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!

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.

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.

Q&A Feature Friday with Stevie-D

Q&A Friday Feature with Steve Davis

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and raised in Binghamton, New York, trombonist Steve Davis has always had a gift for music, which led him to release twenty albums, gain recognition for his hard-swinging, lyrical style, perform internationally and teach jazz workshops at the Jackie McLean Institute.  

More recently, Davis—nicknamed Stevie-D—has joined with Night Is Alive to arrange the music, and play the trombone in the 2022 album, My Ship, which also features Willie Jones III (drums/bandleader), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax), Isaiah Thompson (piano), and Gerland Cannon (bass).

And since My Ship is about looking back fondly on your childhood dreams, today we’re going to get to know a bit more about Stevie-D’s childhood, family, and early musical influences!

JK: I read that jazz was played often in your household when you were growing up. Were your parent’s musicians?

Stevie-D: My parents weren’t musicians but they both loved music and my father, in particular, was a record collector—he had a lot of jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll albums. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I had access to his vast record collection and then later CDs. So, there was always good music playing in the house, and just a culture of appreciation of jazz music in particular. And then my grandparents on both sides—my dad’s father, my grandsire, he was also a newspaper journalist like my father was at that time, but a big jazz fan and played the trumpet as a hobby. My dad played the electric bass and did a few gigs in my hometown of Binghamton, NY, but he was mostly just a music fan and played for fun. And my grandsire played the trumpet, and he could belt out “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” and he loved Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

 

And then on my mother’s side, my nana, I called her, she was a great stride pianist. She was the real jazz musician in the family. She was semi-professional and lived in Connecticut. She died when I was 19, but as a kid, I got to hear her play. When I started playing trombone as a teenager, I got to play with her a little bit when we would visit. She didn’t read a note of music, she played by ear—she was a real jazz musician, but being a woman at that time, it just wasn’t so acceptable for her to just do that, so when I look back on it, I think it was relegated more to the parlor entertainment, like “Oh isn’t that nice, you know, she’s playing the piano.” But she played all kind of Gershwin and American songbook standards and Ellington, and I learned a lot from her. She could really play.

JK: That’s an amazing story, but a shame that she wasn’t able to pursue it more.

Stevie-D: Well, she did to some degree. Boy, she would sit down—she had a piano in the house, it’s a Steinway, my parents still have it—and she’d sit down at that thing and just start swinging and play all kinds of things—”Honeysuckle Rose,” “Them There Eyes,” “Undecided”—some of the old swinger tunes, and she’d sing a little bit. She just had it. She knew what to do. So, then I would get my horn out eventually and she would teach me some of these tunes and I did it just naively, and we had fun together. So, I did get to play with her, and looking back all these years, forty years later, I cherish those memories very much. She’s a big influence on me for sure.

JK: Did you have a most beloved song growing up?

Stevie-D: Wow. Um. There’s so many. Well, one of the first songs I learned to play on my trumpet—I started on trumpet then I switched to baritone horn, and they suckered me into the tuba for a while at school, and I would up on trombone at 14, so I was a bit of a latecomer—but one of the first songs I could play on any of those instruments was “When the Saints Go Marching In,” just by ear. I always like that song, but I think everyone loves that song. My nana’s favorite song was “Embraceable You” by George Gershwin, and I played it at her funeral when I was 19 years old and I did it, again, the best I could by myself. I didn’t even appreciate or understand the depth of that moment the way I would now. So, I love that ballad.

There are so many songs I love, and plus as a kid, I was listening to the blues, B.B. King and Muddy Waters, and rock ‘n’ roll, Rolling Stones and the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix. There’s lots of great music but “Embraceable You” was a special one because it was my nana’s favorite, so I think that one’s very close to my heart.

JK: Have you played it since then?

Stevie-D: Here and there. It’s one of those tunes that I, you know some songs are so special to you that you hold it out for the right time. There are some other American Songbook standards that I wanted to play in my 20s when I had become a serious jazz musician and now that I’m 55 years old, I finally feel ready to play them in the way that I was dreaming of as a younger musician. My wife, Abena—her name is Abena Koomson Davis—she’s a great singer and knows a lot about the American Songbook. She loves “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” so I always play that one for her and I love that song too. There’s so many obviously, that was one of the things that was so fun about the project with Willie and everyone—we always delve into some of the great standards, and I think all of us really appreciate the opportunity to interpret some of the American Songbook classics and put a little bit of a fresh spin on it, but also play the tones hopefully with a great deal of integrity and genuine feeling.

JK: Do you think you’ll record a rendition of “Embraceable You” at some point?

Stevie-D: I’d love to. I look forward to it. I haven’t yet. I’m just holding that one. I appreciate the question. I’m looking forward to it; probably sooner than later.

And the conversation will continue . . . Look for the next installment of the interview next Friday! And in the meantime, if you’re looking for more Stevie-D, check out our album My Ship, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms now. 

Five Songs for the Zoo!

Five Songs for the Zoo!

From Apple Gifting Day to National Whipped Cream Day, it seems that just about every day there is some sort of obscure holiday, and—in case you missed it—July 1st was American Zoo Day! The celebration which marks the opening of the first zoo in the country, the Philadelphia Zoo, to the public in 1874.

What better way to celebrate this little-known holiday and piece of history than by going to the Zoo? You can take your kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews, or just go with a friend or special someone. Since Night Is Alive is based in Akron, our favorite zoo is definitely the Akron Zoo, which has been recognized for its excellence in diversity and marketing!

No matter who you go with, the truth is that the zoo really never gets old. Regardless of your age, seeing zoo animals will always spark a sense of amazement in you. A lioness prowling around the enclosure, a baboon swinging from branch to branch, an elephant drinking water with its trunk. These are the wonders of the animal kingdom!

So, to get you in the mood for the Zoo, we compiled a few songs for you to listen to during your drive!

The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Did you know that this 1961 doo-wop song was actually an adaptation of a 1939 song written by a South African musician named Solomon Linda? The original, titled “Mbube,” was written in the language of isiZulu, which is spoken by the Zulu people in parts of South Africa.

Solomon Linda – Mbube

Mbube means lion but it also refers to an a cappella style of singing created by the Zulu people and made popular by a group called the Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Vocalists sing in rhythmic unison to produce intricate harmonies and textures—essentially using their voices to take the place of what an instrumental band may do. The part of the Tokens’s song that goes weeheeheehee dee heeheeheehee weeoh aweem away was inspired by mbube style a cappella.

Seven Wild Men & Harry Reser – I’m Just Wild About Animal Crackers

This fun novelty song from the roaring twenties is precisely the song to get you excited to go to the zoo or circus! The swinging style of this 1926 tune evokes carnivals, fairs, elephants being led through hoops and penguins balancing balls on their beaks. It’ll make you want to do a jig all the way to the zoo!

Elvis Presley – Hound Dog

With the new Baz Luhrmann movie about Elvis hitting theaters now, it’s a great time to listen to one of the most instantly recognizable pop songs in history. But did you know that Elvis’s 1956 hit is actually a rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s 1952 R&B song? Since his rendition was so popular, many people often mistake it for an Elvis original.

The WJ3 All-Stars – Can’t Buy Me Love

Even though this song technically doesn’t have anything to do with the zoo or animals, the fast-paced melody will make you smile and look froward to the wonderful day ahead of you. The soft touch of the piano, and the stellar sax solo, also make this brand new 2022 instrumental release one to remember and listen to again and again!

If you’re looking for some more snazzy jazz tunes that’ll evoke the memories and dreams of childhood, please check out our newest 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.