Remember “We Are the World?” Here are All the Singers on that Collaboration

We Are the World cover artworkOur daughter recently became a major fan of Michael Jackson, thanks to a Montclair Film Festival screening of The Wiz over the summer. So, Amy and I played her the video of “We Are the World.” The whole story of the charitable collaboration really resonated with Amy and me on multiple levels, partly because we’ve gotten involved in many charitable projects with the kindie music community and have a more profound understanding of how “We Are the World” changed the scale of what musicians could do for charity when they work together. In total, USA for Africa raised over $63 million, sending 90% of it to Africa to aid with the deadly famine they were suffering through, thanks to the single they recorded in 1985.

I decided it would be fun to put together a playlist of every singer who appeared on that famous track – in the order of their solos, and then followed by the artists who were in the chorus but didn’t have a solo (Smokey Robinson or Pointer Sisters, anyone??)

In retrospect, I had forgotten just how big Bruce Springsteen’s presence was on that track, appearing prominently at 2 different points in the production.

Please comment below on what the “We Are the World” project means to you.

Resilience-The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child

Boy waiting for his turn on a slideI got rejected today. Badly. As in 2 years of work that failed to make the cut that my previous work sailed through. An award we won on our first try, didn’t come through for us this time. Even though we were convinced that our latest effort was a big improvement over our first, award winning one. This award wasn’t just some ego boost. When you win this award, a media distributor buys up lots and lots of copies of your record to sell to public libraries. There are very real consequences to winning. I know, I’ve benefited from it before.

I’m not alone in facing rejection. Michael Jordan (a guy who I hear was pretty good at basketball) was cut from his high school hoops team. Joan Jett, who made a little record called “I Love Rock’n’Roll” was rejected by a whopping 26 record labels before deciding to put out that single herself. It later went to #1 and she didn’t have to settle for a tiny percentage royalty of those sales.

I’m not going to lie. The thoughts about giving up making music did make a cameo in my brain as I was brushing my teeth. Amy’s day started on a downward spiral with this disappointing news as well. As the day went on, I gradually came out of this, relying on my habits of doing something constructive each day – sending emails out to fans local to an upcoming show. Reaching out to venues about booking new shows. Thanking journalists who took the time to write stories that included us.

And then I grappled with this article posted by fellow dad Jeff Bogle, who also happens to be a foremost critic in the world of children’s music. The title was “Dear Kids, You Cannot Be Anything You Want.” Of course, that led to  a lot of soul searching: Is it time for me to give up the ghost? Pack it in? Expecting that only the more mundane aspects of my existence are worth something? Am I just unnecessarily subjecting myself and my family to the depression and anxiety that come with the failure of wasting my time and expectations?

Then I read between the lines of what Jeff was saying. And I integrated my own experiences into it. And I thought about what I want my own daughter to know about her own dreams and ambitions.  What I came up with was this: I’m not about to throw away the 3+ years I’ve spent entertaining you and the kids when something doesn’t go my way. Our family’s mission has deep roots and deep relationships. What I want to teach my child is this: if you have bold ambitions, you will need a thick skin. You’ll need resilience. Because rejection is coming. Over and over again. You’ll watch your peers sail through with a gatekeeper or tastemaker who is not all that interested in you.  You’ll watch your friends eat that hot fudge sundae that you wish was yours. Repeatedly.

If you can take that, if you can accept the necessity for other, less appetizing sources of income for years, if not decades, while you gradually develop your passionate “side hustle” and see income slowly trickle in, at first, less than what you spend on it, then yes, you can do what you love for more than just a hobby. Today, our dream, the Jungle Gym Jam is what supplies 25% of our family’s income (thanks, of course to all of you, who bought a concert ticket, an album, or even recommended us to your town library as part of their summer reading program!) – We’re grinding, we’re tough, we’re resilient, we keep trying when we get rejected, and we’re teaching that all to our 5-year-old daughter.

Back to Jeff’s article: If you compare what you and your co-workers are doing to what you said you wanted to do for a living when you were 5, I’m sure maybe one out of every several thousand will say it’s a match. For most of us, our idea of what we want to do for a living has evolved over time, as we figured out what we’re good at, what passions keep coming back to us over and over again, what we’ve actually been paid for and can support a family doing. It doesn’t seem to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

Bob Baker, an author of several books on do-it-yourself creative marketing (for music, self-published books, visual art), says it’s not about that cliché of waiting to be discovered by someone in power who will choose you (a record label exec showing up at your gig to pluck you from obscurity, winning America’s Got Talent, a famous singer discovering you). It’s about you choosing yourself. Every day. Over and over again. It’s about doing all that unglamorous stuff behind the scenes, like building and maintaining an e-mailing list. Posting to Facebook when you don’t feel like it. Following up with that librarian or club owner who hasn’t responded to your last three e-mails about booking a show. Courteously and professionally, not bitterly and desperately.

