Category Archives: Kindie Movement

The Infinite Varieties of Children’s Music

Here’s How to Thrive on Broadening Your Kids’ Cultural Horizons

By Jason Didner, kindie rock musician, children’s concert promoter

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam captivate the kids at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJWhen you think of the term “children’s music,” what comes to mind?

Now I can’t speak for you but as a dad, I can tell you what used to come to my mind and what changed. Back when my daughter was about 1 year old (she’s now turning 4), my instincts on children’s music were to think of nursery rhyme songs, sung by groups of kids, or the soundtracks to PBS Kids and Disney Jr. shows. Of course, images of a certain purple dinosaur came to mind as well.

Thinking back on it, I must have been helping Holly develop her musical tastes on 2 different tracks – music my wife and I love like The Beatles (every Sunday morning), Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Van Halen, and then music we felt she should be learning to have a common understanding with other children, like the nursery rhyme songs.

At the time I had a hint that educational music for kids was out there that also rocked. My brother in Brooklyn had invited Amy and me to see Rolie Polie Guacamole perform Beatles songs along with their own quirky, funny kids’ songs at Stone House Park. Amy and I didn’t have children of our own at the time, but we were happy to accompany our baby niece on outings like this. My mom had sprung for a Rolie Polie Guacamole CD that we’d have handy when a child finally came into the picture. RPG turned out to be our first kindie concert. I wasn’t aware at the time that they were part of a movement; they existed in my mind as an isolated incident.

It must have occurred to me, having grown up on “Free to Be…You and Me” and “Schoolhouse Rock” that there were people making music all along since my childhood that helped tell stories and pass learning along to kids without patronizing them musically, and without annoying the grown-ups.

But as I became aware of some very unique and original music for kids and families, starting with Laurie Berkner and Justin Roberts, it soon dawned on me that kindie artists didn’t have to be limited by genre like more mainstream artists usually do. There are so many genre varieties in kindie: country, rap, hip hop, jazz, rock, punk, powerpop, funk and more. Often, an artist will create kindie songs in different genres all on one record – sometimes even over the course of one song!

Certain kindie artists come to mind who excel at a specific genre and sort of “own it.” For rap, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Mista Cookie Jar and the Alphabet Rockers come to mind right away. If you want rap where you never have to worry about profanity or messages glorifying poor life decisions, check these artists out. They share childhood joys, celebrate thinking outside the box and teach reading & math skills in rap –really, really good rap – rhythmically strong, with clever, intricate rhymes. We may want to cringe when we think about amateurish attempts to rap lessons for kids that come out more like rigid readings of simple poetry, but you’ve gotta hear the rap of these 3 artists, especially. And they often pop up on other artists’ records in very interesting collabs across genres.

In the world of kindie jazz, check out Jazzy Ash, whose ancestral home of New Orleans had a deep influence on her sound. Her lyrics teach about New Orleans culture and share childhood stories and experiences, all while keeping that festive Dixieland sound cookin’. Lori Henriques offers the sophisticated sounds of piano jazz while unleashing her inner joy so it may catch on with the families who are listening. Lucy Kalantari brings the sensibility of the Roaring ’20s to her happy-go-lucky song collection for the younger set.

If your taste is in punk, you’ll see your kids blow out a lot of energy dancing around to the stylings of The Boogers, Ratboy Jr. and The Not-its! There’s something about the energy of punk music that’s a natural fit with kids; I could just picture them bouncing around as if on pogo sticks, so I wrote “Jungle Gym Jamming” to that tempo to encourage lots of energetic movement.

Then there’s an artist like Joanie Leeds, who, over the course of one album will croon an original jazz number, give you a country hoedown, rock out with blistering intensity, share a sweet singer/songwriter ballad and help the kids get down with a heavy funk number.

Reggae and its uptempo sub-genre, ska, work particularly well in children’s music, creating a sunny, happy vibe that can carry a family through a day. It’s very popular as a color in many kindie artists’ palettes, used to great effect by Josh and the Jamtones, Yosi, Laurie Berkner and Rolie Polie Guacamole. My first Jungle Gym Jam song was a reggae number and after having seen Josh and the Jamtones in action, I was inspired to arrange another of my songs with a reggae/ska beat.

There’s so much to like in today’s kindie music that will open your children up to liking lots and lots of musical genres and songs created and produced from the artists’ heart to your family’s hearts, without being distorted by multinational entertainment conglomerates and focus groups. This is kindie. And as a dad, I love this stuff so much for my own kids that I’ve thrown myself into it professionally as well.

Comment below with your thoughts about the diversity of the kindie movement and all the genres it spans.

Would you like to get some free kindie music? Follow this link to get a free three-pack of kindie songs from my own Jungle Gym Jam project for your family’s enjoyment right now!

What a Blast at Maxwell’s in Hoboken!

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam bring a kindie song to a big ending at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJ for kids & familiesWOW! What a way to spend a Monday afternoon!

