Oregon has a very busy kids' music scene. On any given weekend, you can find preschooler pirate rock, a family variety show featuring members of the Decemberists, or any number of acts promising to entertain kids without annoying parents.
One of Oregon's breakout kids' artists plans to deliver her second collection of music this year. Lori Henriques romps through jazz and classical traditions. She's aiming to spark kids' curiosity. April Baer visited Henriques during studio sessions, and has this profile.
Growing up in Southwest Washington, Lori Henriques had no clue about the music journey ahead. But she took her first step with her music-loving stepfather, walking into Portland's storied jazz club, Atwaters. She was 12, and a little young for jazz clubs.
April Baer / OPB
"I was a very conscientious first born child who thought 'Is it really ok to go in a bar?' "
This was her first exposure to artists like Mel Brown, Rebecca Kilgore and Dave Frishberg.
Somewhere inside Henriques, a switch flipped. The lyrics were amazing. And the music, Henriques says , "When you are trained classically and you hear that you hear all those voicings plus stacked up even more thirds on top the chords. it is just thrilling." While she studied classical piano exclusively, when she got around to writing and playing her own music, she gravitated back to jazz.
A Washington Post critic called her first release of original songs for kids, Outside My Door, one of the best kids' records of 2011. Her low-key lyrics, taking a cue from Frishberg, Bob Dorough and others, cut through the noise of louder bands. The next thing Henriques knew, she was invited to the Kindiefest family music conference in Brooklyn. She found fans all over the country. She says she'd had no idea how many great artists were out there writing for the 12-and-under set.
April Baer / OPB
"I had not researched that at all," she says. "I had no idea. I just knew I felt like writing for kids. I've just always loved teaching piano lessons and I loved my students and I relate to them very much. I mean yeah, so I felt like writing something that they would understand," she said laughing.
Henriques says it was helpful to find other people to talk to about the challenges of writing and performing for kids. Many kids' bands are geared toward sing-alongs or helping pint-sized fans dance out their extra energy. But Henriques is trying to connect with kids who want to sit and listen.
Henriques says she's still working through how far she can push younger listeners' attention spans. She explained, "I always try to just think what do I hear next, what would sound so wonderful next. I don't think about the chorus, I don't think about the structure, anything like that, I just think what do I want to hear."
Jazz pianist Randy Porter, who produced Henriques' new album at his studio in Lake Oswego, says Henriques stands out because of that deceptive simple sensibility.
"Every song seems to have moments where you could not have predicted it would have gone like that... If you had to do it yourself, you'll miss little things that she gets. And so I've sat here and tried to anticipate where she's going, and she'll play just one thing that's a little cooler than what I thought she was going to do."
April Baer / OPB
Finding fans has given Henriques the courage to stretch her songwriting for her latest release. It's a collection of songs about science, math, and learning.
On a suggestion from her husband, she wrote one song tackling physics and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.
"Heisenberg's 'Aha!' "Electrons are highly mysteriousThis topic indeed is quite seriousIt's starting to feel so imperiousI think I'm becoming delirious.
Henriques confesses, "I love research. I know if I'm going to try to write a song about it I'm going to learn about it, and I get excited! And I've said this before about kids music : the topics are so unlimited. You have options for rhymes that have never been used: Zinger and Schroedinger! I love that about a crazy topic."
The wilder the concept the more fun it is, I feel scientifically brave!Thanks to dear Heisenberg's A-ha! we knowAn electron is both a particle and a wave.
The new record is due this spring. Henriques is looking forward to playing some live shows after time off for the birth of her second child.
Check out an OPB Art Beat feature on Henriques.
This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.