Jazzy Kid Songs Review
by Donovan Johnson
Don’t let the album title and cover art fool you! “Jazzy Kid Songs” is jazz pianist John Paris’s latest recording, and it most certainly is not a kids album. The project title refers to the musical selection it contains, not the audience it’s intended for. This master musician has taken popular kids songs such as “Shoo Fly,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Row Row Row Your Boat” and arranged them to jazzy perfection. You’ve never heard these songs sound like this! That being said, there’s nothing offensive in the listening and the music really does reach across the various generations to provide something enjoyable for everyone to enjoy, adults and children alike!
If you’re not familiar with John Paris and his music, you’ll certainly want to hear more of it after listening to “Jazzy Kid Songs.” As is typical with John, the playing style on this album is smooth as silk and very easy to listen to. There’s always plenty of joy to be found in John’s playing, writing, and arranging. Nothing depressing, nothing brooding, sad, or angry. There are moments of reflection in John’s style, and even that is done in a way that is thoughtful and uplifting – a rare quality that John should really take some pride in owning. The arrangements on this recording are the epitome of “feel good” music, and can only serve to brighten a gloomy day, and heighten one that’s already fantastic! Having heard these songs as a kid myself, there’s a familiarity to them, and that only adds to the already blissful listening experience. There is a treasure of warmth, nostalgia and feeling that has gone into this recording, and it very much deserves to be heard.
The first of my “top three” picks on this album is the opening track, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” John begins the album with an earful of major seven chords, flat nines and thirteens, and pentatonic movement, before making his way into the familiar theme that we all know so well. He then elaborates on that theme, creating some variations that follow which are as interesting to listen to as anything I’ve heard. Mid-song John transforms the arrangement into a breakdown of what almost sounds like an excerpt from an impressionistic piece, with the hands flowing over top and in between each other gracefully to create some really elaborate sound textures. Truly remarkable. There’s a variation that takes place toward the end of the piece that dances around on the high end of piano like a jazzy music box, then quickly makes it’s way down the piano back into the mid and low ranges, building up to a powerful ending! This is creativity at it’s absolute best.
“Itsy Bitsy Spider” is another one that’s not recognizable at the start of the song as flowing chords, rolled perfectly and followed by graceful right hand scales make their way up and down the piano. The theme enters, very freely and almost reluctantly, with sprinkles of high end sound dancing throughout the chords that we all remember. John isn’t afraid to throw a little Latin into the mix either, which he does about half way through when he changes up to a steady Bossa style. Don’t expect him to stay there though! John doesn’t finish up this arrangement without first taking you back to a pleasant seaside to sit and enjoy, reflect. Then he’ll intrigue you with a variety of scale patterns and some chromatic movement, before resolving the piece in a way that will have you listening to this one over and over. This is probably my favorite arrangement on the album.
“She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” is just so much fun! Probably the most “fun” and upbeat tune on the recording, John introduces a funk feel with some help from his left hand, and a strong and steady walking bass line. There’s a touch of gospel in this arrangement as well, and overall the piece seems to have a rather “old timey” approach that’s quite nostalgic. Coupled with John’s modern jazz style of playing, we have a piece that is a mixture of the musical ages, and I can say honestly that I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Musical brilliance.
“Jazzy Kid Songs” is an album that everyone should have a listen to, whether or not you appreciate jazz. As I said before, there’s absolutely something for everyone in this recording, and I stand by that. Now pour yourself a Cabernet and start listening, you won’t regret it! This album gets my highest recommendation!