Category Archives: Jungle Gym Jam News

A Rainy Party for the Planet at Turtle Back Zoo

Five North Jersey Family Music Acts and their Fans Brave the Elements on Earth Day 2017

Miss Nina entertains in the rain at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

WEST ORANGE, NJ – This year on Earth Day, nature reminded us that it is still in charge and will do its thing regardless of our plans – and doesn’t even owe us the predictability of a forecast. Still an enthusiastic audience stuck around on that rainy day to hop, jump, freeze-dance and sing along with five of north Jersey’s top family-friendly music acts to celebrate Earth Day at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo last Saturday.

And I got to witness outstanding professionalism from all the acts I worked with to make this festival happen: from my own band the Jungle Gym Jam, along with The Fuzzy Lemons, Miss Nina, Baze & His Silly Friends and Music with Molly. Everyone dug down deep under tough conditions to treat those hardy families to the show they stood out in the rain to see and hear.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam with superfans Erin and Josh

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

These families took an unusual opportunity to show just how much all this music meant to them – by staying through it all. One such family, Erin and her son “Jammin’ Josh” have attended several of our live shows and webcasts over the past 2 years, and arrived in time to catch the first act and they stayed through the whole soggy affair to see us finish out the day! My brother Matt & sister-in-law Danielle piled their two kids in the car from Brooklyn to see us do our thing. Families of many of the performers were there to lend moral support no matter how wet it got out there. My daughter made new friends that day and got to dance with her cousins and close friends. My parents, who have rarely missed one of my shows since I was a boy, were there early to help keep my daughter entertained through the intense process of setting up the festival; my mom zipping around in a motor scooter and finding dry overhangs where she could. It was a real sense of community.

The zoo’s newly renovated amphitheater now featured sun canopies that also appeared to mitigate the rain on the stage and parts of the audience area. But some heavy bursts of rain challenged the canopy and caused the center to sag and pour rain on the musical equipment. Ross, the Jungle Gym Jam’s drummer and Dave Lambert, the Fuzzy Lemons’ lead guitarist, invented a brilliant workaround, using cymbal stands and my spare set of speaker poles, to prop up the center of the canopy and stop the excess water from pouring onto the stage. At first they held up those stands during Miss Nina’s set, until their arms got tired and brilliant inventiveness took over for physical effort.

Music with Molly performs at the Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017. Photo by Erin Ackerman

Then there was the music! Molly Dorsman, creator of Music with Molly, kicked things off with a sampling of the interactive early childhood music & movement classes that get her such rave reviews from the Montclair Playgroup parents. A highlight was when Molly got the grown-ups up and dancing too with her peppy cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” Unsurprisingly, Molly brought a large and spirited following along with her.

Baze & His Silly Friends at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017. Photo by Erin Ackerman

Next up, Baze & His Silly Friends took to the stage as a duo of Marc “Baze” Bazerman and rock-solid bassist Jim Goodwin on stand-up bass and acoustic guitar. Baze elicited lots of audience participation with his “Poor Mother Goose” mix-up of popular nursery rhymes – and encouraged jumping, spinning and stomping among the younger set in the crowd.

Miss Nina created some touching moments during the heaviest of the rainfall, like when her husband Tucker and their 4-year-old daughter hopped onstage to provide the visual aids to her ever-popular musical rendition of the children’s picture book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Her joyous spirit certainly helped give families a reason to stick it out through the toughest moments of the day, weather-wise. Just when she consulted with some fellow performers and me about whether to continue the show, the rain let up to a fine mist and she powered through the rest of her set.

The Fuzzy Lemons at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

We opted for a bit of a “rain delay” before the Fuzzy Lemons, the first full band of the day, took their instruments out. But once they did, LOOK OUT! What a powerful, professional and energetic set of music from these local superstars! A funny moment in the show for us was when they broke out a cover of “Down by the Bay,” a song that was also on our set list, as it’s on our debut album. Their song “Rough & Tumble,” which featured lead singer Dana Harrison with a saucepan on her head like a helmet, delivered both visually and in its rowdy rock sound. The band’s vocal harmonies throughout the set were first-rate. I was proud to help them close out the set with a cover of The Beatles’ “All Together Now,” along with Ross and Amelia from the Jungle Gym Jam.

