Night Is Alive Partners with Willie Jones III

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Willie Jones III has worked on a pair of releases for the newly established Night Is Alive imprint, helmed by Kathy Moses Salem.

(Photo: Gulnara Khamatova)

“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.

She began with charity events in 2008. Then, when the new BLU Jazz club opened in Akron, she booked tenor saxophonist Harry Allen there. “One thing led to another and Harry asked me if I wanted to manage him,” she said. “I’d had no intention, but I said, ‘I’d love to.’ The next thing I know I have [drummer] Willie Jones III, [saxophonist] Jeff Rupert, [pianist] Bill Cunliffe, [saxophonist] Ralph Moore, [trumpeter] Terell Stafford, and [pianist] Donald Vega. They liked the way I handled stuff, and liked me.”

“It’s the energy she brings to it,” Jones said. “Her enthusiasm and desire to be part of the process—all that is a big deal. That’s what makes it work.”

Salem decided to expand into a one-stop shop after attending Jazz Congress, an industry conference, in New York during 2019. “People who run festivals and book big clubs were speaking, and these people said, ‘It’s up to the musicians to get people into the seats. They have to do their own marketing,’” she recalled. “Most musicians have no idea how to do that.”

She spent months reorganizing Night Is Alive, hiring media- and marketing-focused employees and building a mailing list and database of 60,000 venues and journalists. Starting a record label wasn’t on her agenda, but it happened serendipitously when she asked Jones to organize an all-star band for a concert in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The WJ3 All Stars, which featured Moore, Stafford and Vega, among others, played to a sold-out crowd. “When they came out, they wanted to know if we had CDs,” Salem said. “So, we did Lovers And Love Songs, my very first CD.”

Although Jones runs his own WJ3 label, he happily produced the Night Is Alive record, as well as leading the session. “You can’t have too many people presenting this music,” he explained. “If I could be on the ground floor for a new one, that’s attractive to me.”

Lovers And Love Songs, released in September, was followed by Night Is Alive’s First Christmas, where Jones and a batch of top-tier players accompany vocalist Christie Dashiell on classic repertoire.

Though her client list is small, the scope of her work is not. “I got six guys now, and I can barely keep track of them,” she said. “I need to find more bodies, more staff.”

But Jones is confident that she’ll persevere: “You’re talking about jazz, so it’s a challenge. Are you ready to lose money? Are you ready for a marathon, not a sprint? Most people aren’t, even if they say they are. But Kathy has a realistic view; I think Night Is Alive will be around for a long time.” DB



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