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Mister Question Man

Whenever I drive near or in actual cities with the car radio on – and by “actual cities” I mean “places of high population density and at least one ‘jammin’ oldies’ radio station playing Al Green’s ‘Still in Love with You’” – I find myself confronted with a question whose world-historical profundity is masked by its surface simplicity.  And because I can contemplate the matter no longer, I’m turning this one over to you, my reasonably faithful and always thought-provoking readers.

Where did “smooth jazz” come from?

Everyone I’ve asked so far says, “it came from Kenny G,” which, however intriguing it may be as a possible horror-movie title, is ahistorical and undialectical and also wrong.  Smooth jazz seems to have originated in the mid- to late 1970s; some scholars blame cite the work of Grover Washington Jr., some refer to Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” some point to the ubiquitous David Sanborn, and some insist that the epistemological breakthrough must be credited to George Benson’s Breezin’.  All of these suggestions are plausible enough, but they displace the question of structural determinations and musical influences onto a list of “major figures,” and therefore must be rejected by a properly post-neo-Bolshevist theory of the rise of smooth jazz.

The genre overlaps to some degree with that of the “quiet storm” branch of r & b, as I was reminded while driving around Baltimore and finding Heatwave’s “Always and Forever” being played on the local smooth jazz station.  But it also has affiliations with both fusion and funk.  Fusion is probably the more obvious of the two: it’s just a half-step from Weather Report or Al Di Meola to some of the more musically challenging forms of smooth jazz.  And as the example of David Sanborn demonstrates, smooth jazz also has an embassy in the neighbor state ruled by Steely Dan (in fact, some historians attribute Aja to “Steely Dan’s colonization by the forces of smooth jazz”).  The connection to funk is probably more controversial, since people tend to like funk enough to want to absolve it of all connection with smoothness and frizzy-haired flutists.  And yet for drummers, the link between smooth jazz and funk is pretty clear: unlike most jazz produced between the 20s and the 70s, smooth jazz rhythms are built around the snare and bass drum rather than the ride cymbal and hi-hat.  Are they funky?  Well, not exactly – remember, they have to serve as wallpaper for the Weather Channel.  (Now there’s an article waiting to be written: From Weather Report to the Weather Channel.) They’re kind of like funk with all the blood and vital oils and shouts and “can I take it to the bridge"s drained out.  James Brown once said that the difference between funk and disco was that disco stayed on top of a groove whereas funk got down into the groove and deepened it; smooth jazz, perhaps, represents a form of musical waterskiing over the groove.  In which case we’d have to add the Love Unlimited Orchestra – and all that that implies – to our list of structural determinants and musical influences.  And we’d have to admit that songs like Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” – even though they have kickin’ bass lines that make you want to move – are closely related to Jazz That is Smooth as well.  Who knows but that we might have to consider the necessity of a comparative genealogy of smooth jazz and the post hoc genre of “jammin’ oldies” itself.

I actually like some small fraction of the stuff, particularly when I’m driving long distances and spacing out.  For that matter, I also like Aja, especially “Home at Last.” I think I was the only person I knew in college who enjoyed both Aja and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.  This ideological eclecticism- tantamount- to- incoherence has dogged me to the present day, though at least I am not ahistorical or undialectical about it.  Still, if anyone has further suggestions about the origins and affiliations of smooth jazz, now’s the time.

Posted by on 03/29 at 01:34 PM
  1. Well, I’m getting the first shot today! Quick! Gotta go quick! I leave a question, for people more qualified than me to tackle: what’s the proper dialectical, historical way to relate the dilution of cool jazz, the muzak-ization of bossa nova, and the rise of ‘smooth’ jazz?

    Posted by Idelber  on  03/29  at  02:59 PM
  2. Oh, good one.  I wonder, Idelber, whether that question doesn’t take us right through Brazil, down the famous Avenida Sergio Mendes?

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  03:02 PM
  3. Joni Mitchell using Pat Metheny might have been the beginnings of smooth jazz as well.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  03:06 PM
  4. Surely Herbie Mann works into the equation somewhere.  I also think some of “smooth jazz” began as background music in 1960s-era films.  Perhaps John Barry was there at the beginning?

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  03:11 PM
  5. Ach, the Quiet Storm. One of the things that made my sojourn in DC (1984-7) seem so interminable: the constant car stereo wars between me (WAMU and bluegrass or WHFS and freeform college rock) and my ex (WHUR at all times, including the original Quiet Storm show.)

    I think Idelber’s on to something: it seems clear that anything one can say to blame Kenny G. for the current sad state of affairs has to go at least double for Astrid G.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/29  at  03:12 PM
  6. Interesting how your query about “smooth jazz” comes right after your brief discussion of creation science in your Houston post.  Of course the flaw here is you reliance on evolution, which is only a theory, as the sticker on Alabama grade school text books will attest. 

    Certainly, you cannot believe that the soothing tones of Kenny G derived from hard driving Wayne Shorter riffs of Weather Report, the funky beats of Parliment or James Brown or even the ostinato jazz/disco/funk of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunter or WR’s Heavy Weather period.  Hah!  Sooner that the human race evolved from lemurs. 

    No, smooth jazz could only have been created by an omniscient being who believed it to be part of a master plan for humanity, taking into account that:  (1) 1001 strings deserves a contemporary treatment; (2) there should be some calling for white guys who play soprano sax; (3) how is Sade gonna’ get radio play.

    I urge everyone to write to your local music school or arts program and request that the creation theory of smooth jazz be taught alongside the secular humanists theories advocated on this site.  Those who fail to comply will be subject to an endless loop of Miles Davis’ version of “Time After Time.”

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  03:57 PM
  7. In Defense of Al Dimeola:

    Hoooold the phone, man, there’s no possible world in which Al Dimeola, though certainly not my favorite, is classified as smooth jazz!  C’mon.  All flamenco styles should be disjoint from “smoothness” (the acoustic alchemists tried to break this rule, but we crushed them.) Also, he played with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, so he’s non-smooth by association.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  03:57 PM
  8. Let no one ever accuse you of listening to “clumpy” jazz!

    Posted by Eric Lee  on  03/29  at  03:58 PM
  9. sku - I’m going to be in Alabama next week. Would you like your very own genuine “evolution is a theory” sticker? I know it’ll be vandalism, but it’s for a good cause…

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  04:00 PM
  10. If Brazil’s to blame, Chris, it’s a simple case of mistranslation. American musicians failed to perceive the movement underneath what appears to be the placid surface of bossa nova.

    I made an observation during two stints working at record stores about people who listen to Kenny G (no relation). At each store and over a period covering six years in the 1990s, Mr. G enjoyed an enduring popularity with shoppers that cut across every conceivable demographic. This disparity intrigued me. “What,” I would ask my co-workers in between ripping on shoppers’ purchases, hairstyles and other personal characteristics, “is the common trait shared by Kenny G listeners?”

    My co-workers and I thought hard, and we thought long, and verily the answer revealed itself to us, as if in a dream. One afternoon a middle-aged white man interrupted the punch line to one particular bon mot, in which I expertly lampooned the purchase of an unwitting customer, to ask me where he might find The Guy With The Horn. I had never seen this fellow before, although our store boasted an impressive repeat-customer base (despite the cynical shenanigans of its snarky employees), and I could instantly tell he was confused and felt intimidated, so I went with him to the racks and pointed out the discs he was looking for, instead of gesturing toward them and resuming my insults, as mandated by the record store clerk code.

