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Sweet sounds of Hot Peas ‘N Butter this summer

For those who grew up in the New York City, hot peas and butter wouldn't be just the name for a side for dinner.

Frank Cotto remembers well the game he used to play on the school playground. In Hot Peas 'N Butter, one person hides a belt, yelling out "Hot!' or "Cold!" as his friends look for it and get closer or farther away from it. When someone does find it, he screams "Hot peas and butter!" and then everyone runs like hell to a designated base before getting whipped by the belt. Ah, children.

Now, there's a third reincarnation for the name of the street game. For Cotto, a jazz musician born in Puerto Rico, raised in the Bronx and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and back in the Bronx, the name lent itself perfectly to his current project – a children's music project.

"I think it's a great name," says Cotto. "It's part of my childhood, and doing kids' music, it just worked." Plus, he added, "It does have a nice ring to it."

Hot Peas 'N Butter is a collaboration with Danny Lapidus, who grew up in Flatbush with his father's folk, jazz and bluegrass guitar filling up their apartment. The two musicians are also longtime friends and LaGuardia High School alumni. Professionally, both have extensive resumes, recording and performing with various groups, including, Dominico, Wendy Star and Zoot for Lapidus, a Brooklyn native and current Manhattan resident, and Lew Soloff, Bernard Purdie, The Authority, Sonido Isleno, C&C Music Factory and Brian McKnight for Cotto.

"We always wanted to work together," says Cotto. "This felt natural to us. We did it because it was fun and we love it."

Hot Peas 'N Butter has been making children's music since 2000, recently celebrating the release of their fourth album, "Hot Peas 'N Butter Volume 4: The Pod Squad." The two friends, both on guitar and Lapidus (who also co-produced the album) on vocals, are backed up by their band, and bring together a mix of traditional Latin music, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, jazz and folk for a multicultural music blend that's poppy and danceable. Several of the group's songs are also multilingual.

A family affair, joining Cotto in the recording studio is his family, with his wife and 11-year-old son singing in the background doing gang vocals, or chanting. His son, Daniel, also occasionally joins the band on stage playing the congas.

Also joining the duo on their new tracks are such legends as cuatro player Yomo Toro and jazz guitarist Mike Stern. A thrill for the musicians as well as parents who are fans of the musicians, for children, the names won't be a big deal. But for Cotto, the idea was to get the best sound possible.

"We try to put something out there that's as high quality as possible that not only will the kids enjoy, but is satisfying to us," says Cotto.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, with their video "Different Spokes for Different Folks," a new tune off the latest album about bicycle safety done in a country blues style, airing frequently on Noggin TV. The tune was written to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and their national “Trike-a-Thon” campaign, launched last fall. Other videos, including "Deep Down" and "Number One," are also in heavy rotation on Noggin, and their songs play regularly on Sirius and XM Satellite Radio’s Kids channels.

In addition to the small screen, families can catch the duo live when they play Manhattan in two upcoming summer concerts – on July 3 at Madison Square Park and July 10 at Union Square. The shows will be a mixture of Hot Peas 'N Butter's material from all their records, but especially songs from their latest release blend of world pop.

"We do our best to keep it as authentic as possible," says Cotto. "We're exposing kids to as much culture as humanly possible through our music."

With their good, relaxing vibe and eclectic, catchy sound, this duo is definitely hot.

"Hot Peas ‘N Butter Volume 4: the Pod Squad " and the group's other CDs are available at retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders, as well as online at iTunes, Amazon.com, Sony Connect and many other sites. The two can be seen on July 3 at Madison Square Park (bounded by Madison Avenue, 23rd Street, 26th Street and Fifth Avenue) at 10:30 a.m. and July 10 at Union Square (bounded by 14th Street, Union Square West, 17th Street and Union Square East) at 12:30 p.m. For more information, go to www.hotpeasnbutter.com.

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