It's all about rhythm for 11-year-old Matthew Jazwinski, whether he's strumming his bass guitar or sitting on a doctor's table.
The sixth-grader at Cary Junior High School talks as matter-of-factly about his new band Pulsebeat as he does his heart condition.
In many ways, the heart condition inspired the band.
Jazwinski was diagnosed shortly after birth with Tetrology of Fallot, a series of heart defects. He had his first open heart surgery at the age of two months and received a pacemaker at 2 1/2 years old for a condition called Sick Sinus Node Syndrome. His sinus node, or the heart's natural pacemaker, wasn't working properly.
In all, he's had four procedures, the last taking place in 2011 when his old pacemaker had to be replaced.
"In the big scheme of things, that's pretty good," his mother Tamara Jazwinski said of her son's surgical requirements so far.
"He definitely has a bum ticker, as his cardiologist says," said Jazwinski, a guidance counselor at Crystal Lake Central High School. "Unfortunately with these kind of things, things pop up. He will definitely need more procedures as he gets older. Right now, though, things are stable. Everything is within tolerable limits."
Moving from required check-ups every several months at The Heart Center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago to annual visits, Matthew has been focusing in on his band.
Wanting to be like his older brother Joseph, who was taking classical guitar lessons, Matthew started playing guitar at age five. He moved to the bass guitar at age eight and learned the drums at age 10.
"It wasn't a planned kind of thing, but once he started playing he said, 'I want to make the bass sing,'" his mother said.
Matthew has studied under numerous teachers, including Grammy winning bassist Victor Wooten, and his band presently works with Mario Licciardi from Consolidated Music in Barrington.
For the past six months, Matthew has been performing with Pulsebeat, a band he formed with friends. Twelve-year-old Joe Cangelosi of McHenry plays drums, 13-year-old Drew Stolz of Chesterton, Ind., is on guitar and 16-year-old Brooke Barry of Barrington is on vocals.
The band hopes not simply to entertain, but to give back.
"I just love playing the bass," Matthew said. "It's my favorite instrument. And I love just sharing with people and trying to play for good benefits."
And of course, one of Matthew's top charity causes involves Lurie Children's Hospital, where he sees Dr. Gregory Webster in the Division of Cardiology.
Last year, the Jazwinskis joined a group called Chicagoland Cardiac Connection, a support effort for children and young adults with pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. Matthew became part of the team that developed the music portion of the program, and soon was invited by the hospital to participate in other fundraising events.
He, along with Pulsebeat, next will perform as part of the March 8 Chicago Dance Marathon at the Chicago Renaissance Hotel, an event that benefits the hospital. The band also is scheduled to play at similar benefits April 19 for a Dance Marathon at University of Illinois at Chicago and May 17 for DePaul University's Demonthon.
"We play kind of like a mix of punk to hard rock to classic rock," said Matthew, who wants to be a professional musician. "We play kind of a whole variety, but all kind of in the range of rock and roll."
Matthew's biggest musical influence is his favorite band Led Zeppelin. He also likes the Red Hot Chili Peppers and "a lot of classic rock, hard rock, just basically funk and jazz," he said.
As much as he wants to perform, Matthew said he wants to benefit children like him.
It's all about keeping a steady beat both on stage and off.
"I always tease him, because he's got excellent rhythm on the bass and holds down the rhythm for the band, and we always say it's because of his pacemaker," his mother said.