At age 12, Amanda Monaco picked up a guitar. One hasn’t left her hands since.
The Long Island City jazz guitarist, whose strumming floats through neighborhood wine bars and music venues, now leads the Queens Jazz Overground. A spinoff of the nonprofit Brooklyn Jazz Underground, it is a local resource for jazz musicians and fans.
“I started playing this music because it was fun and had community attached to it,” said Monaco. “You could really connect with people and it was adventurous. I think people are missing out.”
The New Haven, Connecticut, native’s love of jazz began with “The Muppet Show.”
Jim Henson, inventor of the Muppets and renowned jazz fan, implemented the musical style into many of his creations. Monaco recalled a particular episode of the program she watched as a child where the characters Wayne and Wanda sang “Autumn Leaves.”
“They took jazz and had fun with it,” said Monaco.
Growing up, Monaco’s father played in a local dance band and James Brown tunes regularly echoed from her family’s home. Her dad ran a cruise night where guys would bring their cars, show them off and fix them up. Monaco’s oldies cover band scored the gig and entertained the crowds with Motown hits.
Monaco studied music at Rutgers and William Paterson universities before attending graduate school at City College, at the encouragement of her father.
“He was always really supportive,” she said of her dad, who passed away in 2006 from pancreatic cancer.
Last September, Monaco accepted a position as an assistant professor in Berklee College’s jazz department. Once a week, she travels from New York to Boston to teach, a job that has secured Monaco’s necessary health insurance. The guitarist was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three months before her 2005 wedding.
“Getting insurance was a big priority for me,” said Monaco. “People just don’t think about it.”
The musician feels jazz is frequently pigeonholed — many believe a deep knowledge of the art form is required to appreciate it. The Overground hopes to erase the stigma, informing people that jazz is entertaining without being overly intellectual. The collective, which originally formed as the LIC Jazz Alliance in 2010, consists of five members, many of whom have been playing music together since their college days.
“All of us agree that jazz is something really fun,” she said.
Monaco’s vision for the Overground is to secure a dedicated space for the jazz community to come together, a goal she hopes to achieve over the next five years.
“Being creative is something that helps everyone,” she said.