Video-”Yellow Submarine” – Jungle Gym Jam version of the Beatles song

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This week I give Yellow Submarine by the Beatles the Jungle Gym Jam treatment. Part of the genius of the Beatles was their ability to connect with kids. This is why Yellow Submarine has been part of my repertoire of songs to play in schools long before I started the Jungle Gym Jam!

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Jason Didner performs his version of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine


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My Key to a Young Attitude – Keep Having “Firsts”!

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“For the first time in forever…” sings Princess Anna in the Disney movie Frozen, feeling like her life’s just beginning.

Jason Didner playing bass with Suzi Shelton in Scotch Plains, NJ

My first time playing bass in front of an audience since college – with Suzi Shelton. Picture by Elaine Harrison-Yau

I suppose I didn’t have a preconceived notion of life in my 40s but I will say that I feel pretty young and vital on a daily basis. One thing that keeps me feeling young is to keep having “firsts” in my life – as in first-time-ever or first-time-in-a-long-time experiences. Here are some firsts that I had this summer as a kids-and-family music professional and as a dad:

  • First time playing bass live in front of an audience since college in the early 90s. I got up on stage to join Suzi Shelton at her concert last week. In my college days I played bass in the pit orchestra for a few summer musicals like “Grease,” “West Side Story,” and “Olkahoma!”
  • First time running through a sprinkler since I was a kid! Spending the afternoon like this with my daughter and nieces was a joy!
  • First time giving a rock concert at 7:00 in the morning, easily a record for me. Thanks to some vocal warm-ups, my voice cooperated about as well as I could have asked it that early in the morning! This concert was 2 weeks ago at Sports Authority’s Grand Reopening in Springfield, NJ.
  • First time sitting on the deck just to watch the fireflies since I was a kid. Holly is the perfect firefly-watching buddy!
  • First time giving a ukulele lesson this week (while still new to the instrument myself). Soon I’ll reveal a surprise on how these uke lessons are being used.
  • First time licensing a cover song for official release as a single. This song will be released this fall as a duet with a very well known, respected and fabulous kindie artist.
  • First time using the wireless headset-mic in a full-band live setting. This gives me a whole new level of freedom to move in a song like “Jungle Gym Jamming!”
  • First time running my own podcast and interviewing fellow artists. The podcast is called “Make Kindie Happen – The Kids-and-Family Music Career Podcast.” I’ve interviewed Joanie Leeds and Miss Nina, as well as publishing two solo podcasts. Both guests offered very valuable experience and insight to the kids’ entertainment community.
  • Just last night, the first time rehearsing the Jungle Gym Jam with keyboards. Casey added a great new texture and sophistication to our sounds by sitting at the keys! I can’t wait to share it with you!
  • First time submitting an album for a Grammy award!
  • First time being Holly’s “running buddy!” This child is going to get me back into regular exercise. I don’t mind!

What are some “firsts” that you’ve had lately? What “firsts” do you want to have this summer? Discuss in the comments below.


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Thingamajig – My version of a Kindie Favorite by Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band

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The Family Jam Band meets the Jungle Gym Jam! After seeing two stellar live performances by Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band as an acoustic touring unit, I was really feeling their hit “Thingamajig” as a song to perform as my weekly video. So here it is:

Around the 2-minute-30-second mark watch for a fun surprise I think you grown-ups will relate to if you’ve ever been glued to cable news a little too much…

Lucky’s original version of this song will play a key role on a new upcoming TV show on PBS Kids titled “Lishy Lou and Lucky Too.” You’ll have to tune in to learn more about this particular thingamajig. Leading kindie connoisseur Jeff Bogle wrote in Cooper and Kid’s list of top kids & family singles of 2013 that Thingamajig was “easily the song of the year.” After repeated listens, my family and I agree! Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band are also the current Latin Grammy winners in the Children’s Music category for their all-Spanish-language album “¡Fantastico!”

Another thing to know about Lucky, Lishy and Michael (multi-instrumentalist extaordinare who travels with the band) is what kind and genuine people they are. The level personal details they remember about fellow artists, fans and friends even upon first in-person meeting is striking. That generosity of spirit for kids that appears on camera is the real deal in-person. At a gathering known as KindieComm in Philadelphia, I was attempting to parallel park in a ridiculously tight space (even by New York City standards!) and Lucky took the time to guide me into the space, along with Steve from Hullabaloo! This family band has let success encourage them onto greater heights but has not let it tarnish their genuine goodness.

