When was Louis Armstrong Born?

When was Louis Armstrong Born? 

Nicknamed “Satch,” “Satchmo,” and “Pops,” Louis Armstrong is easily one of the most well-known and beloved jazz musicians in the world. 

Armstrong was born exactly 121 years ago—on August 4, 1901—in New Orleans. Abandoned by his father and raised by his grandmother until age 5, Armstrong unfortunately spent much of his youth living in poverty. However, he found a safe place in the home of a family of Lithuanian Jews for whom he worked, collecting rags, and delivering coal. The family knew that Armstrong lacked a father, so they took special care to feed and nurture him.

At age eleven, Armstrong dropped out of school and joined a street quartet of boys who sang for money. Eventually, he joined a band where he developed his cornet skills. Finally, in 1918, the future legend found his way to a riverboat where he played in a brass band, learned to read music, and began expanding his career.

Now that you know a bit about Armstrong’s origins and childhood, it’s time to take a look at a few of the most pivotal songs in his five-decade-long musicianship!

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band – Chimes Blues

Dating back to 1923, this is the very first recording that Louis Armstrong ever did! And even at such an early stage in his career, Armstrong was a groundbreaking as an inventive soloist. Just listen to his cornet solo in “Chimes Blues” to see what I’m talking about.

This tune represents the beginning of a foundational change in jazz—a shift in focus from collective musical improvisation to solo performance.

Louis Armstrong – Heebie Jeebies

Also recorded in Chicago, this 1926 tune is said to be the first example of scat singing in jazz history. What is scat singing you may ask? Well, it is improvised jazz singing, usually involving nonsensical syllables that replace lyrics and imitate the sound of an instrument.

Legend has it that Satch dropped a sheet of music while they were recording, so he just did his best to improvise and, in this way, accidentally invented a new style of jazz vocalization that became an instant sensation and inspired countless singers to come! Talk about impressive.

Louis Armstrong – Ain’t Misbehavin’

During a time of segregation, Armstrong was one of the first African American entertainers to “cross over,” meaning that he become popular among not only black audiences but also white and international crowds.

Armstrong performed this song with a band at a popular Harlem nightclub called Connie’s Inn in 1929. White audiences loved his unique style of singing and playing instruments, which led to Armstrong later performing with many popular white musicians. For example, he appeared in many films in the 1950s and 60s, such as High Society in which he played alongside Bing Crosby, Gracey Kelly, and Frank Sinatra.

We hope that you enjoyed this post and that it allowed you to celebrate Satchmo’s birthday!

Obviously, we at Night is Alive do not have any songs featuring Louis Armstrong, but we do have some snazzy tunes that have been inspired by the legacy of Louis Armstrong. A great example is “Hudson River Wind,” which is from our album Old New Borrowed & Blue, available in our store and on all major music platforms.

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

Feature Friday with Kahlil Kwame Bell

Feature Friday with Kahlil Kwame Bell

This Friday, we were lucky enough to chat with percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell. Born in the Bronx in 1968, Kahlil Kwame Bell plays over 1,000 percussion instruments and explores a wide variety of genres, including jazz, rock, hip hop, classical and traditional African music. He has toured extensively with many famous artists, including vocalists Roberta Flack and Erykah Badu, and is passionate about reflecting the unity of cultures through music by layering sounds and instruments. His newest solo album is Homeland, which is an exciting journey through traditional African cultures and music!

JK: What do you love so much about physical CDs?

KKB: Most record labels that I know are still putting out physical CDs and I always ask for them, even if I have to pay for them, because I’m a person who still likes to read CDs and likes to connect myself with the record. I’m older, so I’m from the era of reading album covers, and I enjoy that, so I don’t like streaming and all this other crap. It disconnects people from artists, and, in my personal opinion, people don’t really know what it is a lot of times now to listen to a whole record and go on a journey from beginning to end.

I can name at least five records off the top of my head right now that I remember from beginning to end and I don’t know many people who can do that today, not even with hip-hop records, which are pretty popular. When I talk to my children, they don’t talk about albums anymore, they just talk about individual songs, and don’t get it twisted—I love individual songs—because that’s what exposes me to new art, but when I talk to young people, I’ll ask them who’s the artist and they’ll say, I heard them on this mixtape—they never really hear an album—they hear the artist through somebody else’s record.

JK: Which contemporary, mainstream artists do you appreciate?

