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.