My original inspiration to create the Hoboken concert series Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays was my very uplifting experience performing at World Cafe Live in Wilmington, Delaware as part of the Peanut Butter & Jams concert series for kids and families. I felt like the surroundings of an honest-to-goodness performance space added to the anticipation of a full-blown rock concert made just for the young audience members. It felt like a real kindie music scene. And I wanted that for northern New Jersey.

So, now that there’s a scene connected with kindie artists and an audience hungry for what we do, I couldn’t wait to jump right in and give a performance for this crowd, now at this concert series’ 3-week mark. And for a band like ours that leans toward Jersey rock, influenced by Bruce Springsteen, how cool was it that we performed on the same stage where The Boss filmed the video for “Glory Days!”

Moms & kids dance to Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJThe moms and kids were all smiles as we launched into our favorite opening song “Your Happy Place.” We got playful and interactive during our next song “Little Yellow Plane,” all about the aircraft that carries a banner for all the beachgoers to see. It was like a little Jersey Shore beach party on a frigid afternoon.

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam leads the kids through a game of "There's a Big Wave!" that his daughter Holly made up.The kids were stretching out their arms to look like airplanes. We also battled some imaginary ocean waves (credit to my daughter Holly for inventing this game!) Plenty of kids were situated on the carpet squares in front of the stage by the time we got to “Five Sea Lions” where they counted down with me as the playful creatures in the song dove into the water. The kids also did the rolling and swimming motions with their hands. We formed a human train in “Window of the Train” and the kids helped me figure out that my cute red insect puppet with black spots wasn’t really a bumble bee. Well, you learn something new every day…

The kids form a big front line in front of the dance area at Jason Didner & the Jungle Gym Jam's performance at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJBy the time we reached our encore with “Down By the Bay” there was a line of kids across the very front of the dance floor, perfect for high-fiving at the conclusion of the song. Giving kids their first taste of a rock concert was a special thrill for me, especially seeing what a positive experience it was.

Maxwell’s concert promoter Dave Entwistle was on-hand to run sound, with his awesome 2-year-old by his side (and sleeping in his arms for part of the time). Little Ben was quite helpful in putting on the show as he reached into my box of carpet squares and followed my lead in placing them out on the floor before the show. My daughter Holly also found new ways to be helpful, like directing other kids’ moms to where they could pick up the free Big Apple Circus clown noses for their kids that I had just put out. It made me proud to see her make new friends of kids she had never met before. It’s a really nice group of kids & families that are coming out to these events.

Heather from Hoboken Mommies was on hand along with her daughter, taking pictures and sharing them socially to the group’s popular Facebook page. One little rock-n-roller brought along his green guitar and took it out of his little green gig bag, ready to rock along with the band! We gave away an “Everyone’s Invited!” CD and a pair of tickets to the Big Apple Circus’ opening night on its Bridgewater, New Jersey stand this Thursday, 2/26.

Next Monday I return to my role of concert promoter (and add sound engineer to my job description) and watch the performances of my very talented friends in the field of rock and jazz for kids & families. On Monday, March 2 my friend and mentor Marc “Baze” Bazerman takes the stage with his group Baze and His Silly Friends. Baze is producing my upcoming album and he’s eliciting vocal performances from me that have caused me to surprise myself in all the best ways.

I’m very excited not just for the artists scheduled to play in the weeks ahead, but also for the families who get to experience the fullness of the kindie music movement and get their kids exposed to a variety of styles, ideas, stories and lessons created lovingly to enrich their young lives.

Maxwell's Mini Music MondaysIf you’d like to keep up with the happenings at this concert series, make sure to like the Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays page Facebook!

Check out our spring lineup at Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays here and get early bird pricing on tickets (through the Friday before each Monday concert).

Download a 3-pack of my songs and get special offers and bulletins related to my upcoming performances and new family-friendly creations.

Create What You Wish Existed in the World…or Your Town!

Why and How I Started a New Concert Series for Kids & Families

by Jason Didner

Michael Napolitano and Preschool of Rock play to a sold-out kickoff concert of our Maxwell's Mini Music Mondays concert series in Hoboken

Michael Napolitano and Preschool of Rock play to a sold-out kickoff concert of our Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays concert series in Hoboken

 

Last Monday, Michael and Andy from Preschool of Rock kicked off Hoboken’s Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays concert series to a capacity crowd of kids and their grown-ups.

The reason that this concert series exists is that I wanted it to. Since becoming a children’s musician about 2 years ago, I had become aware of a concert series for kids & families called “Peanut Butter & Jams” in Philadelphia, PA and Wilmington, DE in both cities’ locations of the World Cafe Live venue. I felt that a rotating concert series of kindie talent needed to exist in New Jersey and I couldn’t find one. I certainly couldn’t find venues that gave kids & families a steady helping of live entertainment in the winter months.

I’d been listening to podcasts by Brian Thompson, a music marketing expert whose interests have been evolving toward his current passion project, Zen Thinking. Brian has been profoundly helpful to me on both fronts. He’s given me helpful hands-on tactics before, but it was the wisdom from his Zen explorations that clarified what I wanted to do. When he quoted the phrase “Create what you wish existed in the world,” I took it to heart and thought about ways to apply it in my corner of the world.

