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Lullabies Give Susan Jack An Unexpected Hit

July 04, 1987|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

CARLSBAD — Susan Jack is one of San Diego's more successful songwriters.

In January, an album of 11 original songs she wrote with her kid brother, David, who lives in Los Angeles, was released privately in San Diego only.

Within weeks, the entire first run of 1,000 cassettes had been snatched up. The San Diego County Public Library system bought 70 copies, one for each branch.

The album was picked up by the Columbia House Record Club and will be offered nationally, to several million subscribers, starting July 21.

"I've been around awhile, but never have I seen people react so strongly to anything I've created," said Jack, 41. "It's quite magical, really."

Still, chances are slim that the Jacks first attempt at making a record will shoot up the charts anytime soon. Nor is it likely to get much radio air play.

That's because the album, "Don't Wake Up the Baby," consists entirely of contemporary lullabys.

"It all started two years ago when David's first child, Benjamin, was born," Susan said. "I was very much the doting aunt, and I wanted to write him a lullaby because there was nothing in contemporary children's music specifically designed to help children go to sleep.

"The only lullabys you could find on record were written hundreds of years ago. As a result, many of the lyrics are arcane and the music is boring and dull--at least, by today's standards.

"I wanted something the modern child could relate to, both lyrically and musically. And since there was nothing like that around, I decided to do it myself."

Baby Benjamin reacted so positively to that first song, "Sleepies," that she and brother David, 27, began writing more.

By last summer, the pair had written nearly a dozen, with Susan providing the lyrics and David setting them to music. On a lark, they decided to make their songs available to other fledgling families as well.

So several months later, David went into a Los Angeles recording studio and cut "Don't Wake Up the Baby." David sang and doubled on keyboards and percussion; his father, Theodore, played oboe. Joining them were San Diego jazz vocalist Coral Thuet and guitarists Larry Staffen and Alan Magginni.

"Even Benjamin got involved," Susan said. "He sang the 'Goodnight, Daddy' refrain on 'When Daddy Says Goodnight.' "

The outcome, she added, is designed to soothe sleepy infants without annoying their parents.

"Bedtime can be very stressful," she said. "Lullabys have to be relaxing and simple enough to put children to sleep, but they also have to be something that parents can stand listening to over and over.

"That's why we kept in mind the parents' tastes as well as their children's; we wanted to make music that appeals to everyone, regardless of age."

Both auntie and daddy went into the project with plenty of experience. For several years in the 1970s, Susan Jack was a staff writer for "Captain Kangaroo." Since then, she's written dozens of children's films and videos for such producers as Scholastic Inc.

David Jack spent his college summers directing children's entertainment and activities at the Brown's Hotel resort in New York. He later taught instrumental and choral music in various public schools and is music supervisor for CBS.

"Writing for children is quite unlike any other type of writing," Susan Jack said. "You need to be highly sensitive to creating a positive, happy image that children can relate to.

"On the one hand, you don't want to be too cutesy-poo and sweet. But on the other, you don't want to go above the average child's head.

"Humor is very important, but it has to be within the child's grasp, like a turtle doing the hula. In a lot of children's material, the jokes are written for adults, while the average child has no idea what they're about."

Between now and the time their album is released nationally, Jack said, she and her brother are keeping busy. While David and his band are recording a Spanish-language version of "Don't Wake Up the Baby" in Los Angeles, Susan is writing more lyrics for future albums at her home in Carlsbad.

"Columbia is starting an entire line of children's records based on our tape," Jack said. "David has also started performing live all over Los Angeles; most recently, he entertained at the Children's Hospital Fair.

"And while it might sound crazy to say this, I'm hoping that David's marvelous rapport with children, along with the songs we write together, will make him the next superstar of children's music."

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