New York's Hayes Greenfield is the most vital person in the kids' music jazz subgenre. Through his Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz program, he brings his saxophones and a love of jazz to kids in concert. (And his 1998 CD of the same name which inspired that program is, with the possible exception of the new Medeski Martin & Wood disk, the best kids' jazz album out there, period.) So clearly Greenfield's latest project, Music For A Green Planet, released yesterday, Earth Day, had the possibility of being another excellent album. Certainly many of the characteristics of his Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz disk appear here -- the never-dumbed down playing of Greenfield and his fellow instrumentalists, the broad range of jazz styles (a New Orleans strut on "This Little World of Ours," the South American jazz of "This Little World of Ours"). And once again, Greenfield brings aboard a bunch of fine vocalists, with Joe Lee Wilson and Melissa Stylianou getting the most lead vocal time. The kids' chorus is fun and never cloying (the hopping "The Sun" is a particular high point.) In sum, the jazz is first-rate. What keeps this from being an absolutely necessary CD are the lyrics, which are set to familiar kids' tunes (e.g., "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" becomes "We'll Be a PArt of the Solution"). Please don't misunderstand me -- the lyrics are generally witty and it's hard to argue with the need to reduce, reuse, recycle. The difficult part is that it's 53 minutes of the same thing -- it's all a bit too much, frankly. And while there isn't much talking down or straight lecturing, I'm not sure the concept of the carbon footprint is going to make much headway with the target audience. While not dull, the album isn't as fun as it could have been. I think the album would've been served better by a few more instrumental tracks or lyrics that just celebrated nature or being outside rather than stressing the message all the time. Less would have been more in this case. I think kids ages 5 through 9 will most appreciate the messages here. You can hear samples at the album's CDBaby page or here. I do think Music for a Green Planet will be popular with (and I would recommend it to) any ecologically-minded class or family, plus jazz fans. While I'd recommend Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz over this album for an introduction to Greenfield's work, I do certainly hope it'll be less than 10 years before he makes another album for kids and families.
By the end of March those of us in Phoenix are typically slathering on sunscreen and complaining that summer and 110-degree weather can't be far away. The fading days of spring would be made considerably more tolerable if we had a few Elizabeth Mitchell concerts to attend. Unfortunately for us, Mitchell lives in New York state and as a result those folks get some sweet music to go along with their March (and April) snowstorms. To wit: Mitchell and Uncle Rock will be playing at Levon Helm's awesome Midnight Ramble series on March 31st. The good news for the kids is that it's not at midnight, but rather at 2 PM. The bad news is that it's already sold out. (Unless you have tickets, in which case I ask you not to lord it over us.) But fear not, Mitchell fans, for she's also helping to organize a Family Concert Series at the High Meadow School. Besides the wonderful Hayes Greenfield doing his Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz program, the series also features Peter Schickele, creator of PDQ Bach. (Classical geek note: I once owned the PDQ Bach "autobiography." Hi-larious.) Oh, and Mitchell's playing a show with Dog on Fleas on April 15th. That would be worth driving through a snowdrift of some sort, to be sure.
Brady Rymer. Elizabeth Mitchell. Hayes Greenfield. I doubt another lineup will top this, the best one-day-only concert of 2006. Heck, it can even give those multi-day festivals in Chicago and Austin a run for their money. Pity our family has no plans to beanywhere near Long Island on August 27. Oh, and Brady, you really should blog more often. That Clearwater Folk Festival entry was fun to read.
Why are there not more great jazz albums for kids? You have wonderful melodies infinitely adaptable to the improvisational technique that is one of jazz's trademarks, and yet the number of really good jazz albums geared for kids is small. Hayes Greenfield's 2002 release, Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz, is one of those few albums, great for introducing kids to jazz. The vocals, unsurprisingly for an album of renditions of kids' songs, are front and center. Miles Griffith turns in a broad variety of vocal approaches and his often gravelly voice contrasts nicely with the sweet voices of Lisa Michel and Charenee Wade. Richie Havens also lends his resonant voice to two tracks, "Grandfather's Clock" and "Oh Susanna." The album utilizes a broad range of jazz styles, from the gospel wrap-up to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to the scat stylings on "Skip To My Lou" to the more contemporary jazz sounds of "This Old Man." Greenfield has also indicated -- and here's where my surface-deep jazz knowledge recognizes the names but not the particular albums -- that on "Grandfather’s Clock" they employ Latin swing (like John Coltrane's arrangement of "A Night Has A Thousand Eyes"), on "Old MacDonald" they use Thelonious Monk’s harmonic progression from his tune "Bemsha Swing", and on "Animal Fair" they superimposed Coltrane's classic "Giant Steps" harmonic motion. (Note: I have "Giant Steps" and I didn't recognize it, which says everything about me and nothing about Greenfield's skill here.) What makes this album such a great introduction is the combination of vocals that are both skillful as well as engaging for kids (some tracks feature kids, but only as accompaniment) with instrumentals that are so often missing on kids-focused jazz CDs. Most tracks feature an instrumental break, with Greenfield's saxophone work taking the lead on the solos. The rest of his band swing solidly, too, making the whole 47-minute disc a pleasure to listen to. It's really hard to put an age range on this disk, because I think most of the album works for adults just as well as for kids (with the possible exception of some of the vocal tracks where Griffith's voice is perhaps too cartoony), but I'll shoot for ages 2 through 12. You can see video clips and learn more about the project at the Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz website. Jazz-A-Ma-Tazz is a fabulous disk, one that can serve as great introduction for kids to the broad vocal and instrumental palette used by jazz musicians. Definitely recommended.