What is embouchure? Why is embouchure so important?

Just like its spelling, the concept, and acquisition of embouchure is a bit tricky. Simply put, embouchure refers to the way in which a musician uses his or her mouth to play a brass or wind instrument. Sounds easy enough—you just blow air into the instrument, right? Nope. Think again. In practice, embouchure is much more difficult.

Beginner musicians can spend months, developing an embouchure. That’s because it involves not only precise calculation and manipulation of one’s facial muscles, lips, tongues, teeth and breathing, but also habitual strengthening, training, and setting of all those muscles. To merely produce a steady sound on the oboe—which is the instrument with the most difficult embouchure—can take three months or longer. 

Even when a musician isn’t actively playing, it’s recommended that he or she flex the key muscles in short bursts to build up that habitual muscle memory. Some oboists practice with exercises, and even by holding a pencil in their mouth. Talk about dedication to your art! 

Why, though, is embouchure so gosh darn important? Well, embouchure determines whether an instrument plays in tune, at its full range, and with a clear tone. It’s a very exact process that can result in your instrument making either a beautiful crooning, like a warbler’s song, or a horrid honking, like a dying goose. 

With woodwinds, if you put the mouthpiece too far into your mouth, there will be too much vibration and not enough control. On the flip side, if the mouthpiece is not far enough into the mouth, no sound will be generated at all because the reed will not vibrate. With a brass instrument, the sound is produced when a player buzzes their lips into the mouthpiece. Muscular contraction and lip formation also play a role in changing the pitch of a brass instrument.

Now that you’re more familiar with embouchure, you might be more in awe of jazz musicians, and more appreciative of the countless songs that include woodwinds and brass. As you listen to the following tunes, think about all the diligence, time, and patience that these musicians put into developing their excellent embouchures! 

Gerry and The Pacemakers – Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying

Since the oboe has the most difficult embouchure, we wanted to find a popular song that includes the underrated, double reed instrument. Listen carefully to this 1964 tune to see if you can spot the clear, bright, and robust sound of the oboe (I’ll give you a hint—it shows up early on)!

Lorca Hart Trio – Discoveries

This 2020 tune opens with the talented Ralph Moore on the tenor saxophone. As you listen, think about his embouchure. A good saxophone embouchure requires the lower lip to rest against, but not over, the teeth—like when pronouncing the letter “V’—and the corners of the lips must be drawn in. 

If you’re looking for more jazz songs that include woodwinds and brass, check out the albums in our store, and on all major music platforms!

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

What is a ballad? What are the best jazz ballads?

Nowadays, people seem to use the term ‘ballad’ to refer to a slow, maybe sentimental, and romantic, song with beautiful lyrics. But did you know, technically, that’s not what a ballad is?

A ballad is a poem or song that narrates a story in short stanzas, usually set to music. Ballads were originally written to accompany dances, amd their name was derived from the Scottish word ‘ballares’ meaning “to dance.” Traditionally, dancers sang the alternating refrains of the song in time with the dance. 

Usually, ballads consist of 13 lines with an ABABBCBC rhyming form, but there’s also many variations on that pattern. Only in the later 19th century did the term begin to be used to describe a slower form a popular love song. 

So, now that you know what a ballad is, let’s look at some of the best ballads of all time! 

Billy Strayhorn – Lush Life

This 1933 ballad tells the story of a person who used to frequent the best places in town and relax on the “axis of the wheel of life,” that is, until he fell deeply in love and, later, became heartbroken. Now, the narrator is reflecting on that failed romance and the wearisome nightlife he used to indulge in. “Only last year everything seemed so sure,” Strayhorn sings. “Now life is awful again.”

A fun fact about this ballad is that Strayhorn was only a teenager when he began composing this classic! Talk about young talent! 

Elsie Carlisle – Body and Soul

Written in 1930 for the British actress and singer Gertrude Lawrence, who performed it first in London, this standard has become the most recorded ballad in jazz history, with over 2,200 existing versions! 