KKB: I like Kendrick Lamar. I also go into this female rapped named Little Simz. She’s from England. She sings the Venom 2 theme track.

And my oldest daughter kept telling me about this girl H.E.R. and she showed me a song—I thought the girl could sing but musically, it was putting me to sleep. But then I did some research, I went on the internet, I checked her out and I realized how much of a prodigy she was, and I said oh no, she’s the truth. She plays instruments, she studied music her whole life, she’s dope. I heard her playing piano, playing guitar and I said, oh, she’s ridiculous, she’s the bomb. I can rock with her. So, now, I’m a fan of H.E.R.  

JK: Tell me more about your interest in hip-hop.

I grew up in the Bronx when hip-hop first started, so I remember when hip-hop was at a very young age and President Reagan and other politicians were saying that it was a dying art form because it was kids in impoverished areas and no melody to it, just beats. I also remember not only white politicians saying that but black politicians saying that as well which is interesting because those were their children and grandchildren, but they didn’t dig it, which kind of reminded me of my grandmother’s era when people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were laying the foundation of American music with the blues.

When they were at their prime, the blues was the popular music of America, then all of a sudden, Chuck Berry comes playing the blues but playing it a little faster and dancing with it and making it into something that later became rock and roll. It’s interesting how when he came out with that, the older blues artists like Muddy didn’t dig it, but yet, people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard established rock and roll. They made blues in a faster tempo socially acceptable to the masses and made blues danceable versus what most people considered depressing when they first heard it.

So, I look at hip-hop in the same way. When hip-hop was first made it was a very conscious music, a very informative genre. You had people like Grandmaster Flast & The Furious Five, who brought the song “The Message,” which was a key, key, key song in hip-hop. Of course, the The Sugarhill Gang came out, and that is what made hip-hop socially acceptable. But it was “The Message” that gave people of America a look into the world of impoverished areas of cities because nobody really had an idea or a clue about that.

Hip-hop came out in 1979. The pioneer of hip-hop was Kool Herc. He was Jamaican, grew up in the Bronx. When he first started playing music in a certain kind of way, it hadn’t really been heard. At that time, the last 70s, early 80s, the Bronx had just started becoming predominately Puerto Rican. Prior to that, the Bronx had a lot of Jews, Irish and Italian. Hip-hop was the first genre where you saw Blacks and Hispanics creating together.

Hip-hop came out of the Reagan administration annihilating the performing arts programs in the public school system. From my grandmother’s generation to my mother’s generation, they can remember and tell you that they had music appreciation, they had band, which allowed a child to come out of the academic mindset into the creative mindset. When you’re dealing with the arts, it allows you to create something from nothing. It allows you to take a blank canvas and totally envision something in your mind, see where it’s going and create something beautiful, and unfortunately, sometimes academics doesn’t always do that—it’s right or wrong. If you write a sentence and it doesn’t include a noun, verb, and predicate, you messed up, so when it comes to these aspects of learning it can get very intimidating to a child, but when it comes to the arts, there’s this flexibility.  

So, when, for some reason, probably for money, they killed that—no more arts, just academia in the inner city—the kids rebelled. All of a sudden you see graffiti and you see hip-hop growing. Not only did it grow but it became the language of the youth, and it became their story in existence. I grew up in hip-hop but the only reason I didn’t desire to be a rapper was because I played instruments, but in my time, most everybody wanted to be a rapper. It wasn’t making money, but it was stating your identity—I’m from Philly, I’m from Brooklyn, I’m from BK. Everybody had their little term that coined their own individual city, and that was the beauty. And we were children at that time and people are telling us it sounds like a bunch of noise, and perhaps it did, but it’s ironic that it started from that and look what it’s become today.

JK: Thank you very much for speaking with me today, Kahlil. I learned so much about the history of hip-hop! It was such a pleasure.

KKB: You’re welcome. I look forward to speaking to you again in the future!

This post was written by Blog Editor Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Jazz Songs for Juneteenth

Jazz Songs for Juneteenth

Maybe you’ve seen the Juneteenth flag—the white star atop blue and red—and wondered what this holiday is all about? Well, it is celebrated on June 19th to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It was first celebrated in Texas, where in 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay and declared that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree.

If you’re a history buff, you may know that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, so why, you may be wondering, did it take two more years to official free all of the enslaved people? Well, that is because the proclamation was not able to be implemented in places still under Confederate control—like the westernmost Confederate state of Texas. Therefore, slavery wasn’t completely abolished until Juneteenth.

