Mini Fashionista meets… Michael Janisch

Michael Janish & daughter 2

I recently had the privilege of getting inside the magnificent musical mind behind Jazz for Babies, a concept that has brought the magic of high quality jazz music to the baby music market. Internationally renowned US –born jazz musician and professor of music, Michael Janisch began producing this unique sensory product on discovering he was to be a father for the first time. Assembling the world’s finest musicians to perform on real instruments, Janisch and four-time Grammy-nominated engineer Tyler McDiarmid, produced a series of five albums filled with soothing instrumental lullaby-renditions of the world’s most beautiful songs.

Including saxophone, trumpet, guitar, vibraphone and piano, each album contains 15 songs, with everything from Moon River to Moonlight in Vermont. Creating this music with the vision to offering the best start in life, Michael said: “From my own research and instinct as a musician of over twenty years, I knew that introducing a baby to the right kind of music at the earliest age (in the womb in our case!), can help give rise to a calm and serene baby, as well as developing creativity and individuality.”

Wanting to delve further into Michael’s thoughts and feelings on music, we sat down to discuss everything from the Mozart effect to the effect Jazz for Babies had on Michael’s own daughter, Eliza.

Mini Fashionista: Michael – thank you so much for agreeing to do a Q&A with me. Since receiving the Jazz for Babies CDs, a calmness has settled over my home as we are all lulled to sleep day and night by the beautiful music you and your fellow musicians have created. I’m interested to know, what exactly does music mean to you?

Michael Janisch: First of all thank you for having me and it’s wonderful to hear that you have had a great experience with the JFB music. It certainly was produced with relaxation in mind. What does music mean to me? Now that’s a question! It’s very hard to put into words something that has always been completely natural and central to my life. Music has always been there. My mother had an amazing record collection and as soon as I was born I was exposed to a huge palette of sounds from around the world. Music is my spirituality, it is the way I truly communicate my feelings with the world and it has taught me how to view the world in-depth through an honest lens. When I’m feeling down, music lifts me up; it’s something I can come back to day after day to find inspiration – I believe it’s really one of the true miracles we’ve been given as humans. In terms of Jazz for Babies, this series of music was a very personal project for me because it came as a result of having my first child, Eliza. As a musician since the age of 4 (I’m now 34), I was very excited to play music to my first baby (in the womb) and so as soon as my wife Sarah and I found out we were pregnant I went searching for some baby music, but I was not happy with what I found. Most of the baby music I did find was very soulless, computerised-sounding mechanical noise recorded on fake instruments (synthesizers, etc), which to me was the absolute worst thing I could ever play to my unborn baby. Having a baby is so special and real and the last thing I wanted was to play her something that hadn’t been produced to a high quality. I soon noticed that pretty much all the baby music I found in general was just poorly produced and that really shocked me, so I thought why not record my own music for babies but to the same standard of quality that is produced for adults. And the idea for JFB was born. The songs that I chose were all very special to me in some way or another: either I had played them as a musician for years, or songs that my parents used to play me, or songs that have great lyrics and so on. Throughout the entire process of creating the music and adapting these timeless songs I thought of my baby as inspiration and what calm and serene sounds she might like to hear. So it goes without saying that this has been one of the most personal musical projects that I have ever been involved in.

MF: What first led you to pursue a career in music, jazz specifically?

MJ: It was just natural. At about 3 years of age my parents discovered that I had perfect pitch and they used to have friends over and send me into another room and then they would play a series of notes on the piano and I would come back into the room having only heard what they played, and then I played the notes back to them. It made for a great icebreaker! I then started piano at age 4 and ended up learning a bunch of instruments but now have settled with the electric and double bass as my main purveyor of sound. Jazz music is for me a way to express myself through music to the fullest because of the improvisational element – when improvising one enters a high level of consciousness, which is very enlightening, personal and honest. It’s spiritual for me to perform music for a living, and I feel very lucky every day to do what I do.

MF: Why do you believe the music you produce has such a calming effect?

MJ: I believe that this music has this effect because we adapted these already timeless and many times heart-wrenching songs with great melodies into lullabies on real, beautiful-sounding acoustic instruments, recorded by real musicians. The ‘real’ ingredient is the important element. We put soul into the music – these aren’t computerised samples of songs; this was performed live with dozens of microphones and then a lot of post-production work was carried out by a world class sound engineer. As a new father I put a lot of emotion and dedication into the music, making sure each track achieved that lullaby and dreamlike vibe, and this wasn’t easy! To play so many songs SO slow in the studio takes an alarming amount of control and concentration, and we were all exhausted after recording this music. We also perform the tempos much slower than the originals and we perform very softly on our instruments and all throughout the session I was reminding the musicians to visualise that the ‘audience’ of this music could be a sleeping baby. And this mood is definitely achieved and I’m very proud of the results. It also helps when the musicians on board are some of the best younger musicians on their respective instruments in the world.

MF: How does your daughter respond to music now, having benefited from its presence since being in utero?