With its poignant and relatable lyrics about a person who wants to make sure she won’t be devastated after opening her heart to a new lover, it’s no wonder that this ballad became so remarkably popular. The narrator wonders if she will “stand alone at the shore.” She’s got to know—“oh, body and soul”—that her new beloved has no doubt “inside and out.”

John Coltrane – Naima

Inspired by his wife, Juanita Naima Grubbs, Coltrane composed this ballad in 1959, which has since become a jazz standard. “Queen of the ages,” Coltrane sings. “She transcends history’s pages.” 

The story of true love, and the utter awe that comes with it, never does seem to get old, does it? We always seem to find new ways to express our emotions to the ones we love, especially in the form of musical ballads.  

Always On My Mind – Janis Siegel & John Di Martino 

Recorded by everyone from Elvis to Loretta Lynn, and, of course, Willie Nelson, this iconic song, first released in 1972, tells the story of a remorseful narrator who is looking back and wishing that she would’ve told her beloved just how much she cared. In this new 2021 version, the classic is reimagined as a jazz ballad, which serves to highlight the bittersweet theme of regret. 

If you’re looking for more ballads, and modern jazz renditions of country favorites, check out our album Cryin’ In My Whiskey, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms today! 

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Love Songs to Bring Back the Honeymoon Phase this Valentine’s Day

Let’s face it, even the best relationships can become a bit stale over the years. Instead of chitchatting and cuddling before bed, your partner or spouse might just roll over and start snoring. Maybe you no longer surprise each other with flowers and gifts. Or maybe, you find yourself bickering over the little things, like dishes and laundry. No matter what your issue may be, it doesn’t mean that you don’t love each other anymore. It just means that you’re out of the honeymoon phase and might need some heartfelt intention to bring back the passion, butterflies, and excitement.

And since music is our game at Night Is Alive, we decided that this Valentine’s Day, we would pair four love songs with four pieces of relationship advice that’ll be sure to reinvigorate your long-term relationship. After all, nothing says passion like jazz!

  1. Practice Gratitude – How Sweet It Is To Be In Love by Johnny Hartman

Amid the craziness of daily life—errands, groceries, coordinating schedules—it’s easy to take your sweetheart for granted. It’s easy to forget about all the amazing things your partner does for you, and forget, like Johnny Hartman croons, just how sweet it is to be in love

If you have a journaling practice, add a daily dose of gratitude focused entirely on your partner. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, elevate the positives. Writing affirmations, like, I’m grateful that he cooked dinner tonight, will remind you of all the sweet things your partner does that go unnoticed. 

  1. Compliment Each Other – The Way You Look Tonight by Frank Sinatra

Nothing boosts you up like a compliment from a stranger on the subway, and the same goes for your partner. Those so-called sweet nothings do matter, so take a little time out of your day to remind your loved one how beautiful, smart, or handsome he or she is. And on Valentine’s Day, be sure to pile on the flattery, like Sinatra in his 1964 hit. You’re lovely, with your smile so warm and your cheeks so soft… 

  1. Get Intimate – Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) by Louis Armstrong

As the cleverly-written lyrics point out—birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it—intimacy is a clear route to deepening the love, passion, and connection in your relationship. Uncork a nice bottle of wine, turn on this song and giggle at the innuendos with your lover, then let the sparks fly …

  1. Reminisce – First Time I Saw Your Face by the WJ3 All Stars 

Valentine’s Day is a great time to reminisce on when you met your sweetheart. Whether it was love at first sight or a game of hard-to-get, your story is sure to bring smiles and laughs! Like the WJ3 All Stars convey so beautifully in this song, the first time you saw your lover’s face was an unforgettable moment, so be sure to cherish it.   

If you’re looking for more romantic songs, or for a gift for your Valentine, check out WJ3 All-Stars’s album Lovers & Love Songs. It’s available in our store and on all major music platforms today. And, for a limited time only, the album is available on vinyl! Included in the vinyl package is a bonus signed CD.

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

5 Jazz Vinyl Albums that You Need on Your Shelf!

Who would’ve thought that vinyl would make such a comeback in the new millennium? Invented in the 1940s, vinyl records are flat discs inscribed with spiral groves that represent the audio waveforms of the original track. As enthusiasts like to point out, vinyl is the purest version of a recording you can get. 

