April-6th-2007, 11:43 AM
Smooth jazz always seemed to be just a step above elavator Muzak. What's always interesting (and a bit frustrating) is how smooth and Fusion seem to be linked at the hip. I understand that smooth has roots in Fusion due to so many Fusion players that started playing 'lighter', easier-to-digest type music, ala George Benson (not that GB was ever a Fusionista, but I hope you understand my point,he wasn't the only one!) We can't blame the players for cashing in, I've never been one that believes that a 'true' Jazzman needs to starve to remain true to his art/muse. But getting back to my original point, TRUE Fusion has as little to do with smooth as Be Bop does. Seriously, how do you lump Kenny G & Weather Report together? The point being that Fusion needs to be recognized as another cingular form of jazz. I honestly believe that SOME of the bad wrap that Fusion's gotten is due to the fact that many listeners don't differentiate between the two genres.
April-6th-2007, 11:53 AM
Great news-wrti now streams jazz 24/7 on the net. Try www.wrti.org or.edu.....pc
April-6th-2007, 11:54 AM
De harder dey come...
Thanks, rpc, I will check it out!
Unfortunately, I can't get web-streams or radio signals here in my office, but I'll try it at home over the weekend.
Last edited by groover; April-6th-2007 at 12:13 PM.
April-6th-2007, 12:13 PM
Groover-Good news-WRTI now streams jazz 24/7 on the net. Try www.wrti.org (or .edu).....pc
Originally Posted by groover
April-6th-2007, 12:17 PM
"Smooth jazz" as that phrase has come to define that particular genre of music is unappealing because it has no edge, presents no challenges, and is essentially sappy instrumental pop and not jazz at all. However, some authentic, genuinely good jazz can be "smooth" by the original definition of the adjective as it pertains to jazz. Ben Webster always sounds "smooth" to my ears, in his intonation.
I actually enjoy early Joe Sample (such as Carmel) and early Grover Washington, Jr. (such as Feels So Good) but they were much funkier than any smooth jazz made today.
April-6th-2007, 01:41 PM
We have some good discussions going on here.
I remember driving from NYC to Philly and trying to find a real jazz station. Harder than Chinese Trigonometry. Invariably I'd find some station playing fusion. I'd listen for a few songs by Lary Carlton, Weather Report, David Sanborn etc which were satisfying. Then the smooth jazz or smooth R+B would ooze out..Luther Vandross, Kenny G, Dave Koz, and I'd be as frustrated as hell. I'd find a classic rock station and listen to The Who, Led Zep, Cream, Santana, Steely Dan. I'd go back to the "jazz station" and maybe Metheny, Jaco, Joe Sample would be on. Not bad, then Kenny G and his ilk. The bitch I have is that musicians like Carlton, Ritenour, Sanborn, Benson, and Klugh are capable of playing two diametrically-opposed forms of music. One kind is appealing to my senses, the other kind isn't. One kind makes money for them, one kind doesn't.
April-6th-2007, 04:16 PM
"Smooth" jazz should simply be called Smooth. In most cases it is not jazz, so if one removes the word "jazz" from its title, we won't have to deal with it anymore than we have to deal with muzak or rap.
In jazz, one of the main goals is to be an individual who finds his or her own way of playing creative music. In smooth, the goal is to get played on the radio and make a good living, which can often be done by playing in a similar fashion to someone else who is commercially successful. Those goals are understandable, but don't pretend that smooth has anything to do with jazz.
Grover Washington Jr. and David Sanborn are/were fine jazz players whose recordings sometimes crossed over into smooth. Boney James has a nice hat and closely copies Washington. Kim Waters, Marion Meadows, Dave Koz and the late George Howard are four examples of saxophonists whose music completely lack creativity. They have nice soulful sounds, caress melodies and perform very predictable music that has little to do with jazz.
Some so-called smooth players (such as Gerald Albright) are excellent musicians who choose to play beneath what they could be doing. Others are capable of little else.
