Feature Friday Q&A With Gerald Cannon Part II

If you missed our last chat with the remarkable renaissance man Gerald Cannon, be sure to read it here. And today, the conversation continues as we learn more about his early stages as a musician!

JK: I saw online that your first college major was physical education, which makes me wonder, when you were a child, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?

GC: Well, I played basketball and football in high school and junior high school and I was pretty good at it, I guess, so I had a partial scholarship to the University of Wisconsin LA Crosse. I played basketball and my mother played basketball and my father played basketball. We all play basketball. One of my cousins retired from the Cleveland Cavaliers—who Kathy knows very well—James Jones. He used to babysit me and my brother, so we were a very athletic family. 

JK: Yeah, sounds like it. So, did you want to become an athlete originally?

GC: Originally I was going to be a gym teacher—physical education. And during my time at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, I started taking upright bass as an elective and I just fell in love with it. I was therr for 1 year then I transferred to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. 

JK: So, would you say then that your childhood dream came true?

GC: Yes, definitely. You know, from 9 to 18, I was only allowed to play in church with my father and I could practice with all the local bands but my dad wouldn’t let me join any of them until I was 18. So, I did my first gig when I was 18. We were one of the local bands in Racine, WI.

JK: Was that with a jazz band?

GC: No, that was a R&B funk band.  

JK: And then what brought you to jazz?

GC: I’ve been listening to it my whole life. My parents listened to gospel and jazz. My bother was really the one who—when we were of age to start buying our own records—he was totally into jazz and always buying jazz records. My mother gave me my first jazz record when I was 12 or 13 and it was a John Coltrane record called Africa/Brass and that just blew me away. 

If you’re still eager for more Gerald Cannon, you can listen to him play in the album My Ship, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms today!

Is Jazz Music Good for Studying?

Is jazz music good for studying?

With the schoolyear starting back up again, you might be thinking about how to improve your study skills. Maybe you want to try out meditating to declutter your mind before hitting the books. Or maybe you’re one of those people who motivates themselves with an M&M after each page.

Some people like to study early in the mornings, others like to stay up all night, and some prefer silence while others can’t stand it. Well, if you’re someone who likes noise, you might be glad to find out that jazz music is excellent for studying because it helps reduce stress!

One neuroscientist found that the improvised nature of jazz engages the brain and minimizes stress in ways that classical music does not. And stress, as you may already know, is the enemy of memory ability. The happier and more relaxed that you are, the more likely you are to remember an important fact or vocab word. And we all know that the swinging style of jazz always puts a smile on your face!

The only thing to possibly be wary of is jazz songs with singing because the lyrics may confuse and distract your brain. The best jazz to listen to while studying is definitely instrumental. 

So, sharpen your pencils, get out your highlighters and headphones and turn on these snazzy instrumental tunes!

 WJ3 All-Stars – Broadway

This vibrant, fast-paced 2022 tune will warm up those brain waves. Your eyes will glide easily through the dense paragraphs as you listen to the dazzling sax solo.

John Di Martino, Joe Magnarelli & Wayne Escoffery – Tell Me Why

Now that you’re in the groove, you’re probably becoming more curious about what you’re studying and learning. Like this jazz song, you’re digging deeper into the layers of meaning that exist in the world and you’re wondering, why? Why are things the way that they are? Well, keep up the hard work and contemplative thought and soon enough, you’ll be the expert with all the answers!

WJ3 All-Stars – I Should Care

I don’t know about you, but after studying for a while, I can start to get into a slump. Maybe you’re getting a bit drained and apathetic. But don’t worry, this song will give you the second wind that you’re craving! It’ll make you remember why you care so much about your studies.

John Di Martino, Joe Magnarelli & Wayne Escoffery – Please Don’t Go

The backbone of this song is definitely the energetic drumming, which creates an upbeat tempo that’ll perk you right up and get you through that last assignment. And then, once you’ve completed your work for the day, you can celebrate by dancing a little jig! The librarians will be so entertained that they just might not want you to go!

