And the Grammy goes to … By Fred KochEach year the recording music industry has its annual parade of stars, known as the Grammy Awards. Yes, there are other music events, such as the American Music Awards. The others try to steal some of the spotlight, but the Grammy Awards is the real deal. They are to the music industry what the Oscars are to the movie industry.
The Grammy Awards includes two categories for children-one for best musical recording and the other for best-spoken word recording. The 46th annual Grammy Awards were presented on Feb. 8, so at the end of this column (promise not to peek), I will tell who won-this may be a surprise since children's music was not really showcased at the broadcast. I'll also give you my thoughts about the Grammy-winning recording. The nominees, in order as they appeared on the ballot, are:
BABY'S BROADWAY LULLABIES, by Ilene Graff, Brooklyn Boy Music Co., $15.95, www.ilenegraff.com; ages 0-2.
You may not recognize the name Ilene Graff, but you may remember Graff from her six seasons on the ABC television comedy, "Mr. Belvedere." OK, that didn't help me, either. Suffice to say, the title gives a pretty clear description of what you will hear from Graff. She and her musical collaborator husband picked 10 songs from a variety of Broadway shows and orchestrated them with lush arrangements suitable for bedtime. So if you go for that kind of thing, you might enjoy Graff's renditions of "Lullaby of Broadway" ("42nd Street"), "Tomorrow" ("Annie"), "Toyland" ("Babes in Toyland") and assorted others, including two songs from "Peter Pan" and one each from "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables," "The Music Man," "Starlight Express" and "The Fantasticks." After the first 10 tracks are performed with vocals, the next 10 are the same songs in instrumental format. As an extra treat, you can order the CD with a customized cover featuring a picture of your own little darling. More details are at the Web site.
BON APPÉTIT! by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, Rounder Kids, $15.98, www.bonappetit.cathymarcy.com; ages 3-10.
The liner notes exclaim, "Celebrate the fun of food with an eclectic and energetic music mix that encourages healthy eating and healthy kids." And that's exactly what you will get with Bon Appétit! Fink and Marxer are skilled at using a variety of musical styles including folk, swing, rock, samba, Caribbean and old-time country music. The songs share information about the food pyramid, the benefits of drinking water and exercise and positive attitudes about self-image.
The first track, "Bon Appétit," sets the table for what comes next-a plateful of well-written songs that help kids understand (without being preached to) the importance of healthy lifestyles. Here's the chorus: "Bon appétit, Bon appétit, We're thankful for the food that we eat / From farm to market to our homes / Or gardens where we grow our own / What do we say before we eat? Bon appétit!"
One of my favorite songs for children, "The Garden Song" (written by David Mallett) is a perfect fit on this recording, which features mostly original songs by Fink and Marxer. Their Web site is also a tasty resource for parents looking for more information about health-related issues. This CD could not be timelier.
MAKING GOOD NOISE, by Tom Chapin, Gadfly Records, $15, www.tomchapin.com; ages 7-10.
Tom Chapin is such a unique and gifted artist that you know you're in for a treat when he releases a new family recording. This time his theme is making music, and that he does.
Here are some highlights:
"Yo Yo's Ma" is a hilarious musical story about the famous cellist's encounter with a yo-yo salesman, Duncan Duncan, set to an up-tempo polka. "The Hampton String Quartet" (featuring the Hampton String Quartet) introduces the concept of solo, duo, trio and quartet, then unleashes a rockin' (as rockin' as a string quartet can be anyway) version of Chapin's classic "This Pretty Planet." "My B-A-N-J-O" gives a historical perspective of the banjo (My banjo is a drum I strum / Africa's where it comes from) that is not only educational, but musically precise. "Putting on a Show" is a musical story featuring the imaginary Goosetown Community Players who are staging "Annie" and spotlights some of the same characters (Baby Gail, Bruno, Grandma Hall and Shirley) that we've grown to love from past Chapin songs. A favorite around our house is "I Love to Play the Kazoo," a fanciful journey into the imagination of a young child who pictures an array of musical instruments (all of which we hear) coming alive to accompany his kazoo. Chapin continues to astound with his child-like songs and musical sensibilities.
PHILADELPHIA CHICKENS, by Various Artists, Boynton Records, $11.98, CD, $16.95 book and CD, www.workman.com; all ages.
Written, illustrated and directed by best-selling author and illustrator Sandra Boynton, "Philadelphia Chickens" is a story-songbook that includes a fully orchestrated CD about a wild and raucous imaginary musical revue. I have seen the book/CD combo quite a few times in my local bookstore and have often been tempted to buy it, but each time I looked at it, I "chickened" out. So when they sent me a complimentary copy for this review, I had to give it another look and listen. The cast is stellar, including Meryl Streep, Patti LuPone, Kevin Kline, Scott Bakula and a host of others, but that kind of stuff never really impresses me. However, I must say that the book (in my mind the strongest component) is creatively illustrated, and visually impressive. And "Part Two-Sing & Play Along" includes the musical melody lines and accompanying lyrics. The music on the CD is very "musical theater" in its approach, so if that is a style that you enjoy, you might want to check out Sandra Boynton's "Philadelphia Chickens."
WHEN BULLFROGS CROAK, by Zak Morgan, Zak Records, $15, www.zakmorgan.com; ages 7-10.
I was excited to hear Zak Morgan had been nominated for the very prestigious and career-lifting Grammy Award. He is one of my favorite independent artists because he displays a passion for creating music that treats children as intelligent and creative beings capable of relating to, and engaging in, songs that raise the bar in their thinking. His word play is wonderful; he approaches each song as a separate musical adventure and the artwork (featuring the work of renowned artist, CF Payne) is nothing short of dazzling.
If you didn't get a chance to read my full review of "When Bullfrogs Croak" in the September issue of Chicago Parent, check it out online at www.chicago parent.com/0903/culture1.htm. If you are looking for music to capture the interest of your child age 7 and up, Zak Morgan's "When Bullfrogs Croak" is the answer.
And the winner is... Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer for "Bon Appétit!" I would like to extend hearty, and heartfelt, congratulations! This is not their first trip to the finals, so I am happy that Fink and Marxer have finally come away with the big prize. They are passionate about, and committed to, quality music for families, so this is award is very well deserved.
This year's five finalists (well, at least three of them) showcase what is best in children's music and leave me with confidence that the Grammy association will continue to recognize and spotlight the wonderful talent that abounds in children's music.Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children's musician and producer. His Web site, www.BestChildrens Music.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children's music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch's past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.