Ever talk with a kid fresh off the playground?
"Didja see me? I was way up there, and then Jimmy, he . . . you shoulda seen it. . . . Let's come back tomorrow!"
A discussion with Dan Crow is a little like that. He's a former schoolteacher who has spent the past 15 years as a professional children's singer/songwriter, and his conversational style is as fast, fluid and energetic as a kid on the monkey bars. Crow, a performer who combines "calculated silliness" with tuneful lessons on the English language, appears tonight at 7:30 in Anaheim's Pearson Park Amphitheatre as part of the city's "Just for Kids" series.
"My songs all have two reasons to exist: entertainment and instruction," he explained during a phone interview from his Redondo Beach home. "Every song is, hopefully, entertaining, but there's also some learning taking place, whether it's how to be a better communicator, or just how to have fun with words. It all stimulates reading and literacy."
Crow began composing original songs to teach language skills as an elementary school and special education teacher in the late 1960s and early '70s. Using those songs as a basis, he took the plunge into the children's music business and has spent the last 15 years honing his craft before audiences in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has recorded nine albums on various independent labels and recently signed a contract with Sony Music Entertainment, which will re-release five of these titles and two concert videos later this year, and he wrote and performed "Walk Outside," the title song in Columbia Pictures' "The Adventures of Milo and Otis."
Although he is spending more and more time in the spotlight, education continues to be Crow's priority. In addition to his family concerts, he presents music workshops for teachers and appears in school performances designed for preschoolers to high school students. Through an ongoing relationship with the Walt Disney Co., he has produced seven educational videos and has written more than 50 songs for children's programs aired on the Disney Channel.
Crow says his tunes appeal to two basic age groups: 3 to 7 and 8 to 13, but older students and adults have been known to hum along as well. For the younger ones, there's "The Ballad of Reuben Rooster" and "Jack the Giant," sing-alongable lessons in the letter sounds R, J and G. For the older ones, the repertoire includes "Puns" ("I'm going to start my own line of spaghetti sauce / I realize it's not an oregano idea / But it has pasta-bilities.) and "Madame, I'm Adam," an explanation of palindromes, words and phrases that spell the same thing backward or forward.
To make the lessons even more appealing, Crow interjects plenty of humor and storytelling into his performances.
"It's all in the way you present it," he said. "I never talk down to (children). It should be silly and funny, but you also have to respect the listeners' intelligence."
In concert, Crow strings together his tunes with storytelling, spinning homey little yarns about common childhood experiences that segue into tunes such as "American Gum."
"Before the song, I talk about the first time my sister and I went to the movies by ourselves," Crow explained. "We go in and I find gum stuck under my seat, then after the movie, I step on some gum, then I buy some gum and blow this monstrous bubble. Well, somebody bumps me and--yuck--now the gum's stuck in my hair and mom has to get it out with peanut butter."
Of course, you can hardly hold still when he's telling such lively tales, so in between strums of the guitar and blasts on his Hum-a-zoo (a variation on a kazoo that's "great for animal sounds: horses, elephants, pterodactyls . . ."), Crow throws in kid-style body language and sound effects.
"Visually, I loved Red Skelton," he said. "People tell me my face is real rubbery. I stick my tongue out, roll my eyes. . . . That's all part of communication, right?"
Crow writes much of his material on the road and says he looks to children themselves for many of his ideas.
"Kids are so wonderfully spontaneous," he said. "I'm absorbing stuff from them all the time. You have to, because if you're going to perform for children, you have to be able to tap into the child inside you."
Who: Children's singer Dan Crow.
When: Thursday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Anaheim's Pearson Park Amphitheatre (Lemon Street between Lincoln Avenue and Sycamore Street).
Whereabouts: Santa Ana (5) Freeway to Anaheim Blvd., go north to Sycamore, go west to Lemon.
Wherewithal: $1 for children 12 and under and senior citizens; $2 for adults.
Where to Call: (714) 254-5191.