The backdrop is none other than the interior of Aunt Jean’s Toys and Treats, a store my family loved, where we enjoyed strolling on a summer Saturday night in Montclair with our then-two-year-old Holly. The store is no longer there in the brick-and-mortar sense, but we loved it so much we stayed in touch with its owner Jeanette Lauture, who now brings her store “on the road” to our festival performances so she can still give families that feeling of joy and wonder that goes with so much thought going into every detail of presenting toys and goodies.

Jason Didner plays Thingamajig by Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

What do you think a thingamajig is? Comment below and let’s have some fun with this…


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Sat July 12 at 7:00 AM – Grand Reopening of Sports Authority Union – Rt 22 Springfield

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Sports Authority Grand Reopening NY/NJWe’re giving a sports-themed performance at the ribbon cutting where Sports Authority is offering great discounts to use in the newly remodeled sporting goods superstore! The first 250 customers through the door at 8am will also receive mystery bucks up to $500 and a Sports Authority goodie bag.

Click here to download the coupon PDF.

It is a jam packed day of fun, hourly $100 raffles, DJ, photo booth, money machine, popcorn, giveaways by local businesses, a grand prize of $500, autographed memorabilia and much much more.

Showtime is at 7AM; store opens at 8.

New moms looking to build or maintain physical fitness with baby in tow will also have an opportunity to sign up with Fit4Mom of Westfield and Warren to try their Stroller Strides classes.

Sports Authority Grand Reopening eFlyer

Our setlist will include:

  • A Bowling Party
  • Stay in the Pool
  • The Ultimate Frisbee
  • Jackals on the Prowl (original minor league ballclub theme song)
  • The Ultimate Frisbee
  • Jungle Gym Jamming
  • All Star (by Smashmouth)
  • Happy (Pharrell Williams)

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Congratulations Raffi and Here’s My Version of Baby Beluga!

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Children’s music legend Raffi has a new album out this summer – “Love Bug.” This is his first album of all new children’s music in 12 years. I’ve been following his social sharing over the last year since entering his profession and have seen him advocate passionately for his vision of childhood development via research and books. He’s best known for gently fostering healthy, happy childhoods in song and he’s back to those roots.

To celebrate, I’ve created my own version of “Baby Beluga” on YouTube. It’s a favorite of my nieces and a song that used to be requested of me long before I went kindie, when I would visit my wife’s and mom’s classrooms (both teachers!)

Congratulations Raffi on your return to making those cozy albums that help kids feel so safe and warm with their families!

Baby Beluga Jungle Gym Jam version - Congrats Raffi on New Album


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Summer Vacation Sale: Save on “Everyone’s Invited!” Album

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Jungle Gym Jam album Everyone's Invited! Parents Choice Approved on sale through July 31

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam holding his CD Everyone's Invited!For the month of July I’m pricing my current award-winning kids-and-family rock album “Everyone’s Invited!” to go on your vacation with you!

On the CD Baby page you can hear samples of the tracks before you decide to buy!

Sale ends July 31.

Sale pricing cannot apply to iTunes, Amazon or Google Play; they set their own prices, but you’ve gotta love the convenience if you buy regularly from one of those outlets.

About “Everyone’s Invited!”

  • Parents’ Choice Approved, April 2014
  • CD Baby Editor’s Pick
  • Top-20 CD Baby Kids/Family Album for over 2 months, peaking at #2 (you can give it another run at #1!)
  • Submitted for 57th Annual Grammy Award for Children’s Album
  • Sounds like Elvis Costello or the Smithereens rocking out while sneaking in valuable lessons and messages for kids.

FREE: Download a free eBook before you buy!

  • Companion eBook to the album contains lyrics & chords, stories behind each song, coloring pages, beautiful artwork and an anti-bullying poem! Download for free here; no purchase necessary.

What Reviewers are Saying:

The songs on this album are catchy and fun – perfect family-road-trip fare. I’m pretty sure that after one listen you’ll be singing along. Nine-year-old Teddy and I chose our favorites and they include the counting song “Five Sea Lions” and a tale of undersea exploration titled “Glass Bottom Boat”. There’s also the perennial classic “Down by the Bay” with the requisite goofy verbal interludes. Read more…

- Mara Gorman, Mother of All Trips

Didner honed his kindie credentials playing at New Jersey public libraries, the Turtle Back Zoo (oh I haven’t been there in more than 40 years), school functions, and numerous outdoor festivals. He’s got a three year old, I’ve got a three year old. So I know where he’s coming from – get those kids involved, get them dancing, get them singing. Show them how to enjoy music and then work in a little education in the process. Read more…

- Jeffrey Cohen, Mr. Jeff 2000

To Brooke, this was a ‘crunchy beat’ album, which is her way of saying she loves it. She loves fast songs she can dance too! Her favs on the album? The songs “Down By the Bay” and “Mimi the Ladybug” since she is really into nature. Read more…

- Momma’s Bacon – mother-and-preschooler-daughter review team

Sale ends July 31.


