Monthly Archives: December 2014

An Amazing Gift from Santa to a Jewish, Grown-up Songwriter

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam welcomes Santa to The Outlets at Bergen Town CenterThe big guy. The ultimate gift-giver. The purveyor of delight for kids all over the world. He and I became friends last winter when he arrived at Bergen Town Center and I was singing holiday songs.

That day, he gave me a gift so enormous that I couldn’t fully comprehend it until this holiday season. That gift was his story, a tale that absolutely screamed to be put into a song. And he told that story to me, not some other songwriter.

And it came so casually and easily to him. After he said “Nice set!” which was hard to get my head around Santa saying that to me, we talked about the places we’re from. Of course we all know where Santa comes from, but what he volunteered next blew my mind. He told me he likes to spend his summers at…wait for it…Wildwood on the Jersey Shore! Wait…it gets better. He runs an ice cream stand and likes to bike on the boardwalk…beard and all! As a Jersey rocker with a deep and abiding love of the shore, how could I not write this song? I started on the song then; Amy and I have been gradually modifying the song over the course of the past year.

The result is “Summertime Santa.” I feel it really captures the essence of this essential symbol of generosity of spirit toward children and their grown-ups.

Here’s a live performance of it on video for your enjoyment:

P.S.: Yes, that is the Frozen Snow Queen in the audience. We figured, since she learned to thaw frozen hearts, she’d help warm up the crowd.

Development of the Song “Summertime Santa”

Since the above performance, the song has been modified a bit more; a few lines have been rewritten, including a new bit I had to make room for — a new summer story from Santa when I saw him again this year!

The band has recorded the latest version and it’s currently awaiting some vocal harmonies and mixing. It will be ready to rock for this summer and next holiday season. Meantime, my 3-year-old daughter asks for it over and over again, favoring this song over her favorite tunes by famous artists. The test marketing is pointing to a smash hit…

My Jewish Upbringing and Santa

My New York Jewish family has always maintained both a strong Jewish identity and an assimilation into the New York melting pot. Trips to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and visits with Santa at the local mall were not uncommon for me growing up. My public school band and chorus always performed a program with both Christmas and Hanukkah songs at the annual holiday concert. Where Santa was concerned, there was no insistence in my family on “believing” or “not believing…” just the fun that was commonly shared and understood by kids of different walks of life — the stories, the songs, the spirit, with no pressure either way. I never really paid much thought to the notion that it was Santa bringing me the stuff I craved as a kid, but my affection for his kindly presence wasn’t dependent on stuff. Now that I understand just how wonderful and potentially life-changing Santa’s gift to me was, I truly get it that the greatest gifts are not material — it’s the stories we share between us, stories that build bonds and make us feel connected, stories we can pass down to our children.

And my daughter will receive the same gifts – the stories and the fun without the pressure to “believe” or “not believe.” But she already gets the most important gift from St. Nick.

Thank you Santa! You really do give the best gifts!

The Jewish Songwriters’ Tradition of Writing Christmas Songs

Lauren Markoe at The Huffington Post offers this fascinating article about the tradition of Jewish songwriters writing timeless classic Christmas songs like “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and more. In that article I learned how much of these Jewish songwriters’ experience my grandparents shared and how they really nailed the European immigrants’ sense of wonder at how the Christmas season is celebrated in New York City, a sense of wonder passed down to me, transcending religious lines.

How about Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is a cherished experience in our family, ranging from my mother’s phenomenal latkes to the mystical glow of dozens of menorahs providing the only light in the sanctuary of my synagogue to the deep gratitude for ancestors who fought for religious freedom no matter how long the odds in favor of the oppressor.

Here’s my version of the glorious “Rock of Ages” in both Hebrew and English.

And by the way, after Amy and I put our daughter to bed, we get our annual fix of laughter along with Adam Sandler’s The Chanukah Song.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about sharing in Santa and Christmas related stories and traditions outside the Christian religion? Now that we’ve experienced the 2014 holiday season, what do you believe are the greatest gifts? Use the comments below to discuss.

Sing-along on Sunday 12/28 in Berkley Heights at 3:30

Jersey Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam and Miss Nina from the Jumping Jacks at Pete's Place-Yogoccino in Berkeley Heights 12/28/14Let’s welcome Miss Nina to NJ with a unique, kid-friendly duo of two dynamite children’s entertainers!

Miss Nina’s lively, kid-friendly presentation is very popular on YouTube, where she offers up her versions of kids’ classics like “Wheels on the Bus.” She also writes and performs songs based on classic children’s books to promote early literacy, like her super-fun “Brown Bear Rap.”

This show makes perfect holiday vacation entertainment for families after naptime; come hungry for a snack or early dinner; Pete’s Place has a menu with plenty of tempting options from soups & sandwiches to entrees to frozen yogurt to hot chocolate & dessert.

