Just a short while ago, Robb Zelonky was just another Hollywood hopeful: yet another actor from the Midwest in Los Angeles. The difference was that for many years, as a hobby, he had been working with children, directing juvenile plays and teaching music in synagogues and public and private schools. When he found a way to merge his vocation with his avocation to forge a new career, Robbo was born.
"About three years ago, I wrote three songs and the kids (at the synagogue) went nuts over them," says Zelonky, now known to his young audiences as Robbo. "The kids were so encouraging that it made me write more."
Robbo, who will be appearing Saturday at Pages bookstore in Tarzana and again on Feb. 4 at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, has recorded two albums of music geared for children, ages 3 to 8. His most recent, "Space Aliens, It's Party Time," was released late last year. Robbo has performed across the country, including in Washington at last year's White House Easter Egg Hunt.
Zelonky says his own childhood memories give him an insight into how it is to be a kid. One of his songs, "Blanket Kid," is based on a game he played when he was small.
Other songs performed in a variety of musical styles deal good-heartedly with everyday travails of childhood: "The Shot Blues," "Blow Your Nose," "Don't Wanna Share," "Sometimes Ya Gotta Have a Cry," "Strangers" and "Chicken Pox."
"It gives me so much more joy to sing for kids" than to act, says Zelonky, a Chicago native, who now lives in Van Nuys with his wife, Barbara, and his 7-month-old daughter, Zoe.
\o7 Robbo will perform at 11 a.m. Saturday at Pages bookstore, 18399 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 34-BOOKS. Admission is $2, which can be applied to the purchase of one of Robbo's tapes. Robbo will also perform at 11 a.m. Feb. 4 at Luther Burbank Middle School Auditorium, 3700 Jeffries Ave., Burbank. Tickets are $4.50 in advance, $5 at the door. Babies under 1 year old are free. Call (818) 558-4611. \f7
JAZZ MAN: Famed jazz acoustic bassist and CalArts faculty member Charlie Haden began his musical career as a child cowboy singer in the Midwest. But it was in Los Angeles, with legendary sax player Ornette Coleman's Quartet in the late 1950s, that Haden achieved international stature.
Haden, 57, is now nominated for two Grammy Awards by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He and his group, Quartet West, have been nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance for the group's album "Always Say Goodbye." Haden is also nominated for his solo performance on a song on the album "Alone Together."
Haden, who will perform with Quartet West on Feb. 5 at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater in West Los Angeles, has played on more than 400 albums with such artists as Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Rickie Lee Jones, Herbie Hancock, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, John Coltrane and others. He has been voted best acoustic bassist by downbeat's Critics and Readers Poll for the last 12 years.
Haden helped found the CalArts jazz program 12 years ago. He divides his time between teaching, composing and performing.
"I teach a class at CalArts, 'Discovering Your Voice on Your Instrument,' " Haden says. "You have to discover your voice, your sound, your melody, your harmony, (which) are inside your soul.
"Just like your fingerprints are different, your music is different."
His nominated album, "Always Say Goodbye," is a romantic musical celebration of an older Los Angeles, a town of movie stars and Chandleresque characters.
He performs primarily with two groups, Quartet West and his Liberation Music Orchestra. Haden does not perform in clubs, preferring concert halls, which, he feels, befit the dignity of his music.
\o7 Haden and Quartet West will perform a free concert at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 at the Veterans Wadsworth theater on the grounds of the Veterans Administration on Wilshire Boulevard, just west of the San Diego Freeway in West Los Angeles. Call (310) 794-8961.
BEATLEMANIA: Aging Beatlemaniacs will have a place to go on Valentine's Day. The Antelope Valley Inn in Lancaster will present "The BackBeat," a musical tribute to the Fab Four.
The band consists of Danny Lopez as George Harrison, Peter George as John Lennon, Frank Mendonca as Paul McCartney and Mike Sarafian as Ringo Starr.
"Our look is uncanny," Lopez says, adding: "I don't think you'll find another band that looks so much" like the Beatles.
So much, Lopez says, that Mendonca is even left-handed, just as McCartney is.
Thanks to that "look," the four were cast in 1992 to play the Beatles in a segment of the TV tabloid "Hard Copy" that focused on Elvis Presley. The group decided then to form a band and create an act.
"We do it for love; we're all die-hard Beatles fans," Lopez says. He adds that since all four members of the BackBeat show band have acting backgrounds, "it's more theatrical than just four musicians playing songs."