Paulie Z is the founder of the David Z Foundation, a non-profit organization created in loving memory of David Zablidowsky. The organization provides opportunities for children from low-income families, or who are high-risk, in expression through music. Through partnerships with the School of Rock, Brooklyn College, United Way, and various other organizations around the country, the David Z Foundation offers mentorships and scholarship opportunities to those who want to pursue musical interests.
Join the David Z Foundation this Sunday (March 7) at 2:00 P.M. PST on Facebook Live for the All-Star Fundraiser. In addition to performances by music students, guest artists on the roster include Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Gilby Clarke (Guns N' Roses, Heart, MC5), Carmine Rojas (David Bowie, Tina Turner), and many more rock legends.
What inspired the creation of the David Z Foundation?
The inspiration for the David Z Foundation is, fairly obviously, my brother David, who passed. He was killed in a car accident while he was on tour on July 14, 2017, and this was not only my way of preserving his memory and continuing to grow his legacy, but also sort of a personal form of therapy. Whether we make any money or not, it keeps me from going insane, and managing my emotions. The vision is to really grow outside of the scope of our network and our little world. David and I, as the Z Brothers, were kind of like big fish in a small bowl. In our little niche market of rock n’ roll and even in kids’ music we were pretty successful, and I’m very grateful for that, but I don’t want the foundation to just be for people who knew David. Now it’s that, because we’re just starting, so most of the people are doing it either for the love of David, or if they didn’t know David, because of me. There’s still that personal connection and the idea is to really grow so that it becomes bigger and reaches a lot more people, and people who have never heard of David Z, but maybe they will afterwards. A lot more kids will get helped that way.
Talk about the work your organization does and the programs you run.
Our motto is to transform lives through the magic of music. We want to be open to doing different things. It’s not necessarily just music education-- that’s a big part of it, but we have a mentor program. The first program we did was called the “David Z Modern Musician Program”, and that’s kind of like the School of Rock, in a sense. It had some different elements to it; it was private instruction, a band class, and also a business workshop. We taught them about the history and technology of rock and pop music, we taught them about how the electric guitar came into play, and producers, A&R, a little bit of a taste of that. We have a new program called the “Music Mentor Program” that we partnered up with the United Way to create. It’s basically a songwriting program for their youth mental health initiative, so the idea is that this is a little bit more about getting one-on-one with kids that are struggling. Let’s face it, we all need mental health, we all need to be mentally healthy, and we wanted these kids to take their feelings and put them into song. We made music videos, they have complete songs, and some of these kids have said that they haven’t done anything in their lives. I can’t even imagine thinking that way, that I haven’t done anything. It boggles my mind, and I say “well, you have now.” That mentor program is a little bit more of a nurturing program than it is about learning how to play a song on guitar. We also have scholarships for these various programs and partnering schools, like the School of Rock and the other schools we’re working with. That’s where we’re at now, and we are looking to expand those programs.
"Our motto is to transform lives through the magic of music."
How do you decide where the mentorships/scholarships offered go?
We’re new and we’re figuring it out now, so right now it’s kind of word of mouth. We have kids who we either get by recommendation of a school or the United Way-- the kids that we have for that mental health program-- they put it out to the district in Pennsylvania, where that particular United Way is based and they got us the kids through sign up. Brooklyn College, for example, puts the “Modern Musician Program” in their brochure and the kids sign up through their process. There are different ways, but for the scholarships that we’re going to offer now, we put together a form-- it’ll be on our website and I’ll promote that, and anyone can sign up for it. We’re hoping that it’ll be open to people that will come to us-- we’ll also try to look-- but that’s how we’re doing it for now.
Do you have a favorite memory/experience within the Foundation?
In July when I did that event, it was really life-changing for me because I didn’t think I would be doing what I’m doing today a year ago. I was doing the foundation, but I was doing it more as a GoFundMe once a year around David’s birthday. I knew at some point I wanted to take it to the next level, but I was touring; I was doing the jam; I was teaching; I was so busy and then the pandemic came and took everything away. I had all this time and I did a virtual event. I wasn’t sure how it would go because I’d never done a virtual event like that, I’d never done a Facebook live for five hours. It was all new and the fact that we had so many people watching, and so much love pouring in. I was worried we weren’t going to hit $15,000, I couldn’t sleep at night; I was anxious, but we raised $35,000. Something clicked that day. There was a sense of pride that money can’t buy, you can’t describe it even. It’s just like ‘oh my god, I think this is my calling. This is what I need to be doing.’
"Something clicked that day. There was a sense of pride that money can’t buy, you can’t describe it even. It’s just like ‘oh my god, I think this is my calling. This is what I need to be doing.’"