As early as June 19, 1866, the formerly enslaved black Texas began celebrating with festivities. But it was not until June 17, 2021, that President Joe Biden signed a bill that made the day—also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day—into an official federal holiday.

On Juneteenth, you may also see people flying the red, black, and green Pan-African flag, which was adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1920 and represents the blood, soil and prosperity of Africa and its people.

Now that you have an introduction to the holiday, why don’t we take a closer look at a few songs that have played a huge role in the fight for civil rights in America.

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

Just because slavery was officially abolished in 1865 with the Thirteenth Amendment, doesn’t mean that equality was instantaneous. In fact, far from it. As we all unfortunately know, the struggle for racial equality still persists today.

Following the Thirteenth Amendment, many racists, and racist organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan, retaliated in the form of lynching.

In 1939, a Jewish-American man named Abel Meeropol wrote a poem that protested against lynching, such as those in Indiana during the 1930s. As many photos from that period show, racially motivated violence was far from over.

Meeropol made the poem into lyrics with music and his wife performed it at venues in New York City. Then, legend has it that the founder of the only integrated nightclub in New York City—Café Society—introduced Meeropol’s song to Billie Holiday, who performed it for the first time in 1939.

The song, which compares the Black American victims of lynching to the fruit of trees, was named by Timemagazine in 1999 as the “Best Song of the Century.” And activist and scholar Angela Davis said that this song is “the most influential and profound example of a continuing site of music and radical social consciousness.” It has been thought of us a declaration that began the civil rights movement.

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam

“Mississippi Goddam,” released in 1964, encapsulates the Simone’s response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and the racially motivated murder of the Emmett Till in Mississippi. In case you aren’t familiar with these atrocities—in 1963, a white supremacist bombed a black Church in Birmingham, which killed four people and injured over 14. And in 1955, a group of white men abducted, tortured, and lynched a fourteen-year-old boy named Emmett Till.

They keep on sayin’ ‘go slow,’ Simone sings in the protest song. To do things gradually would bring more tragedy. Why don’t you see it? Why don’t you feel it? I don’t know, I don’t know. You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality!

What’s the history of the EP & LP?

What’s the history of the EP & LP?

In order to answer this question, we need to take a quick lesson on the history of music distribution. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, vinyl records were invented in the 1940s and were the predecessors of CDs and digital audio recordings. Lately, vinyl has been making quite the comeback, and we even hopped on the bandwagon with our limited-edition vinyl record of Lovers & Love Songs, which is available in our store today.

But what came before vinyl records?

The phonautograph, invented in 1857 by a French printer and bookseller named Léon Scott, is the earliest example of musical recording. Although the phonautograph didn’t actually produce any audible sound, it did record sound waves as graphical tracings on sheet paper. These tracings weren’t used to play the music back, but rather to analyze it visually.

In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, which was groundbreaking in its ability to both record and reproduce sound. Edison’s hollow wax cylinder became the most predominant form of musical recording in the early 20th century.

This cylinder, however, could only play for about two minutes, which led Emile Berliner to pioneer lateral-cut disc records and the gramophone. Initially, the cylinders still had better sound quality, but eventually, Berliner improved the mechanisms of the gramophone and created 12-inch records in 1903, which could play music for over four minutes! Thus began the short-lived format war between cylinders and discs, with analog discs ultimately winning, and dominating the industry until the 1980s when digital compact discs were invented.

Alright, so now that you know all about the history of music recording and distribution, you’re probably wondering, where do EPs and LPs fit into all of this?

Well, since phonograph cylinders could only hold two to four minutes of audio, all music releases in the early 1900s were essentially singles. These singles became known as SP, meaning standard play.

Then, in the mid-20th century there was a format battle between Columbia’s 33 1/3 rpm LP (Long Play) and RCA Victor’s 45 rpm. Columbia’s LP held up to two complete songs, while RCA’s version held one song on each side with better sound quality. In 1952, RCA then invented another improvement with the EP (Extended Play) 45, which had twice the recording time.

So, essentially, the EP and LP arose from a commercial battle akin to the competition between Blu-rays and DVD. The LP, however, with its ability to hold more content gained more traction than the EP.

Today, however, artists who are just starting out in their careers often release EP albums, which only have 4 to 6 songs and are thus easier and cheaper to produce than LP albums, which have 10 to 12 tracks or more.

