Families get Lucky with the Family Jam Band
The idea for Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band’s children’s song hit “Blue Bear” popped out of a brainstorm session Diaz had with his oldest daughter, who was three-year-old daughter nine years ago.
“I wanted to connect her with the experience of creating music, so we started making stuff up,” Diaz said during a Park Record interview. “I would ask her what she wanted to make a song about, and she said, ‘I want to make a song about a bear.’ Then I asked, ‘What color is the bear?’ And she said, ‘Blue.’”
The two decided the bear was hungry and gave him a story.
“We made a song about a bear who was hungry, and that was the catalyst that started everything for me,” Diaz said. “It all organically came into what it is now.”
Diaz is referring to his children’s group, the award-winning Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, which the Park City Institute will present at 2 p.m. and at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 27, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
The concerts will feature family-friendly songs and theater as well as some bilingual lessons, Diaz said.
“I will be the first person to say that I’m not a Spanish music educator,” Diaz said. “There are great Spanish music educators like José-Luis Orozco that do a wonderful job at what they do. I think the work we do educates by proxy because we like to have fun with the language, and at the end of the day we have kids singing about un gato (a cat) or el oso (the bear). While that’s educational, it’s not scholarly.”
In fact, when Diaz first translated the song “Blue Bear” into Spanish, it was at the request of his mother.
“We were visiting my parents and my mom said, ‘You should do a Spanish-language children’s album,’” Diaz said. “I thought that would be a good way to teach my daughter about my parents’ culture.”
Diaz’s parents immigrated from Mexico before he was born.
“Translating can be tricky because some words don’t translate across fully,” Diaz said. “Sure, white is ‘blanco,’ and ‘negro’ is black, but some words don’t work that well. So I had to figure out some of the words.”
Diaz felt a sense of accomplishment and enlightenment after he translated the song, which was renamed “Oso Azul” on the 2013 Latin Grammy Award-winning album “Fantastico.”
“I felt we touched upon something fresh for us,” he said. “I’m really proud of the work we have been able to do in children’s Spanish music. Because my cultural identity has been a mish-mash. My parents came to the U.S. to better their family situation, and since I was born here, my cultural ties to Mexico and Latin America were always complicated.”
The same year Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band won the Latin Grammy, they started a new PBS TV show called “Lishy Lou and Lucky Too!”
Lishy Lou is Diaz’s wife, Alisha Gaddis, who portays Lishy Lou.
“Alisha is primarily an actor, and she brings the performance element to our projects,” Diaz said. “She studied at [New York University] as an actor and has worked on Broadway and TV, and it’s her real passion.”
The TV show, which was inspired by “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” is about the adventures of Lishy Lou and Lucky who live in a magic treehouse with their friend Thingamajig.
The idea came about because Gaddis and Diaz wanted to do something visually connected with their music, Diaz said.
“We look at what we do – the music, the videos, the visuals – as one big piece of art,” he said. “So we selfishly decided to do a TV show because we like making stuff and we’re weirdos. But we’re really proud of it. Let’s hear it for the weirdos.”
Throughout the years, Diaz has noticed many people think that children’s music is simplistic and rudimentary.
“Sure it can be all those things, but I really see children’s music as a real art form,” he said. “What we try to do is take the music to a whole new level of artistry. We want to make our music thoughtful. We want to put a lot of thought into the characters, the notes, the arrangements and production.”
Diaz constantly reminds people that like any art form, children’s music features somegood and some mediocre artists.
“What people don’t realize is there has always been a wonderful musicians and singers in the children’s music movement – Ella Jenkins, Leadbelly, Raffi and Johnny Cash,” he said. “Now while there are some bad ones, I think the intention is very sincere for everyone.”
Diaz found his way to children’s music on a long and winding road.
“I love The Beatles and have always been a musician since I was really young,” he said. “As a kid that did different things. I played baseball and all that, but music really stuck with me, and I went to music college and became a session musician.”
Diaz wanted to share his love of music with his daughter, and that’s when his musical path revealed itself.
“Everything we’ve done has been organic,” he said. “I’m so grateful and blessed to do this, but this whole mission to expose families and kids to music that they can all share all came through happenstance.”
While he appreciates the Grammy and other accolades, Diaz is more grateful to be able to share the success with his family.
“We have been able to travel to amazing places and meet people and experience different cultures because of what we do,” he said. “Creating work is awarding and fun, but at the end of the day, sharing these experiences with our family is awesome.”
Park City Institute presents Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band for two performances at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 27, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets range from $15 to $30. They can be purchased by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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In the closing scenes of the about-to-be released documentary “Public Trust,” environmental journalist Hal Herring says this of the battle over public lands: “You only have a right to what you are willing to fight for.”