My introduction to Lucy Kalantari’s special brand of family jazz music was her fall 2017 holiday EP It’s the Holidays! and I’m so glad that she’s back with this full length album. This jazz age inspired collection of ten original songs is a real delight. Each song has its own unique identity filled with complex melodies and engaging lyrics, yet they all fit together to make a beautiful whole.
Once again Kalantari is backed by the highly talented Jazz Cats who really get to shine on numbers like “Ain’t No Dog Like Mister,” a tribute to Billie Holiday’s dog Mister which allows for some great clarinet solos as well as the tango accented “Howl to the Moon” which opens with a gorgeous cello solo that leads to vocals backed by a swaying bass beat as it tells the story of a werewolf who longs for the evening when he can dance with his friends.
Songwriting really takes the spotlight when Kalantari skillfully weaves other musical genres into her tunes. The quick paced “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” features an original rap by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo wrapped in a jazz number that emphasizes the importance of understanding your fears and asking listeners “Can you turn that bad into something good?” Another fun blend of musical genres occurs in “Bunny Hop” where the main character in the song gets to know Mr. Opera Man (real life opera singer Adelmo Guidarelli), the next door neighbor, who operatically proclaims, “I love bunnies!” Listeners will quickly find themselves hopping and thumping along to this tune.
While all of these songs are great for family listening, there are also several that would be nice additions to a storytime, program, or classroom lesson. “I Know a Little Fellow” could work to introduce children to musical terms as Kalantari’s talented 5 1/2-year-old son demonstrates on the cello the terms she sings about such as pluck, bow, pizzicato, pianissimo, and fortissimo. “La Cosecha” is a fun bilingual song that would fit nicely into a storytime about gardening or community that introduces listeners to a wide variety of vegetables in both English and Spanish. Finally, “The Peace Song” is a lovely call and response song with a special message.
All the Sounds is a joy from beginning to end. Families will find themselves listening to it again and again.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo is back! This Amazon Original album, 23 Skidoo’s first full length venture since the GRAMMY winning Infinity Plus One, is set during a show on WREM Dreamtime Radio where all-original hip hop, R&B, funk and soul tunes are played. Each song on this album has its own unique style and flair yet they all work together united by the same theme of exploring your dreams and imagination. Things kick off with the totally funkadelic title track which urges listeners, “Life can be what you want it to be, you gotta dream it first then wake it up.” This tune is quickly followed by the haunting “Where Did the Magic Go,” which is a song about a dragon and a unicorn discussing the loss of magic because of so much screen time but is set to a gorgeous, haunting 1960s melody that would fit right in playing in the background at Pop’s ChockLit Shoppe (yes, that’s a Riverdale reference!). Several additional songs including “Dreaming Again” and “Broken Dreams” would also be right at home spinning on the jukebox.
The lead vocals and instrumentations by a whole host of guest artists are just out of this world. 23 Skidoo’s vocal rhymes are on full display on “Makeshift Spaceship” and on the hip hop version of the Chinese folk tale, “The Stonecutter,” while “You Caught My Eye” brings back the character Pickles the Pirate who tells in true pirate fashion his tale of falling in love with his wife the mermaid. All of the songs feature incredibly well-crafted lyrics, but it is “Black & White Squares” that has the greatest impact, using the imagery of a chess board to illustrate the issues facing society and how we can change the rules.
This entire album is powerful, yet totally fun to listen to. And that’s the Secret Agent 23 Skidoo way. Families with older children will love this album. It’s smart, filled with complex melodies and sounds like something kids might hear on the “grown-up” radio stations. And grown ups, be prepared, there’s a very good chance you’ll be listening to this even when the kids aren’t around!
How do you make classical music cool? Or, is it cool already? I think it’s all a matter of perspective. Way back when I was in fifth grade, I thought playing in the orchestra was going to be cool. I was lured in to playing the cello by a high schooler who played “The Pink Panther Theme Song” on his. From the first note of that iconic tune, I knew the cello was the instrument for me.