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam get the crowd jumping in the rain at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle back Zoo 2017. Photo by Erin Ackerman

For our own set headlining the event, I was immensely proud of my band, the Jungle Gym Jam.  “Awesome Amy” brought the songs we created to life, kicking off our set by animating our “Sally the Sea Lion” puppet who told the crowd how they’re all part of “The People Exhibit at the Zoo” – the catchy music and humor in the song, paired with the visual, really helped draw in a crowd that was surprisingly large given the amount of rainfall everyone endured up to that point. Sally the Sea Lion stayed with us for an interactive rendition of “Five Sea Lions.”

Jason & Ross from the Jungle Gym Jam with Molly from Music with Molly at Turtle Back Zoo

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

“Rockin’ Ross” always impresses me at our gigs with his quiet, positive vibe and willingness to gently suggest ways to make things run smoother and easier. Given all the adversity thrown in our path last Saturday, Ross came up big! Teaming up with Dave to hold up the canopy was huge. Ross even coached me through backing the minivan up a long, narrow footpath, giving me new ways of using the sideview mirror that I hadn’t considered. Ross has a ton of little life-hacks up his sleeve! And of course, his rock-steady drumming gives us an arena-worthy sound even in my basement!

“Cowgirl Casey” was soldiering through a process where she’s receiving dozens of injections on each knee – an injury she sustained escaping the World Trade on 9/11/01 – she popped a stitch on a knee during the load-in for the performance. Her vocal harmonies lift the band’s sound greatly and her keyboard and acoustic guitar playing add a texture and professionalism that I’m proud to share with a large audience.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam playing a solo alongside Amelia Chan

Turtle Back Zoo 2017. Photo by Nicole Gray

Also impressive in our band performance was 14-year-old wiz kid “Astounding Amelia” on bass. My path to discovering Amelia’s talent and ability to help us entertain families was one of great coincidence. Our regular bassist, “Charming Chip,” had told me last fall that he’d be traveling to perform in Bahrain for several months. Right around that time, I took my daughter to see Amelia play in the School of Rock’s monthly concert in our hometown of Montclair. Amelia excelled at guitar, bass and lead vocals, as she tackled such complex songs as Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.” (Her family holds a deep love for the Beatles.) When I saw Amelia’s School of Rock performance, I was convinced that she could be a great addition to our band in Chip’s absence and help showcase how music is truly multigenerational. Amelia has been impressive in each of her performances with us – at the Stone Pony last fall, Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia over the winter and of course, last weekend.

Over the winter, all our gigs had been acoustic – there hadn’t been an electric full-band lineup since last November. And our schedules would only provide for one rehearsal. And we had two new songs to perform for this special Earth Day occasion: “Pandagarten” and “Happy Earth Day.” A joyous and effective rehearsal reminded me why this band is so great – it gave me great confidence that we’d be ready musically for Saturday’s show – the actual performance did not disappoint! I was so thrilled to lead this band in front of this audience.

I’m profoundly grateful and impressed by all involved. I’ll carry fond memories of how it all played out and what everyone did to power us through it. Thanks also to Caitlin Sharp, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and the team at the Turtle Back Zoo for their trust and teamwork in making this event happen. Also thanks to Gwen and Dale at Montclair Local for sharing our story leading up to this unique event. Looking forward to next year!

Musically yours!

– Jason

P.S.: Here’s a gallery with more pics from the event for your enjoyment!

Welcome Spring! Here are some Highlights from our Concert Window shows!

