What is JAM?
"Recipe for JAM: Take a group of musicians marinated in a tasty sauce made of everything from funk to folk, bluegrass to baroque, rock'n'roll to reggae, rap to hip hop, classical to jazz, trance to dance. Throw in a dash of life-lust, a cup of celebration, a generous quart of kid-inspired crazy energy, a sprinkling of good humor, a loving spoonful of mindfulness, and fill in all the cracks with big family love. Stir it all up in a big pot over the village fire and you've got the music and experience of JAM. Eat some and dance in the mud and rain. Share some with your friends. Cook up some of your own. And pass the recipe on down the line."
What is JAM?
The short answer...
JAM is a hootenanny, a hullabaloo, a dance party, a shindig-bash, a festival, a family band, a rain dance, a sun song, a fairy frolic, a wander in the park, a race on the beach, a flitting floating butterfly-bop, a blundering thundering elephant-stomp, a twirling-whirling-swirling dizzy-dee fall-down boogie!
JAM is about making sounds and songs and hooting and hollering and belly laughing and shimmying and swaying and running and jumping and jiving and bouncing and breathing with people you love!
JAM is about pushing the furniture to the walls and creating a dancing room in your homes and your hearts, for inside and out, for back and forth, for forever, for now.
JAM is about being real and feeling alive.
The long answer...
Physically speaking, JAM is a constellation of music and movement events born out of my own experience as a mother, musician, educator, performer, and songwriter. I offer/produce/create the following: music/movement/mindfulness classes; performances at schools, festivals, birthday parties and libraries; workshops and trainings; live JAMband concerts; and family music recordings.
Metaphysically speaking, the name JAM is an acronym that stands for Joy And Music. JAM is about connection...connection with self, connection within families, connection with the rhythms of the universe. Singing and dancing with our kids is one of the simplest, purest, and certainly most feel-good ways of connecting with them, sharing real experience, and feeling our aliveness and humanity.
Any time we spend "on the floor" playing with our kids on their level, in their worlds, is time well spent, for both kids and parents. Any time spent not obsessing about all the pressures and commitments and schedules and responsibilities, both culturally- and self-imposed, is healing time. Any time spent in our bodies and not in our heads is time we reconnect with the earth, our souls, and our intuition. This experience can only be good for our ability to listen to, hold (physically and emotionally), and understand our kids. So it stands to reason that the more of it we have, the better chance we all have of realizing our potentials, shining our lights into the world, and supporting each other. JAM enables this experience.
JAM is also about having fun and feeling good! Children are naturally on the move...they dance their way through life. Children are naturally noisy...they sing their way through the day. Music, movement and mindfulness together provide a natural vehicle for self-expression, confidence building, brain-development, and experiencing joy.
Music has the power to uplift, to inspire, to help us truly feel, to communicate past language and socioeconomic and cultural barriers. Every culture has music. Every culture has dance. Every culture has human beings. And we're all just trying to find our way, feel alive, and locate love.
Why record albums?
I record the JAM albums so families can take the JAM vibe and energy into their homes, cars, lives. I've heard so many stories of parents coming home at the end of the day, with everyone tired and cranky. But then "Peanut Butter and JAM" or "EARTH" goes into the CD player and 45 minutes later everyone's in a great mood! It's as if the music heals the stress, and allows everyone to come down from the day and enter their bodies once again. My musical influences are wide and varied, so the songs I write and record span every genre from funk to bluegrass to surf to rock 'n' roll to meditative, resulting in music the parents dig as much as the children.
Children naturally live in a state of wonder and awe at the universe around them. A simple thing like an ant crawling across the sidewalk or a backhoe digging a big hole can put them in a trance of amazement or cause them to gyrate with excitement. So I write songs that speak to children, on their level, not talking down to them, but talking to them in their language about the things that make sense to them and that they are wondrous about. And then I also take the musical and lyrical level up a notch to speak to who they are becoming, because this is how they learn.
A great example is the story of how the song "We Like Funky" came to be. My son Jasper (who at the time was about 3) came up to me in the kitchen and said, "Mommy, we like funky, right?" And I said, "Yeah, we definitely like funky!" wondering what had inspired this train of thought. Then he said, "Mommy, this is the funky dance!" And he proceeded to demonstrate the thumb-shaking hip-swaying move that became the seed for "We Like Funky", a funk/rap tune on the "Peanut Butter and JAM" album.
Another song story: I was trying to get Silas down for a nap in the carrier when he was about six months old, and was thinking about what I had learned at one of the parent education meetings at Sunset Co-Op Nursery School about movement, brain development and sensory motor integration. I started turning around with him, and swaying from side to side, and rocking back and forth, gently bouncing up and down -- all the movements that actually enhance the growth of the dendrites in the brain -- and the song "Turn Around" was born.
