Tag Archives: family music

As Long As the Grizzly Bears Are OK with It…

Jungle Gym Jam Passes One Tough Audition at the Bronx Zoo

Grizzly bears at Bronx ZooLast weekend’s performances at Bronx Zoo brought our band in front of a group of very discerning judges. No, I’m not talking about the celebrity critics on American Idol. I’m speaking of the four grizzly bears in the habitat right next to our tent. In between sets we learned from the zoo’s event coordinator Sashah Harbin that when the music is too loud or unpleasant these bears get up on their hind legs and growl. Sashah was pleased to inform us that the bears were just chillin’ to our family-friendly tunes.

Between sets we captured this picture of our furry neighbors taking a dip in their little pond and cuddling with each other in the water.

It was a very important weekend in the band’s development. We made dozens of new fans in New York City, a place where we want to spend more time. We paid a fitting tribute to our friend and bassist “Low Note Lou” DeMartino who suddenly departed from this world he had filled with so much joy and music. And when we told our audiences that we were dedicating these shows to Lou, they did not let us down.

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam perform a family concert at Bronx Zoo in 2015

Photo by Sashah Harbin

An old friend “Amazing Alyssa” Menes returned to the stage with us to help us carry on for Lou and share our joy and love of music with kids and families. And we had a different drummer each day. “Magnificent Miguel” lived up to his name performing at the kit on Saturday and then “Rockin’ Ross” took his place at the throne on Sunday, each providing a different style that added to the energy of the music. “Cowgirl Casey” returned to the lineup after having been away in Europe for the first half of the summer. On Saturday We were joined by Washington D.C.’s “Marvelous Marsha” Goodman-Wood for her renditions of The Penguin Song and then we sang a duet of “Free to Be…You and Me.” On Sunday, Casey and I sang that duet.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam joined onstage by daughter and nieces for "Jungle Gym Jamming"And making the shows especially meaningful were the inclusion of my family. My wife “Awesome Amy” and our daughter “Hoppin’ Holly” played percussion all day Sunday and for one set on Saturday. My nieces Natalie and Maya joined us onstage along with Holly for a rockin’ rendition of our band’s theme song “Jungle Gym Jamming.” All three are born performers and sang & danced with lots of spirit.

My parents, aunt Ellen and brother Matt & sister-in-law Danielle were in the audience to rock out with us as we kicked off this series of performances.

We world-premiered a brand new song called “Off the Grid,” which served as the theme of these shows, with lyrics encouraging our listeners to take a break from their gadgets and spend some time outdoors. This featured song was played in all six of our sets over these two days. Here’s an audio recording of us rehearsing this song with Lou on bass less than 2 weeks before this writing.

JasonAmySashahSashah kept this big gig running smoothly and made it a pleasant experience for us with her friendly manner and by making it easy for us to move our equipment in and out of the zoo. Sashah also greeted families passing near the tent to tell them about the show and helped us garner good attendance for each show. She warmly introduced our band to the crowd before we started our sets and was wonderful with Holly. I got to briefly meet Judy Frimer, the Director of Programming and Creative Services for Wildlife Conservation Society. Judy and I had a great discussion in planning a concept for the show she wanted for the zoo – a show that would emphasize the importance of getting out into nature and away from devices with screens. She wanted a rock-n-roll show that was suitable for the whole family – kids of all ages and their parents. I took a close look at our existing songs to see which combination of songs and “moments” would help tell the story of being out in nature and away from screens. Amy and I immediately recognized the need for a song that ties that theme together.

We started with the idea for the song title “Off the Grid” and brainstormed the lyrics over the course of the next few days. The melody felt pretty well established to me. When I first played the song for Amy, she felt that perhaps the song could tell the story better at a faster tempo than the one I chose. My original setting was in a “Melissa Etheridge” type feel, but Amy convinced me to try an upbeat ska rhythm, which really did bring out the uplifting, adventurous nature of the song more fully.

And I’m glad to hear that the grizzly bears were OK with our music making. And quite a few people were, too!

