Songs to Listen to While Baking Cookies

Songs to Listen to While Baking Cookies

It’s that time of the year again. Whether snow is gently falling on your windowpanes or sunlight is streaming through, the holidays are fast approaching.

If you’re living in the southern hemisphere, it can sometimes be difficult to get yourself into the Christmas spirit. Most of the popular holiday songs and movies out there take place in colder climates—small towns nestled in snow-covered mountaintops, people dressed in hats and mittens, chestnuts roasting on an open fire. So, if your holidays usually consist of beachside barbeques, swimsuits, and sunglasses, you might be feeling a tad left out.

But don’t worry. We know just what’ll do the trick to get you in the spirit . . . baking Christmas cookies! There’s nothing else that can make you feel more like one of Santa’s elves. And some lively holiday tunes will also be sure to get you in the mood for some holiday cheer!

George Strait – Christmas Cookies

I don’t know about you, but country music usually makes me think of summertime. So, if you’re living in a tropical climate during the holidays, nothing can really beat Christmas country music!

This 2021 song is literally perfect for baking cookies because the cute and descriptive lyrics will get you excited and make your tummy rumble! The ones that look like Santa Claus, Christmas trees and bells and stars . . . sometimes I can’t get myself to stop . . .

John Di Martino, Wayne Escoffery & Lonnie Plaxico – Blue Christmas

Did you know that singing, even if it’s off-key, can greatly improve your happiness levels? Yes, it’s true! That’s why this December, you should make sure to belt out the lyrics to your favorite Christmas songs.

I’m sure that this new, jazzy instrumental rendition of Elvis’s hit “Blue Christmas” will prove to be a fan favorite since you and your family can all easily sing along while you bake cookies. Don’t worry, I’m sure no one will notice if you’re not all harmonized . . .

Nat King Cole – Deck the Halls

Even if you’re not much of a singer, chances are that you know the lyrics to this Christmas classic. And the range in tone is pretty limited, so it doesn’t matter whether your voice is an alto or bass! No matter who you are, you can handle this song, so there’s no excuse not to “fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la” along with everyone while you mix up batter, knead dough or cut out cookies.

Bill Cunliffe Trio – It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

This slow and whimsical rendition from Grammy-Award-Winner Bill Cunliffe really lingers in the beautiful details, just like the intricate icing and sprinkles on the sugar cookies you’ll be making. Sing along or even hum softly as you wrap up a lovely afternoon or evening full of Yuletide cheer.

John Di Martino, Wayne Escoffery & Andromeda Turre – Happy Hanukkah

Unfortunately, amid all the images of Santa Claus and baby Jesus in the manger, Hanukkah tends to get overlooked sometimes. But not anymore! This new song, featuring the stunning vocals of Andromeda Turre, shines light on the Jewish holiday.  

If you’re looking for more holiday songs to listen to while you bake cookies, we recommend checking out our holiday album collection, which features stars like Andromeda Turre, Bill Cunliffe & John Di Martino. 

Songs for a Sagittarius’s Birthday Party! 

Songs for a Sagittarius’s Birthday Party!

Whether you’re a big fan of zodiac signs or not, chances are that you have a friend or loved one who was born sometime between November 22 and December 21, which makes them a Sagittarius!

Known for their optimism, honesty, spontaneity, and fun-loving outlooks on life, it comes as no surprise that many pop stars are Sagittarius—just to name a few, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Nicki Minaj.

But what about jazz? Well, the same applies! As we explored in our most recent Q&A series, with jazz journalist Joe Lang, Hoagy Carmichael is a Sagittarius. And so are Billy Strayhorn, Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra and many more.

In honor of the upcoming Sagittarius season, we put together a list of songs to play at the birthday party of your favorite Sagittarius!

Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn – Take the ‘A’ Train

Born on November 29, 1915, in Dayton, Ohio, Billy Strayhorn grew up to become one of the most famous jazz composers in American history. After moving to Pittsburgh as a child and studying classical music, Strayhorn met Duke Ellington at one of the band leader’s performances.

Strayhorn had the courage to show Ellington how he would have arranged one of his pieces differently! Luckily, the bold move paid off and Ellington was impressed enough to invite Strayhorn to play with his band, which led to many collaborations, such as this 1939 standard about the then-new A subway service running through New York City.

Louis Prima – Buona Sera

Known as “The King of Swing,” this American singer, songwriter, bandleader, and trumpeter is one powerhouse of a Sagittarius.

Born on December 7, 1910, to an Italian American family in New Orleans, Louis Prima not only helped to popularize jump blues in the late 1940s, but he also embraced his Italian heritage by blending elements of his Sicilian identity, such as the tarantella, with his jazz. This helped pave the way for other ethnic musicians, who, unfortunately, at that time, were discouraged from expressing their roots.

And did you know that Prima was also the voice actor for the orangutan King Louie in the 1967 Disney movie The Jungle Book? Talk about a fun-loving Sagittarius!

Frank Sinatra – Let’s Fall in Love

Even if you don’t know anything about jazz, you’ve definitely heard of Frank Sinatra, who is one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time.

Also nicknamed “Chairman of the Board” and “Ole ‘Blue Eyes,” this singer and actor was born on December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey to Italian immigrants. As a child, he became interested in big band jazz, and was deeply inspired by the easy-listening vocal style of Bing Crosby.

He got his first break in 1935 when he joined a local singing group and eventually rose to stardom, with an estimated 150 million record sales!

The WJ3 All-Stars – Broadway

This new tune—featuring many of the hottest contemporary jazz stars, like Willie Jones III, Wayne Escoffery and Steve Davis—really captures the spunky and spontaneous spirit of a Sagittarius! Just like the stars of Broadway, a Sagittarius is meant to shine bright.

For more spunky jazz tunes to play at a Sagittarius’s birthday party, check out our newest album, My Ship, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms.

This post was written by Night is Alive Blog Editor and Digital Marketing Manager Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Special Hoagy Carmichael Q&A with Joe Lang (Part III)

Special Hoagy Carmichael Q&A with Joe Lang (Part III)

Happy belated birthday to the legendary composer Hoagy Carmichael, who if still alive, would’ve turned 123 this year on November 22nd!

In honor of the multitalented songwriter, we are wrapping up our chat with Joe Lang, who writes for the New Jersey Jazz Association.

JK: Tell us more about your interest in Hoagy Carmichael.

JL: He was my favorite songwriter. I became aware of him as a little kid because my dad used to sing around the house, and one of the songs he sang was “Stardust.” I was maybe four years old when I learned the words to “Stardust” and I used to go around and sing it to everyone and people thought what is this, a little kid singing about reverie?

Hoagy was the first person in the entertainment world I was aware of and over time he became a hero of mine. You know there’s an awful lot of great songwriters in American song—Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin, Harlen Howard, and I love them all, but I love Hoagy more than anybody.

Somebody once asked me who my three favorite songwriters were and my answer kind of flustered a lot of people because I said Hoagy, Stephen Sondheim, and Thelonious Monk and they didn’t see the connection. But you know I’m not a musician I’m a fan, so I’m not technically able to talk about music but I’ve listened to enough that you pick a lot up. For me, though, music is a very emotional experience rather than a technical experience, so a lot of songs strike me a certain way. I always tell people my favorite female singer was June Christie, not because I think she was the best female singer but there was just something about her singing that struck me emotionally—the sound of her voice, the phrasing, the fact that she kind of sang flat some of the time, it was kind of intentional and just was the thing that I react to.

And of course, I love a lot of Hoagy’s songs and lyrics, and I sat next to Hoagy Carmichael at his 80th birthday tribute and that had to be one of the greatest thrills of my life—to meet Hoagy, well not only meet him, but there were several performers on the show that he was not familiar with that he was asking me about, so I was educating him in a way. And early in the show, I think it was the second song they played, Bob Crosby introduced one of the earliest songs that Hoagy wrote and recorded, and it was called “March of the Hoodlums,” and I knew Hoagy’s music well, but I just didn’t remember having heard that song. Then about halfway through the sang, Hoagy jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow and said, “You know I don’t remember a damn note of that thing—I’m not even sure I wrote it! And so, I go home, and I had an album with early Hoagy Carmichael material on it and sure enough that song was on it, and there was also a recoding of that same song by Duke Ellington, so it was not an unknown song in its day, although it’s not one of Hoagy’s songs that has continued on.

It was funny that one of the guys who was on the program at the birthday tribute was Dave Frishberg. Now I thought that Frishberg was a latter-day Carmichael but when Frishberg came out, Hoagy had no idea who he was. Now Frishberg is a wonderful songwriter—he has a lot of songs that are a little bit different; that don’t follow a formula, and Hoagy was the same way—I think that’s one of the things that appealed to me about him. It wasn’t like you’d hear a song by him, and you’d think oh that’s a Hoagy song. He wrote so many different styles of songs and all so well. And he continued writing into the fifties. He probably kept writing after.

JK: I’d like to switch gears a bit here to talk about your short review of Night Is Alive’s album My Ship.

You wrote that Willie Jones II is “among the premier drummers on the scene today and demonstrates on this album that he also shines as a leader who knows how to put together a superior band. You will dig sailing on My Ship.

Now I am wondering—what is your favorite son on the album?

JL: You know I’d have to look at the album again because I review 10-12 albums a month and I listen to many more that I get in the mail all the time.

JK: There was “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “God Bless the Child,” “My Ship,” “Broadway,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Star Eyes,” “Wave,” “I Should Care” and “Christmas Time Is Here.”

JL: Hmmm but I would say the song “My Ship” was probably the one I liked best if I had to pick one.

Hoagy Carmichael Q&A with Joe Lang

Special Hoagy Carmichael Q&A with Joe Lang (Part II)

We’re back this week to continue the conversation with jazz journalist and Hoagy Carmichael aficionado Joe Lang.

JK: So, for those of us who are unfamiliar with Hoagy Carmichael—would you mind giving us a brief rundown of his career? How and when did he begin composing?

JL: Well, he did so many things. I mean he’s primarily known as s songwriter, but he also did a lot of recordings, mostly of his own songs, but sometimes of other people’s songs. He did a dozen or so movies; he always seemed to play the same character—himself, but yeah, he had charm.

When he was a kid, he played piano and he was from Bloomington, Indiana and his mother played piano, and I guess when he was in college, he just started writing songs and playing music. He was basically a jazz musician, and he was just absolutely blown away by Bix Beiderbecke. He became good friends with Bix, and Bix died when he was 29 years old from drinking himself to death, but yeah, he hung around with Bix a lot when he could.

He was very special. He went to school at the University of Indiana. He got a law degree, and then he moved down to Florida, where he was working in a law office when he walked by this open window and heard this song “Washboard Blues” being played, which was one of his songs. He didn’t even know that recording had been made, so when he heard it, he said, “Gee! I think I’m going to concentrate more on songwriting.” So, he moved from Florida up to New York and became a songwriter and, you know, went on from there.

When he recorded “Washboard Blues,” it was for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and the interesting thing about that was that when they were going to record it, Hoagy was going to sing it, but Paul Whiteman had Bing Crosby standing by in case they felt that Hoagy couldn’t do it, because it’s a very sophisticated song the way it’s written—it’s just not a normal song, it’s a wonderful song. But Hoagy nailed it, and they put the record out with Hoagy singing it. That was the record that really got him to realize that he had real potential as a professional songwriter. Interestingly enough the lyrics to that song were written by a guy who was a stonecutter somewhere in Indiana—I don’t know whether he sent the lyrics to Hoagy, if he was aa friend or if he ever wrote another lyric—but it’s a very fun lyric, it’s very kind of deep in its way.

Hoagy didn’t write many lyrics. He wrote a few lyrics but mostly he worked with other lyricists, most notably, Johnny Mercer. His most famous song is “Stardust,” which is one of the most recorded songs ever and when he wrote that, he actually wrote it as a midtempo instrumental, a bouncy little instrumental, but when Mitchell Parish added the lyrics, they made it a ballad. Most people think of “Stardust” as a romantic song but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s a very sad song. It’s about a love affair that went bad, as are many love songs.

Special Hoagy Carmichael Q&A with Joe Lang (Part I)

Special Hoagy Carmichael Q&A with Joe Lang (Part I)

Did you know that Hoagy Carmichael’s birthday is on November 22nd? That’s right, the famous Tin Pan Alley songwriter is a Sagittarius!

In honor of the multitalented entertainer, we sat down to chat with jazz journalist Joe Lang, who reviews CDs, books, and live performances for the New Jersey Jazz Society’s magazine “Jersey Jazz.”

Lang, who has been listening to jazz since his early teens, is a huge Hoagy Carmichael fan. He remembers becoming attached to “Stardust” when he was only four years old. Over the years, Lang has watched many of Carmichael’s movies, read his biographies, listened to his songs, and even gave a presentation at his local library about the accomplished composer.  

So, you can imagine that Lang was overjoyed when, at Carmichael’s 80th birthday celebration concert during the 1979 New York Jazz Festival, Lang discovered he was seated directly next to the guest of honor! How serendipitous, right?

JK: What is it about Hoagy Carmichael that you love so much?JL: I just like his songs—I never get sick of listening to them. I listened to that [1979 birthday] concert before we had the interview, and I’ve probably listened to that concert dozens of times and I never get sick of it. Of course, there’s a lot of nostalgia involved because I was there and sitting next to him. That was kind of special.

JK: What was Hoagy Carmichael like in person? Was he everything you had imagined?  

Well, yeah. He was a character. His wife had passed away and he had remarried and this lady who he was married to was sitting next to him and she kept getting so embarrassed because he kept shouting things out. I remember they were playing a lot of relatively obscure songs and at one point he yelled out, when are you going to start playing my hits? He was just a character.

if you saw his movies, that pretty much captured what he was like. He had a TV show in the fifties—I wish I could find it—for a short time he was the host of a variety show, but I don’t remember watching it when it was on, and I’ve never been able to find it, but it would’ve been interesting to see that because I bet with that little bit of that recording, you’d really get a flavor of what his personality was like.  

JK: Is Stardust still your favorite Hoagy song?

You know, it’s hard to pick out one song. I like a quirky little song that he wrote that’s not that well known now—it had its popularity in its time—it’s a song called “Little Old Lady.” I just always found it charming. And he wrote a musical with Johnny Mercer called Walk with Music that didn’t get to Broadway as far as I know and the rest of the score most people haven’t heard, but the title song “Walk with Music” is one that got picked up by a lot of singers and I like that song a lot.  

Well, we hope you enjoyed this Feature Friday!

And in honor of Veteran’s Day, we have a special treat for you—a 20% off promo code! Enter VETERANS20 at checkout to receive this exclusive discount.

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.