Here at Night Is Alive, we mostly produce LP albums, like our new 2022 release, Old New Borrowed & Blue, which merges the musical artistry of new songs with jazz classics. Old New Borrowed & Blue is available in our store and on all major music platforms!

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Mexican Music for Cinco de Mayo

Mexican Music for Cinco de Mayo

Even though Cinco de Mayo has already passed (it was on May 5th), that doesn’t mean it’s too late to celebrate the holiday that commemorates the Mexican victory over France in 1862! Because really, is there ever a bad time to drink a jalapeño margarita on the back patio?

This month, though, do more than just eat a taco and drink a margarita—delve deeper into Mexican culture by listening to these jazz songs that’ll introduce you to the music history of Mexico!

Luis Miguel – México en la piel

Translated to “Mexico on the skin,” this 2004 mariachi-inspired song celebrates Mexico by taking the listener on a trip around the country. It gives the impression that you are in a helicopter overlooking the beautiful panoramas of the diverse landscapes. Like looking at the mountain range of Chihuahua, or the craftworks made in San Miguel, climbing the Cerro de la Silla, that’s how you wear Mexico on the skin.

Luis Miguel—nicknamed “The Sun of Mexico”—is one of the biggest stars in Mexico. Since his career took off in the early 80s, he has sung in a plethora of genres, including pop, jazz, big band, and mariachi, but has always stayed true to his heritage. Unlike many other Latin singers of the 90s, Miguel never recorded in English, only Spanish. 

José José – El Triste

Mexican musician and actor José José began his career playing the guitar, singing serenades, and later, playing in a jazz and bossa nova trio. It wasn’t until 1970 though, at the Latin music festival in Mexico City, when he sang this song (translated to “The Sad One”), that he gained universal fame and critical acclaim as a balladeer.

With its unique melody and sublime lyrics about the loss of a loved one, this song instantly touched the hearts of many and catapulted José José into stardom. After the first performance, the audience insisted that the singer won the festival competition. Despite the fact that he only ended up receiving third place, “El Triste” still became part of the popular Mexican music repertoire and is now viewed as an icon of Mexican culture!

Juan Garcia Esquivel – Mucha Muchacha

Have you ever heard of “Space Age Bachelor Pad Music”? It’s the type of music that a suave, slicked-back guy would play while drinking a cocktail in his upscale apartment. “Mucha Muchacha” is a prime example of the subgenre, which was pioneered by Mexican band leader, pianist, and composer Esquivel in the 1950s and 60s. As you can probably tell from listening, this style of music is very quirky, experimental, and sophisticated. It is largely instrumental and fuses lounge music and jazz with a Latino touch.

Unfortunately, Night is Alive has not yet produced any Mexican style albums, but we have plans to add the genre to our library soon! In the meantime, if José José’s song has you feeling blue, we do have a new album out called Old New Borrowed & Blue, which features some beautifully poignant instrumentals, like “Blue and Sentimental.” The album is available in our store and on all major music platforms.

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Is The Guitar Used In Jazz Music?

Is the guitar used in jazz music?

From Wes Montgomery to Django Reinhardt, there are many famous jazz guitarists throughout history, but is the guitar a traditional and typical jazz instrument? 

In honor of International Guitar Month, we are going to take a closer look at the role of the guitar in jazz music history. 

Early Jazz: 1880s to 1920s 

As we explored in an earlier blog post, jazz originated in New Orleans in the 1880s, where it developed from the African dance and drumming traditions of formerly enslaved peoples. 

In early New Orleans jazz, the “front line” referred to the three instruments that were played simultaneously to create a melody: the cornet, clarinet, and trombone. These instruments were used for collective “call and response” improvisation. 

During this early stage of jazz, the guitar usually wasn’t given a solo part; instead, it took on more of a supportive role. Guitars—along with drums, piano, and banjo—were used to create a steady, driving rhythm that contrasted nicely with the polyphony of the front line. 

One of the first jazz-orientated string bands was led by guitarist Charlie Galloway in 1889. Buddy Bolden’s bands also usually had a guitarist, and Nick Lucas performed the unaccompanied guitar solos in his 1922 tunes “Pickin’ the Guitar” and “Teasing The Frets.” But, the most famous jazz guitarist of this early era was definitely Eddie Lang, who, beginning in 1925 popularized the guitar as a solo instrument and is thus known as the “father of the jazz guitar.”  