Maybe you know someone who rushed to buy the new vinyl records of Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and Frank Ocean. This is all fine and dandy, but, in our opinion, if you truly want the bona fide, old-fashioned experience of sitting down and enjoying a vinyl, you might want to listen to some music with a bit more history to it … like jazz! 

We hand-selected five of the best jazz vinyl albums that you need on your shelf today! 

Billie Holiday – Lady in Satin

In our chaotic modern world, we’re accustomed to plugging in our earbuds while we go to the gym or turning on the radio while we run errands. Seldom do we intentionally take time out of our day to sit down and listen to music on a record player. 

Well, with its incredible intensity of emotion, Billie Holiday’s 1958 album is absolutely one that you’re going to want to sit down for. As you probably already know, Holiday battled addiction for most of her life, which is probably what inspired this breathtaking and heartbreaking album. 

Chet Baker – Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen To You

Coincidentally also released in 1958, this album shows off both Baker’s voice, in a nice selection of jazz standards, and his swinging, melodic trumpet skills, in a few short solos. Baker’s unique vocals, which helped him to rise to fame, are so delicate and elegant that they seem to just float effortlessly from the record player into the air.  

Frank Sinatra – Sinatra at the Sands

Despite his reputation as more of a pop star, Frank Sinatra was indeed a jazz artist. And this 1966 album—recorded live from the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas—captures a compelling portrait of his talents as a jazz musician. The record player’s needle will also bring the album a lovely sense of warmth that’ll make you want to tap your toes! 

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

They say that opposites attract, and these two jazz powerhouses are no exception! Fitzgerald has a light and girly voice, while Armstrong’s voice is earthy and deep. Their styles complement one other exquisitely, especially in this 1956 album, which is truly timeless. 

WJ3 All-Stars – Lovers & Love Songs

Like a vinyl record, true love is also ageless, timeless, and enduring. So, what better way to celebrate your love story than with a vinyl record of the newest album from the WJ3 All-Stars. Full of heartwarming melodies and modern renditions of iconic tunes, this album is sure to be remembered as one of the most beloved vinyl records of our era. 

The vinyl record of Lovers & Love Songs, which comes with a bonus signed CD, is available in our store today! 

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

What are the five elements of jazz?

If you didn’t take Music 101 in college and you’ve never played an instrument, then you probably aren’t familiar with the five fundamentals of jazz. Maybe you just love the sound of jazz, the way it makes you feel, and you’ve never quite been able to explain the magic behind it. That is more than okay! You don’t need to be an expert to love something. But, if you are interested in understanding what’s going on behind the scenes, we’ve got explanations of the basics right here in this blog post! Read on…

  1. Rhythm – Freddie Freeloader by Miles Davis

The rhythm is the beat at the heart of any jazz composition. It’s a pattern formed by a series of notes that range in duration and stress, which is what makes you tap your foot along to the tune. Like with most genres, jazz rhythms can be simple or complex, fast, or slow, but there’s always an underlying pulse, and, usually, jazz incorporates a variety of rhythms, which is what gives it such a snappy, swinging feel. 

“Freddie Freeloader” has a basic rhythm of 4/4, which means that there are four beats in every measure, and a quarter note receives one count. As you listen to this tune, count, or clap your hands one, two, three, four, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. 

  1. Harmony – Summertime by George Gershwin

Two or more notes that are played simultaneously creates the harmony, which is also referred to as a chord or change. In jazz, a chord usually consists of four to seven notes that are played at the same time, and the way that the notes are arranged in the chord convey a certain emotion. 

This jazz standard has a simple harmony. Can you hear when there are two or more notes being played at the same time?

  1. Form – Take the A Train by Duke Ellington

The form of jazz refers to the recurring chord progression that creates the structure of a song. Basically, there are multiple sections of a tune, and the way in which the sections are grouped determines the form. If you know anything about literature, forms are a bit like the rhyme schemes of a poem—for example, the first stanza may rhyme with the third and the second may rhyme with the fourth, creating an ABAB structure.

