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2005-04-12

Blue Notes By Buddy Blue

Good googley moogley! There're so many superlative sonic showcases this week by so many hellacious hotshots who rarely come to town, I hardly know where to begin in my breathless, Blue-ly recommendations.

The stellar line-up at Festival Del Mar alone packs a couple months worth of illustrious talent over the course of the weekend, but the act that's got me most excited is Desmond Dekker & the Aces, appearing on Sunday. Dekker, King of the Rude Boys, was the biggest domestic star to emerge from the first-stream ska movement in Jamaica during the '60s, and was nearly as popular in the U.K. His quirky falsetto and popping, percussive phrasing took "The Israelites" near the top of the U.S. charts in 1968, marking the first time authentic Island music made an impact on these shores. By that time, though, Dekker was already a superstar back at home, with equally great tunes like "007 (Shanty Town)," "Rudie Got Soul" and "It Pays" under his belt. With the birth of reggae and the rise of Bob Marley in the '70s, Dekker's star began to wane, but his career enjoyed a worldwide resurgence when the Two-Tone movement hit around 1980, and groups like the Specials and the Selecter began reviving the sound Dekker had pioneered earlier, albeit with far less vocal expertise. The idiosyncratic Dekker has kept a relatively low profile since then, but a new CD was released last week. Although I haven't heard it yet, one hopes it will bring some deserved renown flowing back to Dekker, as fellow ska pioneer Toots Hibbert's recent comeback CD re- introduced him to a new generation.

Bummer that the Funky Meters had to cancel their scheduled appearance at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach a couple weeks ago due to Art Neville injuring his back, but you can catch the next best thing when former Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste and his band appear at the BUT on Saturday night. Zig was largely inactive post-Meters, but his 2000 solo CD, "Zigaboo.com," was a happy-feets- inducing workout on traditional, '60s New Orleans R&B on the one hand, and old-school '70s funk on the other.

I've always thought of Sheila Jordan as sort of a female counterpart to Chet Baker. Hers is an odd little wisp of voice; a mournful, thin-timbred whisper in the night; but one that packs a startling emotional wallop as compared to many of her more deep-toned, jazz-singing sistren. While Jordan has far more vocal chops in her arsenal than Baker and is wholly capable of tackling bop, scat and vocalese material with wondrous finesse, she conjures the same sort of deep blue moods as Chet when tackling ballads, which ultimately, I believe, is her forte. The opportunity to regale oneself of a Jordan concert in the intimate, unassuming environs of Dizzy's in the Gaslamp on Sunday night, with the juicy local rhythm section of Gunnar Biggs, Rick Helzer and Duncan Moore providing back-up, is not one to be missed.

If you're familiar with the name Toots Thielemans, it's probably because you've seen it scrolling through the credits on "Sesame Street" for having composed the show's theme song. We shall forgive Toots this lapse - if not San Diego songster Steve Poltz for his own nerve-shredding rendition of that tune - as Thielemans has been wringing improbably thrilling jazz improvisations out of his humble little chrome axe since the '50s, when he came to fore as a musical associate of Benny Goodman. Thielmans appears Monday night the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, along with Brazilian bossa nova guitar master Oscar Castro-Neves and pianist Kenny Werner.

Tuesday night, Humphrey's Backstage Lounge hosts the second of two benefit concerts for local jazz singer/DJ/general cheerleader Peggy Claire, who's been fighting a battle with lung cancer - and winning handily, if her purtier'n ever countenance and ongoing orneriness is any indication. Claire will be

performing with guitarist Pat Danna, trombonist/cornetist Dan Barrett, bassist Dave Stone and drummer Hal Smith - not to mention who-knows-how-many-other local heavies that turn up to jam and show their love and support for Ms. Peggy.

Lastly but not leastly, juju music sovereign King Sunny Ade and his African Beats appear at the Belly Up on Wednesday night, weaving hypnotic, densely layered mosaics of sound with enough spellbinding groove to move Pat Boone to don a dashiki.