Eddie Lang – I’ll Never Be The Same

Playing a Gibson L-4 guitar, Lang ultimately won the 1920s competition with the banjo, which was quickly becoming more commonplace than the guitar in jazz music. His contributions to the jazz guitar have inspired generations of musicians. 

Big Band & Swing Eras: 1930s & 40s

Although guitar had won the battle to be a consistent part of jazz, they still didn’t typically take center stage and were often drowned out by large bands. In the 1940s, Charlie Christian gave the guitar a louder voice when he electrically amplified his Gibson ES 50. The guitar was no longer just the soft steady rhythm in the background; it could be heard alongside the saxophone ad trumpet, and thus became a force to be reckoned with. 

Charlie Christian – Swing to Bop

Despite his early death at 25, Christian had a major influence on the role of the jazz guitar, especially when it came to playing intricate and impeccable solos, like this 1941 hit, “Swing to Bop.”

Innovations & Experimentation: 1950s & 60s

The 50s and 60s brought new foundations for the modern jazz guitar. Artists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Jim Hall experimented with different styles and techniques, like plucking the strings, extensive use of octaves and interactive improvisation in duos and trios. These innovators paved the way for jazz artists who were incorporating soul and R&B, like Grant Green.

Grant Green – Ain’t It Funky Now

With a unique and immediately recognizable sound that combines hard bop, soul jazz and bebop, Green’s bluesy and groovy guitar showcases the innovations of the 1960s & 70s. 

Jazz-Rock Fusion & European Styles: 1970s & 80s

Rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix influenced the jazz guitarists of this era to incorporate rock-style signal processing effects, like distortion ad flange pedals. At the same time, the delicate and ethereal sounds of European Jazz were also impacting jazz guitarists.

John McLaughlin – Peace Piece

A British pioneer of jazz fusion, McLaughlin blends rock, world music, Indian & Western classical music, flamenco, and blues!

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

What is a reed? What is a double reed?

What is a reed? What is a double reed?

If you’re not a musician, when you hear the word ‘reed,’ you probably think of the tall, slender green leaf that grows and sways on the outskirts of ponds and lakes. But did you know that the mouthpieces of woodwind instruments, like the clarinet, oboe, and saxophone, are all made from the hollow stems of these plants?

Giant Reed (Arundo donax)
from Wikipedia.org

The cane of the Arundo donax, which is also known as the giant reed plant, is stripped of its leaves, and left outside to soak in the sun, resulting in a nice golden-brown color.  The canes are then dried by the wind, and aged for a few years, until they are placed inside a humidity-controlled factory where they are cut into smaller tubes and split into four thin pieces. Next, the cane is cleaned, cut, and sanded into a shape that is flat on one side and conical on the other. Finally, it’s time for the most important step—the reed-cutting process. With a blade, the red is shaved, gently and carefully, from the back toward the tip and then lastly, the very top is cut ever so precisely. 

Sounds like a lot of work for such a tiny, fragile, thin reed? Well, you’re right—it sure is a lot of work, but for good reason. The reed is what vibrates and creates sound. Without a reed, the instrument simply cannot be played. That is why many professional oboists and bassoonists will purchase cane—already sanded into a flat-conical shape—and cut their reeds themselves.

As a former oboe player, myself, I know, firsthand, how crucial, complex and finnicky a double reed can be. If you do not have a quality reed, your instrument will be out of tune, or it may even squawk like a dying flamingo! I can’t tell you how many times I showed up to band practice with a reed that had accidentally cracked in the case, and my oboe wouldn’t make a single sound at all! That is why you always pack a back-up, or two, or three. 

Anyway, you may still be wondering, what is the difference between a reed and a double reed? Well, it’s actually quite obvious when you think about it—a single reed only consists of one piece of finely manipulated cane and thus, must be attached to a mouthpiece, while a double reed has two reeds that vibrate against one another to create a sound. A double reed twists into the top of the instrument, standing alone, while the single reed is fastened directly onto the mouthpiece. 

Now, check out the song below, which features the wonderful Wayne Escoffery on saxaphone, to hear a single reed in action! 

John DiMartino, Joe Magnarelli & Wayne Escoffery – Tell Me Why

Despite the fact that a saxophone is made of metal, it uses a single reed, which classifies it as a woodwind, not a brass instrument. As you listen to the sax solo in this tune, you can think about and appreciate all the hard work that went into make the reed! 

