and worsened with it’s escalation.
4. Community. Every community that I am a part of is thick as thieves right now. “We are all in this together.” Everyone is saying it and it is true. Every single one of us is affected and the only way to get to the other side is together, and to be as supportive of each other as possible. I see it every day with the artists in my company- creating musical content to share with children, showing up not just for a paycheck but to bring smiles to families. My chat groups with friends are on fire, everyone opening up about their struggles, chiming in with advice. I am also a part of two very strong female communities- HeyMama and the Female Founders Collective. People are jumping to help each other right now in these hard times, buying from each other, offering free guidance. It is remarkable to watch and be a part of. We are stripping down any walls that may have once divided us globally, and showing up to support each other. We MUST extend this beyond the crisis. Support local businesses and each other. Appreciate the work done at every level in society. Listen.
5. Evolution. Everything we do is meant to evolve and change with the times. That flexibility is what shows you that something has stamina and can stand the test of time. Like marriage, relationships, and business; the success of each is built upon being adaptable to time and evolving. Right now our entire lives are being challenged with evolving. How will we adapt to this new normal? How will my business now be virtual? How will I parent two kids while working and not leave my NYC apartment? How will I adapt to this new lifestyle, thrive, and find joy in my daily life? It has certainly not been easy but in two weeks of quarantine and also being sick, I have learned that I can do it. I am capable of doing anything. Of opening the window when I need fresh air. Of making my business virtual, if only to put smiles on children’s faces and hope donations come in but not make that the reason for my work. Of having ups and downs with my husband as we learn this new way of life together, and know that we’ve got each others backs and will get through it. Of dealing with those toddler tantrums and putting myself in time out before I say something I don’t mean and learning from it. Becoming more self-aware and able to see the light that waits for me when we come out of this and perhaps already find that light while I am still in the thick of it. Of honoring those who need it most.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
My four year old has been having a very hard time with this transition. He is someone who thrives on a schedule, the cadence of a day where he knows what is coming next. As soon as our world got flipped upside down, our nanny was out of his daily life, school was cancelled, he completely flipped. Over the past couple weeks we have been doing everything we can possibly do to help him adapt to this new normal. Our anxieties have definitely come in to play and we have to remember that children are like sponges and will soak in anything they feel around them. It has required master patience, that I don’t always have, to remember he is a four year old boy who is scared and lost in this new way of life and put myself aside. To listen to his concerns, validate his feelings, hold him just because, play with him constantly, and love him unconditionally.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
Meditation. I have been practicing Transcendental Meditation since 2009 when my mom was home with hospice. My best friend Aliya’s mom, Kiki Ellenby, who is the director of the TM program in Miami, taught us in the comfort of my mother’s bedroom three weeks before she passed away. I take this technique with me every single day, twice a day for 20 minutes. At this point it is like brushing my teeth, but the effect it has on my minute to minute is extraordinary and it’s effortless. To release the spiraling of my brain, quiet the thoughts and enter a floating state of nothingness brings me immeasurable peace.
Journaling. I have been writing in a journal since I was 10 years old. Pages and pages filled with, let’s be honest boys, and more boys. And then of course, the real tragedies in my life, followed by more boy problems. I let my words run rampant, get it all out on the page and out of the pit of my stomach. Recently, I have tried to incorporate just 5 minutes of writing in the morning, anything that comes to my mind as well as five things I am grateful for and it really helps me clear out the mess at the start of the day.
Talk to someone. I have had a therapist ever since my brother passed away. I am all about a support team. Therapist, life coach, career coach, relationship therapist.
It takes a village! Don’t be afraid to open up, even if you feel like you can handle it on your own. Having a sounding board, especially in a time like this can bring more clarity, patience, and ability to exist in a chaotic scary world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Every negative experience can lead us to a positive solution.” These are words that my mom lived by and that I have adapted to live by in my own life.
After my brother Alan passed away in 1998, my parents started a scholarship foundation in his name. The Alan Epstein “Reach for the Stars” Scholarship Foundation. Over the past twenty years we have awarded annual scholarships to graduating seniors who have so much potential but not the financial means to get where they must go. This was my parents positive solution to one of the most horrific events in their life, losing their child. My brother Mike and I continue the scholarship in Alan’s honor and now my parents’ honor.
I also work to bring this concept of turning negative to positive along with me every waking minute. Life is not perfect, it is not easy, and it is going to awaken us with challenges constantly. We have the choice on how we react to everything. We have the ability to manifest what we want out of this life. We can take all the shit that happens to us and spin it, help people, help ourselves. I don’t do this easily. I work my butt of every day with my support system to keep this mindset. I don’t do it alone, with them, with my family, with the branches that have been grown within me by my family that is no longer here physically. I am able to strive towards spinning negative to positive. You are all capable of this.
I will leave you with some words from my life/career coach, dear friend and guiding light, Antoinette Beauchamp of @oneandmanyofficial:
“Imagine the earth being deprived of the sun. If we could imagine it existing at all. No life, everything frozen, water is still and hard as a rock, no light. Imagine it comes back, and everything dances again. Trees are smiling. Nature is (literally) glowing. The sunbeam gives life to the world. Now imagine being a sunbeam, a person with so much light you make people smile and the world dances around you. You spread happiness and life into everything you touch. IMAGINE. That is the power we have as human beings. We are all sunbeams, with the light that can turn the darkness again. Be the light.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
In an effort to surrender to our current circumstances, let’s invite levity, laughter, song and dance into our homes. I propose a movement- #JamDanceParty — where everyone, everywhere breaks it down in their homes to their favorite song and shares with their community on social media. One post at a time, we can spread joy with the help of music to bring us together, as it always does.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can follow me @jamwithjamie and @jamiekolnick on instagram.
Visit www.jamwithjamie.com to tune into our daily virtual music classes and parties!
Email Booking@jamwithjamie.com to inquire about private virtual music parties and classes for ages 1–10.
Visit www.RFTSF.org to learn about my families scholarship foundation
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!