Music Buzz: JumpinJazz Kids

January 31 2013, 10:55 AM

Coloradans have another reason to be excited for the Grammys (airing Sunday, February 10): JumpinJazz Kids—A Swinging Jungle Tale, a CD with strong Centennial State roots, has garnered a nomination for Best Children's Album. 

In an interesting twist on traditional children's music, JumpinJazz Kids is a rich mix of narrative storytelling and jazz music (performed by well-known musicians and with a symphony orchestra). The CD takes kids deep into the imagination of Claire—named after producer Mark Oblinger's daughter—and the stuffed animal friends she brings to life. Along the way, listeners meet an elephant, a monkey, and even a hummingbird—all backed with classic jazz tunes. JumpinJazz Kids is aimed at four- to eight-year-olds. Parents won't object to having it on repeat in their cars and their youngsters will enjoy reading along with the narrations in their own book version of the CD. Check out my interview with pianist and producer Steve Barta below—and keep your fingers crossed for a Colorado win. 

5280: There are a lot of Colorado connections with this CD. Can you talk a little about that?

Steve Barta: Yes, this is really a Colorado-grown project. Several years ago, Mark Oblinger spearheaded—with a group of Colorado writers—the writing of original compositions that eventually found their way on to the current JumpinJazz Kids project. The entire ensemble is Colorado-based for the most part: James Tuttle (engineer), Bob Rebholz (flute/sax), Chris Engleman (bass), Christian Teele (drums), Mark (vocals/guitar), and myself (piano). We've all known and worked with each other over the years, and it was a joy to make this recording.  

5280: I tend to think of kid's music as being straightfoward and pretty simple. A Swinging Jungle Tale had a lot of thought put into it, both from a music standpoint but also from an educational one. Why was that important?

SB: I agree with you. Often people think that children's music has to be simple, and is often "dumbed-down." JumpinJazz Kids is quite a sophisticated piece of music—and kids know the difference! We wanted to create something unique that would tell a story, be engaging, musically fun, interesting to listen to (which, by combining a jazz quartet with a symphony orchestra, it most certainly is), and educational.

One of the main themes we created and worked with throughout the project was "Imagination is Me!," which encourages kids to use their natural gift of imagination. The whole storyline and book encourages kids to use their imagination. The fact that the book contains word-for-word narration of the story helps kids with their reading skills. They can follow along. The story teaches the rich history of American jazz with the creation of characters such as "The Loneliest Monkey" (tribute to the great Thelonius Monk), "Elephant's Gerald" (tribute to the one and only Ella Fitzgerald), and "Hubert the Hummingbird" (tribute to jazz legend Hubert Laws). Fortunate for us, present-day jazz greats Al Jarreau, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Hubert Laws all stepped up and wanted to be part of this wonderful project.

Why is this important? Because if we do not teach our kids about jazz history and engage them with fun and interesting ways to learn, the art form will simply disappear. 

5280: Why take this approach of combining spoken word, music, and a symphony?

SB: It's not often that one hears a jazz quartet combined with an orchestra and narrator.  It seemed the perfect combination of instrumentation to encourage kids to use their imagination. The sounds and emotions are evoked through real instruments, by seeing it live with a real orchestra, and by seeing and hearing the story live with a real narrator. It's powerful.

5280: This is the first in the JumpinJazz series. What's next?

SB: There will be further adventures. We are already sketching out the ideas, so stay tuned.

Details: JumpinJazz Kids is available via Amazon, iTunes, and through the company website.  

Follow assistant editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger