By ALLISON SCHIFF
Special to Twin-Boro News April 8 2009
“Jersey Boys” is a big hit on Broadway. And almost everyone has heard of Jersey girls. But now there are “Jersey Babys.”
“Jersey Babys” is the result of the hard work and dedication of Danielle Gaudio-Lalehzar, daughter of Bob Gaudio, an original member of the Four Seasons and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It is an inventive instrumental reinterpretation of the Four Seasons’ major hits geared toward a new audience – children. The 13 tracks on the “Jersey Babys” CD, which were all originally written by Bob Gaudio, are soothing, gentle adaptations of Four Seasons hits — minus the lyrics.
In the words of Gaudio — who agreed to the project after much cajoling and coaxing from Danielle — working on the album was like “trying to create a musical playground” in which the tunes were boiled down to their most basic elements, “naked if you will,” and then dressed again in new clothes.
First simplified into their essential melodies, the songs were then re-imagined using violins, flutes, pianos and mellow electric beats – in the process becoming both something new and yet remaining comfortingly recognizable to the accustomed ear. Each song is uniquely crafted. “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” is sweetly jaunty; “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” becomes the love song of a parent to a child; and “Ronnie” is rendered into a tranquil lullaby.
“My father had to strip the songs and start from scratch to create new arrangements,” said Danielle, who grew up in the Bergenfield/New Milford area and in Mullica Hill. “So in the end, they’re very familiar, but also like completely different songs – like a brand new way to appreciate the music in its raw form,” said Danielle, who now lives with her family in Garden City, Long Island. “Though the lyrics are great and add another level of meaning, the music is also able to speak without them, which really shows their power,” she said.
‘Beatles for Babies’
The idea for “Jersey Babys” came to Danielle about eight years ago after hearing a “Beatles for Babies” album at a friend’s house when her older son was just a toddler. “I liked what I heard so much I ran out and bought it for myself and for all of my friends who were having babies,” said Danielle, who has a degree in elementary education. “There are a number of variations and versions of the ‘Beatles for Babies’ albums,” she said, “and I actually ended up buying the whole series.”“Then I went out and bought Elvis for Babies, which was equally as good,” she said. “And it made me start to think of dad’s music, and how much I would love to have something like the Beatles album with his music for my kids.” What resulted ultimately became a family affair.
But, from the time the concept first began to germinate in Danielle’s mind to the moment the album was completed, she had quite a lot of work and a great deal of convincing to do in order to bring it to fruition. “It was about five years before the thought turned into something real,” she said. “I mentioned my idea to my father, but it didn’t go anywhere for a while.” Though negotiations with potential labels dragged on for another year and one-half — with the usual amount of enervating corporate hemming and hawing — Danielle clung to her vision, and when “Jersey Boys” became a bona fide hit in 2005, she was able to get her father more excited about her idea, and the project really started to take off.
Robby Robinson, Frankie Valli’s longtime musical director and keyboard player, agreed to co-produce; and Gaudio himself put up the money to bankroll the venture. Danielle’s brother, Shannon, a graphic designer by trade, handled the art direction and designed the CD cover. Because Robinson was on tour with Valli at the time, he would periodically send clips via e-mail of what he was working on to Danielle for her to critique. “At the beginning, it wasn’t right,” said Danielle, who has known Robinson since she was a little girl.
‘Music box’ music
“It sounded a little like elevator music,” she said, “so I wrote back to say I wanted it to sound a little more like music from a music box.” “I made him get the Beatles CD, and I made my father listen to it again,” she said. “By that time, I’d probably listened to it thousands of times. But I never get tired of it.” It took about a year to complete, but when it was finished Danielle said “Jersey Babys” was exactly what she had had in mind.
“I didn’t just want to like it, I wanted to love it and I did,” said Danielle. “I was so pleased with the music, and I was also happy my father was mixing it because he’s usually so busy with the play, but he’d taken the time out, and I knew he’d really done it for me.” “He put a lot of work into mixing the tracks and tweaking them so they were just right because he’s a perfectionist, and that truly shows in his music,” she said.
“He didn’t just throw this together. And when I heard it, it brought tears to my eye because somehow it was even better than I had imagined.”