“Take the A Train” is 32 measures long and it’s separated into four sections that are each eight measures long. The first two sections have identical chords, the third is different and the fourth is the same as the first two. This form is called AABA. Listen carefully to see if you can spot the form! 

  1. Improvisation – Swing to Bop by Charlie Christian

Improvisation is exactly what it sounds like—musicians spontaneously compose music right there on the spot! This is probably the most crucial element of jazz, and the most challenging. A musician must not only be well-versed in his or her instrument but he or she must also understand how notes and chords play together, be able to play by ear (without reading sheet music), and be familiar with a wide variety of styles. No easy feat! 

This 1941 song was created through improvisation at a jam session. Listen for the interplay between the electric guitar and drum!

  1. Instruments and Sounds – Discoveries by Lorca Hart Trio

The most common jazz instruments are the saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass, drums, guitar, clarinet, trombone, and flute. All these instruments run the gamut when it comes to their tones and sounds, which the musician must use to develop his or her own personal sound. Jazz is also unique in the way that musicians strive to express emotions, rather than just playing clearly. Jazz artists, for example, can manipulate pitches to “whine,” “growl,” or to play “darkly” or “lightly.”

Pay attention to the opening of “Discoveries” for the tenor saxophone and drum solo. Then as the song goes on, see which other instruments you can identify. Maybe you could even compare the way in which Ralph Moore plays the saxophone to another saxophonist, like Wayne Escoffery, to see how each musician creates a personal sound. 

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Women’s History Month – Fierce Female Musicians to Listen to this March

From Beyoncé to Doja Cat, HAIM to Billie Eilish, there are plenty of fierce women streaming the radio waves today, but what about the famous female musicians of the last century? What about the women who paved the way for our current generation? 

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are celebrating some of the most powerful women in music history. This playlist will make you proud to be a woman, or proud of all the women in your life. 

Bessie Smith – Ain’t Nobody’s Business If Do

As a female singer in the 1920s, blues legend Bessie Smith couldn’t achieve fame simply through her voice, she had to make a reputation through her live performances—dazzling the audience with jokes, sketches and elaborate costumes. Despite these efforts, Smith was still often shunned by the black middle class, who had a negative perception of the blues. 

This song feels like Smith’s response to all that pressure and criticism. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If Do” is a 1920s blues standard with a vaudeville jazz-style arrangement and lyrics that emphasize freedom of choice: There ain’t nothing I can do or nothing I can say / That folks don’t criticize me / But I’m goin’ to do just as I want to anyway.  

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm – Jump Children

Founded in 1937, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was the first integrated all-women’s band in the U.S. They toured throughout Europe and made a name for themselves as the most prominent all-female group during the Big Band era of the 1940s.

“Jump Children” was one of their most famous songs, and the playful lyrics are surprisingly empowering: When you’re feel’n low and you don’t know what to do, / Just stay in the groove; / Let nothing bother you… I may be small, but baby have no fear, / I can climb a hill without shifting gears. 

Ella Fitzgerald – I Got Rhythm

This playlist would be incomplete without including a track from the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz, the legendary Lady Ella. We all know and love Ella Fitzgerald and for good reason—her timeless, flexible and impeccable voice won her 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. But despite her success, Fitzgerald, like most black women in jazz, dealt with her fair share of prejudice. This song—Fitzgerald’s version of the 1930 jazz standard “I Got Rhythm” showcases her strong spirit that persevered through turmoil.  

Janis Siegel & John Di Martino – Break it to Me Gently

Speaking to the tender pain of losing a lover, this song was originally released in 1961 Brenda Lee. In this new rendition, Grammy-award-winning vocalist Janis Siegel brings a softer, jazzier touch to the rockabilly pop hit. This song can be found in Night is Alive’s latest album, “Cryin’ In My Whiskey,” which combines the best of country and jazz. 

“Cryin’ In My Whiskey” is available right now in our store and if you would like to book one of our lovely musicians for an upcoming party or event, contact us today.