I wrote "Kids Train" for all the 18-month-olds in Jasper's playgroup, the first JAMmers, who where all obsessed with trains. "Creeper Walk" emanated from Jasper's crazy creepy walk, where he'd crouch down and run around with his arms behind his back. "Ridin' the Big Waves", a collaboration with my kids' dad, is a reflection of children's interest in a sport that is a huge part of life in the Outer Sunset, SF, where we live. Other JAMsong themes: transportation (from most- to least-fossil-fuel intensive), animals, building a tree house, counting and math, wiggling, wordplay on familiar nursery rhymes, weather, scarf dancing, major scale, being upside down, body parts, the beach, waking up, s'mores, outer space, parties, cake, super heroes, peace, bikes, non-violent conflict resolution, gratitude, ice cream, the Earth, wishes, road trips...and on and on.
Aside from creating music and lyrics that both parents and kids love to listen to, and song topics that resonate with the kids, an important part of my message for children to learn in this fast-paced, media-infused culture is how to slow down and how to take space and be quiet when they need to. I wrote a yoga song ("Namaste"), and a meditation song ("Meditation"), partly to give children the vocabulary early on for these mind- and body-calming activities. I also like ending the CDs with a mellow vibe, a lullaby of sorts. "Lay Down My Dear Children" is a rewrite of a beautiful spiritual the Grateful Dead used to perform ("Lay Down My Dear Brothers"); my words speak of finding your song and singing it to the world. "Round as a Moon" is essentially a love song that evolved out of all the different ways we say "I love you" in our family. I encourage families to write their own verse, and sing it during the instrumental. My album "Party Like a Twinkle Star (a double album)", contains an entire CD of love-a-bye, downtime, cuddletime music for families to wind down with together. And since then, I've released two albums ("Family Values" and "EARTH") that more deeply explore ethics like kindness, compassion, Earth care, gratitude, generosity and mindfulness. The music has evolved along with my own children and my own heart and mind.
The Message of JAM
Here's the welcoming message of JAM (from the song "Jam Jam Jam", on my very first album, "JAM: Music for Movement with Children"), which we sing at the beginning of every class, and which is referenced in lots of other JAM songs:
Hey there everybody, won't you join us in our JAM?
We're gonna raise our voices, stomp our feet and clap our hands!
We're gonna sing and dance,
We're gonna move and groove,
We're gonna laugh and love,
And after all that we're gonna get on down and JAM, JAM, JAM...
These lyrics from "Lay Down My Dear Children" also underscore the message of JAM, which encourages children to speak their truth and be themselves, and for parents to support them in this quest:
Lie still and feel the music coursing through your skin and bones
And if you listen close and quiet, you'll hear a song in your soul
You gotta sing your song for the world that loves you so
And here are the lyrics to the rap in the middle of We Like Funky, which pretty much say it all:
When you're feelin' like you wanna do something' funky
you wanna dance, you wanna sing
you wanna move, you wanna groove
you're gonna feel it
you're gonna feel the funk a-way down low in your toes
you feel it movin' up, movin' up
takin' you over, takin' you under
you're gonna feel no fear
you're gonna move to the beat you hear
you're gonna let yourself fly, high, high, high
you're gonna let yourself try anything
you're gonna do what the music tells you to do
you to do you to do you to do you to do
you're gonna funk!
Finally, here are the lyrics to the rap in the middle of Rockstar, which also pretty much say it all, but in a different way:
you put your feet on the rock
you reach your hands to the stars
open your heart to the love in the air
open your mind to every little thing everywhere
let your soul do the walkin' now
let your spirit do the talkin' now
walk, dance, talk, sing
come on, baby, do your thing!
So, the message of JAM is really just this: push the furniture to the walls, clear the floor, turn up the music, and dance! Celebrate the energy flowing from your kids, and from you. Spend a little piece of each day connecting, really connecting, really BEING PRESENT, with each of your kids, through music and movement, through mindfulness and slowing down, or through any avenue that works for you. And spend a little piece of each day connecting with yourself, too.
I'd like to end with a quote from Marianne Williamson, because I feel it speaks so beautifully to the part of being human I hope JAM inspires in parents and kids alike:
Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?"
Actually, who are you not to be?
...Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory...within us.
It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone, and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.
~ Marianne Williamson, as quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech
Why I do this work
We are living in increasingly violent and chaotic times. Our kids need us to show up for them, now more than ever.
Children need to feel safe, supported and understood in order to develop. They need to be seen, heard, honored for who they are, and loved unconditionally.
They also need to be shown the importance (the necessity!) of kindness, presence, understanding, co-operation and compassion in our world. They need to hear a story that challenges the one they receive from the media and our culture at large. And we, their caregivers, need this too.
In these times, the work of being in community with children, learning together about ways to be kind, is of utmost importance.
I bring my music and messages to children, families and communities as an antidote to the sense of fear, oppression and separation that permeates our society. We work together, in collaboration, to grow into kinder, more compassionate, more aware, more welcoming human beings.
Our job is to generate love, and put it out into the world. So let's get to work!