Whew! We’ve made it through winter – still very chilly in Jersey today – perhaps the last day below freezing for the whole season…

Here are the highlights from last Tuesday’s snow day online concerts:

In the morning I gave this solo performance of “The Pick Song” as a freeze dance (while Hoppin’ Holly got her geek on with her iPad in the background):

Between shows, my laptop broke down (wouldn’t boot up at all) so we improvised and tried the iPad for the afternoon show. Fortunately, it worked broadcasting our whole show, though it stopped showing us interactive chat comments for the last 10 minutes of the show. Our highlight from the afternoon duo show with Amy is “Jersey Dinosaurs” featuring “Bruce” the hadrosaurus:

Thanks for taking the time to watch these highlights; special thanks to all the families who tuned in for one (or both) of these shows!

Musically yours,

Jason

Four Years of Jungle Gym Jamming!

So far, so good! A look back on our life and times as a family band…

Ross Kantor in the Jungle Gym Jam's first-ever band rehearsal

Lifelong friend Ross Kantor on percussion

It all began in March 2013 with our first-ever band meeting and rehearsal. We were starting as a trio (with Ross Kantor and Meg Patrick) that needed to become a four-piece for an upcoming gig. We sat in the IHOP in Bloomfield (the one on Broad Street) and picked through some potential logos that our friend created. That night, we ended up picking the one that now sits atop this page.

Meg Patrick at the Jungle Gym Jam's first-ever band rehearsal

Meg Patrick, a Montclair mainstay, on guitar and harmony vocal

Then we came back to my basement to jam. We had our work cut out for us. Less than 2 months to learn a full 3 sets’ worth of children’s songs and classic rock tunes for our first big gig – the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in our hometown of Montclair. At the time, we had 5 original songs in the mix – those were our top priority.

Flash forward to today, four years later. We’ve seen lineup changes, one for particularly tragic reason. We’ve seen Amy’s role change from behind-the-scenes to that of onstage banter partner, puppeteer, educator, and keeper of the beat. We rocked through a his-and-hers kidney transplant and weathered the complications that came with it.

Our daughter Holly, then two years old, at the first-ever Jungle Gym Jam rehearsal in 2013

The band was unplugged, but 2-year-old Holly was “plugged!”

We created the soundtrack to our family, our daughter’s rapid growth from starstruck 2-year-old to sassy 6-year-old, who actually contributed vocals to our latest album. We poured the best of our creativity and the most resources we could into two albums: Everyone’s Invited! (2014) and Lollipop Motel (2016).

Amy and I joined a community of children’s musicians whose creativity, senses of humor, generosity of spirit and sense of “we’re-all-in-this-together” has continued to amaze and inspire us – from all across the country, other countries, and right in our own neck of the woods. Most of them I became acquainted with online, but at the Kindiecomm gatherings in Philadelphia, some of us really became tight.

Along the way, we’ve learned a great deal from our decisions and our initiatives. Some of the projects we took on were surprisingly successful and helped us out a great deal. Others we could have sworn would be hits left us in a big hole, bewildered. We learned to listen to you, our audience, instead of always expecting it to be the other way around.

We’ve expanded our travel pattern for our shows, starting with our home state of New Jersey and ultimately performing in eight eastern states from Virginia to Massachusetts. Our daughter really loves the out-of-town travel, especially when a hotel with a pool is involved!

Latin Grammy winner Mister G. meets Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA Feb. 2017

with Mister G. in Amherst, MA

Traveling to different towns has also enabled us to share the stage with other great kindie musicians on their home turf. In Amherst, MA, we were recently joined onstage by local Latin GRAMMY winner Mister G. We put together a kindie supergroup in the DC area when Uncle Devin, Marsha Goodman-Wood and Wardell Howell (from Marsha’s band The Positrons) were in the lineup. Darlene Graham (Rockin’ Tots) from Long Island has invited the Jungle Gym Jam to sub for her band at Jones Beach Boardwalk Bandshell for those times of year when she goes on vacation; this has become a great gig for us for the past 2 years!