If you’re looking for more spunky instrumental jazz tunes to listen to while you study, check out our albums My Ship and Old New Borrowed & Blue, both of which are available in our store and on all major music platforms!

Feature Friday Q&A with Gerald Cannon

Feature Friday Q&A with Gerald Cannon

Happy Friday! You made it to the end of the week! Gosh, it sure does feel good, doesn’t it? And the cherry on top is that we have the first installment in a brand-new Feature Friday Q&A series! This time, we’re interviewing the musician, composer, and painter Gerald Cannon.

Jazz bassist Gerald Cannon has performed all over the world with Roy Hargrove’s band, made his debut in the New York City visual art world, and is currently an instructor at the Julliard School and Oberlin College and Conservatory.  

But before all of those accomplishments, he was just a boy growing up in Racine, Wisconsin. Read the interview to learn more about his formative years.

JK: I read online that your initial inspiration was your father Benjamin, who was a guitarist, and bought you your first bass. So, I’m guessing that music was a big part of your household growing up?

GC: Oh yeah, constantly. My father had a gospel quartet when I was a kid—I mean he always had one as far back as I can remember. So, there was always music in our house. We used to rehearse at our house on Wednesday evenings. There were always guitars around the house, and I was never supposed to touch his guitars, but I did every time he left the house. He called me one day, and I though, uh oh, I’m in trouble, and if I hadn’t been able to play anything, I would’ve been in trouble! But I figured out a few notes—actually a few notes that my uncle sang in my father’s gospel quartet. I just played something nice that he sang—he sang bass. So, then my father took me immediately to a music store and bought me my first electric bass. I was nine years old then.

JK: Did you play any instruments before the electric base?

GC: No. Just electric bass.

JK: So, at age 9, did you know that was what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?

GC: Yeah, I kinda did. After that I pretty much spent all my free time on it. I was just really happy to have something that I could call my own. My brother was an actor and, so when I started taking lessons—I was about 9 or 10—my brother started taking voice and acting lessons.

And my mother and father used to dance all the time. I guess that before I was born, they used to win awards for their dancing abilities. And my grandmother was a great gospel pianist in the South. So, it’s kind of always been there.

JK: Was your mother also a musician?

GC: No, she wasn’t. She was just a housewife, but she loved music and could dance. Her and my father used to dance in our living room to Nat King Cole and some records and stuff.

JK: What was your most beloved song during your childhood?

GC: Oh, that’s an interesting question cause, like I said, we listened to music a lot. Let’s see—it would be this record my dad used to play all the time. It’s a Kay Burrell record called Midnight Blue. And I remember hearing “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You” all the time when I was a kid. I mean we just had records—I don’t know; I don’t really have a special song. We listened to music all the time in our house. It’s kind of hard to think of just one. It was all good music too—we listened to lots of jazz; my dad played lots of gospel records.

JK: What was the first song that you learned on the electric bass?

GC: Hmm. Probably The Old Rugged Cross. If I remember correctly. That was 50 years ago.

Tune in next time to learn more about Gerald Cannon. And in the meantime, you can listen to him play in the WJ3 All-Stars’ newest album, My Ship.

What is Syncopation?

What is Syncopation?

As a jazz fan, you obviously love listening to the notes flowing out from the bell of a saxophone, but can you actually visualize those notes, on a staff? Are you able to see the music as well as hear it?

Trust us, learning a bit about musical composition won’t ruin the magic of jazz—far from it, it’ll only enhance it. Because when you gain a deeper understanding of all the intricacies, you’ll develop an even stronger appreciation for the enchanting nature of jazz music!

So, in that spirit, we’re continuing our blog series on the basics of musical theory and composition. If you’re curious to learn more, check out our posts about melody, harmony, and polyphony.

