Decoding Musical Notation: Unveiling the Meaning of Different Notes

(Featured Image: Dayne Topkin on Unsplash )

Music, the universal language that transcends cultural boundaries, has the power to evoke emotions, tell stories, and bring people together. At the heart of this intricate art lies musical notation, a system of symbols that conveys melodies, rhythms, and harmonies to musicians. Among these symbols, notes stand as the fundamental building blocks of music. Each note carries a distinct meaning, and understanding their significance is essential for any aspiring musician or curious listener. In this blog, we’ll embark on a journey to decode the meanings behind the different notes in musical notation.

The Basics: Pitch and Duration

Before delving into the specifics of individual notes, it’s crucial to grasp two fundamental aspects of music that notes encapsulate: pitch and duration.

    1. Pitch: Pitch refers to the highness or lowness of a musical sound. In notation, this is represented vertically on a set of five parallel lines called a staff. Notes placed higher on the staff indicate higher pitches, while notes positioned lower represent lower pitches.

    1. Duration: Duration refers to the length of time a note is held or played. It’s symbolized by various note shapes and their associated stems and flags.

Understanding Note Values

In musical notation, different note shapes represent distinct note values, indicating the duration of each note. Here are some of the most common note values and their meanings:

    1. Whole Note: A circular note head without a stem. It represents the longest duration among note values. When played, it’s typically held for four beats in 4/4 time signature, the most common time signature.

    1. Half Note: A note head with a stem pointing upward or downward. It’s held for two beats in 4/4 time signature.

    1. Quarter Note: Similar to a half note, but with a filled-in note head. It’s played for one beat in 4/4 time signature.

    1. Eighth Note: An eighth note has a filled-in note head and a flag attached to its stem. It’s played for half a beat in 4/4 time signature.

    1. Sixteenth Note: With two flags attached to the stem, a sixteenth note is played for one-fourth of a beat in 4/4 time signature.

    1. Thirty-Second Note: This note has three flags attached to its stem and is played for one-eighth of a beat in 4/4 time signature.

Combining Notes: Understanding Rhythmic Patterns

Once you’re familiar with individual note values, the next step is to comprehend how they combine to create rhythmic patterns. Rests, symbols representing periods of silence, are also essential to understand rhythm. Here are some common combinations:

    1. Ties: Ties connect two or more notes of the same pitch, indicating that they are held for a combined duration.

    1. Dotted Notes: A dot placed after a note increases its duration by half. For instance, a dotted half note is equivalent to three beats in 4/4 time.

    1. Triplets: Triplets divide a beat into three equal parts. Three triplet eighth notes, for example, would be played in the time normally occupied by two regular eighth notes.

The Last Word

(Songs for Ganda, by the Lorca Hart Trio, is a masterpiece of Jazz notation in action)

In the world of music, notes serve as the bridge between the composer’s imagination and the performer’s rendition. By understanding the meanings behind different notes in musical notation, you gain the ability to read, interpret, and bring to life the intricate melodies and rhythms that have shaped human expression for centuries. Whether you’re a musician or an appreciative listener, delving into the world of musical notation opens up a new dimension of understanding and enjoyment, enriching your musical experience. So next time you hear a beautiful melody, remember that the notes are like the words of a language that speaks directly to our hearts and souls.

John Philip Sousa and Patriotic Jazz Music 

John Philip Sousa was a prolific composer of military marches and many other musical works. He earned the moniker, “The March King, because he composed over 130 marches. Perhaps his best-known works are “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Washington Post March.” He also composed “Semper Fidelis,” the official march of the U.S. Marine Corps. You might not know that he also composed operettas, dances, orchestral suites, and overtures.

Sousa was born on November 6, 1854, in Washington, D.C. His father, Antonio, was a musician in the Marine Band. John Philip Sousa studied violin, piano, and brass instruments, and became a young apprentice with the Marine Band until he was 20 years old. For a time, he toured with theatrical orchestras and moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as a composer, arranger, and proofreader for a music publishing companies. Sousa returned to the Marine Corp and served as the 17th director of the Marine Band from 1880 to 1892. Under his leadership, the band attained new levels of excellence and popularity. Sousa played a role in the development of the sousaphone, as he sought a brass instrument similar to a tuba but was easier to play during parades.

John Philip Sousa went on to lead a civilian band after he left the Marine Corps. The band toured throughout the U.S. and Europe in the years leading up to World War I and helped to popularize ragtime in Europe. At age 62, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserves after the United States declared war on Germany. Sousa was placed in charge of the band-training center at Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois.   

