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Petaluma’s Poet Laureate of children’s songs

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JAMES K

Upcoming apperances:

Saturday, July 14: Rivertown Revival, Steamer Landing Park. Approximately 1-4 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 11: Concert for Kids, Robin Sweeney Park, Sausalito. 10:30-11:15 a.m.

Recordings: James K’s CDs are available at CDBaby.com and Amazon.com as well as various streaming and download sites.

Videos: Watch his video, “Ring the Holiday Bells,” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJqXE_1SWlU

Information and contacts: Learn more at www.jamesk.com, or email him at james@jamesk.com.

James K has been writing songs since he was a boy. But he found his true musical calling in 1996, when he limped into his daughter’s McNear School kindergarten class on crutches and played a couple of children’s tunes for the youngsters.

“I had just had a knee operation,” he said. “My daughter carried my guitar.”

The kids loved hearing him sing. Encouraged by the strong reception as well as by friends and others who liked his music, K began writing children’s songs. Over the next decade, he recorded several CDs on his Rivertown Records label — “A Giggle Can Wiggle Its Way Through a Wall,” “Good Morning Sun, Goodnight Moon” and “Shoe Rock.”

Today, twenty-two years after his kindergarten debut, he continues to play regularly at local elementary schools, including McNear, Corona Creek, Meadow and McKinley, as well as a couple of schools in the East Bay.

James K — his full name is James Konwinski — is a custom furniture designer and builder when he’s not singing. His enthusiasm, optimism and passion for music belie the fact that he just turned 72 years old.

A native of Michigan and a Vietnam veteran, James K moved to California with his wife Miki in 1981. The couple has three grown children in their late 20s and early 30s.

“After our kids were born, I would read stories to them and play songs like ‘Goodnight Irene’ when I was putting them to bed,” he said. “Then I found myself writing songs for them.”

The first children’s song he wrote was “Bye, Bye Butterfly.”

“I was walking through my shop one day and found myself singing lines like, ‘See you later, alligator …’ I just kept on coming up with different ways to say goodbye.”

Even though his own children are grown, James K still loves playing for kindergartners and first-graders.

“I’m just drawn to their spontaneity and playfulness,” he said. “They bring out the playful child in me. Children that age are not burdened with stuff like adults are. They’re open to playing and being spontaneous. To me, that is very refreshing.”

Debbie Cook, a first-grade teacher and Corona Creek Elementary since 1988, said, “The thing I love about James is that he is so uplifting and super-accessible and engaging. He gives them instruments to play and gets them up and moving. The kids always respond with excitement.

“I love that he teaches the genre of American folk music,” she continued. “Students today are not being exposed to that as much as in the past. He teaches them about American history through song, especially the last 50 years. It’s the music that I grew up on.”

Cook added that when K steps into the classroom with his guitar, she never sees it as an opportunity to take a break or to go do some prep work.

“I stay in the classroom and sing along with them,” she said. “His love of music touches all of us, not just students, but teachers, too.”

James K comes to Cook’s first-grade class for a half-hour every other week.

“It’s not long enough,” she said.

Suzanne Gray, who just retired as a kindergarten teacher at McNear School, saw K in action many times in her classroom.

JAMES K

Upcoming apperances:

Saturday, July 14: Rivertown Revival, Steamer Landing Park. Approximately 1-4 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 11: Concert for Kids, Robin Sweeney Park, Sausalito. 10:30-11:15 a.m.

Recordings: James K’s CDs are available at CDBaby.com and Amazon.com as well as various streaming and download sites.

Videos: Watch his video, “Ring the Holiday Bells,” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJqXE_1SWlU

Information and contacts: Learn more at www.jamesk.com, or email him at james@jamesk.com.

“James has a gift of making every child think he has a special connection with him,” she said. “He calls children up to sing with him and they became a part of his ‘band.’ He’s just magic with kids. James brings so much joy into the room. His songs are very heartful. Our children can’t wait until he comes on Friday. He creates a little joy bubble in middle of our distracted lives.”

In addition to elementary schools, James K is in demand to play for mother’s clubs around the Bay Area, and at pumpkin patches in the North Bay in October.

Although his songs appeal to children, he believes that their message is applicable to adults as well. What a child feels at a young age can be the same thing that a grown-up is experiencing, he pointed out.

James K continues to write songs and record them, although he hasn’t released a CD in several years. That’s due in large part to the changes in how music is delivered and how people listen to it.

His new songs — he’s recorded about 12 of them — aren’t all necessarily geared to children. They are a mix of folk, funk, blues, pop and easy-listening. One of them, “Ring the Holiday Bells,” has been made into a video on YouTube.

He is working on videos for two more songs, “Hello All Around the World” and “Walking our Dogs.” In “Hello,” he uses the universal greeting in 24 different languages (hola, aloha, shalom, namaste, etc.).

“Dogs” is a casual, easy-going tune about encountering other pooch owners while taking his dog for a walk. “I’ve been filming people around town walking their dogs (for the upcoming video),” he said. K invites people to contact him if they want to be included in the videos for either of those songs, either saying “hello” in another language or walking their dog.

John Alevizakis, of Little Buddha Studio, helped James K record all three of his CDs. He also created the video for “Ring the Holiday Bells” and will work with him on more videos of his songs. But James K is looking beyond the traditional model of making CDs to distribute his music.

“Because of the way music is marketed today, I’m looking to put together a team of people to help me with social media and setting up an online presence with Instagram, Facebook and Soundcloud,” he said. “I’m also interested in creating an interactive way for people from all over the world to say ‘hello’ in different languages, in conjunction with my ‘Hello’ song.”

James K will be one of the musicians playing at the Rivertown Revival in Petaluma on July 14. His repertoire will include well-known songs like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Jambalaya,” as well as his own material and traditional children’s songs.

(Chris Samson is the former editor of the Argus-Courier. Contact him at chrissamson@yahoo.com.)