Interview: CJ Pizarro of Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips


Songs can have great personal importance –I try to render these ideas understandable to the public. Whatever value or energy a song has, I try to make it palpable for the listener. I stop when I think the magic is most potent.

I think about creating songs and videos that might resonate differently with people at different stages of their life — as if the whole time the music was speaking to them as a kid and as an adult in the future, like that movie, Interstellar.

Yesterday marked the premiere of the 12th single by the Los Angeles-based group, Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips. CJ Pizarro, aka Mista Cookie Jar, has become a veritable “music man” in the family music genre, with a new single drop every month for the past 12 months. Pizarro has not only written and produced the songs himself, but has also produced the accompanying artwork featured with each release, and in videos. The latter of which has been a cooperative effort with his family, who also make up “The Chocolate Chip” portion of the group, i.e. the lovely Miss Ava Flava and Lucas.

In celebration of the song-a-month project’s closing, I am pleased to present the following interview with Pizarro who talks about his concept beind the “song-a-month” project and how it has helped him stay relevant and close with his audience, family as collaborative partners, and what’s next. There’s even a little hint about the group’s final, and ultimate single, which suggests 13 really isn’t so bad.

Kids Can Groove: Tell me about the concept behind “song-a-month.” 

CP: Initially, we (the Chocolate Chips and I) dropped our singles during the holiday season, hence, “Halloween Every Night” (October), “Gratitude” (for November) and “Got the Spirit” (for December). Since then, we have continued the  “song-a-month” concept as a way to work on a new album at a comfortable pace while staying relevant to our audience. This gives me enough time to let each song mature organically.

I noticed some of my favorite tracks are deeper cuts. As to be expected, fans will often only know our videos or singles. Releasing the songs individually is a way to give them a nice spotlight. Each song is its own world and, in a sense, its own album. Releasing the songs as singles, or in EP’s, gives me more time to let their deeper meaning sink in. As an artist, this process also helps me see which context the songs would work best in when I put them into an album. 

When the next album drops, we’re hoping folks will know most of the songs already and understand immediately the diversity of our sound. The album should cover several moods and seasonal feelings — ideally, a direct reflection of what our fans respond to most.

dNgFsooy0Qja3RUO4XCWtMyLT6_8u3w8rwUM4LAb64IKCG: How would you describe your aesthetic?

CP: In many ways, I’m just writing love songs, but not the lovey-dovey kind. The family kind. The friendship kind. The parental kind. The cultural kind. You could even say the spiritual kind. I’m interested in memory, childhood, nostalgia and the importance of the imagination. I try to reach for originality, preserve innocence, and have fun!  I am a big believer in laughter as a way to uplift and clarify. I think about things like, “Is love contagious? What are the forms of family love, community love?” I’m interested in the line between poetry and music. The landscape poetry inhabits, I try to inhabit that world in song. Poets from Walt Whitman to Saul Williams inspire my creativity. I guess I’m just scratching the surface of what inspires me. Love, family, and culture — that is my inspiration. Neil deGrasse Tyson inspires me.

KCG: How do you move from an idea to a finished piece?

CP: For each song, lyrics and music are channeled differently. Sometimes the lyrics are inspired by an emotion, and sometimes they flow from an intellectual concept. I love deep, intricate songs but sometimes a throwaway song or a kitschy touch can be just as timeless. I’m just speaking about how the song(s) of my life have carried me artistically to new places, how it has meaning both to me and in the context of a bigger world. Songs can have great personal importance –I try to render these ideas understandable to the public. Whatever value or energy a song has, I try to make it palpable for the listener. I stop when I think the magic is most potent.

With all my songs, I go through several drafts. I will mix it down and bring the mp3 to my car for a good listen. The Mrs. and I give it a good listen. And when both of us think it’s “there” we stop. If it’s not there, we EQ or add instruments. With “The Way We Gets Down,” the song seemed to be banging up to that last verse. It started to feel a bit repetitive even though there was a fresh set of lyrics. Then it dawned on me after several listens, it needed an extra kick to give it the feeling of progression. So I added some kazoos. That did the trick.

JY6ziFnKXIJFTZiqOBGN_ctCJTx7bKXNZgZKbvzN058KCG: Ava Flava and Lucas perform with you, with Ava being a long-time vocalist for “The Chocolate Chips.” How big of a role does family play for you in your work?

CP: My family is my biggest muse. Being a father gives structure to my work, though the role is constantly shifting. Fatherhood is a life long job. My step-kids are 11 and 14 now. Being a loving role model and support to them is the biggest priority for me. Being there for all the friends and family in my life informs my music. Painting the landscape of what family life is like, what universal love is, seems to be my calling. I always wonder what speaks to people musically? What speaks to my kids now that they’re older? Even just on an audio level — what sounds move them? What do these sounds mean in the context of society? In the context of lyrics?

KCG: Do you bounce ideas off of one another? 

CP: I’ll often ask my kids and the Mrs. about what a word or a phrase means to them, and I will steer the song in a particular direction based on their answers. I bounce all my ideas off of Mrs. Cookie Jar. Generally, she’s great with the bigger picture questions. I am very detail obsessed. Though our roles often switch, we’re basically each other’s devil’s advocates. She’s not a musician, so she has a good objective eye as to what the music is really doing versus what it THINKS it’s doing. She can hear a song for what it is. Since I’m a musician, I like to pick it apart and dissect what’s going on. Sometimes a song can work on this esoteric level but sound really crappy to your average listener. I’m trying to get it to work on all levels. Ultimately, we try to weigh all sides of the argument – will it connect with kids? Will it connect with parents? She’s quite the visual artist, as well (and the best hairstylist I know). She has great eye and ear for balance. We have a solid artistic partnership.

As for the kids, I take their musical tastes very seriously and keep it in mind when songwriting. When their tastes challenge my own tastes, I think, “Now there’s something important to learn here!” What I consider the most is when they go absolutely gaga over a certain song on the radio or a certain band. I wonder to myself what the magic is there, how that feeling can be translated through the lens of The Chocolate Chips’ world? I think about this as a way to steer our music in the direction of what gets their gears turning. Ultimately, it becomes about how “pure love” is the lasting truth. We all know this. The journey, the music that is discovered and the reality of how it manifests is what counts.

KCG: How do different media formats complement each other in your work and in your life? 

CP: I approach the visual, lyrics and music with equal value. I really like to make music videos. Music and animating were childhood dreams of mine. I dreamt of making cartoons maybe even before I dreamt of being a musician.

At age 10, my uncle got me a giant Disney animation behind-the-scenes book. I was fascinated by their creative process. In general, I am fascinated by the creative process. To me, it doesn’t get more magical than to have these drawings and visions come to life.

As a super young kid, I really wanted to be an artist. I was really competitive with my peers, and there was always one or two kids who could draw better than me. I eventually learned to let it go, and in my teens I embraced punk rock. I learned that you didn’t have to be the best at something to be expressive. You just have to be you. You have to be honest.