Sousa’s compositions are often performed at celebrations during national holidays. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was designated as the official march of the U.S. in 1987.

The U.S. Marine Band, known as the President’s Own, is currently celebrating its 225th anniversary as the oldest continuously active professional music organization in the U.S. The Marine Corps also has a jazz orchestra featuring Marines from bands in San Diego and New Orleans.

The Airmen of Note is the premier jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force. It was formed in 1950 to maintain the tradition of Major Glenn Miller’s Army Air Forces dance band. The Airmen of Note perform big band music and contemporary jazz pieces throughout the world. The Jazz Ambassadors are the premier touring jazz band of the U.S. Army. This 19-piece ensemble performs jazz standards, patriotic music, and contemporary jazz as well as original compositions. Jazz vocalist Alexis Cole served in the U.S. Army for 6 years, where she performed with the West Point Jazz Knights.

The West Point Band and the U.S. Army Field Band (Jazz Ambassadors) perform versions of “God Bless America” and other patriotic music.

Some jazz musicians who have recorded iconic performances of patriotic songs include trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. Armstrong believed that he was born on the Fourth of July, but his actual birthday was August 4.

Bassist Charlie Haden recorded a soothing instrumental version of “America the Beautiful” with saxophonist Michael Brecker, pianist Brad Mehldau, and other musicians. It appears on the “American Dreams” album.

Flutist Herbie Mann’s lilting version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” appears on his “Memphis Underground” album.

Patricia Martin

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Best Jazz Playlist for an Unforgettable Holiday Party

December is a special time for Holidays around the world (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Rohatsu, Ōmisoka, just to name a few) and we all know what that means: cookie baking, last-minute gift buying, and, of course, planning those annual Holiday parties! You are busy decorating the house, perfecting Pinterest charcuterie boards, and wrapping things up at the office so you can finally enjoy a few days off. As the big day approaches and you frantically arrange the finishing touches, you realize – this party needs a playlist!

Rather than just choosing a generic Spotify playlist, make your party stand out by including some of the best jazz Holiday hits, old and new. Your guests will be impressed and it’s guaranteed to leave an impression that will last them though the New Year.

Frosty the Snowman

  • Ella Fitzgerald

Christmas Ain’t Like It Used To Be

  • Night is Alive artists: John Di Martino, Andromeda Turre, Wayne Escoffery, Lonnie Plaxico, Willie Jones III

Here Comes Santa Claus

  • Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters

Happy Hanukkah, My Friend

  • Night is Alive artists: John Di Martino, Andromeda Turre, Wayne Escoffery, Lonnie Plaxico, Willie Jones III

Linus and Lucy

  • The Bill Cunliffe Trio

Sleigh Ride

  • The Ronettes

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

  • Night is Alive All-Stars

I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm

  • The Mills Brothers

White Christmas

  • Michael Bublé (ft. Shania Twain)

Blue Christmas

  • Night is Alive artists: John Di Martino, Lonnie Plaxico, Wayne Escoffery, and Willie Jones III

Carol of the Bells

  • Bill Cunliffe

Its The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (vocals)

  • Patty LaBelle

Its The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (instrumental)

  • The Bill Cunliffe Trio

Think we should add a song to this list? Send Night is Alive a message on social media!

For more of the best in Holiday Jazz, visit

Unwrap the Joyful Sounds of Christmas Jazz — A Look at the Best Christmas Jazz Albums!

Are you ready to be transported to a musical winter wonderland? If so, then you’ve come to the right place! Christmas jazz is a genre of music that combines the traditional melodies of the Christmas season with the upbeat, improvisational sounds of jazz. From smooth, soulful tunes to funky, jazzy beats, Christmas jazz has something for everyone. In this article, we’ll explore the history of Christmas jazz, take a look at some of the best Christmas jazz albums, and share some tips for choosing the perfect holiday jazz albums. So, let’s get started!

Continue reading

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.

Feature Friday Q&A With Wayne Escoffery Part I

Ah, nothing beats the bliss of a Friday afternoon, right? And to improve your good mood even more, we have a new Q&A series with the Grammy-Award-winning tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery! 

Escoffery has experience front lining, around the world, in Tom Harrell’s working quintet, as well as being a member of The Mingus Dynasty, Big Band and Orchestra, and teaching jazz improvisation at the Yale School of Music. 

And now we’re lucky enough at Night Is Alive to have Wayne Escoffery featured in our albums My Ship and Old New Borrowed & Blue. And with Christmas being just around the corner, be sure to be on the lookout for our upcoming album, Christmas Ain’t Like It Use To Be, featuring Wayne Escoffery!