This is what I want to teach my daughter. Take a real shot at what you want to do with the majority of your time (what you do for a living). Choose yourself. Do all the unglamorous stuff behind the scenes that you wish a big gatekeeper would do for you. Plan for gradual growth of your livelihood and fan base, not a sudden windfall. Do you think Justin Bieber or Britney Spears were emotionally ready for their overnight success? Treat it like a business. Even if you do what you love for a living, you will mostly be doing stuff you don’t like in order to support it. And you will be rejected. Over and over again.

Every time you get back in that arena after a stinging rejection, you are growing a thicker skin and deeper roots. You’re building resilience. You’re building character.

This is what every parent can teach their child.

A Bruce Springsteen Concert through the Eyes of a Kindie Band

The Didner Family/Jungle Gym Jam Experiences Its Main Influence Live

by Jason Didner, leader of the Jungle Gym Jam, a Jersey rock band for kids and their grown-ups

CLEVELAND - NOVEMBER 02: Singer Bruce Springsteen plays before Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) takes the stage during a campaign rally at the Cleveland Mall November 2, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio. Obama continues to campaign against Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as Election Day draws near. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Licensed via iStockPhoto

Amy and I have seen Bruce Springsteen concerts together a few times now in our home state of New Jersey, which we share with The Boss. But the youngest member of our family, the inspiration for the very foundation of the Jungle Gym Jam, our daughter Holly had never been to an arena show until Tuesday, when she caught Bruce in the act. Only right, I figure, since she’s already performed at The Stone Pony! My mom had picked up these tickets for my birthday, since I had mentioned that I’m no longer really interested in getting “stuff”; I’d rather get “experiences” as gifts.

And what a gift this was! It was Bruce’s first gig back in New Jersey on this leg of his latest “The River” commemorative tour. He had just taken Europe by storm and returned to the audience who could most easily identify with his stories of his Monmouth County youth. Given that we had a 5-year-old child with us, and that we were booked to perform the next morning (at a preschool on Bruce’s beloved Jersey Shore) which would require us to leave the house by 8 AM, we were pretty certain we wouldn’t stay the whole show, but that we’d get in as much Bruce Juice as we could before heading home to prepare for the next day. I ended up loading the minivan with our instruments after helping Holly to bed.

Jason, Amy and Holly from the Jungle Gym Jam at the corner of 10th Avenue and E Street in Belmar in front of a statue of Bruce Springsteen's signature guitar - a Fender Telecaster

My family/band at 10th Ave. and E Street in Belmar, NJ

Holly’s Take

Holly seemed positively awestruck for the first 15 minutes of the show as Bruce & band pulled off a sweeping rendition of his jazzy, orchestral “New York City Serenade” and the defiant “Wrecking Ball.” As she got accustomed to the enormity of the scene, she began belting out the audience participation – raising her fist for the words “Badlands,” answering “All Night” in Spirit in the Night, and marveling at the sax playing of Jake Clemons, who lovingly plays his late uncle Clarence’s parts perfectly, plus adds his own killer improvs when given the ball. When the crowd was on its feet, I held our child in my arms for as long as I could, then asked her to stand on her seat while I kept her steady.

The next evening, Holly was on the playground of her soon-to-be Kindergarten, spontaneously singing “Hungry Heart.” She told her friends, “I have Bruce in my head.” Mission Accomplished!

Bruce was in amazing voice and his E Street Band was right on point with every song, every texture, every tempo. Together, they served the mood and intensity from light-hearted to deadly serious as the moment called for it. The addition of a string section for “New York City Serenade” and then later on “Jack of All Trades” really stirred the emotions.

Making Moments

I am a student of the writings of Tom Jackson, live music producer. He helps live performers get a vision for their shows and turn them into memorable experiences made up of moments – not just a bunch of songs to be played. Tom has mentioned Bruce as one of the great visionaries of live musical performances; a frame of reference I have agreed with for a long time. But this would be my first Bruce song since reading Tom’s “Live Music Method” book. So, what did Bruce do onstage to create those special moments?

He made each song “look different.” – Tom Jackson mentions in his writings and his interviews that even if your songs sound radically different from one another, your live audience will stop noticing if the songs all “look the same.” Bruce handily avoids that trap. The first song had a string section at stage left. Then the string players left the stage. He featured different musicians, all with wireless gear, who were each free to come join him when they had their featured moments. He often put down his guitar and worked all sides of the enormous stage with a handheld wireless microphone, sometimes high-fiving the lucky fans in the front row.

