There is some kind of Jazz for everybody. And kids are no different. While the music presented here is by no means only for kids (Silly Rabbit, it's okay) it does happen to have the necessary qualities for kids to gravitate toward it. There's the fun factor; Horace Silver's music is undoubtedly FUN. There's the "head bob" factor, music that gets their heads a-boppin'; ditto Silver, but Monk is just as danceable in his own way. Finally, there are charismatic, humorous, and accessible soloists like Jon Hendricks and Jimmy Smith, and some familiar themes from childhood like "Peter and The Wolf" and "The Nutcracker Suite."
So if you haven't already tried to hip your kids to this very hip music called Jazz (or haven't had any luck yet), try these on for size. They are certainly some of the most youthful-in-spirit records out there, and fine representatives of the Jazz tradition no matter what the context is. And remember that if your enthusiasm for this music causes the kids to rebel, use reverse psychology and act like you're indifferent to it. THEN their ears will suddenly open up!
Hipping kids to Jazz is great not only because they might become the Jazz listeners/musicians of tomorrow (as so many of us were so introduced) but because an appreciation of music has shown to be a critical factor in a child's success in school. People play Mozart to their babies in the womb. We say play Monk and Basie through their formative years!
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Vince Guaraldi: A Boy Named Charlie Brown
OK, so you knew this was coming. But this is the record that turned so many families and children onto Jazz and its appeal to children is undeniable, even if the Charlie Brown theme is as yet unbeknownst to kids. A good companion record would be Wynton Marsalis' Joe Cool's Blues, which covers the same ground by a Jazz quintet.
Jimmy Smith: Peter and The Wolf
Another veritable chestnut, Profokiev's suite written especially for kids adapted for Jazz by Oliver Nelson's swinging arrangements and featuring Jimmy Smith's wild-man soloing on organ. A musical treat that kids always seem to enjoy.
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Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers: A Night in Tunisia
The Jazz Messengers always had a very youthful sound, thanks to the leader's incredibly spirited work on drums and puckish soloists like Lee Morgan; this title track is an evocative, exotic piece that kids will enjoy, played in classic fashion on this fine CD.
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Dizzy Gillespie: Live at Newport
Like "A Night in Tunisia," children should be drawn to the immediacy in the way Dizzy renders "Manteca." Moreover, Dizzy is one Jazz musician, because of his puffy cheeks and his great sense of humor, that many younger kids will find instantly compelling.
Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners
From the cover to what's inside, kids should like this record and will probably want to hear more of this man, who knew better than many others that one should "never let one's inner child die." Kids will relate to the playfulness and quirkiness of Monk's music in a real way.
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Duke Ellington: Three Suites
Another suite selection from music heard often in childhood (featuring, among others, the "Nutcracker"), this is an excellent foray into more sophisticated, orchestrated jazz. This is also material that may likely be played in high school Jazz band.
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Count Basie: Basie's Beatle Bag
Not just because kids surround Count Basie on the cover, although that doesn't hurt. Kids love the Beatles' great melodies at a pretty early age, and this set presents them in the swinging, bluesy language of the Count Basie Orchestra. Like the Guaraldi set, this music stands by itself.
Horace Silver: The Hard bop Grandpop
While all of Horace Silver's music should appeal to kids because of its lighthearted snappiness and bluesy good vibes, this recent set is a good bet for kids because most of the tunes are played at a medium tempo and are very simple (but grooving!) to grasp. Kids should also enjoy the robust soloing of Ronnie Cuber.
Jon Hendricks: Boppin' at The Blue Note
Hendricks' brand of high-flying scat and his pure enthusiasm for the music should find the attention of some young ears. The consummate entertainer, he leads a parade of guests on this classic Jazz birthday bash in honor of his 80th birthday.
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Don Byron: Bug Music
Kids will be intrigued just by the title of this set, and the music should prove even more interesting; this is great, fun, swinging and very charming jazz that pays homage to the wonderfully cartoon-ish music of Raymond Scott among others. A real gem.
Louis Armstrong: Hello, Dolly
No "Jazz for Kids" list would be complete without an entry from Louis Armstrong, who was known to be great with kids off the stage and whose music endures just as well. Includes original version of "Hello, Dolly," replete with Satch's charming, joyous vocals. In it, kids will hear a man who loved music like a child.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Bright Moments
Kirk loved connecting to kids (read about it in the recent Horace Tapscott biography), and this live album shows Kirk the magician with all his wonderful "tricks" in play. Once kids learn about this amazing musician, especially the three saxophones, they should be sufficiently intrigued.