So, without further ado, let’s get to know this remarkable musician! 

JK: Was music a big part of your household when you were growing up?

WE: Well, my mother was an avid listener of classical music and old school R&B music. But she was not a jazz listener. I basically grew up with my mother, but for the first few years of my life when my father was in the house he did listen to and play reggae music. He was an amateur reggae guitarist. So, there was exposure to that from a very early age, but for most of my childhood, it was with my mother, and she was a big fan of classical and R&B music. She would have it on casually in the house as background music. Music was always playing but it was never something that was discussed much or was a huge part of our lives. 

JK: Do you have a most beloved song from your childhood?

WE: Not in particular. But for sure, I myself was always a big fan of the young Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. My mother played that a lot. And also, choral music, she played a lot of choral music. So, no specific song, just certain artists, like Michael Jackson—he’s definitely one that resonated with me and all the artists surrounding him. You know, Motown era music. 

JK: Yeah, definitely great music! So, I saw that at age 11 you joined the New Haven Trinity Boys Choir and began taking saxophone lessons. 

WE: Yeah, the boys’ choir was really my first formal introduction into music, so really, I consider the voice my first instrument. And yes, after that, at around 11, I started playing the tenor saxophone actually, which is somewhat unusual as a lot of older players start playing the clarinet or alto saxophone first.

JK: What inspired you to join the choir?

WE: Well, two-fold—my mother’s love for choral and classical musical and also, growing up in New Haven, Connecticut. New Haven is a very diverse place and while there are a lot of areas that are well-to-do, there is also a lot of poverty, so there were lots of areas, things ad environments that my mother wanted me to stay away from. She was definitely big on keeping me busy. When the director of the New Haven Boys’ Choir visited our elementary school looking for choir boys, he saw some talent in me and my mom right away suggested I join the boys’ choir. It was a pretty serious organization, so that pretty much kept me busy at least three days of the week. 

JK: Hmm I see. Clever of your mom! And then you started playing the saxophone.

WE: Yeah, I would basically go to choir practice with saxophone in hand and before or after choir I would have saxophone practice. Not necessarily playing jazz music, just band music. 
If you’re looking for some more Wayne Escoffery, check out our albums My Ship and Old New Borrowed & Blue, both of which are available in our store and on all major music platfor

Songs for Sweetest Day!

Even though you may think that Sweetest Day—celebrated on October 15th—is just a holiday invented by greeting card companies, you can surely agree that it’s nice to take time out of your day to share a small gift or kind gesture, right? 

Really, we shouldn’t need a designated day to do something kind, but it certainly doesn’t hurt! So, this Sweetest Day, why not do something thoughtful for another? A kind thought can really brighten someone’s day, as well as your own! 

Whether it be paying it forward in line at Starbucks, bringing cupcakes to work or giving your significant other a foot massage, there are many ways to be sweet on this lovely October day. 

And, of course, since music is our forte at Night Is Alive, we have some sweet & sparkly songs to pair with some acts of kindness!

Nancy Sinatra – Sugar Town

This 1967 tune is one of my favorites because it always seems to create the best, most relaxed, and upbeat atmosphere. It’s especially nice to listen to when you’re driving, and the sun is shining, and you have a big bouquet of flowers in the seat next to you. Maybe you’re bringing flowers to your mom, aunt, or good friend to show them how much you care! 

John Coltrane & Thelonious Monk – Sweet and Lovely

From the start, you can hear the tenderheartedness in this 2005 song. The piano notes float peacefully through your mind like you’re on a cloud. The sweet melody might just inspire you to write a thoughtful letter to an estranged loved one, or a loved one that lives far away. It’s never too late to rekindle an overlooked relationship. 

James Taylor – How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)

Everyone knows this 1975 classic! Just like everyone knows how good it feels to be loved. But don’t forget how sweet it can also be to express love to another. Make your sweetheart want to belt out these lyrics by surprising them with a crisp box of chocolates, or a pint of their favorite ice cream! 

The Beatles – Ain’t She Sweet

Who doesn’t love the Beatles? Add a dose of sugar to your day by blasting this 1964 hit while you and your family clean up after dinner. Dust off those vocal pipes, bust out those air guitar skills and have a goofy ole time singing and dancing along!  