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

Five Love Songs To Woo Your Sweetheart this Valentine’s Day

When you’re going through a breakup, it’s comforting to belt out the lyrics to contemporary love songs, like Selena Gomez’s Lose You To Love Me and Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved. But when you’re falling in love and trying to woo your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, you want some more upbeat and classical tunes. Here are five jazz songs that’ll create that flirty, fun, and romantic mood to get you and your Valentine dancing, twirling, and kissing all around the room.

WJ3 All-Stars – From This Moment On

Nothing says, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” like this iconic jazz standard. Originally written by Cole Porter in 1950, this song has been recorded again and again by stars including Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne and The Supremes. And recently, in 2020, world-class artists Willie Jones III and his All-Stars have released a heartwarming rendition that brings the song back to life in a new and inspiring way. WJ3 All-Star’s instrumental rendition will get you and your sweetheart smiling and tapping your toes this Valentine’s Day.

Billie Holiday – Let’s Do It

This playful, flirty and clever classic was a popular song written in 1928 by Cole Porter. It appeared in a few Broadway shows and a Hollywood movie in the 30s. And it’s perfect for impressing a new love interest on a first date because the suggestive comparisons and double entendre of the lyrics (“birds do it, bees do it… let’s do it, let’s fall in love”) will help break the ice and make you and your lover giggle and fall in love.

Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra – Somebody Loves Me

Sweep your sweetheart off of his or her feet with this exciting celebration of love, recorded by a 19-member band based in Los Angeles. Whether you’ve been going steady for a while or you’re in a budding relationship, this song will really get you on your feet, swinging around in each other’s’ arms.

Chet Baker – My Funny Valentine

Slow down the pace with this smooth and signature rendition of the 1937 show tune turned jazz standard. My Funny Valentine has appeared in over 1,300 albums, but Chet Baker, also known as the “prince of cool,” is the only artist to have his version inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. This silky song is perfect for cuddling up together with a glass of champagne and box of chocolates.

Lorca Heart Trio – Here’s That Rainy Day

All good things have to come to an end and this modern and vibrant rendition of the popular song from 1953 will provide a great backdrop for you and your valentine to look into each other’s’ eyes and say that wistful goodbye.

Find the Best Jazz Love Songs at Night is Alive

If you’re looking for new tunes to create that romantic night you’ll never forget, or if you’re looking for valentine’s day gift ideas we can help. Night is Alive is proud to offer two albums that can allow you to begin writing your very own love story. Check WJ3 All-Star’s Lovers and Love Songs and Lorca Heart Trio’s Colors of Jazz. Both are available right now in our store. And if you’d like to book one of our lovely musicians for an upcoming party or event, contact us today.

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.


Night Is Alive Featured in Downbeat – February 2020

Night is Alive featured in February 2020 Issue of Downbeat

Kathy Salem, managing director of Night is Alive, opens up about her journey from a small, boutique Jazz agent, to becoming a nation-wide Jazz Powerhouse.

“We started off very small: I was only doing management for jazz musicians,” said Kathy Moses Salem, managing director of Akron, Ohio-based Night Is Alive Productions. “But musicians come to me all the time, asking Can you ‘do this, can you do that?’ We realized that there were bigger needs, and we ought to be 360-degrees.”

That’s how Salem’s five-person company expanded from focusing on artist management to a mind-boggling list of services. Night Is Alive’s purview includes audience research, social media curation, digital and physical media design, advertising and promotion, and recording and production for the company’s new eponymous record label.

But Salem, at 75, is a newcomer to most of these aspects of the music business. And at first, she didn’t even plan on working as an artist manager. Salem’s background includes advertising at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and lobbying in Washington, D.C. But after her husband passed away in 2004, she decided to channel her energy into a lifelong love of music.

You can read the full article here!

Night is Alive @ Jazz Congress at Lincoln Center, New York

Night is Alive at Jazz Congress 2020 - Lincoln Center New York City

We’ve been having an amazing time at the 2020 Jazz Congress, hosted at the Lincoln Center, here in New York City. We’ve had the chance to listen and speak to so many gifted artists, teachers, mentors, and musicians. What can we say, it feels good to be inspired and to be surrounded by your peers. If you’re here with us, let us know! You can alwaaays drop us a line on our instagram at www.instagram.com/night_is_alive