And if you’re looking for more jazz music that merges the musical artistry of new songs with the jazz classics, check out our recent release, Old New Borrowed & Blue, which is available on all major music platforms and in our store today!

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild. 

What is a jazz standard? What is a fake book? And what are some examples of jazz standards?

You’ve probably heard the term thrown around before in phrases like, “a modern rendition of the jazz standard…” but what exactly is a jazz standard? 

As the name implies, a jazz standard is a composition that has established widespread popularity among musicians and listeners. There is no concrete list of jazz standards, and they fluctuate with time, but songs that appear in fake books are usually considered standards. 

Now you may be wondering, what is a fake book? Well, a fake book is a collected volume of lead sheets, which are musical notations that specify the crucial components of a famous song.  The melody, lyrics and harmony are marked on a lead sheet, but the chord voicings, voice leadings, and bass lines are not described, thus giving the musician or arranger freedom to improvise. Collections of lead sheets are called fake books because skilled musicians can “fake it” and perform the song decently with only having the rough outline, as opposed to having the full score, which writes out every note to be played and all the intricacies of the song.

Not all jazz standards were written by jazz composers—many were originally Broadway show tunes, Tin Pan Alley songs and even songs from Hollywood musicals. In Europe, fake books may also include traditional folk songs and ethnic music. But, even if a song has non-jazz origins, it can only become a jazz standard when it is played widely among jazz musicians. 

By now you’re probably curious to learn which jazz standards are the most well-known. Well, lucky for you we made a short list below:

Juan Tizol & Duke Ellington – Caravan

First performed by Duke Ellington in 1936, this tune quickly gained popularity for its “exotic” sound, and has since been used in many films, such as Ocean’s Eleven. It is considered one of the most covered songs of all time, with over 500 uses! 

W.C. Handy – St. Louis Blues

Published in 1914, this is an example of a song with origins in another genre—blues—that has become a fundamental part of the jazz repertoire. Artists including Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Bessie Smith, Glenn Miller, and Guy Lombardo have all recorded a version of this tune, which has been nicknamed, “the jazzman’s Hamlet.” 

Hoagy Carmichael – Stardust

Part of the Great American Songbook, this tune was inspired by the ending of one of Hoagy Carmichael’s love affairs, and since its publication in 1929, it has been recorded 1,500 times! My consolation is in the stardust of a song… 

Joseph Kosma – Autumn Leaves

This 1945 tune, with the original lyrics written in French, is particularly popular among beginning musicians because it offers a nice way to become acquainted with jazz harmony.   

You can find modern recordings of iconic jazz standards in our album, Lovers & Love Songs, which features “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “I’m an Old Cowhand,” and “From This Moment On.” Lovers & Love Songs is available in our store and on all major music platforms! 

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

What are jazz songs usually about?

To answer this question, we must think about why we listen to music in the first place. Why do we pop in earbuds and jam to our favorite tune during our commute to work? Why do we play music at parties, weddings, funerals, and sports games? Why do we sing along to the radio?

Well, it’s because music is a powerful experience that has been a part of our shared human culture since prehistoric times. As you know, when you listen to a particularly satisfying song, your body undergoes a visceral reaction—you become giddy, you feel chills, or maybe you’re even moved to tears. There’s something magical and transcendent about how music can tap into a deeper part of ourselves. 

Jazz, like all music, expresses ideas and emotions that may be difficult to articulate through a normal conversation. We also must remember that jazz is a fundamentally diverse and wide-ranging genre, borrowing elements from other styles, like swing, bebop, blues, and hard bop, so there are not exactly strict distinctions when it comes to defining the subject material of jazz. Nonetheless, there are some recurring themes in jazz music that are best explained with examples. Check out the song list below to learn more about the themes of jazz!

The WJ3 All Stars – I’ve Never Been in Love Before

Probably the most obvious theme that first comes to mind when you think of jazz is love. With hits like John Coltrane’s “My One And Only Love,” Johnny Hartman’s “How Sweet It Is to Be in Love” and Nina Simone’s “I Love My Baby,” jazz definitely pays homage to the romantic passion that overcomes us all from time to time. 