Despite being ostensibly geared toward kids, “Jersey Babys,” released on Rhino Records, is really for people of all ages. “We had the record company put a sticker on the album to say that it’s not just for children,” said Danielle. “This is an album for the young and the young at heart; and many adults have sent us letters and e-mails to tell us how much they love it.”
In recent years, the Four Seasons’ fan base has been broadening in an ever-widening arc with the success of “Jersey Boys” on Broadway. In addition to loyal fans, the group’s following has grown exponentially, especially among younger listeners, many of who weren’t even born when the original songs were released. The music’s intergenerational appeal can provide a common ground between parents and their children.
Many young people don’t realize how much the Four Seasons have influenced contemporary pop culture – through Heath Ledger’s famous serenade in “10 Things I Hate About You,” the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack and numerous covers and remixes of the original tracks. A Norwegian hip-hop group, MadCon, recently went to Number One in Norway with a cover of “Beggin,” which was first released by the Seasons in 1967.
“I think the music resonates because it’s timeless, and the lyrics have worth to people of all ages,” said Danielle. “Look at songs like ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ ‘Who Loves You, Pretty Baby’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’ – these songs can have meaning on different levels for children and for adults.” “After seeing the show with their parents, kids and young teens who never thought they would like that kind of music or only listen to what’s ‘cool’ on the radio, will go and download the music for their i-pods and then go back and look up the original versions of the songs,” she said. “And ‘Jersey Babys’ creates a whole new level of appreciation to be able to listen to the melodies without the lyrics, too.”
And students at Franklin School in Bergenfield, for example, are doing just that.
When Danielle, who attended Franklin School in the second grade, happened to meet Principal Rosemary LaGamma at Bob Gaudio’s honorary graduation ceremony from Bergenfield High School at the beginning of February – Gaudio had left BHS in 1958 to pursue his music career – she gave her a copy of “Jersey Babys.” LaGamma then passed the album on to Franklin School first-grade teacher Marie Sokolowski, who uses music in her classroom on a daily basis. She played the CD for her students; they loved it immediately.
“When I played it, it made them happy and totally relaxed them,” said Sokolowski. “It has a really soothing effect on the kids, and we can all use a little rest and relaxation.” “I had the ‘Jersey Babys’ CD playing when they walked into the classroom one morning, and they just immediately sat down and listened,” she said. “One little girl even asked if the song that was playing was from ‘Jersey Boys.’ Her sister and father had just gone to see the show, and she recognized the tune.”
Sokolowski, who has been teaching for 35 years, wrote her master’s thesis on integrating music into the classroom experience and using it to facilitate the learning process. She sings to the children and uses musical cues to indicate changing activities. Sokolowski also uses song to teach her students phonetic concepts, syllabification and reading skills. She plays Mozart to help her students relax, and when they need an energyrelease, she puts on a snappy tune and lets them jump around for a little bit. When they need to be active, Sokolowski makes a point of harnessing their enthusiasm instead of repressing it into silence. “Sometimes the kids just need to get up and move around in the middle of the day,” she said. “I mean, I can’t sit around all day either!”
Danielle said she also believes strongly in the importance of exposing children to music at an early age.
“I think there is a lot of parental influence on children’s tastes, and often your music tastes are molded by what you’re exposed to when you’re young. And they become a part of you and what you lean towards,” said Danielle. “If parents listen to ‘Jersey Babys’ and enjoy it like I did – and I’m not just saying that because it’s my father’s music – so will their kids.”
Danielle’s children are big Four Seasons and Beatles fans, and are very proud of their grandfather. “It’s so nice now, as a grownup, to see dad get the recognition he deserves because he had to sacrifice a lot of family time to be able to do what he does best,” she said. “But now it’s great to have my kids be able to recognize his songs in department stores, on the TV, when we’re in the supermarket. They know it right away.”
“I was with my older son, Cyrus, in a pharmacy when he was 6 and they were playing a Barry Manilow version of a Four Seasons song, and he yelled out, ‘This is grandpa’s song!’ ” said Danielle, who has “Jersey Babys” music as the ringtone on her cell phone, as well as a “Jersey Babys”-inspired license plate. “He knew it from the first few notes because I would play the music all the time for him.”