Whew! Hey, for one week, San Diego can point to such musical hotspots as New York, San Francisco, Austin and New Orleans and invite 'em all to bend down and kiss our collective cultural patootie!

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

By Buddy Blue If you're the parent of a tot under ten, odds are you're familiar with children's music group, the Wiggles.

Perhaps that's rather an understatement, as you've more likely endured a Wiggles sensory overload of bacchanalian proportions. Okay, let's get real: judging from my own two-year-old daughter's obsessive Wiggles jones, it's a fair presumption that the Australian quartet's songs are permanently embedded deep within your cerebral cortex; playing in eternal, involuntary rotation; perhaps even preventing a peaceful night's sleep on occasion.

Hey, it could be worse. Compared to the sickly-sweet wholesomeness of "Barney," the relentless thematic redundancies of "Dora The Explorer" or the scary, disorienting weirdness of "The Teletubbies," the Wiggles -- who perform two shows at the Sports Arena this afternoon -- are a relatively adult-friendly breath of fresh air.

More to the point, the Wiggles are the combined equivalent of Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles among the pre-school set, and with good reason: the group's songs are exceptionally, uniformly melodic, clever and entirely infectious; not to mention performed with earnest if hyperactive enthusiasm. I believe several of their tunes might have been hits were they not intended for kiddies.

I'm hardly alone in this assessment. Renowned musical guests abound on Wiggles DVDs, from Slim Dusty (Australia's Hank Williams) to Tim Finn of Crowded House to legendary American rocker John Fogerty, former leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

"He's got a daughter who's probably about four now, and he brought her to a show," relates the Wiggles' Murray Cook of the Fogerty connection. Cook had just come offstage from a performance in Las Vegas moments before picking up the phone, and his continued awe in recalling the meeting was apparent between puffs for breath.

"John came backstage and met us and he was really enthusiastic," Cook continued. "He kept saying how much he really liked the music. John Fogerty! That blew us all away, really. We kept in touch with him and finally asked if he'd be interested in doing something with us, and he said, 'yeah.' Even when I look at that video now, I still pinch myself."

The Wiggles' success story is an unusual one, to say the least. Cook and two of his bandmates - Greg Page and Anthony Field - first came together in 1991 while attending classes in early childhood education. Field had been in a successful rock band called the Cockroaches back in the '80s, and when the group broke up, he had the notion to record an album of children's music. Cockroaches' keyboardist Jeff Fatt was invited to join Field, Cook and Page in the Wiggles, though he was the only member lacking a preschool teaching credential.

"Originally, the idea was just a way to use what we'd learned at the university and apply it to entertainment," says Cook. "We thought the album would be a one-off, but it started to sell. Then we did some live shows and videos, and it just started to build. When we got our TV show on the Disney Channel, that's when things really took off."

Lest you get the wrong impression, the Wiggles' kiddie-superstar status was a long time coming. It took six years before they first landed on Aussie TV, and early shows were positively Cro-Magnon as compared to contemporary Wiggles output, now rife with slick effects, professional production values and a huge cast and crew.

For all that, the Wiggles' methodology has remained consistent. Emphasis has always been placed on traditional music from around the globe, in conjunction with the group's eclectic originals, which embrace pop, rock, doo-wop, R&B, gospel, Australian, Continental and Celtic sensibilities alike.

"That's something in the philosophy of early childhood education in general, to expose children to many different cultures in lots of different ways," Cook explains. "There's so much great music all over the world...it's important to us, and we feel the need to reflect that. Australia is a very multi-cultural country, like the U.S."

The diversity in age, musical tastes and lifestyles of the respective Wiggles plays a further role in the

wide-ranging nature of their music. Fatt is the elder statesman at 52, Page the junior at 32, while Cook and Field are both in their early-40s. Fatt is single; Cook and Page are veteran husbands and fathers, while Field is new to the parenthood game.

