Hip, fun CDs for little ones

Music - February 2006


Fred Koch

This month we are spotlighting two recording artists whose music is designed for the early childhood set—children ages 3 to 6. Both are independent artists and both deserve a wider audience.

The best children’s music generally comes from independent artists who do not have the media machinery behind them to promote their work. This does not mean these musicians do not deserve as much attention as the commercial artists who are continually paraded in front of our children. I think these musicians deserve our attention.

Now that I’m off my soapbox, here are two CDs worthy of your attention.

JIM GILL SINGS MOVING RHYMES FOR MODERN TIMES, by Jim Gill, Jim Gill Music, $15, www.jimgill.com; ages 3-6.

How much time do we really have to play with our children? Do we feel it is important, or not? For local favorite Jim Gill, it is all about play. He is concerned that the demands in our lives put the squeeze on us, taking away from the playtime children desperately need for healthy development. Gill, an Oak Park resident who earned his master’s degree in child development from Chicago’s esteemed Erikson Institute, has become an advocate for the importance of play and music is his medium.

Gill recently released his fifth recording for children, "Jim Gill Sings Moving Rhymes for Modern Times." To my ears, this is his best effort yet. The new CD is full of songs and musical games for active play—which is exactly the type of music that Gill is best known for.

But there is an extra dose of silliness, creativity and sheer genius in his songs. I remember being completely awestruck the first time I heard this CD. I must say that because I have heard a lot of children’s music over the years (and much of it is awful), my standards have been set very high. Gill’s new CD is truly remarkable and I would have to say that it is one of the best records I have heard for the 3- to 6-year-old crowd.

An important piece that many artists strive to get right, but seldom do, is the musical arrangement. Steve Rashid’s arrangements are so hip and feature such extraordinary musicians that adults will be grooving along to the music, too. But make no mistake about it, this recording is for children—Gill and Rashid just happen to believe that young children deserve to hear terrific musicians and a variety of authentically interpreted musical styles.

Only Jim Gill would start with the song "Hello, I Must Be Going," a silly, nonsensical piece originally titled "Hooray For Captain Spaulding," from the Marx Brothers’ film "Animal Crackers." Next, everyone will be up and dancing with "Swing Your Partner." This is not your typical square dance because—and this points to Gill’s thorough understanding of children—after a rousing dance section there’s a "calm down" time before the everyone is swinging their partners again.

There are many tremendous songs on this CD, but I will highlight only a couple more. "Face the Facts" demonstrates Gill’s ability to combine engaging movement activities, great descriptive language and musical zaniness, all packaged in one song. The song starts out with a bass clarinet set to a march tempo. Jim sings, "I must face the facts, my swimming arms are back," which is then echoed by a chorus of boisterous men (though it is designed for kids to echo). Then Gill sings, "They are splashing, flapping, stretching, lapping one full mile exact," followed by the last phrase—a repeat of the first. Then a very smokin’, bluesy, R&B groove kicks in featuring the Hammond Organ and Horn section in a tight dance number called "Jim Gill’s Groove."

Another song that is truly amazing is "Drumming The House," which tells the story of a boy who has been drumming since the age of 3. Kevin Connelley deserves special recognition for his percussion work on this song. The song develops as the boy wonders how "if instead of my big drum set, if I drum the house what kind of sounds I’ll get." And we are off …

First stop is the kitchen where he is drumming on the table. Then Gill suggests, "Listen to it change from here to there, here’s the sound when I drum the chair." Other stops along the way include the sink, the floor, the ceiling, the stairs, the wall, a metal wastebasket, the bathroom door, the tub and, as Gill muses, "I’m loving the sounds and I don’t want to spoil it, but I do intend to drum (you knew this was coming) the toilet."

The whole performance is authentic, extremely musical, wonderfully creative and enormously educational. This soundscape ends when he takes his drum set outside and we hear honking cars, live street sounds and folks heckling him and pleading for him to stop.

GOBS OF FUN, by Stephen Fite, Melody House Records, $14.95,

www.melodyhousemusic.com; ages 3-6.

Stephen Fite is a singer, songwriter and workshop clinician from Oklahoma City. He works mostly around that region but I hope this CD will help him reach a wider audience. Fite has released several previous recordings for young children, but has really brought it all together on this new CD.

As the title suggests, this recording is fun—the preschool set will enjoy the catchy and memorable songs and parents will appreciate the focus on basic concepts and skills that are so important at this age. That is Fite’s strength here—he is able to weave educational messages into his songs without coming off as preachy or too teachy.

Even the song "Imagination," with its cliché title, hits the mark as it reinforces with children the connection between imagination and play. "What’s on the List?" is another fun song set in a cumulative format (think "Comin’ ’Round the Mountain") where children recall the items on a trip to the grocery store. The musical arrangements are great, with styles varying from song to song. Other standouts include the movement-based songs "Choo Choo Line," "Our Rock ’n’ Roll Band" and "Let’s Dance." To get an audio taste of "Gobs of Fun," go to the Web site www.melodyhousemusic.com, and click on the Audio Clips link at the top of the page.

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.BestChildrensMusic.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 fred@bestchildrensmusic.com.

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