Jazz Institute of Chicago

Jazz for the Youngest Hep Cats

Jazz for the youngest hep cats
By Carole Boston Weatherford

Some expectant parents pipe Beethoven to babies in the womb. And despite conflicting research, the state of Florida requires day care centers to play classical music. If Mozart produces math whizzes, might Monk and Miles also stimulate young minds?

Jazz provided background music for my formative years. Admittedly, I'm no Einstein. However, I began writing poetry at age six and later earned high marks in math. Early exposure to jazz probably didn't hinder my intellectual development. As a girl, I not only bounced to jazzy scores of "Looney Tunes" cartoons but swung to Dinah Washington's "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes!," which my father played again and again on the hi-fi in our Baltimore rowhouse.

My dad's vinyl collection, which included Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and others, immersed me in syncopation and improvisation. On rainy days, I created dance routines to jazz standards. At a program for parents, my fifth grade class performed a dance number to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." Not wanting the music to stop, I saved my allowance and bought Brubeck's album. Thus began my jazz collection.

From mellow to upbeat, jazz evokes myriad moods. Children respond to the music despite its reputed sophistication. Jazz pianist Brian Barber conceived his "Cool Jazz 4 Cool Kids" CD after babysitting his one- year old nephew, Max. "He was fussing and would not settle down until I sat down at the piano," said Barber. "As I softly played a jazz ballad, he magically fell to sleep."

The jazz idiom offers not only lullabies but also music for hand-clapping and foot-stomping. Preschoolers catch the beat. Older children also get caught in the spell. Even choosy preteens find the rhythm irresistible, if they listen long enough. My son actually requests Diana Krall's "Devil May Care" on the car's CD player, so we can sing along together.

Jazz celebrates the cultural roots that gave birth to a national music treasure. It's never too soon to share that rich heritage with a child. A few recordings, such as "Jazz Joint Jump" by Jungle Jazz Band and "Jazz-Ma-Tazz" by Hayes Greenfield, target children. However, any jazz collection probably boasts tunes that will appeal to even the youngest hep cats.

I recommend these selections:
Louis Armstrong: "What a Wonderful World"
Dave Brubeck: "Take Five"
Miles Davis: "Summertime"
Duke Ellington: "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing;" "'A' Train"
Ella Fitzgerald: "Tisket A Tasket"
Billie Holiday: "Them There Eyes;" "Mandy Is Two"
Diana Krall or Nat King Cole: "Hit That Jive Jack;" "Frim Fram Sauce"
Grover Washington: "Mr. Magic"

For other kid-friendly recordings, consult "Kid Stuff: Jazz for All Ages" by Lee Evans.

Want to learn more? Read these picture books with your child. Titles spotlighting jazz greats include Andrea Davis Pinkney's stylish biographies "Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra" and "Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso;" Alan Schroeder's "Satchmo's Blues," recounting Louis Armstrong's boyhood quest for a horn; and Chris Raschka's punchy, poetic tributes "Charlie Parker Played Be Bop" and "Mysterious Thelonious." Carole Weatherford's "The Sound That Jazz Makes," uses poetry to trace the roots of jazz from African villages to urban America. Her latest book "Jazz Baby" introduces preschoolers to the music.

Carole Boston Weatherford is the author of 11children's books, including "Jazz Baby," and "The Sound That Jazz Makes," an NAACP Image Award finalist and winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award from National Council for the Social Studies. Email her at weathfd@aol.com or visit her website.

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