How has COVID-19 impacted the organization?
It (COVID-19) kind of affected us in a good way because it motivated us to get going. I think if COVID-19 had not been a reality, it still would have been just a once a year GoFundMe thing. Every year I wanted to take it to that next level. To get the 501-c3 status, which makes you an official non-profit, it was a lot of paperwork. That was the big step, and I kept pushing it off because I was so busy. Because of COVID, I was like, ‘what else do I have to do?’ And I did that, so now we have the board of directors, we were able to secure a partnership with United Way, we have our 501, all the technical stuff to do it right. We were able to do it because of the time that COVID gave us. It also pushed us to work with kids outside of our immediate area because I can’t do that right now anyway. Now I’m working with kids all over the country.
Talk about the upcoming event: what do you think are some of the highlights?
There are so many highlights because we have a killer roster, as you can see. I’m seeing the videos, so I’m super excited because I can’t wait to show people. Some of them are just out of this world. You’re going to have people that are going to watch because they just want to see Gilby Clarke or Vernon Reid, and they don’t care about the kids. That’s the honest truth, they’re like ‘alright, when do we get to the next performance?’ And then you’ll have people who are just watching for the kids, and they never even liked rock n’ roll, but they support children. And then you’ve got people that watch for both. For me, the highlight will be showcasing the original songs that we did with these four students in the mentor program because I think it’ll really show what we can do, and what we were able to do from beginning to end with kids that really don’t have access to anything like that-- and really needed it. They don’t live in LA, they don’t live in New York, they don’t have the things we have. A lot of these rural areas that are lower income don’t have anything, and then with COVID they have less.
Tell me about the music and programs you run outside of the organization.
Pre-COVID, I was hosting and producing the Ultimate Jam Night every week at the Whiskey a Go Go. We’ve been running the show for about five and a half years, every week. We average anywhere from 60 to 70 artists every week. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of emails and a lot of texts. That kind of prepped me for doing this, because I learned the skills of producing, organization, and communication, so that things run smoothly. I’m the lead singer of the band Sweet-- Ballroom Blitz, Fox on the Run, for those of your readers who may not know who that is. I also started a new band called Bohemian Queen, a Queen tribute where I get to dress up; I have lots of Freddie Mercury costumes and I get to play Freddie, which is cool. We’ll have a video in the show this weekend, I’m going to film tonight actually, in my bat-wing outfit. We didn’t get to play our first show in May, so that was really upsetting, but we have shows coming up. And my own music; I’m a singer-songwriter, I had my own music that I was doing, and children’s music. I had just released a kids’ CD, my sixth kids’ CD. Rubix Kube, an 80s tribute band, the Royals, which does weddings and private gigs, so a lot of different things going on.
What does the future of the David Z Foundation look like to you?
To me, it would be a movement where we have sort of a one-stop shop for people that have any sort of musical interest. From birth, to death-- you’re never too young and you’re never to old to be a part of what we do. Working in the kids world, when I work at a space that’s for toddlers, once you’re five or six you’re too old. You age out. So then what do you do? Then you have to find the next thing, and you’ve got to rebuild those relationships. I’ve been fortunate enough to live a life that didn’t have a line between those ages. My life has been seamless; I’ve been seamlessly working with all ages. I’ve got students that are 77 years old, I work with kids that are seven weeks old. There’s no difference to me. The big picture would be an organization that offers services for people along their entire musical journey. It’s like a holistic approach to nurturing people’s musical interest. Whether you want to be a writer, an artist, producer, whatever, it doesn’t matter. You can stay as long as you want to stay. You never age out, and then from there we can actually provide opportunities. For example, let’s say you were part of the foundation. Next year you don’t age out, you just go into the next thing, which is that we start booking you. Like ‘hey, can you do this hour acoustic at that restaurant over there?’ Or you wrote a song. We’ll distribute the song. With these kids, we’re not going to just leave them, we’re going to try to promote their songs, and help them get an actual income stream from the songs. Otherwise, it was three months of their lives, it was fun, and then what? Then it’s over. I prefer to have something that lasts the whole journey.
"To me, it would be a movement where we have sort of a one-stop shop for people that have any sort of musical interest."
Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
I would like people to know that the foundation is inspired by my brother David, and he was an incredibly driven person-- incredibly kind. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, he was built like an Adonis. He was a complete rockstar without the normal rockstar shortcomings and dysfunctionalities. I’m the same way, I don’t have the Adonis body he did, but I consider myself to be pretty rockin’, and we were always good boys, sort of goody two-shoes, and could rock as hard as anyone else. I think the message I would like to leave is that if you believe in that, and think that that is something you can kind of connect with, then you can find a home here with us, with the David Z Foundation.