Now, that I’m a grown man (questionable), I enjoy animating again, immensely.

KCG: Who/What are you influenced by?

CP: Aesthetically, there are a lot of artists that I admire. I see my art as an extension of what inspires me in life, and culture. I am a pretty big cinema fan. Werner Herzog and Harmony Korine are my dudes when it comes to the cinema world. Animation wise, Miyazaki is a hero. The Simpsons were a big influence on me as a child, and I think Adventure Time is genius. I’m hugely influenced by Björk too, and how visually integrated her “character” is with her music. How her artwork is like a clue to how to listen to her music.

Naturally, merging visual and audio excites me. Ultimately, it’s about poetry to me, and bringing the inner world to life. There are many ways to do it. Kids, and most folks for that matter, respond to visuals more immediately. How something is revealed to the eye will have a great affect on how it is understood in the ear, and ultimately in the heart.

Musically, I strive to have the audio stand alone. Visually, I try to take the music deeper to whatever place it needs to go. I do have some film ideas though — stuff that goes beyond the music video realm. It’s going take a lot of work still, but I’m excited for the future!

KCG: What is your relationship with social media? Does it help or hinder your creative process in any way?

CP: Because of the nature of our world these days, with social media and the internet and so much cultural overlap, I’m trying to honor what I love about all these worlds and connect them together in one single vision while at the same time being honest with whatever music/poetry exists inside of me.

A lot of my stuff has this kind of genre blending thing going on. Visually and cinematically, this appeals to me. I think about what music would have made my younger self’s mind explode. Being exposed to something awesome for the first time is a sacred thing that has a lasting impact. I try to create art with this lasting impact in mind — have it be something that grows over time and throughout the rest of one’s life. I think about creating songs and videos that might resonate differently with people at different stages of their life — as if the whole time the music was speaking to them as a kid and as an adult in the future, like that movie, Interstellar.

Being Mista Cookie Jar, what this character stands for, and the whole concept of the Love Bubble—  is a way of life. It’s a lightness and deepness of spirit at once that I believe is my calling and offering to the world.

KCG: Now that you have released 12 months of singles are you going to continue another round? What’s next for you?

CP: October 13th will be the date of our last single-a-month. It’s the anniversary of our first single, “Halloween Every Night.” It’s perfect because the song I plan on dropping is about facing fears — nightmares, superstition and the like. I don’t wanna give too much away yet, but it’s wonderfully synchronous how it will be our 13th song on the 13th day of our 13th month — October!  Both our albums have 13 songs and despite the superstitions surrounding the number, I think 13 gets a bad rap.

In general, however, I will not stop dropping singles. We are ending the routine because I don’t want to be confined to the single-a-month routine. I want to have the freedom to be unpredictable again. Work on videos, work on 5 songs at once. Who knows, in the future I may drop more than one in a month! As for an album, it’s coming. Certain singles you’ve heard will be on there, maybe one or two done a bit differently — and some new material as well. We’ll see. I don’t really know yet. I am letting it simmer — I want it to be just right.

Taking the Kid to Work – Guest post by Vered Benhorin of Baby In Tune


Vered Benhorin of Baby In Tune has been featured here on Kids Can Groove before and it’s always refreshing to hear what she has to say. Her recent album, Hello My Baby, released earlier this year (and winner of a Parents’ Choice Gold Award), still offers a sense of comfort and support for me as a parent. This is in no small part due to the fact that Vered is regularly talking to and listening to what families through her workshops and classes. She also explores her work in her own life as a mom of three.

During the production of Hello My Baby, Vered was pregnant with her third child. This presented her with a unique opportunity that brought a dynamic perspective into her work. In today’s guest post, Vered writes about her experience with her daughter when they traveled across the country to celebrate the release of Hello My Baby. Though the below post largely chronicles her experience with her baby, Vered also touches upon what I grapple with a lot – my identity as a mom, and my identity in a greater sense related to my profession/work and my personal ambitions. It’s a delicate balance and it’s reassuring to know that others feel the same way. Vered is a no BS writer. I love how she shares her thoughts honestly and with a sense of humor, which is an essential tool for parenting.

Visit Baby In Tune to learn more and read additional posts by Vered. If you are in NYC you can find info on how to attend/hold a workshop or class, as well as view videos of her in action.


Last April I went on a west coast tour. Like a rock star I strapped on my guitar, packed my amp, my microphone, and my cutest dresses. I also packed diapers, a carseat, a stroller, bottles, endless onesies, rattles, snacks, and wipes. A little less like a rockstar I trekked through the halls of the airport wondering what I had done.

I decided to take a 5 month old roadie because leaving her with my husband and two sons was not an option. Somehow it also didn’t seem like an option NOT to do the tour. I had just released my second album for families and wanted to get it out there. But anyone who has a baby knows that while jetlag is an annoyance for grown ups on their own, it is hell on earth with kids.

So every night as we played together in the dark at 3am I kicked myself for being hard-headed, overly motivated, unrealistic. But as we fell back asleep snuggling together in the cold AirBnB bed I held my little portable heater and felt her sweet breath on me, the breath of life itself, and we fell asleep smiling.

As I ran out at the end of shows to nurse her and lugged her carseat from place to place I felt annoyed and exasperated. And as I looked into her eyes and she flashed me a smile between shows I felt energized to do the next, and the next.

For me, having a third baby almost felt like a professional decision. I rationalized that I HAD to have the baby in order to give me material for another album. I had to experience a baby again in order to gather more first hand research for my classes and feel more inspired. I know that sounds a little crazy – having a baby for professional reasons? Normally a baby is nothing but an obstacle.

unnamedI feel lucky that my career has been able to develop with my life choices. As a single woman I wrote about romance and existential angst. As a mom my songs became about my experience as a parent and my perception of how my babies felt. I was also able to implement my studies in music therapy and psychology to help parents and teach them how to use music to bond with their babies. My life as a mom integrates really well with my life as a therapist/musician, but there is no perfect union.

To push my luck, I took my daughter with me to a bunch of workshops that were with babies her age. As a group leader my job is to facilitate discussion, be very aware of the group’s emotions and be able to support them through music. With my baby there at times I felt like I was less available to really listen fully to the group members. And yet at the same time I could identify completely and that helped me bring in the right songs, ideas and exercises for each class. Even in the most seemingly perfect situation the needs of the child conflict with the needs of the job.

photo 1So now that my baby is 10 months old I look back and ask myself – has she actually helped me professionally? I think the answer is the same answer any mom would give. Yes, she has inspired me. She has broadened my perspective in so many ways, and has contributed to my creativity, both as a therapist and a songwriter. But when I am with her I don’t want to be working. I don’t even want to be writing a song. Most of the time I just want to be hanging out, watching her play, following her lead, mirroring her vocals.

