While several of his albums have won Parents Choice Awards, Dan Zanes will readily admit that the music he's making these days isn't just for youngsters.
"I never decided to make 'children's music,'" Zanes says, "but rather I decided to make what I call 'all-ages music.' And I started to make this kind of music when my daughter Anna was born."
After spending the 1980s as the lead singer of the Del Fuegos, a garage-style pop band that had a couple of songs on the charts, Zanes decided to pursue a solo career. He put together a homemade cassette of his first solo efforts that he shared with the people in his neighborhood.
"I started making the music for people in the neighborhood and kept getting asked for more music."
Zanes describes his CDs as "stepping stones for people to make their own music. People are just happy to be able to see that they themselves can make music that they can listen to with each other, especially in these times where we want to be sociable."
Joining Zanes on several of his projects is a group of musicians (the "and Friends") that Zanes calls "the best band I have ever worked with!": Colin Brooks (drums); John Foti (accordion); Rankin Don, aka Father Goose (vocals); Saskia Sunshine Lane (standup bass); Sonia de los Santos (vocals, guitar and mandolin); and Elena Moon Park (violin).
"They are the most exciting, most spirited musicians I've known," Zanes adds. "For this band, personality and spirit are more important than technical abilities and talent. But I'm very lucky in that these guys are also very good musicians!"
Last year, Dan Zanes and Friends released ¡Nueva York!
, an album that was recorded in Spanish, with songs drawn from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Paraguay.
Zanes says this record gave him the chance to "celebrate this music from the Latin American culture that I love so much.
"I have a problem with people who complain about this country's immigration laws. This album is about celebration and collaboration. We can choose to have good times or just go around being negative about things and people."
The band's most recent project, The Welcome Table: Songs of Inspiration, Mystery & Good Times
, provided Zanes and company the opportunity to record 15 songs that span many different musical and religious genres.
"This is basically a collection of songs we liked to sing," Zanes points out, "and with this album, we were able to hit on the different traditions of faith. It's not a gospel album in the general sense. We wanted to include social songs as well as songs of faith."
A highlight of making The Welcome Table
for Zanes was the opportunity to spend some time with The Blind Boys of Alabama (who contribute their vocal talents to the title track).
"Working with The Blind Boys of Alabama was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me," Zanes says. "It was great to have them over for lunch, and to play music with them. I even kept my daughter home from school that day, so she could be there with me. It really meant a lot to me."
While there are several touring acts that cater to families, Zanes says that his show is not really a concert, it's much more like a party. There is a lot of singing along with the band and dancing. It's like a little Grateful Dead show, without the drugs, he says, laughing.
"I want people to be able to leave our shows saying, 'I want to make some music!'"