They all have a right to make a living and play whatever they want. Just don't call it jazz.
April-6th-2007, 04:24 PM
Ah!!! Mr. Jelly!!!
Originally Posted by Lenny D.Guitarist
Originally Posted by gonzo
I was kidding ... and partially serious.
Originally Posted by Squaredancecalling Steve
Nonetheless, while I deeply respect Metheny and he does have a rather expansive catalog, I thought it was kind of the pot calling the kettle black on the Kenny G issue to a degree. His flight with Ornette aside, Metheny does have a lot of light-in-the-ass kind of music that fits under the "contemporary jazz" banner, too. In fact, he's one of the guys who did help begin it, whether he wants to cop to it or not. I've heard plenty of his stuff playing over at the dentist's office, right alongside Kenny G. Keith Jarrett, too.
All that said, I still enjoy them both.
Last edited by Rob Damen; April-6th-2007 at 04:27 PM.
No matter how noble the heart nor how just the cause, the unprepared will feel the bitter lash of failure.
April-6th-2007, 04:39 PM
Has quit quitting
Is this really true?
There can't be "smooth jazz," only "smooth"?
Paul Desmond played pretty smooth, and I would still call him a jazz musician.
Bobby Hackett is another. Was he not a jazz musician?
Rob mentioned that he has heard Keith Jarrett on the same "smooth" stations with Kenny G. So why is Jarrett acceptable?
I am am not really trying to dispute what people are saying here about why they don't like "smooth jazz."
You are right -- a lot of it is garbage.
On the other hand, I would think that that it makes sense to believe that people can write and play music that sounds "smooth" on the surface, but still can -- on a secondary level -- have some kind of harmonic, melodic and or rhythmic value.
Again -- I will mention some of the ECM artists -- Charles Lloyd, for example. What makes Charles Lloyd's music NOT smooth?
Or Jimmy Guiffre? Why isn't he considered a "smooth" jazz musician?
I can have a Ran Blake CD on and let it just run over me, without paying much attention -- just like it is elevator music. BUT I also get a lot out of Ran Blake with more concentrated listening. (One of Blake's techniques is to deliberately take themes that are familiar and to improvise off of them, right?)
A lot of this (below) CD sounds pretty "smooth" to me? But is it NOT "smooth jazz"? Is it not jazz? If so, what makes it different? What kind of music is it?
And I strongly suggest that "popular" and "played on the radio" doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't jazz. Ellington, Basie and Armstrong were all popular musicians, no?
At a time when most "art" music (jazz, classical, avant-garde, etc.) is losing audience (if avant-garde ever had one), I don't think that music that is commecially successful should be dismissed -- if only because it might be worth examining to see WHY it has an audience.
Last edited by rollhead; April-6th-2007 at 04:47 PM.
April-6th-2007, 04:46 PM
I think the term "smooth jazz" refers to a relatively specific approach to music that is basically instrumental pop. People get fooled when they see a saxophone and assume it must be jazz.
I would never consider Desmond or Giuffre "smooth" players (especially the latter--just put on "Free Fall" to remind yourself why). Both were extremely brilliant improvisers. Metheny is another story, though he's made some good records.
Generally, though, I agree with Mr. Yanow's take.
Last edited by Paul B; April-6th-2007 at 04:52 PM.
April-6th-2007, 04:55 PM
Rollie: I think you make the very valid point that music can be "smooth" AND "jazz" AND "good" but that music within the genre called "smooth jazz" is often "smooth" - but not jazz and not good. It seems like you think that some people are disagreeing, and I'm not sure that they are.
April-6th-2007, 07:04 PM
They should take "jazz" out of the "smooth jazz" label, but they ought to take the word "jazz" out of a lot of stuff. As a fan of heavily improvised blues-influenced (mainly) Black music and also American standards from a certain period, I find that when anyone who is not fond or familiar with the same recommends something as "jazzy," it blows. "Jazzy" means vaguely hip in a way that isn't.