Every now and then it all comes together. That’s when she sings with me on the subway on our way to a group, or she inspires a new song (stay tuned for the song about our west coast tour) , or she teaches me something new about what babies need at each age. In those moments I am so happy that I have the chance to take my kid to work and even to make my work about my kid, even if she adds a whole lot more work.

Interview: Amelia Robinson of Mil’s Trills

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…Most hurt and pain that culminates in violence or mistreatment stems from people not having the confidence or support that they needed as a child. It all starts with the children and giving them the love that they need to succeed in life.

Amelia Robinson aka Mil’s Trills is a Brooklyn-based singer with a long list of artistic roles such as songwriter, producer, composer, and educator whose dedication to creating a musical landscape in which everyone, regardless of race religion or anything else that deviates from “the norm,” can be a part of is admirable.

September 23, 2015 marks the official release of the second Mil’s Trills album, Now That We’re Friends…, which delivers a barrel of authentic, down home musical goodness filled with encouraging messages founded upon the notion that we are all part of the same community. We are all friends. It’s delightful and that is in no small part due to Robinson’s integrity as a musician and her dedication to providing the most meaningful experience for her audience. What comes through most clearly is Robinson’s infectious energy and positivity.

In honor of the release of Now That We’re Friends…, I am so pleased to share the following interview with you. Throughout her life, Robinson has been influenced and inspired by her surroundings. Born and raised in Brooklyn, there has been no shortage of variety from which to draw inspiration from. Robinson has also spent time traveling the globe, further feeding her artistic, creative soul.

One of the many things I really love about this interview is Robinson’s candid, honest responses. Just like her music, she presents herself unabashedly and wholeheartedly. Robinson shares about her international roots, the origin of the name “Mil’s Trills,” her time in Saudi Arabia with her ukulele, the meaning behind the “I’m in the Band” stickers she gives out at her live shows, how a tragic event and the healing power of family helped kick off the creation of Now That We’re Friends…, and how she met Jonathan Blum, the painter responsible for the beautiful work on both of her album covers. The list of interesting talking points could go on!

For now, I know you’ll enjoy getting to know “Mil” as much as I have.

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Kids Can Groove: You were born and raised in Brooklyn, and you’re very much a part of the Brooklyn community. How has that impacted you as an artist?

Growing up in an urban culture has exposed me to a wide range of styles, cultures, religions, ethnicities, and genres. It’s allowed me to embrace who I am as an individual by respecting others around me for who they are and how they choose to live. I am somewhat obsessed with the similarities and differences we have as humans, and much of my work is based on a response to that and figuring out how we can find a uniting common ground and weave the threads that sew us together.

KCG: Why, before starting Mil’s Trills,  did you embark upon extended world travels to places like. Kazakhstan, Guatemala, Israel, and the UK?

AR: I come from an international family (my parents are Australia / NZ immigrants), so traveling has always been in my blood. We were given a lot of independence as kids and always encouraged to see the world and all it has to offer. We flew down under every other year for most of our childhood, but unfortunately I grew a serious fear of flying that grounded me for 11 years. I didn’t get to go abroad like my siblings had, so by the time I graduated college, I was chomping at the bit to get out of the country!

I went to a few “Fly Without Fear” group therapy meetings (that’s a whole other story) and worked my way up to a flight to DC, then London, and eventually back to Australia. A big part of my “recovery” was facing my deepest fear – the fear of the unknown – and building confidence to grow and develop as a young adult. A series of opportunities presented themselves to me (a medical mission to Guatemala, my brother serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan), and I took on each challenge with the biggest tool my parents gave me – a great passion to live life to the fullest. They also gave me a few citizenships, so that surely helped when it came time to take a bigger jump and move to London to “find myself” as an artist and composer.

From there, I eventually got hired to play ukulele on an artificial island in Qatar, which was a crazy experience. By the time I got back to Brooklyn I had all these experiences from which to draw inspiration. I had somewhat learned what kind of person I wanted to be and how to apply my skillset to a craft in which I felt fulfilled. I think travel is the most important gift one can give oneself, especially in those years after college when you’re still figuring it all out. It teaches you how to be self-sufficient, find solutions, and see the greatness of humanity, while eliciting courage, bravery, and confidence that will enable you to take on challenges throughout the rest of your life!

KCG: You love the ukulele!  How did you get started with that, and what do you love about the instrument?

I got started playing the ukulele around 2006, I think! A friend handed it to me and said “You’ll love this!” and he was right! He took me to an underground cabaret in the East Village, and I was hooked! I loved the community that was built around this little instrument, and its ability to make anyone smile in an instant. It was also MUCH easier to carry around than a piano (my first instrument), so I clipped it onto my backpack in all my travels. I found it a great icebreaker and made a lot of friends by whipping it out on top of mountains and on street cafes. For families, it seems like the perfect instrument because it speaks to all ages in a special way. It’s accessible, welcoming, and makes people happy! What’s not to like?

KCG: How did Mil’s Trills come to be?  What’s the source of the name?

AR: Mil’s Trills was fashioned after the musical experience I had as a child with a wonderful teacher of mine, Judy Bain. She led a tight-knit group of kids who took weekly Suzuki lessons and were involved in her choir, the Brooklyn Children’s Ensemble. She also organized numerous retreats that we’d go on every year. We were all extremely dedicated – to the music and each other (I was involved from the age of 3 through high school!). It was a really special thing, and we’re all still really close to this day. It was that kind of community that inspired me to try to recreate that same sense of belonging for the next generation.

My sister, who also shared the Judy Bain experience and had just had a baby girl, was the real inspiration for the whole project. She helped me sculpt a framework that would continue the tradition and pay it forward as best we could. 

As for the name, well my nickname is Mil (as a kid, my younger brother couldn’t say my full name, so he just called me Mil because it was easier). ‘Mil’s Trills’ actually came from my college years – that was around about the time I started writing songs as gifts (college students have to be thrifty!). My dear friend Lona, who was in an a cappella group with me, used to call my original ditties “Mil’s Trills,” and so years later when it came time to find a name for my project, she brought it back up again and it just felt right. I remember having pages and pages of scribbles with random names of all sorts and struggling to make a decision because you know you’re gonna be stuck with it for years. People always get the l’s mixed up, but that’s ok – it is a bit tricky if you don’t know the story behind it!

unnamed (5)KCG: What distinguishes Mil’s Trills?  What sets you apart?

AR: I think most children’s musicians will say that their music comes from a very personal place, most often as a response to having children in their lives in some way or another. They will also say that their music is interactive and speaks to all ages. So what makes Mil’s Trills different? Well, for lack of a better answer – ME! Haha.. In this world we are all different and beautiful in our own way. We all have our own paths, and this is mine. My music, as heard through Mil’s Trills, is a constant exchange between received experiences and creative responses. It’s an extension of my being and my perspective on this world, and it will continue to change and evolve as long as I do.

KCG: I’ve heard that at your shows you give stickers to audience members that say “I’m in the band.”  How do you help people feel that they are actually part of the performance?  Why does that matter?