MJ: Eliza loves the records and she’s aware that I made them for her. She calls them “her pretty music that daddy made for me.” Eliza most definitely has the music bug, there is no question about it and without trying to brag too much as a father she is incredibly bright for her age and her speech is to the level of a 4 year old (she’s 2 ½). I’m thoroughly convinced music has had a positive effect on her development. She also knows most of the songs on the first 5 albums we produced by name, she recalls them and she knows the instruments. And we listen to the music every night when we get ready for bed and every night she tells me to leave the music on and will tell me which album she wants me to play (she has favourites!). She’s always singing and dancing whenever something is on the radio as well.

MF: What is your view of the “Mozart Effect”?

MJ: Music has a positive effect on our mind and body, there’s no doubt about it. Since getting involved in this project I have read with great interest all the different research that has been conducted with music and if it has the ability to raise intelligence. With regards to actually listening to Mozart’s music, or classical music in general, it has been shown that this can help people do better on tests in the short term. My personal view from performing and being around music my entire life is that music definitely does inspire people and heighten a person’s creativity, consciousness, awareness and therefore intelligence. And exposing a baby to truly beautiful and creative music (at appropriate volumes in short spans) from the earliest of age can be nothing but good for them.

MF: Can you tell me how a child’s creativity can be nurtured through listening to music?

MJ: Well first of all music IS creative, so this goes hand in hand. From my own experience as a father as well as reading research, I’ve learned that playing music to babies or young children can have a positive effect on their mood, stimulate their minds, inspire them or even motivate children for learning new things. I’ve seen music aid children in learning the foundations of languages (for example having children playing rhythms with drums and percussion instruments is a great way to introduce them to ‘call and response’). With Eliza I sometimes will have a period of music time where we simply dance along to great music and this seems to get her in a ‘creative mood’ and from there we may move on to working with the alphabet or numbers. And many times we’ll have music playing while we are doing art and drawings as well and I know that it helps both of us get the creative juices flowing. And with regards to what we’ve done with the JFB series of music – recent studies on Jazz music that contains improvisation have shown to stimulate the areas of the brain to do with creativity and individuality, so we’ve included a sprinkle of this into each track on our albums. Thus our music is not only pleasant and calming to listen to but with all the colourful harmonies and melodically improvised sections we’re performing and exposing their little ears and minds to truly creative music on these albums as well.

MF: Have you or would you consider orchestrating live concerts for babies and expectant mothers?

MJ: This has been something that I have been pondering as of late and I have started talking and developing this idea since I started JFB, and I hope to be able to make this a reality sometime soon. Of course the immediate obstacles include where to perform, costs of promoting the events and all general logistical hurdles that doing any live performances entail.

MF: Well, I for one hope those obstacles are overcome soon! On the subject of entertainment, particularly in this day and age where TV is the primary source for many children, do you think television can be harmful to a baby’s development?

MJ: Too much can be, but certain programs in small or controlled doses can be educational. For me it really depends on what the content is. Allowing your children to mindlessly watch television for hours on end is terrible in my opinion and amounts to nothing more than lazy parenting and what I like to refer to as ‘mind rot.’ Also the constant barrage of advertising isn’t good for them at all, so finding programs that don’t have this is best I think. But letting Eliza watch a program of Stevie Wonder doing a live concert singing ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ is a great way to show her some very inspirational music with creative and artful visuals as well. There are also a lot of great television education programs that she watches.

MF: Stevie Wonder is one my personal favourites and an amazing example of how sensory restraints can be overcome to create something extraordinary! Music is a language that crosses many boundaries and impacts many different kinds of people, however I’m interested to know your thoughts on making the benefits of music accessible in some way to those who have a hearing impairment?

MJ: I have some friends who have degrees in Music Therapy and they deal with this on a daily basis and while I am no expert in this area I do know that music can be a very useful social tool for including those with hearing impairments (which for many is one of the most devastating impairments to get) and people usually have varying degrees of it, so certain types of music and instruments can be heard better or worse. I myself have done many performances for people with varying hearing disabilities (including some performances that were sponsored by government grant money) and some completely deaf as well and they have enjoyed the music because they could feel the pulse and I could see that even though they couldn’t’ hear what we were playing, they could enjoy in the emotion and the vibes that were being transferred around the room. In fact as I think of it now these performances have been hugely satisfying to me as a musician to know that even though someone can barely hear what I am playing I’m still connecting with them on a very real, human level. Again, this is just the power of music and I’m glad there are government programs that actively fund these types of musical outreach.

MF: Absolutely, and that is one of the most beautiful things about music, its inclusivity and ability to affect people in different ways. Just one final question, is there a specific song that you associate with your daughter, and if so, why?

MJ: For sure – Que Sera, Sera. This is a beautiful song that my wife would sing to her when she was still in the womb and then as a baby. I recorded this on the Vibraphone Album and it is definitely one of my favourite tracks across the entire first five albums. Whenever I hear it played (and Eliza requests it a lot because she knows all the words) I think of that special time when my wife was bonding with her in the womb.

The Jazz for Babies albums can be bought online, retailing at £11.99 each and £9.99 for the digital version. The entire series will be available from all good record stores in the ‘Children’s Music’ section, from 10 June 2013 and from over 50 online and digital retailers including Amazon and iTunes.

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