There’s a “new jazz” movement inside children’s music. Unlike rock and folk, which have a stranglehold on most radio formats, jazz requires a more concentrated education. It’s not all scat singing and celebratory horns; sometimes it depends upon a child’s ability to sit still and listen. That level of commitment harkens an exceptional student.
Into that forum enters the Lori Henriques Quintet and their prize-based Legion of Peace: Songs Inspired By Nobel Laureates. This is a real, serious, instructional CD with eight songs based on the lives and accomplishments of noted figures including Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, and President Jimmy Carter. The performers, such as pianist Joey Alexander, all have remarkable achievements. Alexander was an 11-year-old prodigy, complete with an appearance on 60 Minutes. Yunus founded Grameen Bank and more than 50 companies in Bangladesh and has received 112 awards from 26 countries (whew).
Sing for Hope, the organization behind the Legion of Peace project, is notable for its good works as well. In 2018, Sing for Hope placed decorated pianos throughout the five boroughs, making New York host to more street pianos than any other city in the world. But their musical contributions have global reach as well.
The songs themselves tell Stories (as opposed to Harry Chapin’s little “story songs”). “Brave As a Girl” tells Malala’s tale of courage in the face of intolerance and small-minded cultural limitations. “A Human Is a Human” recounts Tutu’s efforts to end apartheid. “A Kinder Way” urges listeners to follow Carter’s path of gentle community-building, including a marching/hammer-into-nail-driving Habitat With Humanity-esque beat. “When you give you get it back,” sings Henriques, and you can believe she means it.
Legion of Peace: Songs Inspired By Nobel Laureates is available from Sing for Hope, Amazon, and Apple Music.
On the other side of the spectrum comes Tony Pete (Tony Halchak) and his debut CD, When I Grow Up. A cross between Randy Kaplan and Billy Kelly (one of his friends), Tony performs his songs with a straightforward, sincere “this is how kids talk” delivery.
The first single, “The Backwards Alphabet Song,” gets right to the point – here’s another way to look at the 26 letters and Tony’s going to sing it that way all day, if you let him. “Kazoo Crew” seems like a natural live performance rave: take a roomful of kids, hand them kazoos, and what’s going to happen? An instant cacophony of exploration and music-making.
There’s a bit of predicability to the format, as the CD closes with “Time to Put Our Toys Away” into “Sleep Loved.” But that’s the organic flow I’ve experienced in many a first-time release. The best performers realize that their audiences can grow with them, and don’t need reminders to wind down just because the sun begins to set. The chorus delivers a sweet sentiment with resounding clarity: “Sleep loved, little darlings, you are.” Every parent likes to feel that there child has potential and that concept holds true for Tony Pete as well – that guy’s got potential.