AR: So much of what I do is based around community and making people feel a part of something. I suppose this stems from growing up in a large and tightknit immigrant family (I have 3 siblings), and being accustomed to / finding comfort in that type of support system.

Working with an early childhood population on various continents, made clear to me the global benefits of working as a group and being a part of a team. I would say that my role as a performer / educator is often more as a mentor than an entertainer. I often feel it’s most important to get down on one knee after a show and look a kid in the eye to acknowledge them and hear what they have to contribute. Maybe it’s the result of growing up in a big family that I feel a need to find my voice, and give other kids their individual voices as well. There’s a way for us all to be unique within ourselves and still be a cooperative part of the world as a whole!

KCG: How have you grown, as a musician, through the years?  How has this been reflected in Mil’s Trills?

I am a classically trained pianist. I grew up memorizing pieces by Chopin and Bach. I rarely steered from the notes on the page, unless it was bashing the keys during moments of frustration as a kid. It wasn’t until years later in college where I had access to a private rehearsal room with a grand piano that I actually started to experiment and form songs. Maybe it was the classical training, but I’ve always had very strong melodies in my head, and so much of my earlier stuff has been said to sound like musical theater! But then again, I think I also subconsciously picked up a lot of styles living in the city, and so I have a tendency to default to a lot of reggae, Latin, and Caribbean beats. There’s a huge world music influence, too, because music is so intrinsically connected to the cultural experiences I’ve had around the globe. It’s not only exposed me to new instruments that I’ve learned to play, but also other musicians to play with! 

When Mil’s Trills first started out, I was scheduling 5 different musical guests for 5 different shows a week, so each time I played the same song with each of them it sounded different and was infused with a new sense of life. I still work with a rotating cast of musicians for this exact reason – to improvise, keep it fresh and explore new sounds!

KCG: You’ve performed in some amazing venues, including Lincoln Center in NYC.  Tell us about your participation in the Meet the Artist series at Lincoln Center.  What was that about?

AR: It was definitely one of the most enriching experiences with students I’ve ever had. The program spanned over six performances for school age children K-2nd grade. It was amazing because I was given quite a bit of creative freedom. I could have done the same performance at each time slot, but I opted to use it as an opportunity to expand my show into a topic that I’d been yearning to explore – ethnomusicology! At each show, we featured a different family of instruments played by a different cast of characters from all over the world. The instruments were grouped into percussion, tuned percussion, string, brass, wind, and even electronic! I created worksheets for all the teachers to complete with discussion points and activities for the children to prepare in their classrooms prior to the show. Upon arrival, many of the kids had even made their own instruments in relation to the family that we were going to learn about that day. The kids came from all over the city – and even New Jersey – bringing their own school flavor to the mix, which made for some very energized and raucous shows! There were plenty of incredible spontaneous moments, especially when we “painted” music on stage in an improvised exercise with the winds and horns!

KCG: Like many kids’ musicians, you also work as an early childhood music educator.  How has this influenced you, both personally and professionally?  How has it impacted your musical choices for Mil’s Trills?unnamed (2)
AR: Kids see the world through a lens of joy, positivity, and enthusiasm. Everything is NEW to them! And that freshness is so contagious! I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to work with children in the classroom, as it serves as a free play space that directly opens a dialogue for creative exchange.

As the teacher, I provide a safe place   – an environment in which I offer a sense of structure and framework, and the kids respond with bolts of creative ideas that then are morphed into songs, games, and activities. I have learned so much from them – from being present and open to spontaneity, to how to clearly communicate, embrace joyfulness, and channel the ability to freely express oneself. On a personal level, it’s taken me a long time to evoke this type of fluid conversation between my strategic mind and my creative soul – there has always been a very serious internal conflict. However, working with children has enabled me to embrace each facet so that I can be a good role model and my true-est self! I owe it to them to give them the best version of myself when I’m in the front of the classroom, and even when I’m on stage. My most current work is undoubtedly a reflection of that freedom to be open and expressive without inhibition.

KCG: What are your suggestions for introducing young children to music?

AR: DO IT!!! Music is an intrinsic conduit for expression and is an essential element of our natural world. Exposure to new sounds and music inspires kids to blossom and create a relationship with the world around them. It nourishes their ability to embrace their surroundings and find joy, and it’s so rewarding for the witnessing adult, too! Being exposed to music at an early age (and any age!) improves overall health, cognitive development, fine, gross and motor skills, literacy, and social emotional skills – it’s a no brainer!

KCG: Tell us about Now That We’re Friends …   What was the impetus for the album?  How does it differ from/expand upon last year’s release, Everyone Together Now!?

AR: While Everyone Together Now! serves as a sort of “We’re HEEEREEE!” album, Now That We’re Friends… furthers a moreintimate discussion about what it’s like to relate to one another: “Now that I’ve got your attention, this is what I really want to talk about…”

The album actually came out of a period of grief. In August of last year (2014) we tragically lost a close family member. I went through an existential phase of “Why are we here?” and found myself writing about pretty serious feelings of loneliness. I took a trip down to see my family in Australia / NZ for my cousin’s wedding and found the experience of being surrounded by so much family extremely cathartic and moving (I have a HUGE extended family down under). I was reinvigorated by the power of love and was inspired by the mere strength and support of family to transcend distance and time. It filled me with hope and healing, and I realized that life really comes down to LOVE. Not necessarily the romantic kind, but the appreciation for LOVING the world around you, and all that it has to offer. It’s the one thing all of us humans have in common. And the most important thing is to love yourself – because when you love yourself you have strength to grow and relate to others in a positive way that can help the world become a better place.   

This album is also very much about embracing differences and accepting cultural diversity. We are all wonderfully unique and approach our daily lives from various viewpoints and perspectives. A surefire way to get along is to practice thinking unselfishly and instead imagine what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes. This is my tribute to “peace & love, baby!” I also truly believe that every single person on this planet has something special that they bring to the table. In my opinion, most hurt and pain that culminates in violence or mistreatment stems from people not having the confidence or support that they needed as a child. It all starts with the children and giving them the love that they need to succeed in life.

KCG: Many of us are in back-to-school mode right now.  How can your music help children when they return to school, whether it’s transitioning from pre-school to kindergarten, from kindergarten to first grade, or from one school to another?

AR: It’s so funny how sometimes a side of your art shows itself after you actually make it! I started Mil’s Trills about 5 years ago when my niece was 6 months old. Now, she and her friends who inspired this whole project are starting kindergarten at brand new schools with brand new kids. It’s kind of perfect timing for this album, because these songs are purposed to help us navigate the tender moments when we first make contact with another being. It’s a tool to help build confidence within one’s self to help us emanate compassion and acceptance and be able to communicate clearly with one another. Furthermore, school transitions can be very challenging times, and knowing that someone relates to those scary feelings can help you get through it!