"Us three older ones grew up in the '60s, so there's a lot of that in what we do," says Cook. "Anthony is a big Elvis and Stones nut. He's also into a lot of country stuff like Merle Haggard and Bob Wills. I'm more sort of the rock guy, I love old '50s stuff and I also love punk. I'm a big Elvis Costello fan. Jeff likes a lot of black music from the '50s and '60s. He's a Hammond player, so he loves Booker T & the MGs and people like that."

Beyond the music, the Wiggles accentuate teaching good manners, deeds, hygiene and morality. Yet unlike so much children's programming, the lessons aren't doled out in a heavy-handed or condescending manner. Rather, the Wiggles approach education with the type of vaguely ornery silliness that any discriminating toddler can relate to and enjoy.

"That was really the basis for everything when we started," Cook stresses. "We never could do that without the kind of grounding we have in the way children think. Our training taught us a lot about psychology and development. Early childhood education comes much more from the child's point of view than grade school education."

Didactic issues aside, a large measure of the Wiggles' appeal is that they genuinely seem to be having a great time performing, and that's conveyed in all aspects of their work.

"Oh yeah, we really do enjoy ourselves," Cook enthuses. "We just came offstage here in Las Vegas. We really hadn't played live since a couple months before Christmas, and it feels fantastic! We have such a great time, it's quite joyous, I think."

The Wiggles, April 15 at the San Diego Sports Arena, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd. in San Diego, 3 PM and 6 PM, $18 - $33, (619) 224-4171.

SIDEBAR:

WIGGLY RECOMMENDATIONS The Wiggles TV show airs thrice daily on the Disney Channel, there are 20-plus Wiggles CDs currently in print, and as many VHS/DVD programs available. This doting daddy owns most of the DVDs; the following have most thoroughly entertained my two-year-old daughter:

"Hoop-De-Doo It's A Wiggly Party" This is among the most manic and palpably retro of all Wiggles programs, with fab-gear music, graphics, set designs and dance routines to elicit fond memories of '60s TV shows like "The Monkees" and "The Banana Splits" among boomers. For balance, there's also a giddy polka number ("Hoop-Dee-Doo"), a traditional Irish bridal celebration ("Marie's Wedding") and a hopping take on "La Cucaracha" that bleaches out the customary references to marijuana por fumar.

"The Wiggles Magical Adventure" The Wiggles' feature film was originally released to theaters in Australia but went direct to video stateside. The storyline - detailing a hapless (okay, annoying) magician's quest to secure a magic wand, plus regular cast character Dorothy The Dinosaur pouting that no one remembered her birthday - is simple enough for even a toddler to follow with fascination, and is highlighted by several top-notch Wiggles tunes. The 80-minute running time is an added bonus.

"Wiggle Bay" Relatively low-key by Wiggles standards, this features a lovely, tranquil beach setting, less hectic pacing and music than usual (save for a couple of groovy surf-rock numbers) and the amusing revelation that King Neptune is actually....Elvis! While it's never a good idea to play Wiggles videos for your kids near bedtime, this is as close as our heroes come to providing a calming effect on the wee ones.

"It's A Wiggly Wiggly World" Packed with cameos by regional stars from Australia and New Zealand, highlights include outback songster Slim Dusty (who passed away shortly after filming), Rolf Harris reprising his worldwide '60s hit "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport," Tim Finn tackling the Split Enz's new wave stand-by, "Six Months In A Leaky Boat," and a suave-as-silk performance by some guy named Kamahl, who is apparently Australia's answer to Lou Rawls.

"Wiggly Safari"

The Wiggles meet fellow Aussie superstar Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter, in a program that has the same effect on kids as imbibing a dozen shots of espresso. While the combined Wiggles/Irwin energy levels are grating enough to have parents reaching for the Xanax, your fledglings, needless to say, will eat it up. There are also moments of tenderness with animals that will help teach the young'uns that setting the cat on fire is really not a very nice thing to do.