Now that her brainchild is a reality, Danielle said she could not be more pleased with the result, the quality of which she attributes to her father and to Robinson. “They’re professionals,” she said, “but they also have a real love for music. And when you put your heart and soul into something and it has meaning to you, that’s when it comes out best.” “It’s not just people doing a job here,” said Danielle. “This was a real labor of love.”
Last month, the fantastic "Jersey Babys" CD was released! It's brought a ton of enjoyment to not just kids and their parents, but it's been delighting and bringing smiles to listeners of all ages (daily- for some of us!)!
In Part One of the JBB EXCLUSIVE Interview, we had a great time chatting with "Jersey Babys" Executive Producer, Danielle Gaudio-Lalehzar, who talked about what inspired her to create this incredible CD. In Part Two, we had the amazing opportunity to chat with the musical and artistic geniuses behind "Jersey Babys" _ the legendary Bob Gaudio and the multi-talented Robby Robinson, who were co-producers and arrangers on the CD, and Shannon Gaudio, who served as artistic director and cover designer on the project.
JBB: How were you able to capture the essence of the 4 Seasons' music in "Jersey Babys" Bob Gaudio: I don't know that we did capture the essence but, if we did, it will be released immediately, It really is a matter of doing what you do best. Sometimes there is a certain signature that reveals itself and sometimes not.
JBB: What was most satisfying in terms of creativity in doing "Jersey Babys»?
BG: Hearing my melodies in their most basic form. "Naked if you will." Then, dressing them again.
JBB: Is there a particularly unique formula or style used in reproducing your hits when creating a
children's music CD?
BC: Simple, then complex, then simple again. Trying to create a musical playground. Keeping in mind this is my first venture into music for kids and, I have no idea what I am talking about.
JBB: When you first heard about the Jersey Boys project, what was your first reaction?
Robby Robinson: I was very curious. I went with Frankie & Bob down to see one of the early performances in La Jolla, and was blown away! It's easy to say in hindsight...but it looked like a hit right from the beginning. It is a stunning production on so many levels.. musically, theatricality. dramatically, on and on. Definitely a home run.
I also believe that there has been a bias among the music press covering the music of the Four Seasons.
And it is partially BECAUSE of that bias Jersey Boys has exploded on the international scene in such dramatic fashion. And it has been quite fascinating to experience a whole new legion of fans coming to OUR concerts.
JBB: "Jersey Babys" is truly a spectacular production! How did you make "Jersey Babys" sound so much richer and more intricate than other similarly arranged children's CDs? Had you ever created anything like this before?
RR: I have produced and arranged many, many children's albums over the years, maybe 30 or more. So, I had a lot of experience in doing records for kids. But I have never done a "baby" CD before.
Working with Bob Gaudio is always a tremendous experience. And pun intended, these songs were many of his "babys." I think one of the reasons why this turned out so well was that Bob never compromises. We probably put in a lot more effort and energy on this project than most people exert on albums that are targeted for kids. We worked on it for over a year, Bob knew that many people would be listening to his "babys" for years and he wanted them shown in an engaging and artistic light.
And Bob's daughter Danielle was integral to the whole project. I have to say that Danielle seems to have inherited her father's tenacity. She kept pushing and coaxing, giving her input and not hesitating if she didn't like the way a song was coming out. She was always diplomatic and constructive, but never sight like the way a gone was coming out Serve sep wording on the must ) сооровт»у with the direction. I think the best records are the result of a collaborative creative effort. In producing
"Jersey Babys," everybody around the table brought their own gifts and strengths,
JBB: Watching you on stage all these years as Frankie Vall's musical director and arranger has been an Extraordinary experience How would you compare arranging and directing music on the concert scene with the "Jersey Babys" experience in the recording studio?
RR: There are many similarities.... whenever you put together music, you keep working on it till your gut tells you it's right. Of course, many of the songs are the same that we do live in concert, so I knew them pretty well, although it was interesting that Bob kept correcting me on some of the melodies. My interpretation of the melodies had sort of evolved from years of playing live where Frankie would take liberties from the original records. I had kind of "forgotten" what the original melodies were!
Lots of differences of course.... First, it is never the same to create music for live performance vs. a CD.