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KCG: Your album cover art is stunning.   How did you happen to meet the artist, Jonathan Blum?  Tell us about your relationship with him and his work.

RA: Jonathan Blum is a neighbor and friend who I met during the course of recording my first album. He is one of the only artists left in NYC with a storefront, and the intermittent hours he keeps always provokes interest from passersby! He’d been there for years, but the only time I saw him open was when I’d come home late from the studio at 2 a.m. I’d pop in and share my project with him each evening thereafter – and he came to hear each step of the process from start to finish. His art offered refuge and inspiration during the recording project and a friendship was born! After a bit of persuasion, he ended up doing my first album cover – which was really a collaboration because he let me do the collage underneath that adds the texture to the painting. It all fell into place, as his work is quite paralleled with my music – he paints playful images of such things as ostriches with strawberries on their heads that appeals to adults and kids alike – much like my songs.  It was such an organic, beautiful friendship that bloomed – or should I say, Blum’d!… After the success of the Big Blue Moose (Jonathan sold every moose he made after that album cover), it only made sense for him to do the next record, as well! His website is

KCG: Can you share something interesting/funny that people may lot know about you? You can be as playful or as serous as you want here.

AR: When I was little, I’d chew my food and chew and chew and chew. Guests would come over and I’d still be chewing (this mostly happened with spinach). They’d smile and say “Oh what a pretty little girl,” and then I would promptly go up to them, take their hand with a smile, and proceed to spit out my food in their palm… Not so pretty now, eh? (Note: Don’t worry, I eventually grew out of this phase… )

KCG: What’s next for you?

AR: I can’t wait to find out! Whatever it is, I certainly hope to be able to continue learning, growing, expressing, being creative, and trying to inspire others to do the same.


Interview: Dan Elliott of Pointed Man Band

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I believe it’s important to also have music that engages not just the children but also the different generations that help to raise the children we love.

Pointed Man Band is a Portland-based band led by Dan Elliott. Earlier this year (2015), Pointed Man Band released its second album, Flight of the Blue Whale. Like its predecessor, the 2013 debut Swordfish Tango,  Flight of the Blue Whale presents listeners with a rich tapestry of sound featuring an eclectic blend of styles that collectively illustrate the album’s storyline – a tale featuring a red fox and a Taupier (mole-catcher) who set out on a journey ultimately freeing a baleen whale from its curse. Along the way they meet mole pirates, drift with Swifts, and hear the beckoning call of a siren’s song (sung by Kay Elliott).

Flight of the Blue Whale was an instant hit in our household. It’s eccentric and there is a meticulousness in the overall composition that captured my attention, in addition to the variety of instrumentation. When I initially spoke with Elliott I was intrigued to learn that he is a self-taught musician, though as we spoke more, it began to make sense. Elliott’s approach to making music is notably innovative. Waltzes serve as segues, buoyantly carrying the listener along while nontraditional objects are used to emphasize critical pieces of the story, i.e. drinking glasses sonically illustrating weightlessness when the baleen whale takes flight.

I am pleased to share more about Elliott and Pointed Man Band with you. In our interview below, Elliott shares thoughts about the production of the album, his love of Waltzes and how his son is his biggest inspiration.

KCG: What inspired you to start Pointed Man Band?

DE: Pointed Man Band started when I was staying home a few days a week with my son when he was younger. Our play times, our jokes and some silly songs would always pop up and I would use his nap times to record these sketches and eventually an album. He slept through it all!

KCG: How did you decide on the name “Pointed Man Band?”

DE: The name came from an album that I always admired, The Point! by Harry Nilsson and a character in the story “The Pointed Man.” This album was one that I consider to be the “outline” of what a children’s album could be in both content and lyrics. I chose to go with “Band” because I had hopes for the project to develop into just that. Live performances are often four to seven band members and we’ve even had a small middle school choir for one show!

KCG: When did you start playing music?

DE: I started playing trumpet in the 5th grade. I remember being fascinated by the idea of reading music and having that sense of empowerment with being able to initially become part of a group who could see shapes and turn that into sound.

I had my first recording experiences with music in High School. I had always wanted to write my own songs and I had acquired a four track my Sophomore or Junior year. This kind of changed my life. It allowed me to listen to cassettes of The Beatles and others in reverse. It also introduced me to the idea of layering tracks, something that I am still guilty of today. So, it was pretty close to how it is now… A recording device, a pair of headphones, some instruments and an idea, usually put together at home.

KCG: You composed and arranged all the music on FOTBW. As a self-taught musician, what is your approach to writing/producing music?

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DE: My wife and I talk about this a lot. As a self-taught musician, I’ve been told that I find it easy to think outside “the classical progression box.” I’m not even sure where I am “supposed” to be thinking according to broad music guidelines. I just play what I hear in the moment regardless of how a trained musician might perceive it. This is also part of the challenging aspects. Writing musical passages out in notation is difficult for me, but the musicians I am working with can often take it down for themselves. It is a goal for me to learn how to read and write music, and I plan on bolstering my skills in that area.

KCG: What changed from your debut, Swordfish Tango, to Flight of the Blue Whale (“FOTBW”)?

DE: It’s hard not to answer “Everything!” but having accessibility to a recording studio was a completely different type of environment for me. I found myself reaching out to musicians that I highly respect. Also, it was largely the patience and guidance of Kevin Drake, who recorded the album, that kept me in a calm and positive state of mind. It can be frustrating to have an idea and not execute it in the first few tries.

KCG: Why did you go with a narrative for FOTBW?

DE: Well, quite simply, I just really wanted to tell a story from beginning to end. I wanted to create an album that could potentially translate into a stage performance as well. When I started thinking about creating a new album, I only had a song about a Red Fox, Moles going on parade and a demo for a waltz that I titled “Flight of the Blue Whale.” As I began to write other tunes, I allowed them to become more or less what they wanted to be and then I set to work on sculpting a story line that captured the songs as a whole.

KCG: One of my favorite parts of the album is when you simulate weightlessness as the baleen whale takes flight. What was your approach to creating this significant piece of the story?

DE: Space. The build up to the whale taking flight was trying to create the thought of how much speed and resistance it would take for a 50 ton creature to fly. Flight, as we think of rockets and planes, is loud. So, why wouldn’t it be for a whale? But what next? Space, clarity and beauty right? I have a soft spot for tuned glassware, it sounds amazing.

KCG: Classical styles of music, such as Tangos and Waltzes, are included in both of your albums. What do you like about these styles?

DE: Waltzes hold a very special place in my heart. I’ve always been thrilled by songs in irregular time signatures and despite how common the waltz used to be, nowadays songs in 3/4 are not in the majority. There’s something about the circuital nature of the “One, Two, Three” that just works. Waltzes also served as such a great way to enhance the theatrical components of a Taupier trapping moles, a Siren’s song luring pirates, and ultimately the great moments of the Blue Whale. For me, waltzes captured the intensity and delicacy of these moments perfectly.