One thing they failed to tell little fifth grade me however, was that the cello very rarely plays the melody. In fact, when we finally played “The Pink Panther Theme Song” in eighth grade, it was the violins, not the cellos who got to play that most famous tune. Not cool. But, that was ok because I had grown to love the cello and orchestra really suited me. I was a quiet, shy, child so it was a perfect fit. If you wanted to have fun, join the marching band. If you wanted to be “cool” play the trumpet or join the drum line. If you wanted to be a serious musician, play in the orchestra. Sure they tried to make the music “fun” by having us play orchestra arrangements of pop songs, but in the end we were still a bunch of sedate girls in long black skirts and geeky boys in bow ties playing a screechy arrangement of a Peter Cetera song. Cool? I don’t think so.
Luckily, over the years classical music has undergone an image makeover as musicians like violinist Vanessa Mae in the 90’s and more recently pianist Lang Lang and the 2Cellos have built images and fan bases that used to be reserved for rock stars. They dress cool, look cool and rock out on their instruments in ways rarely seen before. And the result is awesome. But while their music can definitely be listened to by kids, how can it compete with the Top 40 music they listen to on the phone and watch on YouTube?
That’s where GRAMMY-winner Secret Agent 23 Skidoo comes in. This year, as part of the Asheville Amadeus Festival, hip-hop artist Skidoo joined with the Asheville Symphony, under the direction of conductor Daniel Meyer, to create “Mozartistic.” This totally unique composition includes an arrangement of some of Mozart’s most famous pieces, melded with Skidoo’s original hip-hop stylings, to tell the story of young Mozart while also encouraging kids to pursue their dreams, to be “Mozartistic.” The end result is an amazing performance by the Asheville Symphony featuring Secret Agent 23 Skidoo with guest appearances by pianist Orion Weiss and DJ Marley Carroll. Now when I wonder, is classical music cool? The answer is, “Absolutely!” After listening to this piece over a dozen times,the fifth grade cellist inside of me is still yelling, “I am the Mozartistic!” Take a listen and you will be too!
Forget about Adele and Beyonce and the acts that performed during the prime time GRAMMY’s show. I want to talk about children’s music and the GRAMMYs. This past weekend I had the great privilege of attending the Children’s GRAMMY Award Nominees Benefit Concert in Los Angeles. All five of the performers/groups nominated in the Best Children’s Album category performed during a family concert to benefit the Symphony Jazz Orchestra’s music in the schools program. And what a concert it was!
The show opened with Frances England performing songs from her album, Explorer of the World. Normally, I wouldn’t note what someone was wearing but since you can’t tell from the picture, I want to mention that Frances had on the most adorable dress that looked like maps of the world. Perfect. During her set, Frances brought onstage Carlos Aguirre to join her for “Ballad for a Beatboxer.”
Following Frances England were three time GRAMMY nominees (and one time GRAMMY winner in 2013), the Okee Dokee Brothers. Their set of Americana songs from the album Saddle Up included “Jackalope” and “Somos Amigos” which included special guest and recent Latin GRAMMY winner for best children’s album, 123 Andres.
Things got even livelier when Recess Monkey took the stage. And yes, that is a pink suit that Jack is wearing. 🙂 They played songs from their album Novelties. Four days later and I still find myself singing, “Time to Make the Donuts.”
Then, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo took the stage. The room turned electric as all the kids were encouraged to get up and dance their hearts out to the unique hip hop sounds. The high octane performance contained songs from the album (which would win the GRAMMY the next day), Infinity Plus One.
The final act of the concert, Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, took the stage and kept the energy going with songs from their latest album to be nominated for a GRAMMY, Press Play. The concert ended with a finale featuring all of the performers gathering on stage for one final song.
What a concert! Can’t wait to see who will be taking the stage next year!!