Miss Nina meets the Jungle Gym Jam at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, PA - Jan. 2017

with Miss Nina in Philadelphia

The artist we shared the stage with most frequently was none other than family YouTube star Miss Nina, who lived in Brooklyn when we got started and now lives near us in New Jersey. We’ve done shows together in Brooklyn, NJ, Delaware (where Nina grew up) and Philadelphia. We started as fans of Nina, as her online performances mesmerised our then 2-year-old daughter. Trading songs and onstage gags with Nina has been an even better experience than I could have imagined back in the beginning. Even sharing a 2-hour car ride to a gig, taking turns playing DJ is great fun with this wonderful, easygoing soul we call Miss Nina.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam with Eric Herman at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJ

with Eric Herman at Maxwell’s Tavern in Hoboken

I’ve also had the honor of welcoming lots of children’s musicians to stages in our own area. In winter/spring 2015 I produced a concert series at Maxwell’s Tavern in Hoboken, NJ, where several of our kindie heroes showed up and did their thing, like Rolie Polie Guacamole – the first modern kindie act whose record we had ever heard. Eric Herman was traveling all the way from his Pacific Northwest homestate of Washington  for an east coast swing, so he graced us with a performance. We had fun harmonizing “This Little Light of Mine” at the end of the show. Michael and the Rockness Monsters (a.k.a. Preschool of Rock) gave us an unbelievable sold-out concert series opener, and several other acts didn’t disappoint: The Fuzzy LemonsYosi, Heidi Siegel, Erin Lee & Up Past Bedtime, and Mr. Ray brought their “A” game to the legendary venue.

And when we couldn’t cram another band into the lineup we learned the amazing Sugar Free Allstars were coming through town (from Oklahoma), so we scrambled to book them in a small restaurant in Berkeley Heights, NJ! Given that it was their first-ever NJ concert, ticket sales were light, but boy did they put on a show! Those who were in attendance were so blown away that they stocked up on SFAS records and T-shirts. That was a lesson I’ll never forget.

Jungle Gym Jam rocks the Stone Pony along with Little Rockers Band April 2016

Chris from the Little Rockers completes our lineup at the Stone Pony

A real career highlight was playing at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Our music has gravitated more toward the Jersey Shore sound (think Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny) over time and the Pony was right where we wanted to be. Shore based kindie band Little Rockers headlined our first show there and drew a marvelous local crowd (which they then dazzled). A subsequent show combined Miss Nina and Baze (from Baze & His Silly Friends), who had produced both Nina’s and our most recent records, and brought a wonderful, jazzy, rowdy Lucy Kalantari to the seaside stage.

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

Mr. Lou – Photo by Bob Didner

Of course our very first appearance at The Stone Pony was highly emotional. Our beloved bassist “Mr. Lou” DeMartino had suddenly and shockingly passed away as a result of an asthma attack. His life was honored with an amazingly loving memorial concert in which we performed a then-upcoming single “My Superpower” that was to include Lou’s bass track.

In the studio, we’ve had the pleasure of collaborations with children’s artists like Ron “Polka Dot” Albanese, a dynamic performer and renaissance man who also helped me develop my approach to live performance and even directed our “Jungle Gym Jamming” video. Golden-voiced Suzi Shelton gave Free to Be…You and Me a rare and magical quality I still consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been part of. Liz “The Singing Lizard” DeRoche made the track “My Superpower” absolutely sparkle like a powerpop gem with her synthesizer wizardry. As a producer, there was very little that was silly about Baze (expect when we were supposed to get silly….) He elicited some of my best singing and playing through his creative energy, finely tuned ear and reassuring personal style.

Jungle Gum Jam Time early childhood rock-n-roll music & movement class in West Orange, NJ - Jason photobombs with the kids and their grown-ups!

Early childhood music & movement class

Today, we stand on the shoulders of all our performances, collaborators and bandmates. We’ve also taken on something new thanks to the inspiration we’ve gotten. We’re offering an early childhood my-grownup-and-me class called “Jungle Gym Jam Time,” currently taking place in West Orange and Paramus, NJ. We’ve also got a busy performance schedule shaping up for the summer – mostly in New Jersey, but with some out of state travel.