Today, we’re going to be learning about syncopation. But first, before we talk about that, let’s quickly run through the concepts of rhythm and beat. As you might already know, every piece of music has an internal natural flow, like a pulse or the ticking of a clock, that repeats until the end. This pulse is called the rhythm, which is organized into beats per measure.

Syncopation is a rhythmic structure that avoids the natural flow, or beats, of a piece. And how does syncopation avoid the beats, you may be wondering. Well, it’s actually quite simple—the notes are displaced so that they don’t fall precisely on the beats of the time signature. Instead, the notes can be played in anticipation—earlier than you’d expect—right before the marked beats, or they can be delayed and played after each beat of the pulse.

Believe it or not, in some melodies, every single note is syncopated—meaning that every note falls before or after the beat! And in jazz, this is a very popular technique. Most jazz musicians prefer to accentuate the upbeats. So, if you’re tapping your foot along to the music, the notes that are played when your foot is in the air are the ones that are emphasized.

Now this all may sound very complicated, but to the jazz musician, it actually comes quite naturally—eventually, master musicians do it intuitively, just like how you fluctuate your voice while speaking.

Syncopating notes gives the musician freedom to express their own interpretations of the beat. And to be honest, if there was no syncopation, jazz simply wouldn’t be jazz—it wouldn’t sound right—because most jazz compositions incorporate a mixture of syncopated and non-syncopated notes.

Many well-known songs from “Hey Diddle Diddle” to “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” include syncopated notes.

Can you spot any syncopation in this 2022 jazz rendition of “Can’t Buy Me Love” from the WJ3 All-Stars?

“Can’t Buy Me Love” comes from the album My Ship, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms today.

This post was written by Digital Marketing Manager, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Songs to Commemorate 9/11

Songs to Commemorate 9/11

Unfortunately, we all remember that horrid day when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The atrocity sent shockwaves throughout the nation, affecting all Americans, and changing the country forever.

It can be extremely hard to deal with such immense tragedy, but somehow, music usually seems to help. Music can help us to remember the devastation, honor those who died, sort through difficult emotions and find hope for the future.

Here are some songs that may help you to commemorate 9/11 this year.

Alan Jackson – When the World Stopped Turning

Even if you weren’t in New York City when the attack occurred, it still felt like time had stopped. This 2002 Grammy-award-winning-song explores the surreal nature of 9/11 and all the mixed responses that people experienced.

As Jackson sings, when tragedy strikes, everyone reacts differently. On 9/11, some people stood in shock at the sight of that black smoke, while others shouted out in anger and fear, and others just sat down and cried.

Somehow, though, the song manages to evoke a sense of hope by pointing out that atrocities can bring people together and make us more grateful to be alive. Maybe, as the song depicts, in the aftermath of 9/11 people began noticing the sunset, speaking to strangers on the street, and standing in line to donate blood.

Mary Chapin Carpenter – Grand Central Station

This 2004 song was inspired by an interview that Carpenter heard with an iron worker who was one of the first people on the scene after the towers fell. He said that at the end of his shifts, he would go to the train station so that the souls of the victims could follow him.

The lyrics are extremely poignant: I ain’t no hero, mister, just a workin’ man / An’ all these voices keep on askin’ me to take them / To Grand Central Station, Grand Central Station.

Carrie Underwood – So Small

Even though this 2007 country song doesn’t explicitly talk about 9/11, the overall message is one of hope and love, which I think are things we can use a lot of when confronting tragedies throughout history. As Underwood sings, tragedies can make us realize that our daily problems are not so bad. When you figure out love is all that matters after all, it sure makes everything else seem so small.

New New York – The Cranberries

All wounds heal in time, and as we’ve seen in the past 21 years, New York has persevered. As the Cranberries point out in their 2008 song, all wounds heal with time.   

Dolly Parton – Color Me America

In 2003, in the wake of 9/11, Dolly Parton released this album For God and Country to comfort the nation with faith and patriotism. This original ballad reminds us to all to be proud of where we’ve come from, no matter what has happened in the past.  