    Like many Kenny G listeners, this man had obviously not set foot in a record store since they had ceased being so, and quite likely the only recorded music he owned was a stray Olivia Newton-John cassette in his glove box. I recalled the words of customers who had justified their listening taste by bragging on Kenny G’s impressive circular breathing technique, when the heavens parted and the answer I had sought appeared to me: Kenny G listeners are people who don’t really know anything about music; they’re just looking for an alternative to silence or talk radio.

    Of course, I hurried back to my post behind the counter to make fun of that guy. I was on the clock, after all.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  04:24 PM
  11. If Brazil’s to blame, Chris, it’s a simple case of mistranslation. American musicians failed to perceive the movement underneath what appears to be the placid surface of bossa nova.

    Oh, no doubt, Travis. I meant only to criticise Astrid, not her whole country. Count me in as a devotee of Jobim… in fact, of all the other Gilberto family members, including Cousin Gil who writes his name backwards for some reason.

    But Astrid? Who else would pair Insensatez with Fly Me To The Moon on a Greatest Hits CD and not mean it as camp?

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/29  at  04:34 PM
  12. My cousin Joel Alpers is a jazz percussionist in LA who spent much of the ‘90s having to avoid making faces at people who would enthusiastically ask him “do you like Kenny G?” whenever he mentioned his profession.  But while Joel detests smooth jazz, he loves fusion (in fact, one of his current projects is the Upper Structure, whose music is kind of The Roots meets Steely Dan).

    Of course, just because one thing is an influence on another doesn’t mean one has to like them both.  Like Joel—and Michael—I like Steely Dan but dislike “smooth jazz.” After all, Marxism was one of the chief early influences on Chairman Dave.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  04:47 PM
  13. I wish I had all day to post on this thread. Let me throw a couple more things out: Chris has a point regarding Astrud Gilberto, as that record is a key moment in what one might call muzak-ization of bossa nova - related, it seems to me, to the rise of ‘smooth jazz’ in ways as of yet not fully accounted for. Remember that there are two theories about what bossa nova is: 1) a white middle class acoustic guitar-based dilution and betrayal of the Afro-Atlantic 2/4 percussion-based samba rhythm; 2)a rescuing, a vindication of the Afro-Atlantic samba beat that had been buried by 1950s overly dramatic crooner music, and a restoration of that syncopated rhythm to the center of things. Yes, the two theories say exactly the opposite. I intend to write a chapter of a forthcoming book on how these two theories are both, of course, undialectical misunderstandings that have not yet been properly aufgehoben.

    Sku has a point, true, there’s a world of difference between the kitsch soothing sounds of ‘smooth jazz’ and Shorter’s hard driving riffs and Hancock’s late 60s/early 70s funk/jazz fusions, but that difference is not absolute, there’s a dialectic going on there. It is, after all, Hancock’s piano that you can hear on these clips from Milton Nascimento’s 1968 record. Way before there was Weather Report, Wayne Shorter was flirting with post-bossa on cuts like these. Sergio Mendes does fit into the picture as well, but I’m still not sure how. Oh, well, back to my most hated genre, recommendation letters.

    Posted by Idelber  on  03/29  at  04:58 PM
  14. Hey, Perfesser!
    Both “Aja” and “Never Mind the Bollocks...”? That’s two of us then. But, I went where you teach AND lived in East Halls, which is bound to warp the mind.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  04:58 PM
  15. I think that much of smooth jazz is simply fusion players getting lazy, although it’s hard to see someone like Kenny G grooving to Weather Report.  We mustn’t forget its relationship to New Age as well, since poor Kenny is probably a better fit for Mannheim Steamroller than Mahavishnu.  My wife has come into the room when I’ve been playing someone like Lenny White and commented on my sudden interest New Age.  Lately, though, I’ve been playing the new Free America series of free jazz, and driving her nuts.  When I told her it was free jazz, she said they should give it away for free.  ha ha

    The grandfather of fusion, Miles, spent the 80s rocking out to Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time - check out the 20 cd set of his Montreux concerts to hear multiple versions.  Blech.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  05:00 PM
  16. Astrud

    D’oh!

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/29  at  05:01 PM
  17. "Smooth Jazz” emerged shortly after the “food processor” (Cuisinart and its clones) became popular kitchen appliances in middle-class homes.  Capable of producing a narrow array of liquid textures from a wide array of foods, food processors proved to be more useful than blenders in transforming solids into indistinguishable mush.

    Would-be jazz audiences, unable to digest Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Gabor Szabo, or even Yusef Lateef, found that processing jazz sounds resulted in a homogenized music form that was easier to swallow.

    Posted by Ereshkigal  on  03/29  at  05:07 PM
  18. You’re going about this all wrong.

    It is a well known fact that Jazz came about because otherwise wholesome swing musicians got all hepped up by “toquing on refer sticks” (Happy Kyne, of Happy Kyne and the Mirthmakers).  Obviously, somebody started making a smoother kind of marijuana.  I would guess, extrapolating from cigarette ads, that some nefarious drug lord found a way to incorporate menthol into his product.  Now, they were no longer just getting high, they were getting high in flavor country.  I expect that soon we will have low-tar jazz and filtered jazz.  And when today’s kids grow up, fruit flavored jazz.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  05:12 PM
  19. "Smooth Jazz” is a label used to pigeonhole music favored by people who are too snooty to listen to something called “Lite Rock”, and yet not hip enough to get into Bebop.

    I think I was the only person I knew in college who enjoyed both Aja and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

    I guess I went to a “hipper” college than you.  I knew THREE other guys who liked both Aja and NMtBHtSP!  And Frank Zappa, and MC5, and Led Zeppelin, and REM, Simple Minds, Rush, Oingo Boingo, Brian Eno, Yes, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, XTC, The Specials, Husker Du, Revolting Cocks, Saqqara Dogs, Tangerine Dream, The Residents, The Flaming Lips, Ministry, and Devo.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  05:16 PM
  20. I blame Hugh Heffner for the popularity of this “music” you call smooth jazz. Faux Kenny Gs have made a living soundtracking pornos for the last 30-odd years.

    By-the-by, if you propeller-heads want to turn the chicks on, I’d avoid the smooth jazz.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  03/29  at  05:16 PM
  21. James Brown once said that the difference between funk and disco was that disco stayed on top of a groove whereas funk got down into the groove and deepened it

    I recall that George Clinton—commenting on the genre’s ability to reduce funk’s, err, funk to a single beat, repeated—once likened disco to trying to make love in a single thrust.

    Posted by Dan  on  03/29  at  05:18 PM
  22. It always seemed to me that what defines “smooth jazz” has been that disgusting combination of radio playlists generated by Billboard sales charts and the increasing marketability and economic success of niches.  The inclusion of “lame” jazz type tracks, that appealed to the masses of folks willing to remain unchallenged listeners, in “middle of the road” radio of the late 60’s early 70’s opened the way for stations and program managers to create cool sounds and smooth jazz.  Just how much Perry Mason soundtracks(and the other 50’s/60’s tv backgrounds) impacted the tastes of the mass marketable culture is something worth studying.  Certainly Herb Alpert and his “mellow” peers made far more money than did Miles and Byrd during that period. And how very many ridiculous lounge acts and wedding bands are there out there that play all this smooth junk?  An awful lot of people must really like it.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  05:22 PM
  23. I first discovered David Sanborn in the early ‘80s. I also found Pieces of a Dream, Pat Metheny, Sade, Matt Bianco, and Basia. I heard them on a Baltimore station that also played New Age music. I used to listen to “Sunday Jazz Brunch,” and heard all of this.