Published in 1950, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” is a great example of a jazz love song. It first appeared as a duet in the musical Guys and Dolls, sung by the main characters Sky Masterson and Sister Sarah Brown when they spontaneously realized that they had fallen in love. Now all at once it’s you, it’s you evermore… 

Since that first showing, the song has become a jazz standard, recorded by many artists including Shirley Bassey, Bing Crosby, and Doris Day. And most recently, the classic has been recorded by the WJ3 All Stars, offering a heartwarming, modern rendition that’ll sweep you off your feet on a romantic journey through the ages. 

Billie Holiday – Good Morning Heartache 

Unfortunately, lots of jazz songs about love means that there will also be lots of songs about heartbreak. It is utterly devastating when that all-consuming love turns sour and what better way to lament than through music, like Billie Holiday’s 1946 song, “Good Morning Heartache”  I’ve got those Monday blues straight through Sunday blues… 

Duke Ellington – Black, Brown, and Beige

Since jazz was conceived by a fusion of traditional African music, brought to the country by enslaved peoples, and “New World” ideas of creative expression found in the cultural melting pot of Caribbean, French and Spanish cultures in New Orleans, it comes as no surprise that the genre often celebrates diversity. 

This extended jazz work, written in 1943, is composed of three movements that Ellington said offer, “a parallel to the history of the Negro in America.” The piece begins with a work song and spirituals, which represent the religious songs that black enslaved people sung, then it moves into more West Indian influences, a celebration of Emancipation and the conception of the blues. Lastly, the piece depicts the African Americans of the 1920s, 30s and World War II. 

The Lorca Hart Trio – Introspection on the 401

Jazz songs don’t always have lyrics and instrumental tunes can provide a listener with a wordless moment of introspection. As we’ve discussed, music often stirs up emotions and thoughts, thus providing an excellent backdrop to do some thinking. This new song from The Lorca Hart Trio creates just the right ambience to do some self-reflection as you drive down the road to work.  

If you’re interested in listening to more jazz songs, and uncovering more themes and meanings, I would recommend our albums, Lovers & Love Songs, and Colors of Jazz, both of which are available in our store and on all major music platforms! 

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Why is Labor Day celebrated?

We all love that day off from school or work, that long weekend to go to the lake house, have a barbeque and visit with relatives, but let’s face it, most of us don’t really know why Labor Day is celebrated, or the history behind the holiday.

Labor Day, which is celebrated on the first Monday in September, honors and recognizes the American labor movement and the role of laborers in the development and achievements of the country. The holiday originated in the late 1800s, after the Industrial Revolution, when trade unions were growing steadily. Unionists thought that there should be a day to recognize labor, so the first parade was organized in New York City, and it became an official holiday in 1894.

You may be wondering, what kind of music did people listen to back then, in the late 19th century? Well, we’ve compiled a short list of historical tunes that are sure to impress your friends and family at your Labor Day celebration!

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad – 1894

With its lyrics about rising early in the morn to go work on the railroad, this American folk song embodies the spirit and history of Labor Day. Railroading was a career that many young men took up at around age 18 to 20. They began as shop laborers with the possibility of being promoted to the positions of skilled mechanic, brakeman, freight conductor and passenger conductor. And not only did the explosion of railways create jobs, but it also transformed many sectors of the U.S. economy, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and finance. 

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – 1872

This African American spiritual song was originally composed in 1865 by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman, who had probably been inspired by the sight of the Red River, where he worked alongside. The river may have reminded him of the Jordan River and the Prophet Elijah, which are referenced in the song.

A minister at the Choctaw boarding school heard Willis singing the song, so he transcribed the lyrics and melodies, and sent it to the Jubilee Singers of the historically black Fisk University in Nashville, who popularized the song in the early 1900s.

While Strolling Through the Park One Day – 1884

Originally written and published by vaudeville performer Ed Haley, this tune has been featured in many films and was sung by Judy Garland. Interestingly enough, a few bars were also sung by the NASA astronauts when they landed on the moon with the Apollo 17 mission. I was strolling on the moon one day…” 

Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue – Janis Siegel, John Di Martino & Lonnie Plaxico

The oldies are neat and everything, but after the novelty wears off, they’re probably not the type of music you want to listen to for hours on end. After the collective ride down American memory lane, maybe it’s time to change the playlist up and play something a bit more modern, like this 2020 jazz rendition of Crystal Gayle’s country hit!

If you’re looking for more jazzy country tunes to play at your Labor Day party, our new album Cryin’ In My Whiskey is available in our store and on all major music platforms now. And if you’d like to book one of our wonderful musicians for your event, please contact us today. 

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.