About Jamaica Drum Jam, Inc. and our teaching artists.
How Jamaica Drum Jam Began
Jamaica Drum Jam brings people together through music. Named after our beloved hometown of Jamaica, Queens, our work is to offer free and low cost music education and performances to low and moderate income individuals in New York City. Our project began as a casual conversation over pulled pork sandwiches one chilly December afternoon. While having lunch, Jim Vasquez and Julie Sriken discussed different ideas for giving back to their hometown of Jamaica. As teenagers, they met in band class at Van Wyck Junior High School 217 in Jamaica. This musical education was a profoundly positive experience in their lives. Jim became a drummer and drum roadie who performed and worked throughout New York City. Julie started working in social services after years of musical study at LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and the Performing Arts. Knowing that Jamaica had suffered cuts to music programs in its public schools, Julie and Jim decided to create a musical access program. Using Julie's love for organizing events and high tolerance for tedious administrative work plus Jim's ability to recruit talented friends for a good cause, they founded Jamaica Drum Jam, Inc. a not for profit corporation formed exclusively for the charitable, educational and cultural purposes of providing music education and musical performances to low and moderate income individuals in New York City. Jamaica Drum Jam develops and provides interactive lectures, lessons and workshops and provides public recitals and concerts.
Julie Sriken, President
Jamaica Drum Jam combines Julie's musical background with her work in social services. Her love of music began in JHS 217 in Jamaica where she learned to play clarinet and alto saxophone. She majored in instrumental music at LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts and played in classical and jazz bands, as well as the All City High School Band. As much as she loved music, she also had an interest in the cultural and social issues that affect lower-income neighborhoods like Jamaica and decided to pursue these interests in college.
After completing her B.A. in Anthropology, Julie began working with survivors of crime in Safe Horizon’s Hotlines Program and later at CAMBA’s Victim Assistance Program and Rape Crisis Program. She is a published author on discrimination and domestic violence and has presented original research on intimate partner violence, sexual objectification in the media, and violence in the male sex work industry. She is a counselor working with first-generation and low-income college students in the Bronx and holds an M.A. in psychology.
Jim Vasquez, Vice President / Treasurer + Drummer
Jim coordinates the program and also leads the Find the Funk workshop as a drummer. He has been playing drums since his father, Charles Vasquez, taught him how to first hold drum sticks as a child. He excelled in his musical education at JHS 217 in Jamaica. However when Jim went on to high school, he was disheartened by a loss of music classes. Jim remembers, "The following year [after I started Hillcrest High School], they cut the massive music program back to nothing but a music theory class. [There were] no more jazz, marching or lab bands, so I dealt with it by becoming unfocused. I was cutting classes left and right, sneaking into the theater to try to play the piano." Luckily, his love of drumming and music persisted but for many students, losing access to music program can have detrimental effects on their morale and talents. Jim hopes that through Jamaica Drum Jam, he can share his love of music and bridge the community’s gaps in music access.
Jim plays jazz, R&B, pop, folk and rock and has performed in original music bands and cover bands around New York City including The Mona Dahls, Oso, The Pastors, The Nelson Jenkins Band and The Linda LaPorte Band. His non-musical work includes management of several small business based in Jamaica, Queens and surrounding areas. He credits his skills in project scheduling, delegation and group dynamics with his management experiences.
Irma Johnson, Secretary
Irma Johnson is a former resident of Jamaica, Queens who has volunteered with Jamaica Drum Jam and other nonprofits. Currently, Irma is studying clinical mental health counseling at Cleveland State University. She has years of experience working with at-risk youth and as a college counselor. Irma also has experience in nonprofit management working in grantmaking and community investment. Irma has a Master’s in Public Administration.
Brendan Finnegan, Drummer + Percussionist
Brendan facilitates the West African Drum Circle Drum Circle. His love of drumming has led to a fulfilling life and successful career in music for over 10 years. Brendan is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, has studied percussion in Africa and Brazil and has performed around the world as an orchestra member aboard cruise ships.
Brendan is a HealthRHYTHMS trained facilitator and founder of “Life with Rhythm” drum circles. He works extensively with special needs adults, seniors and corporate groups. In 2012 Brendan’s “Drumming and the Mind” program was selected to be part of the award winning Lifelong Learning program at the Glen Cove Senior Center. He has presented African music workshops for Jamaica Drum Jam, Bishop Brady High School, and Bedford Youth Performance Center.
An accomplished drummer and percussionist, Brendan has performed with The Drifters, The Coasters, “Mr. Las Vegas” Tony Tillman, Roger Homefield, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the Berklee Performance Center and Beantown Jazz Festival with Marcus Santos, BatukAxe and the JAG West African Drum and Dance troupe.
Geraldo Flores, Latin Percussionist
Geraldo leads the Afro-Latin Rhythms interactive lecture. He is a percussionist with Afro Pana and The Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra. Born in Panama City, Panama, Geraldo began his music training at the Panamanian National Institute of Art & Culture and was also a Captain of the Saint Joseph Marching Band School, and a member of the National Folkloric Group where he studied Panamanian percussion and dance. After moving to the U.S., he enrolled in the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts in New York City. He studied Afro-Cuban music, ethnic percussion instruments as well as music from Curacao.
Geraldo has created and assisted in music workshops at NYC Public Schools 18, 87 and 29, LaGuardia Community College, New York Open Center, Cross Island YMCA, Baldwin High School, Schnectady Community College, Yale University, Jamaica Center For Arts and Learning, Abrons Arts Center, Henry Street Settlement, Young Musician Institute, Yaffa Cultural Arts and Starlight Dance Studio. His repertory includes various styles such as Latin, R&B, Funk, Rock, Latin Rock, Jazz, Latin Jazz, Pop, and World Beat.
Mike Veny, Drummer
Mike facilitates the Unleash Your Groove Drum Circle. All of Mike’s varied and impressive accomplishments can be traced back to one thing – his love of drumming. Mike has spent many years facilitating drum circles for children with special needs as well as for their parents. Mike is a mental health advocate and has discusses the benefits of involving children in music, and drumming as a means of improving interpersonal skills and self-esteem.
Mike, who is a graduate and faculty member at the Long Island High School for the Arts, is an accomplished professional studio drummer, with over 21 years of experience. He has also been teaching private drum lessons for more than 10 years.
Known for high energy grooves, a ferocious backbeat, a beautiful drum sound, and magnificent stage presence, Mike draws inspiration from Dennis Chambers, Ziggy Modeliste and Rico Lewis. Mike has been coached by Kim Monroe, Chet Doboe, Jerry Nobile, Dave Rataczjak, Tobias Ralph, and Drori Mondlak.