    Posted by Trish Wilson  on  03/29  at  05:32 PM
  24. I’m thinking there has to be some historical relation between the proliferation of SSRIs like Prozac and smooth jazz, smooth rock, or any other smooth artform. This is what happens when the psychic turmoil long associated with artistic creativity is tamed with psychopharmaceutical straightjackets.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  05:40 PM
  25. This is what happens when the psychic turmoil long associated with artistic creativity is tamed with psychopharmaceutical straightjackets.
    Posted by chris robinson on 03/29 at 04:40 PM

    like heroin?

    Guess again.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  06:00 PM
  26. Naw. Heroin doesn’t arrest psychic turmoil in the long run. It postpones it for a time, I guess; but leads to some real mental and physical raucousness later on.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  06:35 PM
  27. It is a well known fact that Jazz came about because otherwise wholesome swing musicians got all hepped up by “toquing on refer sticks” (Happy Kyne, of Happy Kyne and the Mirthmakers).

    This is a long way, but I think it explains everything...in grad school I met a fellow student named Jane Ann DeVol. The first thing I ask her is, “Are you related to Frank DeVol?” The first thing she replies is, “He’s my uncle.” the second thing she replies is, “You’re the first person to ever ask me that.”

    Now, other people have to know that Frank DeVol is not only Happy Kyne (of Fernwood 2night fame), but also a longstanding film/tv composer, perhaps best known as the writer of “The Brady Bunch” theme.

    But, DeVol also wrote the score for “Kiss Me Deadly,” one of the noiriest of noirs.

    So, just follow DeVol (short for de-vol-ution? hmm) through his career, and you get to smooth jazz, or some pallid parallel of it in some soundtrack universe.

    That he scored a 1963 film called “The Thrill of It All” and that title was stolen by Roxy Music for one of its most rocking songs just complicated things, and probably could get someone cleverer than me to connect Frank DeVol, Mickey Spillane, Cindy Brady, David Bowie and Elton John, but I think I’ve done enough damage for one comment.

    Posted by George  on  03/29  at  07:00 PM
  28. Whoa,

    Have to check this out. Down in Florida, otherwise healthy, 41 year old, disabled women is being starved and dehydrated to death. You don’t believe me? Ask Nat Hentoff:

    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0513,hentoff,62489,6.html

    You dont’ know the basic facts until you have read his article.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  07:03 PM
  29. Wrong thread, Daniel.  You can post your comment to the “Advance Directives” discussion, however.

    Posted by Michael  on  03/29  at  07:07 PM
  30. I thought Daniel posted that comment on this thread because Hentoff used to write such good Jazz critiques.

    Posted by Ereshkigal  on  03/29  at  07:09 PM
  31. The smooth jazz, I think it has always been with us, from Paul Whiteman through Glen Miller to whomever (history has not yet fashioned a long-enough stick for me to explore the more recent variants).  As for lineage, well maybe (I’m still trying to think of a world in which “Weather Report or Al Di Meola” has a meaning beyond “things that make a sound”, but maybe “some of the more musically challenging forms of smooth jazz” is a wink and a nudge I’m not picking up on).  However it falls out, I think what Creed Taylor did to Wes Montgomery - which included, admittedly, making him financially well off, at least relatively so - will be an influential template of the modern variants.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  08:14 PM
  32. Well, I’ve been listening to the same jazz station in San Diego since the early eighties, and they just celebrated 30 years on the air. When I started listening to 98.1, nobody else played music like that anywhere else, so I don’t know if they were the first to commercialize it or not, but they were certainly one of the earliest. Now there seems to be a smooth jazz station everywhere.

    I like it less and less as it becomes more poular. It used to be where to hear interesting music without having to work too hard at it. Now, especially since Kenny G, a lot of it is just crap. Even old rock musicians putting it out just to have a new market.

    As an ex-music theatre major and music theory classes, I really couldn’t listen to much rock anymore. The chord progressions were too predictable. Jazz was a way to hear something *interesting*. Now, it’s all the same old, same old, and I really have to hunt to find new music that doesn’t bore me to tears without destroying my eardrums.

    Posted by donna woodka  on  03/29  at  09:00 PM
  33. Worst. Geneology. Ever.

    As a former keyboardist in a fusion band, if I have a little time on my hands I’ll set you straight. Where’s the Creed Taylor? Ramsey Lewis? Where’s the Stanley Turentine? The Muzak Corporation? Berube is out of his depth!!! (And, no doubt, a better man for it, considering the subject.)

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  09:53 PM
  34. Perhaps a place to search lies in the domain of record producers and labels rather than individual artists.  Windom Hill?

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  09:59 PM
  35. Actually, the worst. genealogy. ever. was Rush & Company’s attempt to pin the blame for the Oklahoma City bombing on the left, on the grounds that McVeigh took his inspiration from the Weather Underground.  But Rick, this wasn’t a “genealogy” in the who-begat-whom sense.  It was a prolegomenon toward notes toward an introduction to an exploratory essay on the various influences and innovations that went into the formation of smooth jazz, and I pretty explicitly asked for my readers’ assistance on this one.  So please, if you’re really a former keyboardist in a fusion band, find the time to set me straight.

    In the meantime, I just have to say that I can’t believe I forgot about Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Mann, late Joni Mitchell, Sade, and Herb Alpert.  The floor remains open, and I will be happy to hear more about Creed Taylor.  Thank goodness no one has mentioned Michael Franks!

    Posted by Michael  on  03/29  at  10:39 PM
  36. Actually, the repressed memories unearthed here (Chuck Mangione, Weather Report, etc.) seem to be from the same vein and era as the “two hit wonder” thread. The mid-to-late 70s were a musical sinkhole and, in the case of smooth jazz, the hole keeps expanding further into the current decade, aided and abetted by David Sanborn along the way.

    I wouldn’t be too hard on the Brazilians. They had sense enough to let the Bossa Nova fade into nostalgia and start rediscovering Afro-Brazilian roots music as well as producing indescribable stuff like Milton Nascimento’s “Milagre Dos Peixes”. If you’re going to blame Astrid Gilberto (who is still haunting on “Girl from Ipanema"), then don’t forget Stan Getz, who brought all that to the collective American conciousness.

    The enduring presence of santized jazz like Paul Whiteman (and Ozzie Nelson, although I did like Ozzie & Harriet’s closing theme from the later years) also can’t be neglected. And it’s not just jazz--every genre and subgenre seems to generate some Mantavoni-like spinoff that comes later or simply has a broader appeal. The Eagles, Loggins & Messina, etc. took what the Byrds & Buffalo Springfield begat and made it into varieties of soft and country rock, and Kiss took metal from the likes of the Who & Led Zepplin and made it acceptable to bubble gum-types, there’s always been somone ready to take jazz and make it “acceptable” to people who people who have trouble “getting” something as accessible as Ella Fitzgerald songbooks.

