Studio Update for August 2015

The New Amp is a Champ! Jamming Along with Mr. Lou…

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam with his Blackstar HT Stage 60 amp and PRS SE Custom 24 guitarHow good is my new guitar amp? So good that I felt compelled to spend the last 4 nights re-recording all the electric guitar parts I had already recorded with the old amp on eight tracks out of the 12 that will make up our upcoming album “Lollipop Motel.”

This amp produces tones the old-fashioned way, like on the tracks of your favorite records from the 50s through the 80s. This amp uses vacuum tubes (like the TV sets of yesteryear). Many of today’s amps, including my previous amp, mimicked the sounds of the tube amps. Some are quite good at this. With the old amp I had problems getting the sound “just right” and found myself fighting with it at gigs and not quite satisfied with the recorded sound. All that was out the window when I replaced the amp and used it in a live performance last week. The new amp inspired me to re-record all my latest electric guitar parts and Wow! What a difference in the way the songs sound now! I can’t wait for you to hear them. This amp was a fantastic recommendation by Dave at Sam Ash in Springfield, NJ.

Half the songs I recorded were with bass tracks by Alyssa Menes from the band Asphalt Green, who is also a very prolific composer of music and audio for independently produced video games. In fact her composition business had her so in-demand she needed to part with our group to make more time for it. This leads us to the other four bass tracks provided by “Mr. Lou” DeMartino, who made a huge positive impact on our band in the four months he was with us until an asthma attack suddenly and tragically ended his life this summer. Playing along with Lou’s tracks brought back all the fond memories of jamming with Lou. I felt his hard work, focus and love of craft coming through the headphones. I could almost see his rock-star grimace when he hit that funky high chord at the end of each verse in our song “Jam Packed.” I miss having Lou right there to jam with but I’m profoundly grateful that he left behind something that will live forever.

We have three more songs left to record to complete the album. Our newest bassist Sean Wolfle has given one live performance with us so far and will play two more shows with us this coming weekend (Labor Day Weekend) which will prepare our band for this last studio session to capture Sean and (drummer) Ross’ rhythm parts for the songs “Jersey Dinosaurs,” “Off the Grid” and the album’s title track, “Lollipop Motel.”

Here’s a live performance of “Lollipop Motel” at the actual Lollipop Motel in North Wildwood, NJ, captured by Denise, the Motel’s general manager.

Meantime, my attention turns toward vocal work on these tracks including my lead vocals, harmony vocals by Casey and a guest spot by my friend Ron “Polka Dot!” Albanese on our fun song “The Ultimate Frisbee.” I’ll also have a guest performance on harmonica by popular children’s entertainer Yosi on “Jam Packed,” our funny take on loading up the car for family vacation.

Free to Be...You and Me cover artwork by Hannah Tuohy IllustrationsOne track for the album is already available as a single – that’s “Free to Be…You and Me,” featuring the wonderful Suzi Shelton in a vocal duet with me. Fun fact: this track also represents my debut on saxophone.

Our producer for this album is fellow kindie artist Marc Bazerman of Baze and His Silly Friends. Our present plan is to release this beach-themed album in May of 2016.

How has a new purchase or a change in your available resources inspired or influenced one of your creative projects? Tell us in the comments below!

Not Just a Music Store – A Music Community

Sam Ash in Springfield, NJ Brings Musicians Together

Any retailer can become a machine interested in nothing more than pushing products on unsuspecting customers, whether they actually need them or not, beholden only to a bottom line, not sincerely to the customer’s happiness or success, as long as the customer’s money is green.

Sam Ash general manager George Ringney

Sam Ash General Manager George Ringney

This is most decidedly not the case at Sam Ash Music Store in Springfield, NJ. General Manager George Ringney and I had struck up a conversation months ago when I learned that he too was in the kids’ music game as I am now. He and I performed at some of the same venues including Bronx Zoo.

George and his staff have always been helpful and forthright in advising me in the direction of the right gear for my needs, sometimes persuading me away from higher-priced accessories when lower-priced ones will do just fine.

Lou DeMartino, Bassist for Joe D'Urso and Stone Caravan, Jungle Gym Jam

Photo by Bob Didner

But the greatest help I was given was in completing our band – twice. Last spring I posted a “Bassist Wanted” flyer which, incredibly, resulted in a store employee, Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan’s longtime bassist Mr. Lou DeMartino, replying to the ad and joining the band until his very sudden and unexpected death last month. When I saw his Facebook page filling up with “Rest In Peace” messages I was just stunned and shocked. I had no clue what had happened to my new friend. So I called George at Sam Ash and he was able to clue me in on what I needed to know to get some closure. I, in turn, shared with George the details of the memorial arrangements when I learned them.