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Tales from KindieComm Part 2 – The Music

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In the previous post I wrote about the larger event and the mingling of kindie artists.

Today’s post about the musical performances is a natural extension of that, because of the way the musicians continued to mingle onstage, forming some first-time-ever collaborations that did great justice to the music. There also some mind-blowing cross-generational music making as well.

Saturday night’s show was set up as an industry showcase, mostly the playing of kindie music for fellow musicians, radio hosts, bloggers, TV programmers and booking agents. A handful of kids happened to be in the audience, including Holly (age 3) and Clair, Lena (“Songs by Lena”) and Brian Smith’s 1-year-old daughter. Their impromptu playdate to the beat of the music was adorable to witness.

We caught the first three acts of Saturday night’s showcase before it was time to get our little peanut into bed. Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer filled the air sweet harmonies and heartwarming messages until it was time to rock. Flashing a glittery Fender Telecaster they launched into a rollicking rockabilly song about air guitar antics that opened up and used plenty of space for some rippin’, twangin’ guitar solos by Marcy while a roomful of actual guitarists played along on the air version of their instruments. Joanie Leeds’ husband and drummer Dan Barman joined an impromptu band behind the duo that made it sound like they’ve all been playing together for years.

This mingling of kindie artists in new pickup bands continued on into Jazzy Ash’s set where she and her pickup band which included Washington D.C.’s Uncle Devin on drums made a tasty musical gumbo with the best available ingredients of the moment, playing “Baby Salmon” and encouraging the crowd to swim upstream, the show-stopper “Throw Me Somethin’ Mista,” a song strong enough that even without the signature rapping and storytelling of Mista Cookie Jar as on the recorded version, takes on a life of its own. Having beads thrown from the stage throughout the song certainly helped transport us to Buorbon Street from where we were. Holly was thrilled to catch an easy necklace directed right to her and to give her mommy a turn wearing it! I sure felt like a big kid jumping for beads, almost catching one and accidentally deflecting it to Jennifer Gasoi who already has a certain shiny gold decoration or two to her name (You’re welcome, Jennifer!)

2014-06-28 21.03.29All the fun and revelry of the previous two acts set the stage nicely for the acoustic stylings of Nick Bayard who had a stunning surprise up his sleeve. I had been intrigued during the breakouts and networking sessions by an 11-year-old boy who appeared perhaps more poised and businesslike than any of the adults in the room. It turns out this youngster is Nick’s stepson Ukweli, a strikingly skilled singer and guitarist in his own right. As they sang their folksy “Pirates on a Train” with tight harmonies and precise guitar rhythms, my jaw literally dropped, like it does when I’m watching Eddie Van Halen crank out a great solo, like when Bruce Springsteen hangs upside down from a mic stand at age 53. That moment between Nick and Ukweli ranks in my very top live musical moments I’ve witnessed, and probably will for life. The sound of their harmonies still rings in my ears days later as I write this. The family connection; the cross-generational and cross-racial connections, united in song. Then came the fun song about the pancakes, a pure innocent fun moment, a release after an absolutely striking moment before.

There were so many wonderful acts to follow whose records we love at home, but who were on past Holly’s already-delayed bedtime, so we will subsist on YouTube videos of those performances as they continue to surface. I heard great things about Joanie Leeds, Recess Monkey, Play Date, Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly, Diggity Dudes, Alex & the Kaleidoscope Band, Alphabet Rockers, Walter Martin and Zee Avi. If you saw them play, please comment on their performances below!

The next day, the music was intended for kids & families and open to the public. This was the WXPN Kids Corner Music Festival in the same venue, the World Café Live in Philadelphia. Trout Fishing in America, an acoustic duo with multi-generational appeal (they perform as a kids act and as an all-ages act under the same name and with overlapping repertoire). Their musical might showed up as they filled the big room with pulsating sounds of bass and semi-acoustic guitar alone; the rhythms were in overdrive without drums. The songs included some daring tongue twisters and fun mashups of nursery rhymes and Led Zeppelin tunes. They flexed some instrumental muscle on a rollicking “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly, segueing into “Tequilla” by The Champs.