    BTW, “Aja”, along with “Who’s Next”, remains one of my favorite long car trip albums. Steely Dan were never quite “out there” enough to be “cool” (that was the provence of Reggae, Brazilians like Gato Barbieri or early new wave in my time), but too inaccessible for most fans of the Eagles, etc. (the lyrics were too eliptical). Steely Dan respected good jazz musicians and probably did less damage than Joni Mitchell, who did at least one horrible albus with Mingus and took what ever life there’s been out of Tom Scott. Eclecticism only causes grief until the end of college. I had to suppress my love of classic Motown for most of the 70s. Who knew that almost everyone from my age cohort would have been a closet fan, too.

    Idea for a next thread...people who killed folk music. I got the idea from the mentions of Joni Mitchell. Loved her early stuff, hated her later stuff and hated her in concert--incredibly self-involved and you suspected she didn’t do “Circle Game” as her encore, because that’s what the audience wanted.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  11:14 PM
  37. It was a prolegomenon toward notes toward an introduction to an exploratory essay on the various influences and innovations that went into the formation of smooth jazz,

    And shocking to think that we almost left that song out of the discussion! Of course now it’s going through my head relentlessly:

    prolegomenon
    dit doo, dit doo-doo
    prolegomenon
    dit doo-dit doo
    prolegomenon
    dit doo, dit doo-doo, dit doo doo,
    dit doo doo, dit doodah doodah
    doo doo doo-doo doo.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/29  at  11:32 PM
  38. All the classic Blue Note guys (e.g. Freddie Hubbard) released soul-jazz recordings on CTI in the 70s. And before that, you had all those Blue Note soul-jazz sides like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”.

    Also I can’t help thinking that “cool jazz” like “Kind of Blue” era Miles, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dave Brubeck anticipated a market for a more glossy, ambient quasi-jazz music. Not that that’s all there is to Miles or the MJQ, just that a lot of people used that stuff as mood music.

    Cornel West, btw, digs that Grover Washington stuff (a bit of trivia I picked up from the infamous Wieseltier article; anyone that Wieseltier hates that much can’t be all bad).

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  11:32 PM
  39. The trouble with Stanley Turentine, Grover Washington, Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, etc. and other proto-smooth jazz types is that one can find at least one listenable album before they jumped the shark. So tarring them and their fans (as an indirect descendent of Dewey, I feel compelled to stick up at least a little for Cornel West) has to be tempered. They aren’t Kenny G, after all.

    Forgotten here also are the popular but supposedly very, very serious jazz performers. Keith Jarrett was the most obvious of these offenders. Oddly, most people I knew owned his albums, but I don’t remember anyone ever playing them. I thought his stuff was unlistenable (and remain of that opinion). He was as much a slippery slope as any member of the Gilberto brood.

    Posted by  on  03/29  at  11:39 PM
  40. Rich, great thread on who killed folk music.  I certainly blame the “singer-songwriter” crowd:  James Taylor, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, John Denver...for taking the politics and grit out of the second folk revival and turning it into feel-good EZ listening...the folk equivalent of “smooth jazz,” music to EST by.

    But some blame has to go to some of the once-great folkies who turned inward as well:  Bob Dylan in his born again country singer phase, Phil Ochs in his Elvis impersonator last days.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  12:28 AM
  41. "Frizzy-haired flautists,” Michael? And you write that in connection with smooth “jazz?” To which frizzy-haired SJ flute players are you alluding?  Names, please.

    In the woodwind department, smooth “jazz” is the near-exclusive province of saccharine saxophonists, and as a flutist whose hair is distinctly frizzy, I resent this slander.  BTW, the term “flautist” is archaic, pretentious, or both-- and annoyingly persistent.

    I’ll take my jazz clumpy any day; that smooth stuff begets violent impulses on the rare occasions I’m forced to hear it for more than a few minutes. 

    Pat Metheny is one whose music inevitably gets lumped into the SJ category, but whose musically-challenging artistry vastly transcends that anemic genre.  For those who haven’t read Metheny’s opinion on Mr. K. Gorelick, it’s pretty darned entertaining; Pat starts getting REALLY worked up about halfway through.  Sorry, but I’m too inept to forge the link:

    http://www.jazzoasis.com/methenyonkennyg.htm

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:37 AM
  42. Not mentioned so far is the kind of ambient, noodling electronica that is sometimes described as “Vallium music”. Not an influence, but a parallel which reveals the motive—the desire for something easy that doesn’t rouse you up, but mellows you out. The only name I can remember is Kitaro, and that might be wrong.

    There are some who believe that 1965-1975 was a traumatic period which couldn’t have gone on much longer.

    Along with George Benson, I think that Roberta Flack’s takeover by Robbie? / Donnie? Hathaway was a bad sign.

    This is a bold and unexpected hypothesis, but I think that market forces had something to do with it. This was the time when avant-garde jazz (free jazz) and bebop musicians quit performing and started driving cabs. It’s a damn shame that they didn’t get the subsidies that the classical avant-garde gets—and I’m not kidding.

    Some of my favorite stuff is by mid-seventies guys who actually sound vaguely smooth-jazzish, except that they’re not comforting or calming: e.g. Marion Brown (Geechee recollections, Sweet Earth flying—world’s most unjustly neglected musician) and Jan Garbarek (Dis, Places, Afric Pepperbird). They didn’t profit from the fad.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  03/30  at  01:38 AM
  43. Try Pat Metheny’s “Zero Tolerance for Silence” and tell me he’s smooth. I haven’t heard “Metal Machine Music”, but I imagine it’s comparable. It’s definitely less smooth than anything the Velvet Underground ever did.

    Keith Jarrett, via Charles Lloyd, introduces “jazz rock”, which wasn’t smooth but which took some of the kinks and twists and difficulty out of jazz. I love a lot of jazz-rock ("Bitches Brew” counts) but it was a bad trend in some ways.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  03/30  at  01:45 AM
  44. Sure, Metheney’s been all over the musical map, and you won’t hear that album he made with Ornette Coleman being played on SJ radio, either!
    However, much of his relatively accessible material inevitably falls into the smooth bin-- people are such compulsive categorizers, whether it’s appropriate or not…

    --Oh, linking is that easy?  You callin’ me smooth, sucka?

    http://romyb.com/gallery/personal/Flute_Flag3

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  01:57 AM
  45. No one has mentioned Vince Guaraldi? 

    All that Charlie Brown music (from the 1960’s, no less) was my intoduction to smooth jazz.  In a good way.

    I can still see Snoopy dancing, and Schroeder crouched over his wee piano.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  03:07 AM
  46. Rich, re: Mitchell singing “Circle Game” as an encore

    I remember a (paraphrased) quote from her, when asked about singing one of her hits in concert: “Nobody asked Van Gogh to paint ‘A Starry Night’ again, man.”

    In some respects I sympathize.  Unless you’re the Stones or making a living touring as a nostalgia band, it must be a little annoying to have a whole suitcase of new work done and have the crowd demand stuff you wrote 10 years earlier.  On the other hand, I remember seeing Airplane in 1972 in San Diego and being frustrated as hell that they didn’t do “White Rabbit.”

