Various Artists: Jazz For Kids: Sing, Clap, Wiggle and Shake (2004)
It’s a rare album needing evaluation based on its chicken squawks.
But Verve, in its latest effort to market an old collection of classics to a new audience at a full retail price, offers squawks, mumbles and a range of other nonsense in “Jazz For Kids,” along with the hype that the genre isn’t just for grown-ups. Maybe not, but if the label hopes to get tots hooked early they need better bait.
Most consumers will probably buy it as a gift for new parents, with either the giver or recipient already being a fan of the genre. On that level it’s a nice novelty they can share for an initial listen—and at only 28 minutes long, it can all happen over a cup of coffee. But too many songs lack the spunk and clarity necessary to hold the short attention spans of youngsters, and much of it lacks the heft that might allow it to be a useful introduction of jazz and its styles to a slightly older audience.
Things get off to a promising start with Ella Fitzgerald singing “Old McDonald.” She shifts style and cadence throughout a familiar and playful song, but keeps the overall upbeat tempo consistent enough for kids to follow easily. There’s also a couple of very brief instrumental interludes which parents can at some point explain is a jazz trademark. It’s even entertaining enough for adults. A notable achievement for a little more than two minutes.
Unfortunately it’s also one of the few highlights. Another is Lionel’s Hampton’s “Rag Mop,” a fun take on the alphabet song—as long as the kid already knows the original, since this version doesn’t exactly keep things linear. Someone learning their letters would likely get confused by a bunch of repetition and other vocal tidbits thrown in. Slim Gaillard might get a group of tots going with his clucks on “Chicken Rhythm” and his “Potato Chips” is another fun take that should easily amuse young ears.
But Louis Prima’s “Yes! We Have No Bananas” feels like it’s trudging rather than skipping, and “Mumbles” by Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry is a misfit here since it’s hard to see kids getting much out of a song they can’t understand and lacking in the silly spirit that at least might encourage them to do a little mumbling of their own. Finally, ending the album with Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” makes no sense at all, unless somehow it’s meant as a symbolic transition to the world of real jazz.
More songs and/or a lower price might result in a stronger recommendation, but in the end this is a two-front effort that falls short on both counts. Those looking to amuse kids should stick to Disney and Sesame Street, while those genuinely interested in exposing kids to jazz can find any number of compilations for a few dollars providing the real thing.
Track Listing: Old McDonald (Ella Fitzgerald); Ain
Personnel: See track listings.