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Edutainment

Jim Copp and Ed Brown

Jim Copp
Jim Copp
Hey, I met James Copp the other day! April 19, 1999 to be exact. What a guy! A legend in children's music? The "unsung genius of children's records from 1958 to 1971"? Where have I been? Oh — maybe it's because I didn't begin my career in children's music until 1971. Wow, we just missed each other!

Jim and his partner Ed Brown churned out nine albums, approximately one a year, during their heyday. They did all the writing, all the music, all the voices, all the gimmicks, all the recording, all the packaging, all the time. When you listen to the recordings, remember: They did this without a multitrack tape recorder. The entire house became a living, breathing recording studio — voices in the kitchen, piano in the living room, pump organ in the bathroom with the sound effects in the bathtub, and so on. The recordings are strange, unique—and as clever as can be. Copp recorded his voice 90 times to replicate a crowd, and used a variety of voices to create an entire fourth grade classroom singing hopelessly off-key. His animal parades and barnyard animals are a real hoot.

I'm so glad I ran into Jim Copp the other day — I might have missed out on meeting a true pioneer and innovator. The songs' plot lines and character voices remind listeners of the Firesign Theatre or even Monty Python, while the illustrations (also by Copp) are interplanetary and reminiscent of Shel Silverstein or John Lennon.

As we travel into the heartland of the Copp imagination, we find a literate, magical world comparable to Oz, Pooh Corner and Wonderland. You will search far and wide to find such words as "precipice," "velocipede" and "vituperative" in any lyrics — ;not just those written for kids. In other words, not a condescending tone to be found. But the stories don't always wrap up neat and pretty with a cute little bow, sometimes the oddball characters get eaten by cannibals, thrown off cliffs, fired from jobs and lost in storms. Yet they always hold our attention as Jim Copp's precise baritone guides us through unfamiliar landscapes and labyrinths — and somehow we know that all is fun and forgiven.

In "Cloudy Afternoon," Copp relates a baby-sitting trek to the park that goes awry with a nanny named Zella: She waddling and in the lead/ Me on my velocipede./ The clouds were fleecy white that day./ The month was March or was it May?/ And was I three? Or was I four?/ Or was I two? Or was I more?/ I pedaled on, and up ahead/ I saw the pond and Zella said,/ "You must be tired, pedaling that,/ And here's a bench. Let's sit." She sat.

After Zella falls asleep, the clouds turn ominous and the young boy continues on through a variety of hazards before being rescued by the timely nanny. Everyone learns a lesson in a non-preachy way. Cassette titles, "for small fry and sophisticated adults," include Jim Copp Tales, Fable Forest, Thimble Corner, East of Flumdiddle, A Fidgety Frolic, Gumdrop Follies, Schoolmates, and The Sea of Glup. The three available CDs are Agnes Mouthwash and Friends, Flibbergibbets on Parade, and A Journey to San Francisco with The Glups. P.S. — LPs are available for vinyl-loving friends!

Ed Brown
Ed Brown
A true story: Every year before Christmas, Jim and Ed would load up the trunk of their car with their newest album and make the rounds of exclusive stores like Bloomingdale's and FAO Schwartz. They made enough money to buy a chunk of land in Hawaii — and that ain't too shabby,Gabby! After Ed Brown died in 1978 the wind went out of Jim Copp's creative sails and he "retired" from the music biz. What could have been is debatable but what is is priceless.

The musical, theatrical legacy of Copp and Brown is nourished by Ted and Laura Leyhe, who now own and operate Playhouse Records, the house that James and Ed built. Ted used to listen to the albums as a child. When he called to trace the out-of-print music, the voice at the other end of the line was James Copp himself. They became friends and partners and the rest, they say, is history. . .and history for generations to come.

Yes, I met James Copp the other day. While browsing through the obituaries, I ran smack into one that grabbed my attention: James Copp Dies; 'Unsung Genius' of Children's Records. Nice to meet you James Copp, and thanks for the memories to come. Catch you on the flip side.

The recordings of James Copp and Ed Brown are available through Playhouse Records; $12.00 CD, $9.00 cassette. Call (800) 613-6968 or visit: www.playhouserecords.com.


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