Personally, I always try to remember to take an idea and see if it doesn’t fit more comfortably into a different state than the original, which as of late has been trying it as a waltz.

KCG: You incorporate different languages into your albums. Are you fluent in any foreign languages?

DE: I studied Italian and lived in Italy for a short stint. But, I do love the sound of French as well as Portuguese and I love a lot of music that has come from countries that speak these languages. For these past two records, I use words from French mainly because they feel the most like words that a wandering young mind might find intriguing. Also, there are just some words that sum up a feeling or a title that will never sound as elegant in English.


KCG: The album’s artwork is stunning! How did you meet Brooke Weeber?

DE: The artwork is truly a special component to the whole product. I was introduced to Brooke Weeber and her artwork through Kevin’s wedding invitations. Seeing as how he was making this project come to life, it seemed all too fitting to have her talents be a part of it. I reached out, we met for coffee and she made it happen. She’s kind of magic.

KCG: Do you have a favorite part or parts of the album?

DE: It’s really about the tiny details. There are so many hidden moments within the album, it’s hard to choose. If you listen very carefully to the end of “Valse de Taupier,” you hear the hammers of the piano closing back in after the big smash. I also really love the paper sweeping the ground at end of “Forget the Sea.” But those are only a couple of moments of the many that we buried in the project for our own listening enjoyment.

KCG: What creative people are you inspired by?

DE: First and foremost, my son. Experiencing life through the eyes of a small child is beautiful, silly and imaginative.

It’s hard to pare down my direct influences, but right in this moment I look to musicians and community members like Anais Mitchell, 3 Leg Torso, William Basinski, Apollo Sunshine, The Barr Brothers and many classical influences.

KCG: You channel Tom Waits in your songs. Is that somewhat of an alter ego for you?

DE: He is certainly a huge influence, as can be almost anyone on a given day. But I think what I love the most about Tom Waits and what I seek to draw from his music, is how he glides between the duskier corners of the minor keys and somehow can maintain that feel even in the prettiest and most straightforward major key tune. There’s that and the fact that I modeled all of the backing “mole” voices as if he wanted in on the action. So, to answer the question, I would say the Pointed Man Band, in and of itself, is my alter ego just as that of being a dad is. The music and that reality came hand in hand and it still strikes me on a daily basis that I am a completely different person then I used to define myself and now my music as.

KCG: The independent kids (kindie) music genre is expanding into a place that appeals to all ages. Both of your albums meet that criteria, pushing the boundaries of what is simply categorized as “music for kids.” What, in your opinion, is kids music?

DE: That’s kind of a loaded question. Kids music, honestly, is any music that a child can connect with. Whether it’s jazz, classical, hip hop, rock, you name it. But if the question becomes “what do I feel is acceptable for kids to be listening to”? Then I would just try to eliminate music that promotes negativity and hateful messages. We all have such varied musical tastes and luckily there is so much diversity out there that we can allow our children to decide what they like or don’t.

To expand upon this question again, in a different way, I believe it’s important to also have music that engages not just the children but also the different generations that help to raise the children we love.

What’s next?

Stay tuned.

Ralph’s World – Video Premiere “Follow the Leader and Dance” + Interview with Ralph Covert


Without signposts and clues to meaning, the brain shuts down. With help along the way, the brain can do amazing things as it learns to organize and acquire language.

Music and literacy are two of my favorite topics, and today I am proud to feature a new video and interview by a Grammy nominated Kindie rock veteran who just released an album that reinforces the link between the two.

A new Illinois Reading Ambassador, Ralph Covert of Ralph’s World has been rockin’ kids’ (and parents’) worlds for over 10 years. Throughout his career, he has produced 10 original records, authored 4 children’s books (he is currently working on his first chapter book!) and has been featured on Disney TV.

While so much of Ralph’s World’s material has an educational component, his latest release, Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads!, focuses on literacy. Specifically, the significant role rhythm and music plays in the development of language and skills that lead to a child’s ability to read. Our family first learned about Ralph’s World while listening to his rendition of “The Ants Go Marching” on the Old Town School of Folk Music compilation, Songs for Wiggleworms, and proceeded to completely wear out his first record, Ralph’s Worldamong many others.

The following video premiere for “Follow the Leader and Dance” offers kids an opportunity to get their bodies moving while they are learning. In true Ralph’s World fashion, it’s fun!

Be sure to read on for some insightful thoughts Ralph shares about the role music plays in the development of language, how literacy is integrated into Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads!, and how his son inspired the creation of the album’s special packaging.

Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads! delivers twelve songs from his Ralph’s World Rocks! album, three from his published children’s books, and three new, original songs. The album’s special packaging also includes a 15-page picture book version of his song “Do the Math.”

You can find Ralph’s World Rocks and Reads! through the Ralph’s World store.

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KCG: What was your inspiration for this album?
RC: I’ve always been a big believer in how music can help earlier readers. I was very excited when the Ralph’s World Rocks book came out, because I saw how it could help kids who loved Ralph’s World songs bridge the gap to decoding the written word since they would know the songs already by heart. The Ralph’s World Rocks & Reads! CD was the fulfillment of that vision — those songs, plus all the others embodied in books based on my songs, all gathered together for the benefit of the kids and their parents with a specific focus on helping parents work with their young readers.

KCG: Have you always factored literacy into your creative/songwriting process?
RC: I have incorporated literacy in my songs, but usually in an oblique manner. I’ve always been a fan of what I term “subversive learning,” that is, lessons that are masked by the fun. “Tickle The Tiger” off the very first Ralph’s World album is based on alliteration, and we published lessons plans about how to capitalize on the song in the classroom, for example. “The Rhyming Circus” utilizes many different acrobatic uses of rhyme. Is it fun? Is it silly? Is it poetically informative? Yes, on all counts, but, more importantly, can you dance and sing along? Absolutely, and so the lessons follow subconsciously.

KCG: How do you feel music aids in literacy?
RC: In many ways. Familiarity with the words one is reading (whether from knowing a song, having heard the words read out loud many times, or anticipating them because of meter and rhyme) all help earlier readers more easily decode the written word. I know from my own experience learning foreign languages that without signposts and clues to meaning, the brain shuts down. With help along the way, the brain can do amazing things as it learns to organize and acquire language.

KCG: Does rhythm factor into aiding children’s ability to pick up on language, i.e. the beat sets the pace for example?
RC: Yes, also even more importantly, the ability to understand the rhythms in music aids in the ability to decipher where one word ends and the next begins. That is a fundamental building block of rhythm in language.

KCG: You have written picture books. Does that creative process differ from your songwriting process?
RC: It is very different. Songs are much more driven by the constraints of the melody and the song structure. Picture books are constrained by the what can be communicated conceptually within the images contained on a given page, and even more by the need to condense the written word to the most precise words needed to tell the story. An early reader (and their adult companion reading a given book) are not well served by too many words cluttering the page and slowing down the experience of reading a book. “Quick, clean, and clear” are the essential guide words for the writer of a picture book.