Feature Friday Q&A with Steve Davis (Part III)

The conversation with trombonist Steve Davis continues! And this week, he’s giving us all the juicy, behind-the-scenes details about the recording of the new album, My Ship!

JK: What was it like recording the album My Ship?

Stevie-D: Like I mentioned about Willie—to work with him is always great. He always puts together all-star groups, dream bands. Everybody on the date is playing on such a high level, and we all go back and have history together. There’s always such a good camaraderie and collaborative spirit working together and it’s just so inspiring to hear everybody soloing on such a high level, playing the ensemble passages. We really got together on some nice arrangements. And Willie asked me to put together some particular arrangements and I was really honored to do that. At the same time, we wanted to keep the approach somewhat streamlined—not too much over arranging and super complex writing because it just wasn’t necessary. And hopefully, it leaves some space for everyone in the band to do their thing and shine and give their full expression and contributions. Hopefully we achieve that and the record’s really wining. Anytime it’s Gerald Cannon and Willie Jones playing bass and drums it’s going to be swinging, big time. Yeah, I’d just say we had a great time doing it. And playing with Jeremy and Wayne Escoffery, they’re both just A1, top shelf tenor sax—you can’t do any better than that. And Isiah is a wonderful young pianist whose got a very strong voice already. We just had a blast—it was fun.

JK: And you did the arranging for the album, correct?

Stevie-D: Now that I’m thinking back on it, yeah, I guess I did do most of it. I guess it could’ve been anyone of us who filled that role, but I guess I did. Everyone helped a great deal to work out any kinks and make the music as smooth and hip and swinging as possible, so I really appreciate everybody’s efforts in that regard, and of course just everyone’s tremendous playing. I can’t wait to really have a good listen.   

JK: Kathy said that a couple of the tracks were beloved songs from her childhood. It all seems very serendipitous—like the album is about accomplishing one’s childhood dreams.

Stevie-D: I’ve been privileged to be on a few of these projects with Kathy and Willie now and it’s always such a pleasure. I really appreciate her spirit for the music and musicians. It’s just really easy and fun to work with her. I would say that when she gives us a theme like this, it does provide us with some really nice inspiration and it’s very genuine. It’s not some kind of manufactured thing; she’s really speaking from her heart when she talks about these songs and gives us an idea of what she’s trying to get to, in an emotional way, through the music. Sometimes when you’ve been playing—just showing up and making records, you can forget about that a little bit. You just kinda play the part, and that’s it. My Ship, though, is personal and I love that. Actually, at this point in my career, I always wanted to be involved in projects that are meaningful like that. I’m happy that this one is what it is and to be on it and be a part of it and that it’s doing well—that people are hearing it and digging it. Kathy’s collaborations with Willie—there’s a solid reputation there now, people know oh man, this record’s going to be swinging! So, it’s a real honor to be a part of that.

JK: So, could you tell me more about the arranging process?

Stevie-D: You get a list of songs. I don’t know that I suggested any of the tunes but they’re all such good pieces that I just, uh, embraced the assignment if you will. And then when you know who’s on the date and who you’re writing for—the instrumentation obviously, but the personality—you have history with the musicians and you can picture everyone’s musical voices, so I kinda start there—who’s going to take the lead on this? What would be a nice way to voice the horns, and then of course Gerald is a good writer and Willie is too, so I always defer to musicians of their caliber and those two in particular, and I ask, what do you hear on this? Do you hear something a little different they might say no that’s cool, or they might say nah this is cool let’s do it like this or they might say, that’s cool but how about right here what about this. I love that—when we collaborate. I never want to overwrite so that everything is so precise that everyone is locked in—it kinda takes the fun and collaborative spirit out of the music, which is the essence of what jazz music is all about. Art Blakey used to say—he’d point to the jazz band and say ladies and gentlemen, “This here is democracy at work,” and that was pretty profound to me, so that’s a good lesson to remember and try to adhere here. So yeah, that’s kinda maybe the bset way to describe it—I try to offer an interpretation on some specific things but always with room for everyone to add their two cents in there or twenty bucks and make the music that much better and that much more personal so that it’s a group sound and I think we achieve that.