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  03/30  at  03:45 AM
  47. Clearly evolution is merely a theory, because to theorize that the abomination that is Kenny G. is in any way connected to the decadent finery of Steely Dan or the excellent fusion of Weather Report is clearly wrong
    see
    http://kevinswoodshed.blogspot.com/2003_06_15_kevinswoodshed_archive.html
    for what I think of “the dan”

    Disco is to funk what a steer is to a bull. Lite Jazz is to jazz what the magic trumpet of Jackie Gleason is to 50s Miles Davis Quintent.

    Kenny G is basically Chuck Mangione with even the tinest trace of testosterone removed. That rumbling you hear whenever the “music” know as “lite jazz” is referred to by that name is the collective sound of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and even Herbie Mann spinning in their graves.

    And damn you Michael for changing pictures, now I have to update my blogroll to remove the Dieter reference.

    Posted by rev.paperboy  on  03/30  at  05:13 AM
  48. OK, OK, I changed “flautist” to “flutist” just for you, Romy.  (Although I have to say that I find “archaic, pretentious, or both—and annoyingly persistent” a fairly good self-description in general.) I actually thought that you flutists preferred “flautist” and got all huffy and frizzy whenever people said “flutist.” Just shows you what I know—I’ve never been in a band with a flootist, myself.  I don’t think I know any fluetists personally, but maybe when I get around to my Jethro Tull- Stevie Wonder comparison I’ll ask the flauntists to weigh in on the merits of the flutes in “Locomotive Breath” and “Another Star.” Fair enough? 

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  08:19 AM
  49. Maybe one of the first example was Bing Crosby when he copied Satchmo’s improv. style.(Bah baba booh)
    I don’t have any names off-hand but I know I’ve heard 30’s saxophonists doing ‘breathy’ fluid improv. on ‘Stardust’ or ‘I can’t get started’.
    Back then it was ‘sweet’ jass.
    Maybe smooth is a repackage of ‘cool’ which according to Wikipedia began in the 40’s.
    Gershwin’s ballads were cool, no?
    And talking about cool, I see Brubecks still doing 80 gigs a year @ age 84! That’s totally cool!

    Posted by waldo  on  03/30  at  08:41 AM
  50. Stop the presses!  It turns out that David Horowitz has published a database called Discover the Smooth Jazz Network.  Check it out-- and thanks to Philip Klinkner for the tip!

    Posted by Michael  on  03/30  at  10:15 AM
  51. Hmm, the Bing Crosby reference reminds me of Norman White and the White Scat Chorale doing White Scat Singing, the way it was meant to be.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  10:23 AM
  52. BTW, Richard Thompson agrees with Pat Metheny about Kenny G.

    http://www.richardthompson-music.com/audio/I_Agree_With_Pat_Metheny.mp3

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  10:52 AM
  53. “Nobody asked Van Gogh to paint ‘A Starry Night’ again, man.”

    Joni Mitchell was no Van Gogh and, in a certain sense, van Gogh painted a “A Starry Night” more than once--visit the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to see what I mean. Joni, herself, was happy to record “Big Yellow Taxi” (another crowd pleaser) on more than one occasion.

    Brubeck is an interesting case in that he was both a popularizer (all those college tours and his eager willingness to crank out as many albums as his record company wanted) and a classicist (all that classical music training and theory). He was (with help from Paul Desmond) an innovator in terms of technical aspects of the music ("Take Five"), and has always had the public respect of far more adventurous musicians. All that said, most of his music is boring or at least unengaging, and his academic training has probably stilted more than enlarged his musical vision (this coming from a PhD!) in the long run. Popularizers run the risk of simply turning out pap or being dismissed by folks like us. Brubeck’s early work deserves respect (with an appropriate nod to Desmond), but most of his output in the last 40 years has been an example of how a popularizer easily turns to pap. Before we get too smug, it’s worth remembering that there are high brow/hipster corollaries to this popular to pap slope---Miles Davis (and his desire to remain “relevant” and “cutting edge”, as well as sell records) and John Lennon (post-Yoko, post-Lennon & McCartney). You don’t have to be mainstream to produce crap.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  11:48 AM
  54. I didn’t read the 53-odd comments before this one but I did do a text search and discovered that not once did the string “ECM” appear, and neither did “Oregon”!

    Posted by ben wolfson  on  03/30  at  12:18 PM
  55. Michael, you asked for comments from professional musicians.  So here’s a bunch from a guy who, for better or worse, in Mommy’s words, “threw away a Yale education to what?  Be a piano player?” Well, I’m still playing, now into my sixth decade on Earth.

    I’m willing to bet that with a few notable exceptions, ALL the musicians/entertainers whose varied efforts have been opined into the cold, cold ground by your well-intentioned readership embody remarkable talent and love for music—otherwise, why would they be in such a crazy profession?  Mostly, they found some tiny aspect of their creativity that resonated with enough of the music-buying public to make a comfortable career.  So why castigate them for outputting works that allow them to pay their mortgages?

    To swat it to your court, why the fuck isn’t every professor of literature a Pynchon scholar?  Is it because they are too dumb to understand Pynchon?  (For “Pynchon” fill in the blank with your favorite worthy or pantheon of worthies.)

    During my long, motley career as an experiential ethnomusicologist/performer in Hawaii, I’ve met and played with “entertainers” whose work I was happily cynical about during my teenage years—a Chubby-Checkered time when the face of pop music was, indeed, blankly stupid.  Almost to a man/woman, these old icons gave wonderfully energetic and sincere shows to the public, while to their supporting musicians, they revealed hearts full of musical talent and interest light-years beyond what they presented to their fans. They deserved and earned their continuing place in the spotlight.

    And yeah, re: Sex Pistols & Aja, don’t feel so All Alone.  I’ve played, foisted on the trusting Honolulu public, and gotten paid for performances running the gamut from Richard Hell and the Voidoids through Don Ellis through Red Simpson through John Cage through Vikki Carr through Yellow Magic Orchestra, loving it all.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  02:20 PM
  56. Dammit--I gotta leave, and I haven’t read the posts, but if you want to approach this from an appropriately neo-Bolshevist stance, you need to go back the paleo-Bolshevist critiques of writers like Barry Ulanov, who in the 1930s and 1940s made a reputation for himself with an essentially Marxist critique of the bourgoise [sp/] sentiments of Swing and the market-driven work of “legitimizers” like Paul Whiteman and “sweet bands” like Lombardo as opposed to the “authentically proletarian” musical values of early black Jazz musicians from New Orleans.

    Oh, crap, I could post a shitload of resources. I’ll try to get back to this thread later tonight with something cogent.

    Posted by HP  on  03/30  at  04:30 PM
  57. For better or worse, and I think better, it is part of the bargain.  Publicly purveyed art is subject to public criticism.  If I believe that someone’s contribution to our culture is a net negative, I should castigate them for it.  It is no different than condemning a predatory investor who legally enriches himself and harms society.  Is his love of money as valid as the musician’s love of music as a defense?

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  04:31 PM
  58. Kit, would that be as a member of Don Tiki?

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  03/30  at  04:32 PM
  59. Durn, I’ve been outed.  Indeed, I’m the “music” half of Don Tiki.