April-7th-2007, 08:51 AM
There has always been instrumental pop music. I don't know why they don't just call it that and be done with it. I guess it's another example of how Americans love the word jazz and maybe even the idea of it -- oooh, it sounds so phisiticated -- so long as they don't have to listen to it. That'd be going too far.
Anyone who gets stressed out over radio when all you have to do is turn it off deserves this schlock by the pound.
April-7th-2007, 03:31 PM
Paul Desmond played cool jazz, not smooth. Bobby Hackett played dixieland and swing with a mellow tone. Playing ballads is not the same as playing smooth. Desmond and Hackett were both creative jazz musicians with lyrical styles who improvised and whose music was consistently full of surprises and inventive ideas. Much different than the likes of Kim Waters and Boney James.
Nice try though.
What makes Charles Lloyd's music not smooth? The fact that it is unpredictable, creative and original, rather than someone playing mindless dance music.
Mistaking cool with smooth, and ballads with the schlock that one hears on "wave" stations is a bit odd.
And if you really think that Ran Blake plays smooth jazz, then there is little that any of us can say.
April-7th-2007, 03:46 PM
Originally Posted by Gary Sisco
instrumental pop music is the reality of much of the music that comes under this umbrella, and this point hit home most closely among the entries thus far.
The fact that some *marketeers* kidnapped the word Jazz and never rerturned it, is another matter.
Interestingly, numerous smooth radio outlets are going the way of the Edsel, Pinto, Datsun, Tang (can you still get that stuff?) as the shift in many markets is to some sort of 'rock lite' format with better demographics as a business proposition.
April-7th-2007, 07:16 PM
Like Humpty Hump said: do what you like. If this music jingles your jangle, dig it. It doesn't do a thing for me, and that's all I'll say about it.
April-8th-2007, 10:43 AM
Ouch - was at my local used CD shop and saw the George Benson/Al Jarreau offering for $7.99, truthfully, the last product I bought by either of these artist was literally before the advent of CD's, so I took a shot. Man, talk about instrumental pop music. It's clean, perfect product recorded by the primo LA studio vets. I just can't help but wish they decided to jam a bit. With players like Marcus Miller, Abraham LaBoriel, Stanley Clarke, Vinnie Colaiuta and so many others but...it's going back to the store. I feel that GB's still playing and singing strong where as AJ doesn't sound as fresh but this...it's just product.
This is a perfect example of what's considered Smooth Jazz by the general public. I really like the idea of just calling this stuff Smooth but as long as the suits see the marketability of the word 'Jazz' it will never change. At least WE know the answer to the problem!
Last edited by Chazro; April-8th-2007 at 10:43 AM.
April-8th-2007, 10:52 AM
Another reason not to like it: Jazz guys will laugh at you.
April-8th-2007, 10:55 AM
And that's it. I would argue that the whole issue is a matter of intention. Are you playing because you are trying to solve some sort of aesthetic problem you've set for yourself, or are you playing because you want to sell a jillion copies of something?
Originally Posted by Chazro
I would also argue that "Bitches Brew" is the gold-standard example of a recording in which the first approach was taken, yet large commercial success happened anyway.
One of the things I've always liked about playing rock music, as opposed to jazz, is that nobody is offended when I take a completely mercenary attitude toward what I'm doing. When I sit down to write a song, there must of necessity be some personal expression involved--otherwise the song will suck--but make no mistake, it's because I want Bonnie Raitt to cover it and make me a zillion dollars.
April-8th-2007, 10:59 AM
Nagel in the beginning of this thread hit the nail on the head. Most of what is played on smooth jazz stations fits his description. You will find, always, exceptions. And you can extend by redefinition (like adding Desmond or whoever into the term-which I have always referred to as "cool" jazz, or "west coast"). But we all know what smooth jazz is. I won't get into arguing whether or not it is indeed "jazz" because I hate those arguments-we will start getting into this game of whose definition of jazz is more valid (arguments that never end here).
