November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Chats with Diana Panton | ClefNotes

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Diana Panton is not new to performing, but she is new to children’s music. After creating six jazz albums for adult audiences, this five-time Juno nominee (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) broke into the children’s field with the beautiful I Believe in Little Things, which was named to SLJ’s Top 10 Music of 2016 list.

You’ve been described as leading a double life (teacher by day, jazz musician by night). Tell us about Diana the teacher.
My parents had the foresight to enroll me in French immersion when I was in kindergarten. I continued my French studies through university, completing a master’s in French literature. While at university, I was asked to teach language classes both in Canada and France, and it was during these experiences that I decided I would like to become a teacher. Subsequently, I completed art studies at the Parsons School in Paris and drama courses in Stratford, Ont., and currently, I teach art and drama in French to high school immersion students. So, I was able to combine multiple interests into my role as a teacher.

Now tell us about Diana the performer. What was it that drew you to jazz?
Growing up…I heard primarily classical music. My dad was very particular about who could touch (or not touch) the stereo system. When I was about 17, he put on an Ella Fitzgerald record. This immediately caught my ear. When my dad saw my interest in this music, he pulled out a bunch more records that he had not listened to in years. Turns out he was quite an avid jazz enthusiast in his younger days, but the records had been stashed away and not listened to for a long time. Oddly enough, my dad has not played classical music in the house since that day we unearthed his treasure trove. When I outgrew my dad’s collection, I started going to the local library and taking out the maximum number of CD and cassette tapes allowed each week. From these I would make my own mixed tapes, which became the foundation for my own library of repertoire.

You achieved acclaim, including a Juno award, with your half-dozen adult jazz albums. What led you to doing an album of children’s music?
I decided to make a children’s album after receiving multiple emails from parents saying they were using various recordings of my jazz renditions to put their kids to sleep. Since not all the songs on my recordings had child-friendly lyrics, I just figured if kids are enjoying jazz, why not provide them with a whole album of songs. At first, I thought of putting together a collection of lullabies, but as the album developed, I moved toward imagination as my theme, showcasing songs from waking and sleeping dreams.

On I Believe in Little Things, you introduced so many of the songs from my childhood to a new generation. How did you choose which songs to include on this album?
While sourcing songs for this album, I was looking for compositions of substance that would lend themselves well to jazz treatments. This led me to songs such as “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppets; vintage Disney gems, such as those from Alice in Wonderland; and a couple of selections, including the title track, from Sesame Street composer Joe Raposo. Raposo’s music was of particular interest to me since through his work with Sesame Street, he aimed to expose kids to quality music with multiple influences. Some of the songs were familiar to me from my childhood, although many were new discoveries.

Did it feel any different winning the Juno award for a children’s album than when you won for Red?
I was pleasantly surprised to win the Juno for I Believe in Little Things. I know the album is a departure from what most people consider to be typical children’s music, and I wasn’t sure how the music would be received on that level. I had the option of submitting the album in either the jazz or children’s category, and although it was eligible for both, I felt strongly that the intention was to provide jazz music for kids (and the young at heart). I had received four nominations in the jazz category, prior to winning my first Juno for RED in 2015, so I was surprised to win with my first attempt in the children’s category in 2017. Of course, the win was appreciated, but, more important, I was grateful that as a result, more kids would be exposed to this music.

What’s next for you?
I’m just completing work on my eighth domestic album, which shall be released this fall. I’m also in the process of moving to a new distributor, which will have a stronger presence in the United States, so I’m hopeful that my music will reach a greater audience via their efforts, as many of my previous albums have been thus far unavailable in America. I’ve also begun work on my ninth album, so I’m just sourcing songs for that.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
I would just like to stress that the Little Things album is about imagination: in kids this is naturally occurring, but I believe that we should never grow out of this. It is important that we foster our creativity at any age, and this album is for both children and the young at heart.

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