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Monday, Sep 25, 2017
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Jim Chambers Music Box keeps students in tune

Jim Chambers wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to create a school that was like “Hogwarts for music.” Open the glass door at the very end of the shopping complex on Gunn Highway and you feel like you’ve stepped into a cool, funky hangout for teens and preteens, not a professional music school.

Take a seat on the sofa and Sticks, the Westie mascot and four-legged official greeter, kisses cheeks and paws your leg for a scratch on the head.

When asked to give a single word to describe his place, Chambers settles back into his vibrant orange chair, inhales his vape cigarette and take a minute to think.

“Conducive … to learning music,” he quickly added, then recanted, “I know. One word. I’d say eccentric.”

Looking around the eclectic space of shades of oranges, red and blue, with shag rugs and spheres of all shapes and sizes, the design meets the description. The place just feels youthful, fun and pulses with creative energy.

Chambers tours the different rehearsal spaces leading up to the one he is most excited to show — the cozy rehearsal space with the comfy couch and stage where band formation magic happens.

Much like the wizard Harry Potter, Chambers wields his magic in creating bands formed of intermediate and advanced students, ages 12 to 16, in his creation, Jim Chambers Music Box. Chambers assembles a group of students at the same ability level and holds a rehearsal.

The students select six songs for their set list — four covers and two originals. During the program they learn every aspect of promotion for their band. They meet with Chambers to pick a band name and learn the ins and outs of promotion with Instagram and Facebook pages. A professional photo shoot follows.

Band formation students are invited to continue their education in six-week increments, not only receiving further training and gigs at local clubs like Skipper’s Smokehouse, New World Brewery, Buckets and the Orpheum, but given the chance to record and produce music and sell on iTunes.

Most bands graduate and move on to perform on their own after 24 to 30 weeks.

These students aren’t the kids you politely clap after their recital song. These experienced preteens and teens are legitimately talented, accomplished musicians, and have the gigs and followers to prove it.

Four hundred sixty people listened to Chambers’ student band Extra Celestial perform at Skippers Smokehouse in early April. The oldest musician was just 15 years old.

Extra Celestial bassist Caitlin McHale, 15, said what she likes most is “playing shows for people because it is cool to see everyone enjoying the music.”

Extra Celestial has only been together since August, but listening to them perform Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” in the rehearsal space, they sound as if they’ve been together for years.

“I love not only that I get to play on stage with a band, but with my friends,” said lead singer Casey Banales, 15.

Fourteen-year-old Annabella Vivero, a diminutive brunette with hair down, pulled it into a makeshift ponytail to begin drumming.

“I love how loud they are,” she explained what drew her to drums. “It’s fast-paced and I love getting the crowd very excited.”

Devyn Dacus, 15, summed up the reason why she wanted to be in a band.

“I love playing music in general,” she said. “Something I’ve always wanted to do is play music.”

There’s a lot of hard work that goes into creating a legitimate band, no matter what the age of the performers are.

“We cover everything, from publicity to the proper press release — how to really be in a band that has some marketing savvy. That comes from my years of experience,” Chambers said.

Chambers is no newbie to the music industry. In the music business for 20 years, including a stint as vice president of sales for Octone Records, he played a key role in the development of Maroon 5, earning him two Grammy awards.

In 2009, he returned to Tampa after becoming a victim of recording industry downsizing. Initially, he worked with drum students out of his parents’ Carrollwood home, but the home owners association ended that. Last July, after a successful Kickstarter campaign raising more than $20,000, he opened Jim Chambers Music Box at 4321 Gunn Highway to teach drums, guitar, bass guitar, piano, ukulele, violin, voice and band formation.

“All of our shows we do are free, but we pass the hat and all the bands split the money and use it to go in the studio,” Chambers said.

Jim Chambers Music Box will have five bands — Extra Celestial, Inkblot, Surviving the Mile, Infinity on High, and A Long Way from Kansas — featured at The Orpheum on May 14 at 6 p.m.

The Orpheum performance will also be Extra Celestial’s single release party for the song “Restart,” available for purchase on iTunes.

“I love to promote and cultivate music,” he said. “Teaching students music is a magical spiritual experience. When the students light up — when they really get it. It may sound hokey, but I feel like I found my place in the universe.”

Jim Chambers Music Box is located at 4321 Gunn Highway. For information, visit jcmusicbox .com.

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