When you’re at the event, say hi to Kim from Diva Moms, NJ, who arranged this event. Diva Moms NJ offers fun family events like this one and moms’ nights out for when some “me time” is needed.

Advance tickets:
$10 per family (2 adults + all children)
$5 per additional adult

Today 12/26 is the last day of the discounted pre-sale! Get your discounted tickets now.

Click Here to Get Tickets

Event registration with Ticketleap

At the door:

$15 per family

Grammy Nomination Season and Competition in the Arts

Last Friday the 57th Grammy nominees were announced, including my category, Best Children’s Album. Four fellow independent artists in the kids-and-family music world were nominated for albums we enjoy in our kitchen and our car with our 3-year-old:

  • The Pop Ups – “Appetite for Construction”
  • The Okee Dokee Brothers – “Through the Woods”
  • Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could – “Just Say Hi”
  • Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – “The Perfect Quirk”

Additionally, a nonfiction audiobook “I Am Malala” by Neela Vaswani made the cut with the inspirational true story of a schoolgirl in Pakistan who literally took a bullet for her human right to her education in a culture that has been violently resitant to women’s rights.

As a new member of the Recording Industry Academy, I had submitted my debut album “Everyone’s Invited!” for consideration and was on the ballot. Knowing I was in the competition and seeing the nominee announcement got me thinking about the nature of competition in something as subjective as the arts.

Our culture has been saturated with the notion of arts being a competition since reality shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars took the talent competition to a whole new level.

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam recording a demo for an upcoming 2015 children's music album

I responded to news of the Grammy nominees by recording demo tracks for a 2015 kids-and-family album.

So what does competition mean to me as an artist? Career wise, quite a bit. It’s the chance to have my creation perceived as outstanding in its field, which creates more awareness and more perception of being worth the time of a new potential family of listeners, a family that has millions of choices at its fingertips at any given moment. The “Parents’ Choice Approved” seal has resulted in thousands of dollars of sales because a large public library distributor puts approved albums in its catalogs that it sends to public libraries all over the U.S.A.

Personally and creatively, I think the most important kind of competition is competition with my own previous works. As much as I stand on the shoulders of the artists I listen to and admire, I’m also standing on the shoulders of what I’ve previously learned to create, with an ear toward making future works more valuable to my overall body of work, more valuable to society and more pleasing to ears of kids and families everywhere, especially those who are predisposed to like Jersey rock.

So, did I spend last Friday night complaining online about the Grammy voters’ choices? Resenting my colleagues’ successful nominations? Feeling sorry for myself? No, I went down into my home studio and got cracking on a demo for my 2015 album. I have thoughts about a chance to compete in next year’s 58th Grammys, but mostly I’m competing with one specific kids-and-family album I’m proud of: “Everyone’s Invited!”… and I’m enjoying the view from up on the shoulders of that project. I hope you will too.

What do you think about the role of competition in creative arts? How do you want your kids to see that relationship? Please comment below.

Tunes for Tots this Holiday Season

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam donates his Everyone's Invited album to Toys for TotsIt’s no secret that kids’ music CD’s make great holiday gifts and stocking stuffers. But this gift becomes even more meaningful when buying a copy for your loved one means that a child in need will also get one. That’s exactly what’s happening this holiday season! For every copy of the “Everyone’s Invited!” album that you buy, I will donate a copy to Toys for Tots. My friend Steve Deynes of Hullabaloo posted a challenge to fellow kindie artists to participate in what he called “Tunes for Tots.” Steve and his fans have helped hundreds of underprivileged kids get his CD since he started this program.

Many other of my kids’ musician friends are participating too, like Baze and His Silly Friends, The Zing Zangs, Karen K and the Jitterbugs, Sara Nova and more.

Thanks for taking the time to read this story. Please share it over your favorite social media so we can help lots of kids know the delight and enrichment of music meant to develop their intellect, character, and sense of fun.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Joyous Kwanzaa! Happy New Year!

Musically yours,

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

New song “Summertime Santa” performed live

This is the first time the full band is playing “Summertime Santa” together at a live event:

This performance is at last Saturday’s Family Fun Day at Church of the Immaculate Conception in Montclair. Notice a familiar “snow queen” in the audience? Well, she opened up the show with fun, interactive renditions of “Let It Go” and “Winter Wonderland.”

The song is based on conversations I had with Santa at the Bergen Town Center at their “Welcome Santa” event where I’ve been performing for the past 2 years. Santa told me he likes to take his summer vacation on the Jersey Shore. I immediately felt this story could be a great song.

We’re heading into the studio in the coming weeks to record this song along with other new tunes we’ve played live since the release of our debut album “Everyone’s Invited!”

What would you do in the summertime if you were Santa? Answer in the comments below.