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Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud | Beyond the Neighborhood: The Music of Fred Rogers

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Jazz: Jazz Vocals Jazz: Jazz quartet Moods: Type: Vocal
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Beyond the Neighborhood: The Music of Fred Rogers

by Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud

This release features re-imagined jazz arrangements of compositions originally written by the beloved Fred Rogers.
Genre: Jazz: Jazz Vocals
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
clip
1. It's You I Like
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
4:03 album only
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2. Just for Once
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
7:26 album only
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3. I Like to Take My Time
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
5:41 album only
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4. Find a Star
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
6:59 album only
clip
5. I Like to Be Told
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
5:43 album only
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6. Look and Listen
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
6:33 album only
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7. Look and Listen Tag
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
1:34 album only
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8. When the Day Turns into Night
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
6:08 album only
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9. You Are Special
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
4:03 album only
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10. Troll Talk
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
2:58 album only
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11. The Weekend Song
Kevin Bales & Keri Johnsrud
1:42 album only

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Fred McFeely Rogers – the cardigan-wearing, sneaker-shod, quintessentially gentle Presbyterian minister known as Mister Rogers, on the awards-winning children’s TV show that aired for nearly 35 years – also wrote the songs he sang on his program. He wrote a lot of songs, and he wrote them well: his life lessons for little ones came wrapped in beautifully constructed packages that could have sprung from any Tin Pan Alley atelier or Brill Building cubbyhole. As a kid, you might not have noticed the craftsmanship of these songs. But as an adult, you can’t miss it.

These songs left their mark on three generations of children who made Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood part of their after-school routine. Some of them went on to become musicians themselves.

“We wanted to take these songs, which we grew up with as kids, and make them relatable – more accessible – to adults as well,” says Keri Johnsrud, the coolly swinging, ruby-toned vocalist who conceived this project with the delightful pianist-arranger Kevin Bales. “We discovered that a lot of Fred Rogers’ music cannot translate across the generations; those songs very much catered to children. We took the songs that could be heard as adults, the songs that he implanted in our brains when we were children and that are still poignant to us now.”

Nostalgia aside, it makes sense that at least some of the music written for children would also resonate with the adults they turn into. After all, most kids’ songs are written by grown-ups; and however hard they work to channel a child’s interests, adults still think like – well, like grown-ups. But beyond that (and nursery rhymes aside), most songs written for youngsters try to impart messages about love and family, friendship and sharing, belief in one’s self-confidence but respect for others – messages that too many adults seem to have forgotten.

Johnsrud and Bales have succeeded beyond their goals for Beyond The Neighborhood. In these renditions, Mister Rogers’ songs not only relate to adults; they seem to have been written for adults in the first place. These songs are by turns wise and wistful, simple but not simplistic, and even, in some cases, a bit sultry.

“Sultry” and “Mister Rogers” are not terms I’d ever have expected to see, let alone use, in the same sentence. Or paragraph. (Or lifetime.). But listen to “Just For Once.” When Fred Rogers sang this song, it expressed the desire of two kids to explore friendship on their own, minus the meddling ministrations of parents and adults. Now forget hearing it as a child; forget hearing it in Fred Rogers’ folksy, untrained drawl. Against the exotic rhythm that jazz musicians know as “the ‘Poinciana’ beat,” Johnsrud’s smoldering interpretation transforms it into a song that channels the simmering ambitions of new lovers – a genre that stretches back to such tunes as “On A Slow Boat To China” at least. And as they do throughout the disc, the trio fills the space between lyrics with elegant, gorgeous improvising.

Several of Rogers’ compositions make the transition from friendship to chaste romance. He wrote the lovely “When The Day Turns Into Night” as a comforter, girding tots against the separation anxiety that many feel at bedtime, when the lights go out and parents leave the room; here it has the heartfelt yearning of a Cole Porter meditation on separated lovers. The hard-swinging opener, “It’s You I Like,” carried a basic childhood message about accepting people for who they are, rather than how they look; Johnsrud and Bales turn it into a peppy, even flirty thing, suggesting the warmth and wonder of an emergent romance. And “I Like To Be Told” comes across as a love song conveying unabashed honesty and vulnerability – even though it began life as a child’s plea for respectful truth from elders.

Johnsrud credits the quality of Rogers’ writing for smoothing the way on this album. “He’s certainly very underrated as a composer,” she says, adding that the success of these “translations” from kidspeak to adulthood owes to that. And if you never heard these songs the first time around, or never spent time with Mister Rogers? “It helps to know this person as a very genteel human being,” she allows. “But the fact is that it’s just good music; if you didn’t know him, and just saw the song placed in front of you, you could assign it to other composers.”

She’s right. “Look And Listen” could have come from pretty much any Frank Loesser musical of the 1950s; Bales instills a New Orleans beat and then adds a terrific solo to boot. On “Find A Star,” Johnsrud’s graceful ease with the lyric reveals a song that would instantly improve the quality of almost any modern Broadway show. (Marlon Patton’s Latin-tinged rhythm and a standout bass solo from Billy Thornton, certainly help.) “I Like To Take My Time” makes an appropriate anthem for our times, when multi-tasking and the gig economy have pushed so many onto a perpetual treadmill; play this one on your way to yoga class. Rogers sang it as a ditty; Johnsrud turns it into a country shuffle. Meanwhile, the nonsensical “Troll Talk” fits snugly into a long lineage of jazz tunes – think Dizzy Gillespie’s “Oop-Pop-A-Da” – that treat the “words” as purely musical elements, and then go to town on them.

“It will be interesting to see which adults are attracted to this,” says Johnsrud. “And it’s just refreshing to have his work out there – especially in the current climate. We’d like to introduce his music to a younger audience as well, but largely through parents listening with their children, because these messages can appeal to all generations.” They can, and they do.

So drop in on the songs of Fred Rogers, presented in a way you haven’t heard then before. After all, you’re already in the neighborhood.

- NEIL TESSER

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