So I tried the kids’ concert concept at some music venues in New Jersey, but a steady series was often a tough sell for music venues, particularly ones we’d be asking to open and staff at hours they normally wouldn’t and to accommodate age groups they rarely ever see.

© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons.

© Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons.

Ultimately, it was a Facebook post by my friend, NJ.com journalist Jim Testa, which linked to his article that changed everything… About 3 months ago, Jim posted a story that Maxwell’s Tavern, the legendary music venue in Hoboken, New Jersey, once graced by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (they filmed the “Glory Days” video there), Nirvana, R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers, which had recently closed, was about to re-open under new management. There would be music again; the new owners invested in updating the stage and sound system, encouraging me to propose a children’s rock concert series that would help parents reconnect with their own nostalgia of seeing rock shows at Maxwell’s, now sharing concerts with their little ones – music created with the intent of enriching and inspiring young lives.

It took a month of lots of repetitive phone calls and e-mails (sorry, Noelle!…but not sorry!) and then my wife Amy and I got a meeting with the venue’s proprietor. We talked all about how to best meet the needs of the parents and children of Hoboken and how combining the indie rock spirit with the desire to entertain children could both fit Maxwell’s tradition and serve the nearby families.

Maxwell's Mini Music MondaysWe came up with the Monday afternoon time slot because it would fill several needs. It helps parents and caregivers bridge the time between naptime and dinner with a meaningful, memorable activity. (As a dad, I know that dreaded period of being at loose ends at that hour.) It helps Maxwell’s use that gorgeous live room on a day/time where it would normally be dark and silent. It gives preschoolers something to look forward to after their first school day of the week. And touring artists who come through New York or New Jersey to play weekend shows could stay one more day to make their tour a little more worthwhile. We were excited!

Finding talent to fill each Monday’s time slot was the easy part…because New Jersey and neighboring New York are so chock-full of great kindie performers that I’ve come to know. Until now, my state has contained lots of talented artists who have scraped together gigs wherever they could, but no real “kindie scene” to speak of. At this time, our spring season is just about all booked through the Monday before Memorial Day.

Jason Didner, promoter of Maxwell's Mini Music Mondays, with Michael Napolitano from Preschool of Rock and Marnie Nathanson from Hoboken Mommies/Moxy & MainI soon found willing and eager partners in promotion, like Marnie Nathanson, co-founder of Hoboken Mommies, which later became a brand of Moxy and Main, a social marketing and lifestyle company. Big Apple Circus found me and got behind various kids’ entertainment endeavors of mine including Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays, donating pairs of tickets to their big-top show for its New Jersey stop later this month.

Seeing the pre-sales for the first show tick up…and up…and up… way beyond my goal for our first concert… was a special thrill. Now, I was a concert promoter. Yes, I’ve gotten in the habit of promoting my own shows, but now I was promoting something else… a scene, a solution, a way of life, something bigger than me.

Michael Napolitano from Preschool of Rock entertains Hoboken's kids at Maxwell's Mini Music Mondays.

Michael Napolitano from Preschool of Rock entertains Hoboken’s kids at Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays.

The afternoon of the show, even more people arrived wanting to buy admission at the door, a request we almost couldn’t find room to accommodate. (We’re working on that for next Monday!) My creation was sold out to capacity! Now it was Michael and Andy’s turn to bring it to life… and they delivered many times over, bringing expert musicianship and larger-than-life presence to delight the young ones and their grown-ups on an icy cold late Monday afternoon.

What was so satisfying about this experience was that I followed my intention to create what I wish existed in my area (something that already existed elsewhere but was missing here), surrounded myself with compatible and eager people, and saw it through. Now comes the daily challenge of nourishing my creation and improving upon it.

What does the calling to “create what you wish existed in the world” mean to you? What would you create if you could? How might you find a way? Please discuss in the comments below.

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.

Smile in my Heart – the Suzi Shelton song performed by Jason Didner

This week I share a wonderful song that’s been growing in meaning for me. Along with my wife Amy and 3-year-old daughter Holly, I’ve been a fan of Suzi’s singing and songwriting for kids and families. Her songs and voice are the stuff happy family memories are made of. Hearing Holly start singing the lyric lines “Gonna rise it up, gonna share it with you” on the spur of a moment only endeared Suzi’s music to us that much more.

In that spirit, it’s my pleasure to share my version of “Smile in My Heart” with you this week!

Suzi and I have a project in the works that we’re recording together this month. I can’t wait to share it with you; my imagination is buzzing with what our performance will sound like when Suzi’s voice is added to it!

Would you like to get an e-mail each week when I publish these videos? These single-song clips are a great way to share a musical moment with your little ones and help them transition from one portion of the day to the next. Just sign up below and you’ll get your choice: a weekly video alert or a monthly highlight with the playlist of the latest videos I’ve released.

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Jason Didner performs Suzi Shelton's song Smile in my Heart - for kids and families