    I knew I shoulda used my nom de blog.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  05:09 PM
  60. Where did smooth jazz come from? The “actual cities” remark that starts the post is the key. Smooth jazz isn’t a musical genre; it’s a marketing concept. Thank the expensive radio consultants who work for stations with big audiences, i.e., actual cities.

    Kenny G and other later artists were the fulfillment of a feedback loop—in his lab, the consultant creates a mellow radio format based on a handful of hooks and jazzy chord changes and woodwind instrumentations, then the market-savvy “artist” creates ever-more-perfect manifestations of that format. Rinse, repeat.

    Posted by skimble  on  03/30  at  05:37 PM
  61. Sorry, guy.  I live in Honolulu too. wink

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  03/30  at  06:01 PM
  62. Okay, I’m back. Let’s get down to some serious jazzicology, neo-bolshevist style.

    First, a short history of jazz history. Paul Whiteman’s 1928 Carnegie Hall concert as “the King of Jazz” featured an extend medley with narration as a “history of jazz.” Whiteman’s version of jazz history was notorious for not including a single black person. The reaction to this was a great outpouring of Marxist critiques of jazz. Probably the foremost of the early Marxist jazz historians was Barry Ulanov, who dismissed Paul Whiteman, and indeed all of the music we know today as Swing, as hopelessly bourgeoise. The only authentic jazz, he maintained, was New Orleans music played by black musicians. The music became more and more degenerate the further you strayed from this ideal. The first great schism in jazz history occurred between the modernists and Ulanov’s “mouldy [sic] figs.” The mouldy figs rejected the complexities of bebop as European and inauthentic, while the modernists embraced it as an expression of postwar Black experience, and also dismissed as racist the idea that blacks should not play complex music. The 1950s saw the emergence of The New Criticism, which ignored issues of race and culture, and focused on purely musical issues. Recordings alone became primary documents, and harmonic and melodic analyses replaced “authenticity” as legitimate concerns. Here, the key critical figure is Gunther Schuller. However, ideas about the authenticity and legitimacy of jazz expression being rooted in the Black experience remained, unquestioned. Into the 1970s and 1980s, a strong Afro-centric strain characterized much jazz writing. However, this later Afro-centrism was more nationalist (*cough* Stanley Crouch) than Marxist. By the early 1990s, a new school of jazz criticism, led by Krin Gabbard, emerged out of American studies and culture studies programs, and drew heavily on Gramsci and the post-modernists—Jazz as social construction.

    With this in mind, here’s where I think your question is headed in the wrong direction: By looking for the roots of smooth jazz in types of “crunchy” jazz that are superficially similar (fusion, etc.), you’re basically following a New Criticism assumption that answers can be found in musicology--instrumentation, analysis, praxis. Clearly, however, smooth jazz and fusion jazz are not a continuum of development. That is, you can find examples of smooth jazz and fusion that are nearly identical in measurable musicological phenomena—instrumentation, harmonic complexity, ratio of written to improvised material, basic musicianship—and yet the two recordings are undeniably distinct in affect.

    And this is where I would go all neo-bolshevist, indeed, in a way that would give that word some meaning. But first, let’s review the history of the recording industry. In the beginning, what we now call “record producers” were called A&R (artists and repertoire) men. A&R men decided what musicians to record, and what songs they would play. That was pretty much the extent of their input. Their reputations were made or broken depending on whether their decisions panned out. In a gradual process beginning in the 1950s, record producers played a greater and greater role in determining what records would actually sound like. Today, perhaps 90% of what makes a hit pop record is the work of the producer, assembling bits and pieces of various tracks.

    Except in jazz. In the contemporary jazz recording subindustry, the goal is to keep costs as low as possible. (A best-selling jazz title might move 3000 discs, so the trick is to spend as little on production—a typical jazz CD is recorded live-to-disc in one take.) Here, the producer’s role is more like that of the old-time A&R men.

    The difference between “smooth jazz” and fusion or other contemporary forms of jazz is that smooth jazz is an almost entirely “produced” music. The artist whose sexy, sexy photo is on the CD is basically an employee of the producer.

    The significance of “produced” music vs. “performed” music is not entirely or even necessarily economic. It is about power; about who has the power to make musical decisions, who has the power to determine what people are exposed to, and what it sounds like once they are exposed. I would put it to you that power, who has it, and whay they do with it can actually change the affective quality of a work in ways that are otherwise undefinable, yet still undeniable.

    Since the Beatles, of course, most popular music is produced to some degree or another. And indeed, people accept the role of the record producer unquestioningly. It’s only once you try to answer the question, “Where did smooth jazz come from?” that you realize there’s something amiss. Smooth jazz comes from the attempt to impose the will of modern, all-powerful record producer on jazz. Which is why Candy Dulfer reminds you so much of Britney Spears.

    Posted by HP  on  03/30  at  07:42 PM
  63. I’ll be brief.  I think you can trace the roots back to players like Sonny Criss and maybe some of Sonny Stitt’s work whose styles were more fluid than most.  Although a bit more on the edge than people like Criss, players like Ralph Towner and Jan Garbarek created tonal frameworks that seem kindred to the smoothe jazz styles. Real impetus might also be found with the one Blood, Sweat and Tears album done by Al Kooper.  Having spun discs at a jazz station in the 70’s, I have to concede the first true flowering of this odious fruit to George Benson and Stanley Turrentine.  After all I like all the previously mentioned musicians, and no you weren’t the only guy who could listen to Steeley Dan and J. Rotten in the same afternoon.  But then, I was, and still am throwing, Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxtonl, the various Kings (like BB and Albert), Dylan, Tull and Mozart into the mix as well.

    Posted by  on  03/30  at  07:48 PM
  64. Whiteman. Ulyanov.

    Wow. Irony or something.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  03/30  at  10:01 PM
  65. As far as ECM goes, probably they had a hand in it, and maybe Oregon too. But I don’t play Garbarek (ECM) for people because it tends to be alone-sounding and “depressing”, and his sax cuts far too sharply.

    ECM also did some stuff by Don Cherry from Norway which was pre-World Music, and I like a lot of World Music, especially the Cherry stuff, even though it overlaps with smooth jazz.

    Towner and Garbarek have one thing—they do improvised music, and they play jazz instruments in somewhat of a jazz instrumental style, but there’s no blues, stomp, funk type of feeling at all. It’s pretty white (as am I).

    Posted by John Emerson  on  03/30  at  10:11 PM
  66. The guy who started Windham Hill, I can’t remember his name, has acknowledged the influence of ECM’s more stereotypically ECM-like releases on Windham Hill’s sound.  Though I suppose its sound is more new age than smooth jazz, innit?

    Posted by ben wolfson  on  03/30  at  10:18 PM
  67. I made a mistake.  don’t retract your responses.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  12:15 AM
  68. I am a huge fan of serialist opera composers--Berg, Schoenberg, Reimann etc.--so I like to put on the Sex Pistols or Dead Kennedy’s after listening to Reimann’s blazing masterpiece Lear, for example.  A “and now for something completely different” kind of idea.....

    Speaking of Pat Metheny and Kenny G as we were, PM let loose a verbal barrage on the hapless Mr. G that is a thing of beauty to read:

    http://tinyurl.com/4btwb

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  12:32 AM
  69. A) It definitely was George Benson; “Breezin’ “ was the “Never Mind the Bollocks” of the genre.  Critical mass.

