Jazz is an area of music that seems resolutely impervious to childhood, performed as it is almost exclusively in venues that require proof of age prior to entry.
And yet children are not impervious to jazz. The instruments are intriguing, the tunes are engaging, the solos are an exotic adventure in performance possibilities, what’s not for a kid to like?
Piano teachers (from all kinds of places on this planet) will tell you that students come to lessons wanting to ‘play jazz’ even though they aren’t quite certain exactly what jazz is.
And this is where my latest children’s book discovery comes in: a story book that is an almost faultless introduction to the world of jazz, jazz musicians, listening and jamming, Graham Marsh’s wonderful Max and the Lost Note, published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books in 2009.
Max is a jazz cat who plays piano and makes up his own tunes, but on this particular day he’s unable to finish his tune: he’s lost the last note. And so Max visits all his jazz cat friends to see if his lost note is lurking in one of their performances. (Max also happens to be a very well-dressed cat, and he travels by scooter).
Max visits a four-part girl band (singers all), The Felines, as well as Long Tall Dexter (saxophone), Miles, Charlie and Oliver (trumpet, guitar and drums), Sam (double bass), and his neighbour Rita (flute), but his lost note isn’t in any of the tunes they play for him.
This children’s story is beautifully written, with illustrations that draw the reader in, fleshing out the simply told plot into an inviting world of musicianship and friendship.
My only quibble is that when the lost note is finally found it is illustrated as a pair of beamed-together quavers, so strictly speaking Max was on the hunt for two lost notes, not one.
This continuity grizzle aside, it’s an absolutely wonderful book, and I’d recommend it for children from the age of four (although a precocious three-year-old might gain much pleasure from it also) with no maximum age limit. The illustrations are so sophisticated that adolescents will feel no deep discomfort being seen flicking through its pages, and adults will chuckle in appreciation.
Piano teachers: I recommend you get a copy for your teaching studio immediately! Parents: a wonderful read to experience with your preschool and early primary school age children.