When their set was over, they took on a different role, as Justin Roberts’ supporting band, offering rich textures to Justin’s more down-home acoustic-based numbers. The arrangements were variations on the arrangements on Justin’s recorded albums with the Trout Fishing boys improvising their own fills and licks that created new moments in familiar songs. Justin’s understated but pitch-perfect showmanship comes through mostly in the audience participation moves he teaches the big and little listeners before beginning each song and the overjoyed participation he gets with every chorus. It’s like a little pebble making big ripples. Justin appeared to be having more and more fun with the show as it went on, saving a little “rock star” pose for the closing chords of “Willy was a Whale,” an in-band request from Ezra of Trout Fishing in America.

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band at KindieCommThen came the acoustic version Luck Diaz and the Family Jam Band, an act with ways of presenting itself unlike any other. Lucky is clearly the musical Maestro of the group, singing lead, playing sophisticated guitar chords and rhythms and keeping the beat on the bass drum (think Mumford & Son).  But he’s not the group’s frontperson exactly. That role goes to his wife, Alisha (Lishy) Gaddis, who is center stage as the band’s MC and 2nd singer. This works well for this band because she’s not tethered to an instrument and can call upon her acting and dancing skills to lead the kids through fun activities with her grand gestures.

There is plenty of fun banter and interplay between the two, with multi-instrumentalist Michael Farkas adding those all-important fun noises between vocal phrases and just below the surface of the melody. Some fun improvisations were added to the kindie radio staple “Thingamajig.”

The elegant Jennifer Gasoi (winner of this year’s Grammy and Saturday night’s Mardi Gras beads) came along next as the leader of a trio with standup bass and electronic piano. Her lighthearted manner puts kids at ease. She created two standout interactive moments with the kids, one where she chose a young volunteer to join her onstage and bring large wooden figures of butterflies and ladybugs to life. The other during “I’m a Bubble” happened when she danced into the audience area with a light-up handheld bubble maker during an instrumental break of the song, delighting the children around her.

We had to get on the road for the sake of our partied-out daughter after Jennifer, which leaves us an excellent excuse to cross the river and catch Dan Zanes in New York when we can (or Dan, if you’re reading this, persuade you to put on a northern New Jersey show!!!!) Fellow KindieCommers, if you want to add your observations of Dan’s set (or any of the musical portions of the event), I’d love to hear it.


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KindieComm – A Gathering with Like-Minded Kindie Artists Last Weekend

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A breakout session with Joanie Leeds and Shannon Chirone on how to raise funds for your big project.Our family trip to Philadelphia last weekend was all about kids-and-family music, my chosen artistic field. I knew from previous online interactions with many of my fellow kindie artists we had that great balance of having a lot in common and bringing our own unique perspectives that there’d be the basis for lively discussions, exchanging of stories and relating strongly to one another.

The event brought that and more. A strong opening speech by Kathy O’Connell, host of “Kids Corner” on WXPN Radio in Philadelphia really told us that she “got” us! That she got what it is to be a kindie artist, that she got the variety of ways we find our way to this very specific way of life.

Having kindie pioneer Dan Zanes then insist from the stage that we overgrown kids tickle each other (whether we know each other or not) really helped set the tone for the time to follow. I was reminded of the ways in which our music frequently tickles each other when it comes to the lively humor and emotion that’s right out there in our movement.

Jason and Amy with Uncle Devin and Marsha Goodman-WoodDay one of KindieComm was really intended for the music makers and not their kids, so we arranged a fun day for Holly with an awesome caregiver who took her to the zoo and then swimming, but brought her by on lunch break. Holly is very familiar with the kindie community; breakfast time is usually kindie listening time in our house, and she got to meet her rock stars – Lucky Diaz & Alisha Gaddis, Marsha Goodman-Wood, Jazzy Ash, Little Miss Ann, Uncle Devin, Jennifer Gasoi, Justin Roberts (2nd time meeting him; he had come to our home state of New Jersey last fall), Steve from Hullaballoo (we drove to the showcase event together) and Dean Jones.

One of the more fascinating stories was the handwritten note placed on my windshield by none other than Joanie Leeds on the way down to KindieComm. We had pulled into a rest stop off the NJ Turnpike for dinner after a tough grind in summer weekend traffic. We came out of the rest stop to find a note saying that Joanie was parked next to us and looking for us inside the building. How did she know it was our car, you might ask? Well, I drive around with a magnetic sign advertising our band. It also had my cell number so it turns out she texted me too. Of course Holly wanted to meet Joanie, but she was back on the road by the time we got the note. So we did the next best thing and listened to her album a 2nd time! When Holly and Joanie finally met it was that much more exciting for the little fan (and for the 2 big fans with her).