Bruce also mixed things up by bringing an audience member up on stage to sing the song that the fan, a young man, requested – Bruce’s popular Jersey Shore rock rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” By the way, hearing that in the heat of the summer made me all the more glad I used that song’s influence in shaping my own tune “Summertime Santa!

In pulling out the “moments” in a song it often means changing the arrangement from the album, since things that are very noticeable when you’re listening to your favorite record through headphones would easily escape the notice of a concertgoer who has so much happening in the live environment. Bruce demonstrated a great knowledge of this when he sang “Wrecking Ball” – an homage to Met Life Stadium’s predecessor, Giants Stadium, before it was demolished. So whenever he made a Jersey, Meadowlands, or Giants reference he had to accept (and appeared to thoroughly enjoy!) the audience roaring its approval of those local shout-outs. So he arranged with the whole band to wait for those roars to die down (don’t step on your applause!) before continuing with the lyrics. That’s how you stretch out a moment in your song.

Tom Jackson’s book gets quite a bit into the difference between a band “dating its audience” – meaning that a new band often has to play in front of people who haven’t seen them before — vs. a band “married to its audience.” Bruce and the E Street Band in front of its hometown audience is a long and happy marriage – so I certainly had to adjust my observations accordingly. Tom’s book is mostly for bands who are “dating” their audience.

Putting Inspiration into Practice

The very next morning we had a concert of our own – at the Shore Academy Preschool in Point Pleasant Beach. We’d drive there on shortened sleep and heads full of great concert memories. And for me, great motivation to keep pushing ahead with what Tom Jackson had taught me and what I had seen Bruce & band execute with such mastery the night before. When we sang our signature song of the summer, “Day at the Beach” and we had a line that “We’re headed for a Jersey Shore town,” I really punched out “JERSEY SHORE TOWN” in a shout the Boss would approve of! I made sure to get out from behind the mic stand when I could, and give the show all my energy. Amy and Holly performed with an equally inspired gusto that could only come from being in the presence of one of the greats!

Your thoughts?

Were you at the Bruce concert? Ever seen one before? Ever take the kids? How did seeing one of your heroes in action influence what you do? I’d love to read your comments below!

Want to catch our live show and see how we’re influenced by Bruce? Check out our Tour page!

This Saturday-Crossroads with Miss Nina

Miss Nina meets the Jungle Gym Jam at Mara's Cafe in Berkeley Heights, January 2016When Miss Nina joins us on stage, everyone in attendance has a great time – the kids, the parents, the grandparents, and of course us, the performers! Miss Nina brings storybooks to musical life while Amy and I deliver our combination of Jersey rock and family-friendly, humorous lyrics with plenty of interactivity and visuals.

You can help make this event even better by ordering your tickets in advance so the venue provides the appropriate staff and supplies. Get your tickets at

Show details:

Miss Nina Meets the Jungle Gym Jam

Saturday, August 27
4:30 PM (Doors open at 4)

78 North Avenue
Garwood, NJ 07027

Thanks for your interest in this fun event! We hope to see you there!

Musically yours,


Meet our Cause of the Month–Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia!

Jungle Gym Jam #SummerOfSharing Recipient July 2016 - Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Harborview/Cape May

Harborview/Cape May location to benefit from Lollipop Motel Album Sales

The #SummerOfSharing has entered a new month and with it has come a new cause our existing and potential fans can join us in supporting – the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Harborview/Cape May location.

This time, we reached out to our fans to vote on three possible causes to support in July and CHOP came out on top.

So, when you download a copy of our critically acclaimed new family rock album Lollipop Motel for $9.95we’ll donate 50% of the proceeds to Children’s Hospital!

If you’d rather order an autographed CD, I’ll personalize the disc to your family and donate 10% of CD sales proceeds. This also goes for souvenirs we sell at our live concerts and in our online souvenir shop. And it comes with a convenient album download!

Amy and I will be in Wildwood, along with our daughter Holly, at the very same Lollipop Motel that inspired this new album, the 3rd week in July. In fact, we’ll give a private concert for fellow motel guests on Friday evening 7/22, where I’ll be autographing copies of the beachy new album.

Thank you for helping the first two causes in this #SummerOfSharing – st. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in May and then Xavier Ross, a 5-year-old heart patient from Phialdelpha in June! You helped me make a difference I couldn’t have made just on my own!

Musically yours,