JK: What is your favorite song on the album?

Stevie-D: Oh man that’s hard. That’s really hard. I can honestly say there’s something about every one of these tunes that with the arrangement and the way they came together that I was so proud of and really felt great about. It’s hard for me to choose, I mean it. I think “Wave” was not my suggestion, but I wound up playing a little on it and thinking, I don’t know about this—it was toward the end of the session—so that was a pleasant surprise, or moment. But that “Taking a Chance on Love” is pretty swinging—I like that. And “Can’t Buy Me Love”—I’m a Beatles fan, so I love that song, we all do. But “Taking a Chance on Love” might be a sentimental favorite for me.

Songs for a Long Flight

Songs for a Long Flight

Since we’ve been locked up for the past few years with COVID, chances are that you’re feeling a bit restless. Maybe, due to travel restrictions, you haven’t left the country in years. Or maybe, you’re a homebody and just recently got a passport. Well, either way, now is the time to indulge your wanderlust! Hop on a flight to the exotic destination of your dreams—Paris, Bangkok, Fiji—who knows where you’ll go!

And while you’re waiting to board that 9-, 10- or 12-hour flight, take a look at the playlist we made especially for you. These songs will help you to unwind, enjoy the view out the window and get you excited to explore a new city or village!

Willie Jones III, Steve Davis, Jeremy Pelt – Wave

I don’t know about you, but I always snag the window seat if possible. There’s nothing like soaring above the clouds at sunset, sipping on a glass of complimentary wine and listening to some instrumental jazz music, like this new 2022 song “Wave.” Featuring some of the top musicians in the industry today, this tune will inspire you to reflect on all the ups and downs in life while you gaze out the window.  

Ella Fitzgerald – April in Paris

Originally written in 1932 for a Broadway musical, this slow song reveres the beauty of springtime in Paris and creates the perfect atmosphere to get you in the mood for your trip abroad. Whether you’re going to Paris or not, traveling internationally will be sure to make your heart sing, and who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon the chestnuts in bloom that Fitzgerald croons about so beautifully.

Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

This charming 1967 hit is all about sitting and watching the morning sun, wasting time, which is exactly what you’ll be doing on your flight and during your vacation. So, enjoy it. Savor every moment. In our daily lives, we’re always rushing, like busy bees pollinating flowers, but we never stop to smell the roses. Well, this is your chance.

Willie Jones III, Steve Davis, Jeremy Pelt – My Ship

Yes, you are on an airplane, but with all the wine and exhaustion, do you ever look out the window and mistake the clouds for the sea? As adults, we don’t often indulge our imaginations, but why not? Why not imagine that you’re on a ship with sails that are made of silk, decks trimmed with gold and aglow with a million pearls?

If you’re single and looking for love, who knows, maybe this flight is taking you across the seas to find your true love and set the sails in your heart.

If you’re looking for more relaxing jazz music for your flight, check out My Ship and Old New Borrowed & Blue, which are both available in our store and on all major music platforms today!

Feature Friday Q&A with Steve Davis (Part II)

Happy Friday! We’re back to continue the conversation with the wonderful Steve Davis, who is a jazz trombonist & music educator. If you missed last week’s post, please check it out here.

JK: When you were a child, did you dream of becoming a trombonist?