I will just stay for myself that for the same reasons Nagel mentioned I really don't like most of what they call smooth jazz. There is some stuff on ECM that is ok...however I don't LOVE the exceptions. I merely tolerate them.
But if people like the stuff, I am not going to tell them that their music sucks. People listen to music for different reasons. Not everyone wants extended/crushed/colored chords of many varieties. Some people just like the diatonic stuff. And I would have to start defending my love of the Ramones if I made them defend their love of smooth jazz.
April-8th-2007, 11:06 AM
Some people like wallpaper. Listening to music is a stressful activity for them.
April-8th-2007, 03:56 PM
Originally Posted by Scott Yanow
That may just be the best post in the entire thread. If not, your earlier post is. Help me answer this question... if I play something like Steely Dan's "Josie", Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious", Larry Carlton's "Room 335", or Santana's "Black Magic Woman" or "Samba Pa Ti", what qualties define what I do as "smooth jazz", "instrumental pop", "jazz", or "fusion"? Is it the musical structure I use (tones, chord progressions, special effects, etc), the material I select, the way I play the material (e.g., I can play these songs on my guitar as ballsy or as cloyingly smooth as I want) or a combination of these? For example, sometimes I play "Room 335" using a Gibson to get the West Coast Larry Carlton sound. Does that alone make it smooth? Other times I wanna play the bejesus out of the song on a Stratocaster at warp speed with fingers bleeding and strings a'bending.
Last edited by Lenny D.Guitarist; April-8th-2007 at 03:56 PM.
April-9th-2007, 02:03 PM
Or.. if I play "All the Things You Are" or any other standard, using octaves, is doing so ascloseasthis to smoothness?
Originally Posted by Lenny D.Guitarist
April-9th-2007, 02:10 PM
Hey, lots of people like EZ Listening Music, Lenny. Play it any way you like.
Strangely, my father used to whistle in free improv while driving with his EZ station on.
April-9th-2007, 11:08 PM
Has quit quitting
So, Scott, the bottom line is that you say that that "smooth" jazz can't be unpredictable, creative and original?
Originally Posted by Scott Yanow
The point I am making is that you have not yet defined what smooth jazz is, which I find a bit "odd" in someone who has such distain for it.
Please tell me, in musical terms, what smooth jazz is -- other than just saying it is "schlock."
If it is "schlock" then tell us what makes it schlock.
The only thing I have seen thus far on this thread is smooth jazz is smooth because you (and others) identify it as smooth jazz.
As far as me "mistaking" ballads with what I hear on wave stations, well, I don't listen to wave stations. I don't listen to what many people say passes for "smooth" jazz.
I do have a couple of Earl Klugh CDs, and I find that he can be "creative and unpredictable," but schlocky, too, at the same time. So, that kind of shoots your definition of what smooth jazz is, doesn't it?
And as far as my understanding of what Ran Blake plays, I never said he played smooth jazz. I simply suggested that some of the notes he plays can be mellow and "smooth" depending on what ones definition of "smooth" is.
Last edited by rollhead; April-9th-2007 at 11:19 PM.
April-9th-2007, 11:29 PM
"So, Scott, the bottom line is that you say that that "smooth" jazz can't be unpredictable, creative and original?"
I just joined this party, but I'd say you hit the nail on the head. If anyone is arguing about smooth jazz without having listened to it since the early, early days, then they really need to flip on a SJ station today. It is 100% predictable, not only in the chord changes (most of the time, a sultry minor ninth shows up) but also in the instrumentation (beginning with funky, hippity- hoppity canned loops, chained together in a computer to simulate a live performance). Gone are the days of surprise or inspiration--the music is designed, rather than created, by using a formula that is so obvious, you can't miss it if you lisen for only 20 minutes.
Now, there are some who will argue that there was never surprise or inspiration in smooth jazz, but I'd disagree. I think some early Bob James, definitely some early Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton, Flim and the BBs, and others was very interesting musically. The concept of merging smart jazz voicings, improvisation, and soul/r&b and pop produced some great music imo. But in truth, within a very short time, the format got dumbed down in order to sell ad time in malls, and it has never recovered.