    B) It’s so you can get it on and not be disturbed by raucous beats or avant dissonance, no?

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  12:42 AM
  70. hey, and i liked aja and never mind the bollocks, too, but after never mind the bollocks i could never listen to aja again.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  12:44 AM
  71. As an explicit radio marketing concept, it probably began in Berkeley in 1979 when KRE-FM, a superb Soul/R&B station, converted to the new smooth jazz format, changed its call letters to “KBLX” in and initiated the “Quiet Storm” tagline.

    http://www.kblx.com/about/kblx.htm

    For Bay Area music fans, this low point was surpassed a few years later when the venerable free-form rock station KSAN converted to “country!”

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  12:56 AM
  72. Guilty confession: I liked “This Masquerade”, but I never really thought it was jazz. It seemed more like an updated version of late 50s R&B-flavored pop.

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  01:04 AM
  73. This is a long way, but I think it explains everything...in grad school I met a fellow student named Jane Ann DeVol. The first thing I ask her is, “Are you related to Frank DeVol?” The first thing she replies is, “He’s my uncle.” the second thing she replies is, “You’re the first person to ever ask me that.”

    Now, other people have to know that Frank DeVol is not only Happy Kyne (of Fernwood 2night fame), but also a longstanding film/tv composer, perhaps best known as the writer of “The Brady Bunch” theme.

    But, DeVol also wrote the score for “Kiss Me Deadly,” one of the noiriest of noirs.

    It should also be noted that he arranged several solid albums for Ella Fitzgerald during her stay at Verve, and also worked with Doris Day and a number of other fine vocalists. So “Fernwood 2Night” (a terrific series that should be on DVD) notwithstanding, Frank DeVol was a very talented arranger—no Nelson Riddle, perhaps, but who else was?

    Getting back to smooth jazz, I’ve heard stations with that billing play acts that certainly weren’t jazz, including the likes of Marvin Gaye and the underrated Swing Out Sister. But one wonders if the announcers or personnel at such stations have ever listened to Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues,” Anita O’Day’s “Sweet Georgia Brown” or Lee Wiley’s songbook collections (which she did some 15 years before Ella).

    Posted by  on  03/31  at  09:50 AM
  74. When we lived in NYC in the early 80’s a smooth jazz station came on the air and was promoted with television ads that featured Miles Davis.  “It’s very cool,” Miles rasped, “Like me.” It should go without saying that CD101.9 was not at all cool like Miles Davis, but it bears mentioning that Miles was not above putting out stuff that had as its sole reason for existence its commercial quality.  Context is important: I love Miles’ “Porgy and Bess”, but let’s face it, there is nothing on that side that would sound out of place followed by a Herbie Mann cut.

    Posted by Bill Altreuter  on  03/31  at  01:30 PM
  75. A couple of points that I don’t think have been made yet.

    First, smooth jazz makes a fuck of a lot of money. Interestingly, in this day and age of declining record store sales for a lot of types of music, the smooth jazzers keep on keepin’ on. They’re money in the bank. It takes very little effort to make it, the market is absolutely reliable, and people always want more of it because they know they’ll never be doublecrossed. If you like one Kenny G album (or whoever the latest generation of dreck-producers are), you’ll like ‘em all.

    Second, the thing about smooth jazz over, say, the last fifteen to twenty years is the virtual immutability of it. Unlike virtually every other genre you can name, there has been no development in it. It is functional music, not listening music. It exists primarily to produce an aura of sophistication acceptable to the Charlie Tunas of the world, who don’t realize what Starkist is really looking for is music that tastes good, not music with good taste.

    Third, there is apparently a successful subculture of men looking to seduce women who are looking to be seduced by empty, “pretty,” slightly rhythmic and completely ignorable instrumental music. I think you’ve seen lots of movies from the 60s where these sorts of people romped without actually going to bed with each other. Nowadays, we don’t see them on the big screen, but I’ve seen them in action, and it’s not pretty.

    Fourth, all musical forms lead inevitably to less difficult, less intelligent or less emotional variations on the primal material at their heart. Sooner or later, somebody doesn’t get it right, and stumbles into a way to make a lot of money by dumbing it down. In no way does this ever stop the simultaneous development of further interesting music; it in fact, probably helps contribute to the economic success of the music industry in between breakthroughs.

    Posted by Steve Pick  on  03/31  at  04:24 PM
  76. Functional music:

    Paul Hindemith: Gebrauchmusik.

    Before him, Erik Satie: musique d’ameublement (= “furniture music")

    Just in case you need a translation sometime.

    Posted by John Emerson  on  03/31  at  06:18 PM
  77. Second, the thing about smooth jazz over, say, the last fifteen to twenty years is the virtual immutability of it. Unlike virtually every other genre you can name, there has been no development in it. It is functional music, not listening music.

    Functional, too, in that it operates as a temporary anaesthetic when the novocaine wears off, and that it makes the elevators run on time.

    Additionally, smooth jazz functions to reduce the temptation to illegally file-share music over the internets.  Nowhere in the Grokster oral arguments before the Supreme Court was there any mention that amoral music-swappers had threatened sales of smooth jazz.

    Posted by Ereshkigal  on  03/31  at  07:50 PM
  78. Functional, too, in that it operates as a temporary anaesthetic when the novocaine wears off

    although Carlos Nakai or Enya work more effectively and - at least in my case - are far less habit-forming.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  03/31  at  08:03 PM
  79. It would be nice to hear from some musicians or musicologists on this, but it’s my belief that smooth jazz isn’t jazz at all- it doesn’t swing, it doesn’t use the blues scale, there’s no improvization.  I don’t think that smooth jazz develops out of jazz, it comes from easy listening.  The “jazz” just means that the music is mostly instrumental and vocals are secondary.

    Posted by  on  04/01  at  02:18 AM
  80. There is, or can be, improvisation in smooth jazz.  The start of Pat Metheny’s screed against Kenny G discusses how much Kenny G’s improvisation sucks.

    Posted by ben wolfson  on  04/01  at  11:02 AM
  81. FWIW, the thing that irritates me most about Kenny G. and much Smooth Jazz (esp. that Windham Hill tripe) is how much they stick to pentatonic/Blues scales, and how banal and uncreative their solos/improvisation are because of it.  And I disagree that Kenny doesn’t swing.  It may be that his rhythmic sense is repetitive, dull, and uninspired, but you can be dull and unsinspired and still swing your notes.  Swinging is just a timing thing, it’s really nothing special.

    I agree with Pat Metheny’s wonderful diatribe that it is better to accept Kenny G. as a Jazz musician in the tradition so that he can be held to those standards.  If we do hold him as such, then we can judge his as an incredibly poor musician who faily completely to meet any of the standards of the genre.

    If we say that he is not a Jazz musician, then he can be judged by some far lower ‘smooth jazz’ standard where he might not be judged as wanting in all respects.

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  04:16 PM
  82. I agree completely with HP. Smooth jazz is the product of an economic calculus, untertaken and acted upon by corporate designees. For that matter, so is rock, which is why all rock now sucks balls. Except Radiohead. And whatever is playing live down the pub.