Stevie-D: You know not initially, I just loved music. Another story about my nana—when I was six years old, my brother was maybe 2. I have a great memory of a visit and my brother and I are watching Tom and Jerry reruns and there’s one episode where Jerry is running away from Tom, running around the orchestra, trying to get away from Tom and Tom is on the piano and he’s on all fours and he’s playing doodle-doodle-doodle, like the left hand of a stride piano—what my nana calls the boogie-woogie—she would start playing doodle-doodle-doodle, so I loved that. Maybe it reminded me of my nana’s playing, I don’t know. So one day we were visiting and it was quiet and I made my way to the piano and I had no idea what I was doing and took my index finger and I went down to the base of the piano, down low, and I played a C—I didn’t know what a C was but I played it, and I don’t know how I knew this, and my nana came running in from the other room and she shouted to my mother named Syd—Sydney—and she said, “Did you hear little Stevie!? He made the change; he made the change!” The change is the fourth chord of the blues, and I had no idea at 6 years old what making the change was, but I sure felt special. So, that moment, I think, I knew something, I love music. I knew I was a musician right then. This is something I can relate to; I can bond with this. I just love music and I played a little electric bass, electric guitar, and the trumpet, and baritone horn, and when I got to the trombone, I was listening to jazz by then—my dad’s Blue Note Records—and I heard a great record by Lee Morgan. Most or any jazz fans know—called “The Sidewinder.” It’s just so funky and incredible and swinging and great, and I asked my father, what’s that? He said, oh, that’s Lee Morgan, that’s funk before funk. I said, I love that, and he said if you like that you might like these, and he made me a list— Horace Silver, Art Blakey and the Messengers, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, and then I was gone. Like wow. I just went into the world of jazz. And then I heard J.J. Johnson on the trombone on a Horace Silver record, called “The Cape Verdean Blues,” and I was like that’s the trombone? The trombone can sound like that?! And I was done for, that’s it.

JK: So, would you say that you accomplished your childhood dreams?

Stevie-D: Wow. I guess so. I played with so many of my heroes and many of whom aren’t with us anymore and you know I still feel pretty young—I feel like that skinny kid with hair, like a teenager or in my early 20s. And I met Jackie McLean at the Hartt School at 18. I attended school there in the mid to late 80s and he was a huge mentor for me and recommended me to Art Blakey and when I graduated, I moved to New York and became a Jazz Messenger—the last Jazz Messenger. In 1990, I did my first tours, and it all kinda just went from there—playing with Jackie McLean’s band after that for 6 years, and Chic Corea and several of his great bands over the years—Jimmy Heath, Penny Golson, James Moody and Freddy Hubbard and I’m like wow. I’m looking back now, and thinking was that me? Was I really there for all that? And meeting Slyde Hampton and Curtis Fuller—my heroes. Having them encourage me along and just being in their midst. Now, yeah, I can actually realize my dreams in that way and now every time I get to play music.

I just worked with Willie Jones III these past four nights at Dizzy’s in New York with one of his great sextets—he’s so masterful at putting groups together and I’ve always enjoyed playing with him. Of course, he’s a great drummer, but just the way he goes about assembling a band—he’s so smooth and he really knows what he’s doing and it’s just a pleasure every time, so that’s a dream come true. And playing with my peers and playing with younger musicians who used to be students and now they’re great new voices in the music—that’s a dream come true. It’s all wonderful. My. children play music—my son Tony is quite an accomplished guitarist in New York. He’s 28 now and I don’t know how that happened. My … daughter Angie is doing music education at the Hartt School and she’s 21, she’s going to be a senior and my youngest, Mickey plays tenor sax, he’s 16, and I think he wants to major in Dexter Gordon when he goes to college—haha I’m joking—but yeah he loves music, so I’m so thrilled for them that they found it for themselves. And when I play with my wife Abena, she’s a great vocalist, we have a great time doing projects, so I’m just loving it all now and I will always draw on my influences and my mentors and try to pass it on the younger musicians.

JK: Wow, that’s wonderful! It sounds like you’re really living the dream.

Stevie-D: Being a musician is not without its difficulties and there are times for all of us who do this where it’s a lot to manage. It can be difficult just keeping up with everything you have to do. Because jazz musicians by and large don’t have the support system that maybe other professions might have that, kind of built in. It is a wonderful community and we do all support each other. So whatever difficulties there are, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have to remember, wow I’ve actually been able to do this for 35 years as a professional. This is a blessing—it’s nothing but great.