On various lists and forums across the jazz landscape, a lot of virtual ink is devoted to debating the future of jazz: fussing over the predominance of gray heads at jazz festivals, concerts, and venues, and pondering the issue of attendance after these seniors, in the words of Shakespeare, "shuffle off this mortal coil"; lamenting the scarcity of young adults at jazz events, despite the prevalence and apparent popularity of jazz programs at colleges and universities nationwide; and bemoaning the loss of programs of education and appreciation related to music in general, and jazz in particular (in public schools, for instance).
With the release of this CD, Verve Records has attempted to address the last of these concerns by the clever gambit of resuscitating a bunch of chestnuts from its archives and repackaged them for children. And what a fortuitous time of year it is to make this compilation available!
The songs Verve has collected here are timeless, but they are also cheerful, rhythmic, and chock-full of fun music and sounds. In addition, they represent the whimsical output of some of the best artists in the history of jazz. I'm partial to Ella's "Old McDonald" and "Muffin Man," and Carmen McRae's "Red, Red Robin," but then, in my view, Ella and Carmen can do no wrong. Although trimmed to only two minutes (see below), Clark Terry's "Mumbles" (with Oscar Peterson) is always good for a smile.
But, to give this CD an acid test, I sat down with my five-year-old granddaughter Lucy to give it a listen. I made it clear that I needed her help, and she took the responsibility very seriously. She developed her own checklist ("Grandpa, how do you spell 'prettiest'?"); nine tunes earned an "X-mark," and she liked them all. Slim Gaillard's chicken sounds on "Chicken Rhythm" and his "Potato Chips" both earned a big chuckle, while "Rag Mop" was "funny and cool." Blossom Dearie's "Doodlin' Song" was clearly one of her favorites, but it was Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" that earned the "prettiest" accolade.
With a playing time of just over 28 minutes, the album may cause some to wince at the lack of value it provides. On the other hand, compilers of this collection were undoubtedly careful not to overwhelm a child's brief attention span, and I believe that was an important and worthwhile consideration. In any event, the idea is smart; the music, classic; the fun, contagious; and to at least one pair of young ears, the concept works!
Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald; Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five; Louis Prima; Slim Gaillard (with and without His Baker's Dozen); Oscar Peterson (featuring Clark Terry); Lionel Hampton; Carmen McRae; Blossom Dearie; and Louis Armstrong