Children's recording artist David Jack tries out new songs on a discriminating audience--his 4-year-old son Benjamin. "If Benjamin likes it, it's a go," Jack says.
So far, Benjamin is on a roll: His dad's "Don't Wake Up the Baby" and "Dance in Your Pants" audiotapes were hot enough to be picked up by national distributors; "Dance in Your Pants" won the 1988 "Parents Choice Award" for excellence.
Jack, a Philadelphia native, is CBS's manager of music operations, working on in-house programming and license negotiations. In his free time, he performs his songs.
Saturday afternoon at 2, children and parents can hear Jack in concert at Kids Gym, 12526 Riverside Drive, Studio City, (818) 343-7116. Tickets are $2.50 per child, $5 per adult.
For ages 1 and up ("a 9-year-old won't be bored," he says), it will be 40 minutes of music and audience participation: singing, clapping and dancing.
Referring to the Canadian children's singer superstar, Jack describes himself as "like Raffi, only hipper." (Raffi often sings familiar children's standards as well as folk and contemporary songs.)
"I want to separate myself from the people who do the same 'Old MacDonald' stuff," he says.
Jack, 29, dark-haired, wide-grinned and irrepressible, may or may not be hipper than Raffi, but his work has contagious appeal. "Dance in Your Pants" is a bouncy, professional mix of styles from jazz and gentle rock to Hawaiian ukulele.
Lyrics, by older sister Susan Jack Cooper, a San Diego-based writer, are guaranteed children-pleasers:
"Suppose I said my tuna fish was calling on the phone? Or at my door was a dinosaur w ith a chocolate ice cream cone? " and "Are there 'tee-hees' in your T-shirt? Are there 'ha-ha's' in your hat? Do your shorts just hop and never stop? Well, what you gonna do about that?"
The collaboration with Cooper, who "still calls me her kid brother," started when Jack graduated from UCLA with a degree in music education. It became serious when Benjamin was born.
"I was looking for some good children's music," Jack says, "and I found the same old rehashed stuff we grew up with. So we wrote our first song, "Sleepies." From there, we decided to do an album of lullabies that would give a child a sense of family. ( "I like us, I like this family, I like this house I live in, I'm glad I'm me." )
After that, writing a second album that "little kids could dance to" seemed a natural progression. Jack and Cooper are now working on a third, "Gotta Hop!"
Since Cooper lives in San Diego, it means working on the phone and through the mail, but Jack says he always looks forward to their face-to-face collaboration "because I know we're going to laugh."
Jack's Ta-Dum Production company is definitely a family affair. Jack's father, a retired music teacher, plays oboe on the tapes, and brother Louis plays piccolo. Jack supplies drums and keyboard as well as vocals.
His mother, also a music teacher, serves as marketing manager. She took "Don't Wake Up the Baby" "to nursery schools and small stores until it was eventually picked up by the Columbia House Record Club" and other national distributors.
His wife, Vicky, a former nursery school teacher who is expecting their second child this summer, serves as educational consultant. Even Benjamin makes a vocal appearance on both cassettes.
Jack says he writes his music not only for children, but for parents who "are looking for entertaining music that doesn't drive them crazy to hear over and over, music with a message in it somewhere that a child can extract without knowing it."
But "first and foremost," he says, "our music says, 'Enjoy yourselves, be happy with yourselves and with the things that you can do.' "
After the Studio City concert Saturday, Jack will do two free concerts: one in Pasadena at 1 p.m. March 11 at A Child's Fancy, 140 W. Colorado Blvd. (818) 793-4085, and one in Santa Monica at noon March 25 at Quinby's, 1109 Montana Ave. (213) 394-1141.