KCG: What were some of your early learning experiences with regard to reading and music?
RC: I was a passionate reader and a passionate lover of music from as early as I remember. That said, I have no memory of my pre-school experiences with either. Somehow, whatever my parents provided must have worked! Given the era, I’m sure it was far more happenstance and random than the opportunities forced upon children today. Kids are resilient, so I’m sure they’ll survive anything — even Ralph’s World!

KCG: What are some ways for parents to enjoy music with their children while reinforcing literacy/reading?
RC: Read, read, read! Sing, sing, sing! Dance, dance, dance! If your kids see you’re having fun and engaging with them, they’ll crave more. So… have fun with it! Don’t read boring books, read fun books. Share it and celebrate it! One of the things I’m most proud about with Ralph’s World is that the parents seem to love it as much as the kids do — that’s awesome, because it means the parents are modeling fun. How cool is that? Well… cooler than cool. The end becomes the means. Victory in parenthood! Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-dum-dum-da! Victory march!! (Am I getting carried away here?) I can’t emphasize this enough.

KCG: The style of “Follow the Leader” is call-and-response. How does this format lend itself to learning, language development and literacy?
RC: Call and response is a primal musical form. It’s fundamental to the communication that music inspires. Learning is all about response and repetition, both of which help lay the groundwork for language development and literacy. (That being said, let’s be honest — that song is about dancing and having fun! And who are we kidding?! The real purpose behind the song is that it has the hidden message that it’s okay to be shy, but that by reaching out and participating you can find friends and have fun. But who’s keeping score here, anyway?)  No, really, it helps reading, too!!!

KCG: Can you share some experiences you’ve had with your own children with regard to music and literacy?
RC: In our household, music is everywhere, so it’s hard to pick specific examples of what has influenced what. One specific experience definitely shaped the Ralph’s World Rocks & Reads CD — when Rita created the original prototype of the Do The Math book that is included in the CD packaging, our 6-year-old, Jude, read and re-read it until he had literally destroyed that first copy from overuse! He was familiar with the song, and as a result was very proud of how well he was able to read the book. He also loved doing all the math problems included later in the story. His positive reaction to the book confirmed our initial idea that including it would be a unique and positive addition to the CD, and also gave Rita the idea of binding it in with the CD packaging so that hopefully parents would have a sturdier and more book-like book that would last longer than the prototype! Also, we really enjoyed the meta-humor that a CD collection of songs which had been included in books was in and of itself designed not only to look like a book, but to include an actual book inside.

KCG: What was your inspiration for the production of this video?
RC: Regarding the “Follow The Leader And Dance” song, the inspiration for including a song like it featuring dancing kids goes back ten years or so to the Say Hello DVD released by our first kids label. I noticed every time kids put on the DVD that instead of watching TV passively, they would stand up and begin dancing along with and imitating the kids on the screen. This was one of the elements that was important for us to include in the pilot. Other key parts of each episode of the show are musical learning opportunities (both musical styles and music literacy), meeting historical figures (but in a conversational, human way), and social lessons (like learning team-work and sharing.)

KCG: Do you have any updates on your TV pilot Time Machine Guitar? 

While we have not yet secured a network home for the show, we are continuing to pursue options both for creating a first season of full length episodes as well as exploring short form variations that can allow us to develop an audience and create the show independently. The entire first season has been written, and all of the puppets have been created and built. It will be an exciting journey either way, and we hope to have at least some short form pieces to share in 2016.

Dads Who Rock! Father’s Day Q&A featuring Josh Shriber of Josh and the Jamtones

unnamed (1)Josh and the Jamtones are a Boston-based group known for their killer live performances, and hilarious improvisational banter. Their energetic Roots rock/Reggae style is high octane for little feet, which seem to go at full speed while joining in a dance party led by the group’s charismatic frontman, Josh Shriber.

Prior to the formation of the Jamtones, Shriber started up a program/performance center called “Jammin’ With You!” where about 350 kids per week are introduced to music in a variety of ways. For the smallest jammers, also known as Jamkids, there are in-home lessons on any of 10+ instruments, i.e. piano, guitar, voice, drums, beatboxing, etc. If they feel like jamming in a more public environment with other kids, they can go to the center to join a rockin’ band. In addition, there is Stageplay and StageJam where kids put on a show and learn theater basics, games, singing, and even mic technique.

Since producing their first kindie album in 2012, the Jamtones have soared on to release a DVD movie based on their last album Bear Hunt and have their music and videos play in Chuck E. Cheese restaurants around the country.

These guys are unstoppable and worthy of a prominent placement in your music collection. Look out for their forthcoming album, Rock Steady, due out this summer.

For today’s Father’s Day Q&A, Shriber, father of three, shares some deep, heartfelt thoughts about being a Dad. His answers are so relatable and touching that I got a little weepy when I was reading them. So cozy up and get to know this Dad who ROCKS!

KCG: What does being a Dad mean to you?
JS: Everything! Including never sleeping, changing diapers, getting puked on, carrying 3 kids at a time even when it’s 400 degrees out and at least 2 of the 3 are perfectly capable of walking, sharing your breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks while begging and pleading for them to eat the exact same thing that is right in front of them!

It means loving someone more than you’ve ever loved anything and not knowing it would even be this possible to love someone so much. It means worrying about and praying for things you never knew were important! It means no matter what you “thought” your purpose in life was, you now know for sure without a doubt, and all the little things that were so important instantly hold far less value.

KCG: What is the best thing about being a dad?
JS: All the good stuff and all the bad stuff mush into a blurry blob of “life!” There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids. There is no better feeling than getting big hugs and kisses, snuggles, affection, excitement, etc. When they are small and fall asleep on you, it’s the cutest thing in the world, and when they grow up and turn into real people who have real conversations and big time imaginations there’s no match for the pride and satisfaction you feel. When you say “I love you” and they say “I love you too, daddy” it can melt your frikkkin heart!

KCG: How has your work as a musician/artist been impacted by your role as a father? Also, if you are a touring musician, how does that affect the time you spend with your family?
JS: I just passed up 5 shows on the west coast so I could spend Halloween and Christmas with you little punks!

Having kids shines a whole new light on writing and performing. You instantly understand what kids will and won’t “get” at certain ages. You learn that if you are gonna be anything to any kid you better have a goofy side and not take yourself too seriously.

KCG: What are your plans for Father’s Day?
JS: Working! And my kids will be there of course!

I worry about my kids growing up and what they will think of my work when they are teenagers and too cool for school. Right now they are 1, 3 and 5, and they come to every show, hang out at the studio, and are part of my work everyday. I hope they grow up loving music and feeling like they are a part of my work life, inspiring, assisting, cowriting and acting as role models for others. Also, I plan on getting a million awesome gifts including back rubs, foot massages, an extra 7 hrs of sleep, cooperation, no yelling for at least 1 hour of the day, clean rooms, brushed teeth, clean plates, in-assisted dressings and diaper changes.

