02/15/01
Jazz
    by John Cech

Jazz is in the air this winter -- on Ken Burns' monumental PBS documentary, and in numerous new recordings that introduce this uniquely African-American and quintessentially American art form to children and young people.

One place that your budding Ellington or Armstrong or Fitzgerald might like to visit, for that sweeping perspective, is the Jazz section of the PBS.ORG website, which has extensive visual and audio archives, biographies, profiles, and information about the show, as well as its swinging kids section, with its Jazz groove machine. It'll keep those young (and older) cats busy for hours.

But, of course, there is the music, and this is what it's all about. That inventive, improvisational, expressive spirit that is at the heart of jazz -- is also at the heart of the music that children love to make themselves, from their first babbling riffs, to their intricate, rhythmic, quick-sliver playsongs. It's certainly interesting that more hasn't been done, until recently in the recording world, to connect jazz and children.

Lisa Yves, on her recent CD "Jazz for Kids, Everybody's Boppin'" is helping to fill this echoing space by bringing jazz directly to young people. She's a singer-songwriter living in Massachusetts who found that the easiest way to teach children about jazz was to have them sing it, and they were naturals at it. Here are some of her students cutting loose on "Alphabet Scat":

Hayes Greenfield has the same idea on his high-energy CD, "Jazz-a-ma-tazz," that's based on his years of work mentoring young people in the New York City area. He's got children starting or joining in on songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "Skip To My Lou" and "This Old Man." -- and backing up Richie Havens on "My Grandfather's Clock." The songs may begin as traditional children's songs, but they end up somewhere else, in a different space, when Greenfield and the other superb musicians who appear with him here launch these tunes into orbit. And isn't that the point. Here's Richie Havens, that great teacher, with Hayes and others, showing how it's done:

Copyright 2001 by John Cech

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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:23:41 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for the Study of Children's Literature and Media and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."