If there’s one thing I came to know about Lou, it’s how passionate he was for live performance and how much he’d want the show to go on. So after our former bassist Alyssa Menes graciously (and happily) stepped in as a sub for our Bronx Zoo shows the very next weekend, our search was on in earnest for a successor for Lou – not a replacement, because such a thing is just not possible.

Sam Ash Music Store in Springfield, NJI returned to Sam Ash with a new Bassist Wanted flyer that mentioned that we needed a successor to the Late, Great Mr. Lou DeMartino. George and his associates kindly encouraged me to post the new sign on the bulletin board. But then I learned George took it a step further. He struck up a conversation with Sean Wolfle, one of the store’s multi-instrumental teachers, about Lou and about our band. He encouraged Sean to contact us, which he did. Sean knew and liked Lou, which helped us feel a sense of continuity in doing one of the hardest things a band has to do – carry on without a beloved member.

So, when my guitar amplifier I had used for the last 3 years (purchased at another store and just past its warranty expiration) acted more and more erratically and with some big shows coming up, I knew it was time to get a new amp. My decision to return to Sam Ash – part of my music community – was easy in shopping for the new amp. After trying out a few amps and finding their features close, but not exact, to my needs, I asked Dave at the guitar desk for his advice. Dave and Lou were friends, kindred spirits. Dave is a veteran musician and knows the gear the way a musician knows it – not as “technology for technology’s sake” but what sounds right, what you can trust when you’re playing in a big bandshell and your guitar tone decides whether families stick around to hear more songs or they move along because something doesn’t sound quite right.

Dave guided me to a Blackstar Stage 60 tube amp. This amp is powered by vacuum tubes – just like the TV sets of the 50s and 60s! The tubes give the guitar tone a warmth that’s only been duplicated with mixed success in the digital age. Those classic British Marshall amps used by Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and so many other rock legends used tubes. In fact, Blackstar is made up of audio engineers who used to work for Marshall, but wanted to expand the variation of guitar tones beyond the set standards that Marshall had established back in the 60s. When I plugged into this amp and started playing Jungle Gym Jam songs – rhythm parts and solos, everything sounded and felt right about the guitar parts in a way they never quite did with the old amp. I’ve loved every gig I’ve played since we founded the Jungle Gym Jam, but especially at the biggest gigs, I felt like I was fighting my old amp over the tones and other strange unpredictable things that the more digital amp would throw at me.

I ended up purchasing the Blackstar amp, getting a floor-model discount and practicing with it last night, working out the subtleties of the tones I want for the Jones Beach concert this coming Tuesday night.

I’m very glad that when I stop in at Sam Ash in Springfield, I’m not just a salesperson’s easy mark. I’m a member of a community – a musical community. You can find this store location online here.

Do you shop at Sam Ash in Springfield, NJ or any other location? What is your experience like there? Are your kids showing an early interest in musical instruments? Please comment in the space below.

Introducing Sensational Sean Wolfle!

 
We’re pleased to introduce “Sensational Sean” Wolfle as the Jungle Gym Jam’s new bassist! It’s fitting that he knew and liked Mr. Lou DeMartino from when they worked together at Sam Ash. Sean is also no stranger to the kindle world. He was the bassist for Rebecca Frezza and Big Truck, a band that inspired us to rock out for kids & families! Sean will join us starting at Jones Beach Boardwalk Bandshell next Tuesday evening.

Sample some of Sean’s multi-instrumental talent right here:

Jersey Dinosaurs song – live from Haddonfield, NJ

On our little tour through South Jersey last week, “Awesome Amy” gave me the very best souvenir imaginable — videotaping my performance of our new song “Jersey Dinosaurs” in front of the landmark Hadrosaurus Foulkii statue in Haddonfield, NJ – the town where this species of dinosaur was unearthed – the most complete dinosaur and the first in North America to be found. “Hoppin’ Holly” adds a great rhythm part on claves.

The bandana and the musical/showmanship style are indeed a nod to The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, that legendary champion of all things Jersey.

And before we even arrived home from the trip, prominent NJ music critic Jay Lustig had already included this tune in his 350 Songs about New Jersey, celebrating our home state’s 350th birthday.

You can read that story here.

