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Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

From rocker to children’s entertainer: Jeff Klemm is now Mr. Jeff

Musician Jeff Klemm poses with children's toy instruments for his project Mr. Jeff
Paige Margulies
Jeff Klemm has been active in the Northeast Ohio music scene for years, playing in bands like Maid Myriad and Diamond Kites. Sobriety, fatherhood and teaching inspired him to begin writing and performing children's music as Mr. Jeff.

After a decade of playing in Akron-area rock bands, Jeff Klemm has a new gig writing and performing children’s music as Mr. Jeff.

Klemm has become a favorite, family-friendly performer throughout the region, blending his background as a music teacher, songwriter and audio engineer with his experience working with children as a pre-K teacher.

He released his debut Mr. Jeff album, “Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful,” this spring. He is kicking off a library tour June 1, with stops at 20 locations in Summit, Medina and Portage counties.

“I've got a bunch of pool noodle drumsticks that the kids can play with. I have a bunch of xylophones and pianos and fake little guitars,” Klemm said. "There's like a moment in the set where everybody gets an instrument, whatever they want to play, and then we all rock ‘n’ roll together.”

Entering sobriety and fatherhood

Klemm spent most nights in his 20s touring and playing in bars with one of his many rock bands, from Maid Myriad to Diamond Kites and Jeff Klemm and The Letters.

But in 2016, his first son was born, and he decided to get sober. He hit pause on the bar scene and his sad rock songs.

“I didn't want to be the ‘Whiskey Song’ guy forever,” Klemm said.

Klemm started working as a preschool teacher in 2017.

“I have what I think is a unique perspective as a parent, as a musician, as a teacher. It's like I could use all these things to put this positivity out there and hopefully make the world a better place."
Jeff Klemm

“I just wanted to focus on being a preschool guy. I wanted to learn. I wanted to absorb as much as I possibly can in this new field,” Klemm said. “And then, of course, my friend who worked there was like, ‘You need to bring your guitar.’”

Klemm said he soon became the “guitar guy” at the school, and his students were enthusiastic about writing songs.

“It came from me, like, bringing the guitar once to me drilling literal holes in the wall for a hanger for my guitar to live in my classroom,” Klemm said.

Fatherhood and getting sober were major life events that led Klemm to create music for kids. He started listening to children’s songs with his son, Silas, and thought many of them could be improved.

“And then I realized, you know, I have something I think that I can add to this space that's unique and complex and original and could help kids.” Klemm said.

Putting the album together

Klemm has spent the past decade as a songwriter, having penned four full-length albums, several EPs and numerous singles between all of his musical projects and performing in 41 states with various bands.

Jeff Klemm looks on as his son, Silas, plays a drum
Paige Marguiles
The debut Mr. Jeff album, "Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful," contains 13 songs written by Jeff Klemm in collaboration with his preschool students and son, Silas.

He said his preschool class and his own children sing on his debut children’s album as Mr. Jeff. They helped him write it too.

“It's just kind of part of the way we play,” he said. “The music is for kids and for them, and I want them to have as much say in it as I do.”

The album's title came from a common phrase Klemm would say in his classroom.

“It was just like a catchphrase of mine, ‘Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Let's go over here and start using markers,’” Klemm said.

“Playin' on the Playground” is the first song Klemm wrote for “Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful."

He filmed the music video for the song with his son, Silas, at a playground in their hometown of Cuyahoga Falls.

Klemm said most of his songs are about being silly and having fun, and he takes feedback from his children seriously when developing each new tune.

“The Birthday Song” initially featured a chromatic walkdown mimicking the sound of walking downstairs.

“I was like, ‘Oh, that's so cool and interesting. Musicians are going to love it.’ And then I showed it to my daughter afterward,” Klemm said. “She listened to that part, and her face got real scared. I'm like, ‘That's got to go.’”

Keeping children safe and educating them has been a major part of Klemm’s life since becoming a father and teacher.

His song, “Lose The ‘Tude,” was inspired by his own mother and is now a phrase he says to his children.

“This is absolutely my son's least favorite song on the record,” Klemm said. “He like, covers his ears when I play it, because he thinks I'm talking straight to him.”

He said his songs are also meant to educate parents, help them communicate and teach lessons to their children.

“I have what I think is a unique perspective as a parent, as a musician, as a teacher. It's like I could use all these things to put this positivity out there and hopefully make the world a better place,” Klemm said.

Reaching audiences through the screen and stage

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired Klemm to broadcast his children’s songs from home and school to the world.

“When the shutdown happened, I was like, ‘These poor kids, they don't understand, I don't understand,’” Klemm said. “So, it was one of those things where it's like, I want to keep connecting with the kids in my classroom.”

He started livestreaminghis hour-long performances as Mr. Jeff six days a week, and viewers from across the globe tuned in.

His fun and educational music videos on his YouTube channel have gained nearly 100,000 views.

Once pandemic restrictions were lifted, Klemm began performing in person around Northeast Ohio. His shows are known for their high energy and encouragement of kids to join in and move around.

Klemm said parents enjoy the shows because they often leave their children entertained and ready for a nap.

He is now working on music videos for all 13 songs on “Wonderful Wonderful Wonderful.”

Klemm said he hopes to nurture the next generation of rock stars through private lessons and public performances.

"To hopefully inspire a kid to go play their own music and write their own songs with real live instruments and not a computer,” Klemm said.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.