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

Maybe you were reluctant to celebrate Sweetest Day at first, but I bet by the end of the day, and after listening to all these sweet tunes, you are now reluctant for the day to end! Let this fun 2022 jazz tune play while you watch the sun set over the fall foliage and allow the gratitude to wash over you. 
If you’re looking for some more sweet jazz tunes, 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 Part III

Time for our final installment in the Q&A series with jazz bassist, composer and painter, Gerald Cannon. Today we discuss his experiences recording the album My Ship and get to know a bit more about his visual art.  

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

GC: Oh it was great! You know it was with my longtime musical companion Willie Jones and everybody. The band are all seasoned musicians who I know very well. The album is very beautiful; it’s like a ballad record if I remember correctly. I love ballads. It was very mature. A very mature record. I remember thinking like, it’s a definite grown-up record and the musicians were seasoned and we’re all friends. It was fun!

JK:I’m glad y’all had fun! I talked to Steve Davis the other day and he had so many great things to say about it. 

GC: Yeah, I think pretty much all of us have been on the road together in one situation or another. Those are the kind of record days that are very special. Cause they’re not always like that. It was very easy and, like I said, very seasoned. Very mature. And musical. Cause we all know each other’s playing. It wasn’t hard at all. It was great!  I can’t wait to hear it, I don’t think I’ve heard it yet. 

JK: Well, all the songs are on YouTube!

GC: Oh okay, I’ll check it out. 

JK: So, do you have a favorite song on the album?

GC: I mean My Ship is definitely one of my favorite songs. That’s a beautiful, beautiful melody. But they’re really all my favorites! I’m an Old Beatles fan. I remember when I bought my first Beatles record. Those are the greatest bass lies. The bass lines are classic. I play them all the time on upright during solos and stuff. 

JK: I saw that you had an art show recently. Congratulations!

GC: Thank you! Yeah, I have another one coming up in October in New York. The gallery is in Greenwich Village. I’m really looking forward to that show.

JK: Do you think your music inspires your painting or vice versa?

GC: Yeah, they inspire each other. I think the way I play is definitely connected to the way I paint. Kind of loose and abstract but within the form. 

JK: That’s great that you’re able to do both!

GC: Yeah, I’m blessed.  

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.  

Songs to Listen to While You Carve Pumpkins

Ah, the bliss of waking up, pulling on a cozy old wool sweater, and drinking a mug of hot tea. Like most Americans, fall is my favorite season. The cooler, autumnal weather is such a relief after the sweaty, hazy days of summer. And even though it may be “basic,” the pumpkin spice lattes, hay bale mazes, knit scarves and warm apple cider are pretty hard to beat! 

But the most treasured fall pastime is hands-down pumpkin carving. There’s nothing like getting your family together on a chilly fall night to craft spooky faces while a full moon looms in the sky.  

Did you know that the tradition of the jack-o’-lantern comes from an old Irish legend about a drunkard who makes a bargain with Satan that curses him to wander the Earth with just a hollowed turnip to illuminate his way? The tradition was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants in the early 19th century and has become an American staple ever since. 

Now, what music should you listen to while carving pumpkins? Don’t fear—we have some eerie tunes just for you!

Bing Crosby – The Headless Horseman 

This 1949 song comes from the Disney movie adaptation of Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which tells about a horseman who carries his head in his lap, and who, late one night, frightens a teacher so bad that the teacher disappears. Some say he fled the village, while others say that the horseman took his body and soul. All that they know for certain is that the teacher’s hat was found in the morning next to a smashed pumpkin. 

Written in 1820, this story helped to create the cannon of American literature, and it also contributed to the spookiness of the carved-out pumpkin in the American imagination. With a hip-hip and a clippity-clop, he’s out lookin’ for a top to chop … 

Jackie McClean – Demon’s Dance

The angular and varied textures in this 1967 tune will inspire you to make crisp and creative cuts in your pumpkin, turnip, gourd, or other root vegetable. Maybe you’ll even carve out an image of demons dancing around a fire—who knows? See where your inner ghoul takes you!

Ella Fitzgerald – Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead

From the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, this is a beloved song that’ll definitely captivate you and your family. If you don’t remember, the song celebrates when Dorothy’s house falls on the Wicked Witch of the East, and when the Wicked Witch of the West is splashed with water. 

John DiMartino, Joe Magnarelli & Wayne Escoffery – Hudson River Wind

Although this is technically not a spooky song, it really captures the spirit of fall. When you think of autumn, don’t you think of a gust of wind blowing leaves into a rushing river?

If you’re looking for more jazz songs to listen to while you carve pumpkins, check out our albums My Ship and Old New Borrowed and Blue, which are both available in our store and on all major music platforms now. 

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!