April-9th-2007, 11:48 PM
Has quit quitting
Originally Posted by steve(thelil)
The only thing I have heard so far is this:
1. Smooth jazz is popular instrumental music.
2. Smooth jazz is schlock.
3. Smooth jazz is elevator music.
4. Smooth jazz is EZ listening.
No one has really defined it.
Hey, I am no fan of smooth jazz.
I just find it "odd" that people get off shitting on it without providing any solid musical reasons for doing so.
And saying --that Paul Desmond played "cool" and not "smooth" doesn't say anything without defining what "cool" and "smooth" are.
As a default, I went to Wikipedia (yes, I know, not the best source) to look up "smooth jazz."
Smooth jazz as it is known today first emerged in the mid- to late-1970s, pioneered by such artists as Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton, Steely Dan, Grover Washington, Jr., Spyro Gyra, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Sergio Mendes, David Sanborn, Tom Scott, Dave and Don Grusin, Bob James and Joe Sample stemming from a number of extant styles including jazz fusion. Unlike that form, however, smooth jazz tends to emphasize melody and deemphasize improvisation.
Wes Montomery was a "smooth jazz" player? That must give cause to have people hate him.
But, okay -- if the objection is to "de-emphasizing improvisation," I can see how I can have a problem.
Here is more on Wikipedia:
The genre's roots, however, can be traced to some time earlier: in the late 1960s famed record producer Creed Taylor worked with guitarist Wes Montgomery on three widely popular records (1967's A Day in the Life and Down Here on the Ground and 1968's Road Song) consisting of instrumental versions of familiar pop songs such as "Eleanor Rigby", "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Scarborough Fair".
From this success, Taylor founded CTI Records. Many established jazz performers recorded for CTI (including Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, George Benson and Stanley Turrentine). Though the records recorded under Taylor's guidance were typically aimed as much at pop audiences as at jazz fans, they were generally well-received by jazz purists: critic Scott Yanow writes that "Taylor had great success in balancing the artistic with the commercial
Really? A schlock artist can be a real artist too?
Last edited by rollhead; April-9th-2007 at 11:52 PM.
April-9th-2007, 11:49 PM
Has quit quitting
Well done. This is actually helpful.
Originally Posted by Jazzooo
Last edited by rollhead; April-9th-2007 at 11:50 PM.
April-10th-2007, 12:57 AM
I never thought of the music on CTI as being "smooth." Some of the dates were commercial but there was also unpredictability on the better albums and some great playing. I think some of the best records by Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson and Hubert Laws (definitely in his case) were made for CTI. Their worst recordings were from the era after they left CTI.
What is smooth? Basically it is, as said earlier in this thread, instrumental pop music. It tends to feature long melody statements, mildly soulful solos, lightly funky dance rhythms, a lack of chancetaking and fadeouts. Substitute a lazy saxophone for an r&b/pop singer and you get something that will probably be smooth. It is essentially background music. Its purpose is to satisfy an audience who likes danceable melodic music that grooves but is never menacing. Typically the first minute of the piece tells you all you need to know and, except in rare cases, the rest of the performance does not develop from there.
Many of the smooth musicians are excellent and sometimes they will stretch out a little bit in concert. But in general, their playing bores me to tears because they are playing beneath their capabilities.
That doesn't mean that others are "wrong" for listening to smooth. But just don't call it jazz.
April-10th-2007, 01:20 AM
Reevaluating @ 500k
Rollhead, the Wikipedia is clearly inaccurate and should be updated. Don't use their erroneous claim that Wes Montgomery was a smooth jazz artist to support your position or lack thereof. First of all, he died before the advent of smooth jazz. He was a jazz artist who made crossover instrumental pop albums. I wouldn't deny that the CTI sound was an influence, but an influence is different than an example.
Last edited by Pete C; April-10th-2007 at 01:25 AM.