It was way cool chatting with the Not-Its, who were instantly recognizable in their stage wear; Amy got to tell them how the song and video “Busy” really resonates with our often frenetic household. Sharing with Brady Rymer my experience with his larger-than-life album “Just Say Hi” on the ride to Philly was cool. The opening track sends Rosalita-level energy tumbling out of the speakers and seeing his face light up to those words was a fine moment for all.

A truly magical moment occurred when Holly met Shelly, creator (and singer/actor) of the character Elska, who lives among the Arctic glaciers and inspires great wonder toward her surroundings and the friendly creatures who share them . Elska has an exceptional way with children, which showed within seconds of her speaking softly and sweetly to Holly, who was overcome with a mesmerized smile and a soft, sweet whisper back to Elska. This encounter went the same way the next day when they met again.

Marc Bazerman (leader of Baze and His Silly Friends and Suzi Shelton’s producer), practically a neighbor of mine in northern New Jersey, made Holly laugh with his easygoing humor, as his sister Laura Bazerman Swanson added to the sunny vibe of the gathering. It was cool to meet Yosi Levin (Yosi and the Superdads) from the far southern reaches of my state. His fun CD powered our car ride home from Philly.

Conversing with the kindie writers and broadcasters was great as well – informal, low-key, talking about life at least as much as talking shop. With Jeff Cohen (Mr. Jeff 2000) our time was especially nice because he had brought his family on the trip as well; his youngest son is 3 like Holly and they hit it off especially well. Jeff’s older son is kind, friendly and a kindie expert like his dad!

It was particularly sweet meeting my colleagues from Children’s Music Network, the first organization for kids music that I got to know as I was first deciding to take the plunge into kids’ music on a professional level. David and Jenny from Two of a Kind, who were very active in the group were there, along with Lisa Heintz, Liz Buchanan and Katherine Dines. Katherine has a special relationship with Amy and me; we had chosen her to critique “Peek-a-boo Moon” as we were developing the song; she challenged us to elevate the song to its potential. The result: it was singled out as a standout song on our album for the Parents’ Choice Awards review.

I had seen the name Lena Penino-Smith around the social networks, but when Amy said hello to Lena’s little 1-year-old daughter, things quickly took on a new dimension; it turns out that Lena and her husband Brian (both singers in their act) have found my music industry insights helpful along the way; this was powerful encouragement for me to step up what I share for the good of the kindie community. A CD swap resulted in a really enjoyable family listen to “Songs by Lena” on Sunday morning.

Much of the Saturday conference of KindieComm focused on breakout sessions on various aspects of the kindie industry with lively discussion between panel and audience, covering everything from how to make a difference and promote healing with your music to how to successfully raise funds with fan participation in the making of your album or other big project to even how to run your own kids music festival in your hometown.

I’ve chronicled my professional takeaways from the conference in this podcast, the pilot episode of a new series I call “Making Kindie Happen.” I plan to interview movers and shakers in this musical community as we explore and share ideas in a way that’s unique to enriching and delighting kids and their families.

This radio station had organized the event with program directors/DJ’s Robert Drake and Kathy keeping things moving smoothly and pouring their personalities into it. The enthusiasm of Spark, the radio station’s photographer was contagious as well. I loved the complex that contained both WXPN and the World Café Live nightclub, which has both an upstairs and a downstairs stage.

In part 2 of this blog post I’ll share my impressions of the remarkable performances my family saw and heard at KindieComm 2014.


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In Summer – My Cover of the Frozen Hit Song

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Happy summer! Here’s my version of Olaf’s big number, “In Summer.”

Even though I’m not a snowman, I can appreciate the difficulty of getting away from the desk and daily busywork to get out and soak up the summer. My daydreams often take me to the beach. How about you? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

Do you want these videos in your inbox every week? Sign up for eGoodie Bag and get hold of these new performances as I share them. You can even request a song for me to videotape and share.


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Giveaway: Win my Award-winning “Everyone’s Invited!” Album on iTunes

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Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam holding his CD Everyone's Invited!Enter this giveaway to enjoy a finely crafted rock album for kids and families with the added convenience of an iTunes download to all your Apple devices. I’m giving away my Parents’ Choice Approved album “Everyone’s Invited!” to the lucky winner via iTunes. Good luck! Enter every day to improve your chances of winning. Contest ends Tuesday night 6/24 at midnight.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Download on iTunes


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