I’m overwhelmingly grateful to my wife Amy, my daughter Holly and my parents for encouraging me to keep going at this through four years of ups and downs. I’m grateful to you, my fellow families, for showing up, reading these stories, recommending us for gigs or even producing Jungle Gym Jam shows of your own! You’ve bought our albums, joined us in giving to charities like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Light of Day Foundation, and to specific children in need, like young Xavier who has lived his entire life with heart conditions and complications. And you’ve given me vital advice when I needed it about what to offer next. In another four years, Holly will be 10 and I’m sure my inspiration as a dad will evolve into new territory. Your kids will be bigger too and I hope we’ll still give them something they can’t get anywhere else.

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam at Family New Year's Ball in Montclair 2015-16

Musically yours,

Jason

P.S.: Take a fourth off our prices to celebrate!

We’re offering you a fourth off everything in our online store to celebrate our fourth anniversary! Use the code 4years to save 25%. This offer lasts until March 31.

Did you know?

  • Before we picked up the name Jungle Gym Jam, we considered names like Unka Jason (my niece’s old mispronunciation of my “title”) and The Swing Set, which I thought made us sound too much like a swing band.
  • We used to pack all our gear into a mid-sized Ford Fusion. I’d often have to drive to the gigs alone because every bit of passenger space was needed for amps, instruments and the PA system. Amy and Holly would follow behind…
  •  When Holly was 2, she’d come on stage with us – not to perform, but to nonchalantly much on her snacks while facing the audience.
  • We were inspired by having discovered music like Laurie Berkner and Justin Roberts for Holly to listen to when she was one year old.
  • I was a singer-songwriter for quite a while before making kids’ music. In 2003 I created and released an album titled “American Road” and then performed at bookstores and coffeehouses throughout NJ, NY and PA in support of it.
  • Our present lineup is made up of me, Amy, Ross Kantor on drums (with Miguel Rodriguez ready to jump in for Ross), Casey McCleary on harmony vocals, and Chip Moore on bass (with Amelia Chan and Alyssa Menes covering for his overseas gig).
  • Past members include Meg Patrick, Judy Helbig, David Rosenblum, the late Lou DeMartino, Sean Wolfle.
  • Guest musicians include Dave Cushing (producer of “Everyone’s Invited!”, John Ginty (touring organist with the Dixie Chicks), Andy “Squeezebox” Sandel, Bob Cannon and the horn section from the Defending Champions: Matt Ryan, Matt “Shooby” Schoenebaum and Jovan Alvarez.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Here’s Pandagarten!

Here’s the latest Jungle Gym Jam song “Pandagarten,” celebrating the Chinese New Year with the story of one of China’s most beloved animals – the giant panda. 

Pandas raised in captivity are socialized in a panda kindergarten where they learn survival skills and how to interact with other pandas. 

This song will get its live debut in our upcoming performance at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA this coming weekend. Enjoy the video, and please share! 

Musically yours,

Jason

Hitting the Road for the Next 2 Weekends!

Jam Packed-Jason gets the minivan loaded up for a Jungle Gym Jam gigOne thing our family/band loves to do is to travel out of town to play shows. In fact, as of this writing, we’ve been to 7 states to perform – and we’ve got our eyes on #8! 

This afternoon we’ll get our minivan “jam packed” for the ride to Vienna, Virginia (suburbs of Washington, D.C.) to perform at Jammin’ Java’s Tot Rock family concert series tomorrow morning (Saturday). And we’re joined by a special guest – “Astonishing Amelia” on bass. At age 14, Amelia can do it all – sing, play, and command the stage. She’s put in lots of time and effort at School of Rock in Montclair where she’s really learned her craft – her love for The Beatles’ music really comes through in her performance. 

Jason Didner guest DJ'ing for Hilltown Family Variety Show - an hour of family radio programming. Also happening tomorrow (Saturday) – I’m the guest DJ on Hilltown Family Variety Show on western Massachusetts’ radio station WXOJ 103.3FM and live streaming from their web site. Tune in at 9AM Eastern. 

Speaking of Massachusetts, it becomes our 8th state for live performance next Saturday, February 25 when we roll into the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst to perform our songs that share inspiration among the animal world and natural universe with the famous children’s book illustrator. Doors open at 10:30 AM, showtime is at 11.