I’m pretty sure these bands will go over fine with the grizzlies…and with your family when they play the Bronx Zoo:

  • 08/15-16 – Josh & the Jamtones
  • 08/22-23 – Danny Weinkauf & His Red Pants Band
  • 08/29-30 – Hot Peas n Butter
  • 09/05-06 – The Pop Ups

Tell us about your family rock-n-roll experience at the Bronx Zoo in the comments below.

Giveaway: Win my Award-winning “Everyone’s Invited!” Album on iTunes

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam holding his CD Everyone's Invited!Enter this giveaway to enjoy a finely crafted rock album for kids and families with the added convenience of an iTunes download to all your Apple devices. I’m giving away my Parents’ Choice Approved album “Everyone’s Invited!” to the lucky winner via iTunes. Good luck! Enter every day to improve your chances of winning. Contest ends Tuesday night 6/24 at midnight.

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Download on iTunes

Giveaway-Family Skype or FaceTime Concert (20 min)

The lucky winner of this giveaway will get a private concert via Skype, FaceTime or your favorite video chatting app. This will be an interactive experience where you can ask me questions, request songs and have the musical experience personalized to your family.

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam

Enter the giveaway right here; it’s free and easy! Contest ends midnight on Tuesday night 6/10. Good luck!

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Free to Be You and Me – a Bold Gender Equality Kids Album from my Childhood

Free to Be You and MeThe upbeat rhythm and big melody of the opening number stay with me from the days of my mom filling the house with these tunes and skits on the family turntable. So much so that I’m preparing to perform my own cover of that title song “Free to Be You and Me.” The excitement of liberation is electric in this song and deserves to be heard by a new generation of young listeners.

Here’s my cover of the song as a solo acoustic performance on YouTube:

In the 70s, kids needed to be freed from gender stereotypes. A boy who wanted to practice nurturing on a baby doll. A princess who insists with her father the king on her right to marry who she wants, if she wants. A poet who tells kids and parents not to believe the hype about the smiling lady on TV washing dishes with the latest and greatest detergent, but rather, to share in the housework as a family and get it over with because everybody hates housework.

William wants a doll - Free to Be You and MeI’m now a little girl’s daddy with a heart full of memories of bottle feedings, burping, diaper changing and bathing as bonding time with our baby. Flash forward three years and I’m painting my young one’s fingernails pink and purple. In turn, she’s equally comfortable dressing up Barbie dolls and pushing the lawnmower with me. I live in a time, place and family where gender equality is a living success story. Not everybody does, but it’s my normal reality.

Listening to that landmark album today brings up ways in which it participated in social changes that paved the way for my free thinking about gender equality. The energy of that opening number brings up thoughts to the freedom kids may need help experiencing these days. They need to be free to be kids, to have honest-to-goodness, unstructured, unscheduled outdoor physical play time. They need freedom from dependence on video games and gadgets to mitigate boredom.

Kids still need freedom from the fear of bullying, both in person and online. Skits like “Dudley and the Principle” paired with “It’s All Right to Cry” sung by uber-masculine football/action hero Roosevelt Grier can still be a welcome source of comfort to a child caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling persecuted, crying and then being persecuted for crying.

Fun fact: I played Dudley in a middle school production of “Free to be You and Me.” it was my job to cry over being held after school for a sand table I didn’t knock down.

Here’s a TV interview with creator Marlo Thomas about this special project she created, where she discusses why she and her friends felt the album needed to be made, and about the challenges she had in convincing TV producers to include “William Wants a Doll” in the special broadcast based on the album. Producers feared the potential emasculating effects of publicizing a message that it’s OK for boys to play with dolls.

Check out this lively and enjoyable classic kids’ album “Free to Be You and Me” on iTunes.

What are the important songs from your childhood that influenced the person you are today? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Family Garden Party at Presby Memorial Iris Gardens

We’re pleased to return to Essex County Presby Memorial Iris Gardens for the 2nd year in a row. There will be a face painter, arts and crafts, refreshments and Walk About Balloon! Also, check out the student iris-themed art exhibits.

The irises will be in full bloom; have the cameras ready!

The event kicks off at 11:00 AM. We take the stage shortly after 12 noon.

Iris Gardens Postcard 4x3

Musically yours,


Use our Facebook event page to tell us you’re coming and we’ll give your kids each a free egg shaker or tambourine!