The song is also a salute to my friend “Mr. Lou” DeMartino (a.k.a. “Low Note Lou”) who left us all too soon, the day after practicing this tune with me for the only time.

As Long As the Grizzly Bears Are OK with It…

Jungle Gym Jam Passes One Tough Audition at the Bronx Zoo

Grizzly bears at Bronx ZooLast weekend’s performances at Bronx Zoo brought our band in front of a group of very discerning judges. No, I’m not talking about the celebrity critics on American Idol. I’m speaking of the four grizzly bears in the habitat right next to our tent. In between sets we learned from the zoo’s event coordinator Sashah Harbin that when the music is too loud or unpleasant these bears get up on their hind legs and growl. Sashah was pleased to inform us that the bears were just chillin’ to our family-friendly tunes.

Between sets we captured this picture of our furry neighbors taking a dip in their little pond and cuddling with each other in the water.

It was a very important weekend in the band’s development. We made dozens of new fans in New York City, a place where we want to spend more time. We paid a fitting tribute to our friend and bassist “Low Note Lou” DeMartino who suddenly departed from this world he had filled with so much joy and music. And when we told our audiences that we were dedicating these shows to Lou, they did not let us down.

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam perform a family concert at Bronx Zoo in 2015

Photo by Sashah Harbin

An old friend “Amazing Alyssa” Menes returned to the stage with us to help us carry on for Lou and share our joy and love of music with kids and families. And we had a different drummer each day. “Magnificent Miguel” lived up to his name performing at the kit on Saturday and then “Rockin’ Ross” took his place at the throne on Sunday, each providing a different style that added to the energy of the music. “Cowgirl Casey” returned to the lineup after having been away in Europe for the first half of the summer. On Saturday We were joined by Washington D.C.’s “Marvelous Marsha” Goodman-Wood for her renditions of The Penguin Song and then we sang a duet of “Free to Be…You and Me.” On Sunday, Casey and I sang that duet.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam joined onstage by daughter and nieces for "Jungle Gym Jamming"And making the shows especially meaningful were the inclusion of my family. My wife “Awesome Amy” and our daughter “Hoppin’ Holly” played percussion all day Sunday and for one set on Saturday. My nieces Natalie and Maya joined us onstage along with Holly for a rockin’ rendition of our band’s theme song “Jungle Gym Jamming.” All three are born performers and sang & danced with lots of spirit.

My parents, aunt Ellen and brother Matt & sister-in-law Danielle were in the audience to rock out with us as we kicked off this series of performances.

We world-premiered a brand new song called “Off the Grid,” which served as the theme of these shows, with lyrics encouraging our listeners to take a break from their gadgets and spend some time outdoors. This featured song was played in all six of our sets over these two days. Here’s an audio recording of us rehearsing this song with Lou on bass less than 2 weeks before this writing.

JasonAmySashahSashah kept this big gig running smoothly and made it a pleasant experience for us with her friendly manner and by making it easy for us to move our equipment in and out of the zoo. Sashah also greeted families passing near the tent to tell them about the show and helped us garner good attendance for each show. She warmly introduced our band to the crowd before we started our sets and was wonderful with Holly. I got to briefly meet Judy Frimer, the Director of Programming and Creative Services for Wildlife Conservation Society. Judy and I had a great discussion in planning a concept for the show she wanted for the zoo – a show that would emphasize the importance of getting out into nature and away from devices with screens. She wanted a rock-n-roll show that was suitable for the whole family – kids of all ages and their parents. I took a close look at our existing songs to see which combination of songs and “moments” would help tell the story of being out in nature and away from screens. Amy and I immediately recognized the need for a song that ties that theme together.

We started with the idea for the song title “Off the Grid” and brainstormed the lyrics over the course of the next few days. The melody felt pretty well established to me. When I first played the song for Amy, she felt that perhaps the song could tell the story better at a faster tempo than the one I chose. My original setting was in a “Melissa Etheridge” type feel, but Amy convinced me to try an upbeat ska rhythm, which really did bring out the uplifting, adventurous nature of the song more fully.

And I’m glad to hear that the grizzly bears were OK with our music making. And quite a few people were, too!

I’m pretty sure these bands will go over fine with the grizzlies…and with your family when they play the Bronx Zoo:

  • 08/15-16 – Josh & the Jamtones
  • 08/22-23 – Danny Weinkauf & His Red Pants Band
  • 08/29-30 – Hot Peas n Butter
  • 09/05-06 – The Pop Ups

Tell us about your family rock-n-roll experience at the Bronx Zoo in the comments below.