Music always exists in a context and WHERE you listen plays a role in the experience. This music is for kids, more accurately babies, NOT adults. To be listened to in a room with just a few people... not a theatre with thousands of people. Our basic palettes or instrumentations were very different. no live band, no singers. "Jersey Babys" was created all on keyboards which gave an extremely broad dimension of tones and textures. We were able to combine more traditional instrumental sounds such as violins, flutes, vibes, and pianos, with more exotic sounds that can only exist in electronic music. But as Danielle likes to say, a funny thing happened on the way to making a baby CD, we seemed to have made a record that grown-ups (especially Seasons' fans) seem to enjoy.
JBB: Outside of the original Four Seasons, perhaps no one else is as familiar with their music as you are. Did the familiarity add to any particular challenges in creating a new 4 Seasons sound for kids?
RR: I wonder how many thousands of times I have played "Sherry," "Big Girls," and all the rest in 30 years of doing shows with Frankie. As a matter of fact, there's probably nobody on the face of the planet that has witnessed more Frankie Valli performances than me. And the amazing thing is, Frankie shows no signs of slowing down. And forget "just like that bunny"
... I think they must have modeled that
Energizer Bunny after Frankie!
As to how my familiarity with the music may have created challenges, I think the positives outweighed the negatives. Of course, knowing the music intimately helped me in applying little counter melodies and harmony parts in a new and different way. It allowed me to take little thematic elements from the hits and twist them around or to magnify what might have been a minor part in the original record to be much more out front and with unique sound textures. And working alongside Bob Gaudio was a fantastic situation. He had LOTS of cool ideas for what he wanted to bring out in the arrangements.
Bottom line is: Working on "Jersey Babys" was a very creative and stimulating experience. I would love to tackle a Volume 2 in the future... there certainly is no shortage of material.
JBB: Shannon, you and your sister collaborated on such a fun project! Tell us about the collaboration
Shannon Gaudio: Well, the cover completely changed from its first go-round. The original was going to be four young boys standing on the beach in familiar stance as the Jersey Boys iconic pose. Then, the years of retail started to kick in and then it changed to the cover you see now.
The cover was not as groundbreaking in graphic design as "Genuine Imitation Life Gazette," which set a standard for album artwork in its day. The actual newspaper inside was amazing, but it lagged in sales probably the same reason "Watertown" didn't sell as well because the artist's image was not on the cover.
The album borrows what it needs from its musical counterpart, but truly stands on its own musical and Robby Robinson is just an amazing musician. Credit to all the folks who do their jobs with little or n recognition the production and art departments. Maria McKenna and company really gave much TIC to this project as they do a stellar job of packaging, They did an awesome job on the "Jersey Beat” package.
JBB: Tell us how the music of *Jersey Babys" inspired you to create the design package?
SG: Well, I didn't really hear much of the tracks until much of the art was on its way to Rhino. The inspiration was something that came from memory of being very young and seeing Frankie and the 4 Seasons at the Hollywood Bowl. I remember us there early in the day and just playing and running around through the seats before anyone was there. Then, as the night moved on, being out in the audience. The sun setting with a beautiful magenta as Frankie took the stage and hearing the amazing orchestra start. The similar feeling like seeing the Disney Castle at night - magical. Funny, this memory still stands like it just happened yesterday.
JBB: What about your favorites: Favorite "Jersey Babys" song? Favorite 4 Seasons song?
SG: The favorite track really has to be "Dawn" on the "Babys" CD. The 4 Seasons song is a very hard one 'cause there are many. The songs would have to be "Beggin'"-this I swear, done as a duet with someone like Amy Winehouse would be a killer; and "Who Loves You"_ this track still shows the Strength of a drummer in how well he can play a hi-hat. Also, "Lonesome Road" and "Don't Think
* just cause I can hear my Dad's voice on the right speaker. I always liked those songs 'cause they just make me happy.
Hearing what my sister accomplished makes me proud she stuck to her guns and followed through with this project.
Thank you again to the extraordinary musical and artistic geniuses Bob Gaudio, Robby Robinson, and Shannon Gaudio for taking the time to share their thoughts on their spectacular "Jersey Babys" production. For more information, visit the Jersey Babys website!