Philadelphia – Where Kids Rock Out with their Grown-ups!

by Jason Didner, leader of the Jungle Gym Jam rock band for kids and families

Jason and Holly rocking out at World Cafe Live in Wilmington, DelawareOver two years ago my wife Amy and I started out on a quest to create and share children’s music that expressed our then-baby-daughter’s sense of wonder and love for rock-n-roll in our brand new kindie project we called the Jungle Gym Jam. The pathways of that quest kept leading us back to Philadelphia, PA over and over again.

From our home base in northern New Jersey (in the suburbs of New York City), my earliest searches for places where children’s music is happening kept coming back with Philadelphia. The Peanut Butter and Jams concert series at the World Cafe Live repeatedly showed up as a booking to strive for. I’d see some premiere names in the children’s music game show up as performers scheduled to play there. Radio shows like WXPN Kids Corner in Philly were ones where I’d want my music played so families could hear it.

The Philly-based children’s musicians I’ve come across, like The Plants, Two of a Kind, Jonathan Sprout, Steve Pullara and his Cool Beans Band and Mr. David C. Perry were advancing the art form of children’s music each in their own way — The Plants with energetic, upbeat funk productions, Two of a Kind with their gentle and approachable style and the way they incorporate sign language into their songs, Jonathan Sprout’s proud way of singing about real-life heroes, Steve Pullara’s epic collaborative efforts to bring together children’s musicians at all levels of career development to put together stunning compilation albums for kids, and David C. Perry’s knack for embracing the silly to combine comedy, kids’ music and visual art.

The list of traveling children’s musicians from all over the U.S.A. and Canada who perform in Philadelphia’s venues reads like a “Who’s Who” of children’s music. At places like the Please Touch Museum, Longwood Gardens, the Philadelphia Zoo and, of course, World Cafe Live, you can see and hear GRAMMY Award winners and nominees, children’s multimedia wizards, and rock stars who have successfully branched out to make music for kids and families. One truly amazing band, Recess Monkey traveled all the way from their home base in the kindie stronghold of Seattle to Philly to stage their album release party. That says something about the strength of the children’s music scene in the City of Brothery Love.

A big shift in the East Coast children’s music scene began turning our hopes of connecting with Philadelphia into a reality. Just as we were about to play our first-ever gig in 2013, we learned at the last minute about a children’s music career event that would take place in New York City, called KindieFest. I felt it would be helpful to attend as newcomers to the scene, but that I couldn’t take time off work last-minute for it. I told myself, “Next year, we’ll attend.”

A few months later, I learned there wouldn’t be a “next year” for KindieFest – it had dissolved before we ever got to attend. But then came the announcement that Kids Corner at WXPN Philly would host its own new children’s music community conference that would be called KindieComm! And it would be at the World Cafe Live, that venue we dreamed of one day playing. Amy and I took the leap of faith, amid an uncertain family health situation, and booked the hotel room. For the first time as a children’s music act, we were Philly bound – not to perform, but to transform our online social connections with the kindie community into a living, in-person involvement with performers, radio hosts, TV programmers, publicists and journalists all talking passionately about the current and possible future state of children’s music. We also learned a great deal from watching the conference’s showcase performers tear it up – we learned much about how to make a greater visual impact, ways of eliciting audience participation – all that stuff in kids’ music that matters much more than which guitar effects pedal you use. A second year attending KindieComm just deepened our relationships in the community and our understanding of what makes a great children’s music performance and more importantly, a great experience for the families in attendance.

I was fortunate to be introduced to the booking manager of the World Cafe Live’s other location – the historic Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, where we gave two memorable performances for kids and their grown-ups, both at well attended events. And then a very cool thing happened; the manager we were working with in Delaware took over the booking of the kids’ shows in Philadelphia as well. And now we’re less than a week away from our first performance at this magnificent showplace!

I hope to meet you at the World Cafe Live on October 10 for the Philadelphia debut of Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam!

>> Get your tickets here for Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia for Saturday October 10 at 11 AM!

Please share your favorite experiences with children’s music in and around Philadelphia in the comments below.

Musically yours,

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam





Make Lasting Family Memories in Philly on Oct. 10!

Family Rock Concert with Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

at World Cafe Live – Philadelphia October 10 at 11 AM

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam bring a kindie song to a big ending at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJ for kids & families

A Jungle Gym Jam concert is a total memory-making experience for kids and their grown-ups to remember and cherish. It may be your kids’ first rock-n-roll concert. Or you might be regular concert-goers to the Peanut Butter & Jams concert series at World Cafe Live where the Jungle Gym Jam will give you the variety of great moments you expect.

>> Get your tickets to Jungle Gym Jam at World Cafe Live 10/10/15.

At a Jungle Gym Jam show, you and the kids will:

  • rock out to true Jersey rock-n-roll in the style of Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Bon JoviĀ and The Smithereens.
  • learn cool facts and hear funny stories in our lyrics.
  • meet our spectacular, great big puppets – Sally Sea Lion, Bruce the Jersey Dinosaur and Mimi the Ladybug.
  • freeze-dance along with our playful band.
  • roar along like dinosaurs with us.

Showtime is at 11 AM on Saturday, October 10; doors open at 10:30.

Tickets are $8 + fee per person; children under age 1 are admitted free.

World Cafe Live is at 3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

>> Get your tickets to Jungle Gym Jam at World Cafe Live 10/10/15.

Parenting and Music are Both about Moments

Amy, Jason and Holly from the Jungle Gym Jam in the family/band minivan with Holly on ukuleleAs a dad who’s also a musician, I perceive links between these two facets of who I am. I’ve been learning as an entertainer the importance of creating moments onstage, not just playing a bunch of songs. These moments touch on an emotion, a sense of humor, a shared experience among everyone (big and small) in the audience that they will remember after seeing the show.

This line of thought was largely something I learned from Tom Jackson’s Onstage Success program about how to make shows that matter to an audience. Tom’s the one who worked with Taylor Swift, Jars of Clay and numerous other bands to craft great moments from the stage. He credits artists like Bruce Springsteen and U2 with having an expert understanding of creating moments in a show.

Great Family Moments Make Great Family Memories

It struck me how much this also applies to parenting. Our time as a parent to young children is limited and when the kids get bigger, we share a memory in common with our kids of the family experience. As parents, what kinds of moments can we create? Silly moments, serious moments, “lightbulb” moments of breakthroughs in learning, moments of giving back to the community?

Are your memories of special family moments touched best by looking at pictures you took some time ago? Thinking about a special day you enjoyed together? Talking about a common memory at the dinner table? What is it about your strongest, clearest memories that set them apart from the less memorable moments?

I hope these thoughts help you keep your family connections strong and vibrant. It can be hard among all the digital distractions we live with (it’s often hard for me), our careers and running a household to make time to make memories, but so rewarding any time you can break out of your bubble and fully engage in this beautiful process.

The Music and Family Memory Connection

I started by mentioning a connection between making moments onstage and making moments as a parent. When you take kids to a live concert, especially one of my shows, you’re making family memories. Moments of eye contact between performer and each member of the audience, moments of audience participation, sharing a laugh between parent and child over a silly lyric, these are all moments my band and I create in order to fill your family up with experiences and memories. And then a cool thing happens — you all in the audience become part of my family’s memories too!

Let’s make some wonderful memories together that we can talk with our future grown-up kids about: Visit my tour calendar for info on my upcoming shows, both in-person and live, online concerts you can experience from anywhere in the world!
I’d love to hear your parenting thoughts based on this piece I shared. We’re all on this parenting journey together; I think our conversation can help us all keep up the good work! Please comment below.

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 Rigney 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.