He’s a former indie rocker who became a Grammy Award-winning children’s musician. She’s a Haitian-American jazz vocalist and music therapist who specializes in sensory sensitivities.
Together, Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza are leaders of the sensory-friendly movement — a new type of family entertainment that welcomes audience members with autism, verbal expression difficulties, overstimulation or short attention spans.
The husband-and-wife duo, known professionally as Dan and Claudia Zanes, will perform a matinee Jan. 11 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. The interactive show will include Zanes’ greatest hits, selections from their comic folk opera, “Night Train 57,” and folk and blues classics from their 2018 songbook, “Dan Zanes’ House Party!: A Family Roots Music Treasury.”
Sensory-friendly performances, also known as “relaxed” or “come as you are,” have a casual atmosphere that promotes inclusion, fun and enthusiasm. While their shows are still meant for families of all abilities, Zanes and Eliaza create conditions that are favorable to more people.
“We see music as a right for everybody,” said Eliaza, who also plays the flute, trombone, ukulele, tambourine and percussion. “We’ve found the experience is just so rich and raw and beautiful for everybody who attends.”
On stage, the duo from Baltimore will invite the audience to dance and sing along. Eliaza, 40, said it will be almost as if their songbook — which teaches readers how to perform the music — has come alive.
“We wanted melodies people wouldn’t be intimidated by,” she said. “A lot of the melodic lines are simple stuff for a child or adult to gravitate to.”
Genres will include country blues, folk, blues, jazz and reggae. Just as diverse are the many cultures, languages and lineages represented in their music, such as Haitian, Creole and Spanish.
Zanes, 58, said their show is built on the foundations of the American experience and its multicultural background.
“So many of these tunes have their roots in black musical traditions,” said Zanes, who sings and plays the guitar and harmonica. “It’s great to celebrate that.”
Zanes fronted the new-wave band Del Fuegos, which Rolling Stone named the “Best New Band” in 1984, until it disbanded in 1990. He turned to children’s music in the 1990s after performing a few songs for his daughter.
Zanes won the Grammy for Best Musical Album for Children in 2007 and went on to become a family music legend. In addition to releasing 16 albums, his music has been featured on “Sesame Street,” Playhouse Disney, Nickelodeon, HBO Family and Netflix (“All Around the Kitchen,” one of his greatest hits, was on the true crime series “Unbelievable”). Time magazine calls him “the family music genre’s most outspoken and eloquent advocate.”
As a singer, Eliaza has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, the Jazz Philharmonic Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. Eliaza, who studied voice and music therapy at Berklee College of Music, has also collaborated with noted jazz artists such as Barbara Morrison, Nancy King and Keith Lockhart.
The couple created America’s first sensory-friendly comic folk opera, “Night Train 57,” for the Kennedy Center in 2017. The show, which is still touring, along with the venue’s 2013 guidebook “Sensory-Friendly Programming for People With Social & Cognitive Disabilities,” have become focal points for the movement.
Zanes said even with all the important research for sensory-friendly shows, the core focus of the performance should never be overlooked.
“When it comes down to it, when we roll in there with our instruments, it’s party time,” he said.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Dan and Claudia Zanes will perform at 11 a.m. Jan. 11 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. N., Edmonds. Tickets are $10. Call 425-275-9595 or go to www.ec4arts.org for more information.