KCG: What is one of the most memorable moments you’ve had as a Dad?
JS: That’s impossible to answer, BUT, my favorite periods as a dad have been when we are expecting new siblings. When we went from 1 to 2, my oldest (Piper) and I bonded leading up to the delivery, but even more so once her little sister was born. Piper and I had so much time, just the 2 of us, and she was 2.5 yrs old which is the best age ever!! Their language is EXPLODING and they are turning into real deal people. Oh, and there’s also the wicked cuteness factor at that age. Anyway, that bonding period was so powerful for Piper and I and from there our connection has only gotten stronger. The same thing happened when our 3rd (Jonah) came along and our middle girl (Adeline) had to detach from mom a bit and trust that I was as fun and funny as every other kid who doesn’t have to live with me thinks!!  Introducing your kids to their new baby siblings is just the sweetest most precious time and I never want to forget it!  

Right now, I’m seeing, sniff sniff, things that are so present that we assume will always be there like little mispronunciations, the way she dances or the way he crawls or the way she says the word “breakfast” (Briskit). They fade so quickly!  My wife and co-Jamtone, Patience, keeps saying the days are soooo long but the weeks, months and years are flying. Everyone who’s been through this parenting thing says “Enjoy it! It goes so fastI” and at first you say “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” but all of a sudden they are 1 and then 3 and then 5 and you can start to feel it moving WAYYYY too fast even if the 3-minute nightly teeth brushing routine feels like 17 hours of torture! Patience and I LOVE being parents. It has defined us as people more than anything we’ve ever done in our lives, but if we have a 4th, I’ll have to sell all my guitars and live on a beach somewhere so we should probably not let that happen!
KCG: How often to do you play music with your kids? Do they perform with you?
JS: Patience puts show tunes on regularly. We listen to Jamtones (BY REQUEST!!) in the car nonstop, and well I guess I own a music school or something so they have basically grown up completely surrounded by musicians and music!  Addy and Jonah (3 and 1) come to our Jambaby classes at our JWY! Program and Performance Center a couple of times a week and Piper is now in JamKids and StagePlay learning the actual language of music and the ins and outs of being on stage/in a performance.
My kids come to all our local shows for the most part and they jump on stage when we invite the crowd to come up and go crazy with us. But if I had them up for a performance piece, they’d probably hang all over me and grab my legs and my pants would probably fall down and I’d never work again.  Funny thing is when I pick up my guitar at home, they say, “NO DAD! We wanna sing with the iPod (Karaoke style).” Thanks kids.


Video: “Lighter Than Air” – Recess Monkey + Dads Who Rock! Father’s Day Q&A with Jack Forman

RECESS MONKEY HOT AIR.300Recess Monkey just celebrated the release of their 12th album, Hot Air. Man, talk about prolific! Throughout the band’s kindie music career, there has always been a Beatles-esque quality to their sound, and their admiration for the Fab Four can be seen on older album covers and in album titles (see Animal House and Tabby Road).

Their most recent video for the song “Lighter Than Air” contains elements found in classic Beatles songs á la Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Club Hearts Band (think “A Day in the Life”). The arrangement is filled with lush orchestration and infectious Pop-Rock hooks (there is even some megaphone).. There really is no exception to who will get the most out of this recording, and really the entire album. In terms of their audiences’ ages, I guess you could say the sky’s the limit.

Hot Air is a CD/DVD combo containing 15 audio tracks plus a 40-minute beautifully animated story that follows the path of a young boy named Andrew and his adventures with flight, and a penguin. Listen to and purchase the album through Recess Monkey’s store, or from my affiliate Amazon. Make sure to keep up with Recess Monkey through their Facebook page, Twitter or by subscribing to their newsletter (or make it a Trifecta and hit all three!).

Today’s double feature continues with Jack Forman, chief funny man, bass player and beloved host of The Monkey House, an afternoon radio show featured on Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live (ch. 78), as he joins us for the next Father’s Day Q&A. As expected, Jack’s answers are as bright and entertaining as he is. Below Jack explains why laughter is the fuel that runs his familial engine, gives mad props to his wife Ellen and talks about how they find a parental balance, and shares his plans for Father’s Day (which naturally includes rockin’ out).

KCG: What is the best thing about being a Dad?
JF: Both of our kids have completely contagious laughs that are just impossible not to get wrapped up in – there’s nothing quite like the feeling of one of your kids finding something hysterical. That energy is way up there on the dad-scale: laughter can fuel an entire day for sure. But honestly, it’s getting to be a dad alongside my wife who is an exceptional mom. We do a good job of tag-team parenting, and I’m able to be with our kids a lot while Ellen’s teaching during the school year, but I constantly learn from her when our lives become parallel enough to actually be parents in the same room at the same time. She’s crazy intuitive. Though I love 1-on-1 times with each of our two kids, my favorite times are when both kids are happily playing and my wife and I get to kind of not be parents for a couple of unified minutes. Our kids are young and you take those opportunities when you can!

KCG: What is the hardest thing about being a Dad (especially if you’re a touring artist)?
JF: Our son Oscar is just now getting to the age where he notices me being away from home when we go on tour as a band. Skype is a total lifesaver. It’s kind of lucky that we paid a lot of band dues before my kids were born- we get to be a lot more choosey about the shows that we play now, and can strike a better balance of time on the road with time for our families. Out of maybe 110 shows on the books for this year, about 90 of them will allow us to sleep in our own beds. That’s a huge deal and a big stress relief.

KCG: How often do you play music/sing with your kids?
JF: I’m constantly singing or listening to music with our kids- most recently Oscar’s been a die-hard Pop Ups fan and Bea kind of growls along with songs and butt-dances when we have music playing at our house. They both come to a lot of shows of ours- Oscar watches Korum drumming intently, and Bea just grooves on the floor, doing a “baby twist” dance move. We’d call her “Chubby Checker” but we don’t want to give her a body image problem.

KCG: Do your kids join you on stage during performances?
JF: Both kids are big music fans but neither has become a part of our live shows in Recess Monkey- Beatrix is so “Gerberiffic” that she really would help our band’s cuteness factor too… It’s a real missed opportunity. Oscar’s an aspiring drummer and we think Bea’s going to dance. No idea if they’ll ever be in bands of their own, but music will surely play a role in their lives as they grow up.

KCG: What are your plans for Father’s Day?
JF: Ha ha… What else? SHOWS! Summer is our crazy season in Recess Monkey and we’ve booked ourselves 75 shows between now and August. We have two on Father’s Day, but the first is right around the corner from my house so the kids and my wife Ellen will probably come to that one. The only request I’ve made is to sleep in until at least 8am, which I can guarantee you will not actually happen. Our mornings are really fun right now- Pjs until at least 11am, but for Father’s day we’re going to push for noon! This family runs on coffee.