    Smooth jazz, as such, emerged after the consolidation of corporate control over music and its distribution. Lots of commenters have pointed out musical forerunners of today’s smooth jazz, but there’s no causality to be found in a critical approach to the question. Smooth jazz does not proliferate because previous musicians paved the way for Kenny G. Smooth jazz proliferates for the same reason boy bands proliferate.

    Recall a teenage girl adoring The Osmonds. Now she’s 43 years old. Is she listening to Zappa now? Has she spent the intervening years in squalor for the sake of music? No. She wants something nice to listen to in the Volvo.

    You may as well ask how anyone could eat at McDonald’s. I understand they do a brisk business.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  08:47 PM
  83. Recall a teenage girl adoring The Osmonds. Now she’s 43 years old. Is she listening to Zappa now? Has she spent the intervening years in squalor for the sake of music? No. She wants something nice to listen to in the Volvo.

    Straw man much?

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  04/03  at  08:56 PM
  84. That’s a good dodge, friend, but the Volvo Lady was just an illustration of a demographic (which certainly does exist), and not an argument. HP made the argument above.

    The artistic forerunners of smooth jazz don’t explain why it’s got its own radio network. Otherwise, we’d be able to say shitty sitcoms are everywhere because My Mother the Car was shitty. Maybe it was. But shitty sitcoms are everywhere because corporations decide to create and distribute shitty sitcoms.

    Smooth jazz did not emerge from the stage. It emerged from the board room. Or maybe people are buying it because Kenny G touches their hearts when he riffs so magically on the primal past of Classical Gas.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  09:46 PM
  85. I really hope that people aren’t trying to nominate Frank Zappa as a progenitor of music the ilk of smooth jazz.  I don’t know about you guys, but i’ve been listening to Frank for well nigh forty years and I don’t plan on stopping short of death.  In fact, I woke up to Lather this morning(don’t know where the umlaut is on this keyboard).  Any link between Kenny G and yellow snow is too much for this febrile mind to wrap itself around.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  10:30 PM
  86. No dodge intended, LM; I basically agree with you. But this former Osmond-listening 11-year-old who discovered Zappa only four years later is now ... well, here’s the last 15 artists played on my iTunes setup:

    Bob Marley & The Wailers
    Merle Travis
    Paco de Lucia
    Cui Jean
    Emmylou Harris
    Kate Wolf
    Cheb Mami
    Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
    Centro Artistico Cultural De Puno
    Souad Massi
    Sukay
    Ilunga Patrice & Misomba Victor
    Bebel Gilberto
    Dwight Yoakum
    Armandinho

    ...so I just felt obliged to squawk at the stereotype. Of course I’m not female as was the Osmond-listener in your comment, and as a male the default societal presumption is that my taste in music doesn’t suck… despite the fact that I sing along to the radio in my pickup truck.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  04/03  at  11:25 PM
  87. I alerted my brother to this question/thread, then he sent his comments to me by YM - with permission, I share them here:

    “The term Smooth Jazz, to the best of my knowledge, was developed by the radio format gurus at Broadcast Architecture, who first turned a Chicago station’s rating fortunes around in the late 80’s. Most musicians who got increased exposure on radio credit local stations in Florida with originating the format, but the founders of Broadcast Architecture were the first to do serious market research, starting in Canada before making its first big splash stateside in Chicago. Dallas and the New York/New Jersey markets followed and the rest, as they say, is regrettable history. The early pattern of format conversion appears to have been a blend of tweaking the playlists of stations of both the old “Easy Listening” (a.k.a “Beautiful Music” in the 80’s) and “Adult Contemporary” of that period, pop formats that increasingly used jazz instrumentation along the lines of CTI’s “jazz” albums that were a 70’s R & B brand of Fusion.  It obviously worked. Not surprising that the local results in Florida were similar to those in the conservative Canadian prairie provinces where Broadcast Architecture made its first big positive moves...They now program their baby in the top thirty U.S. markets.  I think this format is probably very big in the “Red” states...I’m sure it rates highly with dedicated golfers as well.”

    ------

    Our Dad likes the stuff, and we’ve been holding our heads about it for years.  Ask me about opera, but ask my bro about jazz (or its bastard offspring), or basketball - he’s not “misterpredicto” for nothing!

    Posted by grishaxxx  on  04/04  at  07:50 AM
  88. I would argue that Patient Zero of smooth jazz was Bob James.  All the tropes are there on Bob James One, 1974, including “Angela”, the theme tune from “Taxi” which was smooth jazz if anything is.  I’d also stand up for it as a piece of music.

    Posted by  on  04/05  at  05:56 AM
  89. Actually, thinking about it, I’ve got “Black Rhythm Revolution” by Idris Muhammad taking the timeline back as far as 1970.

    Posted by  on  04/05  at  06:04 AM
  90. New Smooth Age Jazz

    Let us not forget that odd, short lived offshoot that seemed to be a staple of the Scientology
    bunch - “New Age Music.” In case you have forgotten, this distant relation to World Music
    was a blend of third world rhythms, northern european chordal structures and melodies,
    slight oriental/arabic influences, too much drum machine and just a dash of jazz.  Almost
    devoid of 20th century dissonance, this form co-existed along side of the “Quiet Storm”
    here in San Francisco until KKSF changed its format from New Age to Smooth Jazz.  I
    believe Windham Hill Records went down right around the same time. This genre seems to
    continue its existence almost entirely within the realm of upscale, holistic massage parlors
    and Feng-Shui CD’s. (And of course my massive yet dusty cassette tape collection.)

    My opinion is that the New Age fan base, and many of the musicians, slid right on over to
    smooth jazz and brought the advertisers to the rich with them - Mercedes Benz, Sunday
    brunches at the Miyako Hotel and quality singles services. Previously this ad group
    belonged solely to the “Classical” stations. Interesting that the stuffy classical dj voices have all been replaced by former New Age/Smooth Jazz mellow folks. Ah, the magic of our massive entertainment monopoly.

    Just to continue with the original revolutionary spin of this discussion, could it be that
    we’ve perhaps have found a blend of music that’s not challenging or threatening to the white
    upper class male/female power structure? Smooth Jazz provides the perfect elevator
    music back drop to living the good life with blinders on.

    Here in town what can you do? Since I’m still waiting for the wide open programming of a
    long gone station - KMPX - to return, (yeah good luck) I have the buttons set to KCSM
    (jazz) KKSF (classical) KUSF (punk & chinese) and National Public Radio. When I’m in the
    outlying areas I rely on Mexican stations for relief. If your day job, like mine, is being a
    concert audio engineer for Pop Music bands, you’ve got to escape the noise somehow.

    Posted by  on  04/05  at  04:00 PM
  91. Michael, Idelber, et al; I’m ready to rewrite my theory of the relationship between Bossa Nova and Smoove Javv after findign <a href="http://www.sabadabada.com/Music/Misc. Tracks/Nunca Mais.mp3">this</a> little artifact.

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  93. I really enjoyed your site for helping in my report on WWI and Jazz. Thanks for putting it together. I would also like to help your website. Here is some info I would like you to have to gain knowledge from.

    Even before jazz, for most New Orleanians music was not a luxury as it often is elsewhere–it was a necessity. Throughout the nineteenth century, diverse ethic and racial groups — French, Spanish, and African, Italian, German, and Irish — found common cause in their love of music. The 1870s represented the culmination of a century of music making in the Crescent City. During this time, the European classical legacy and the influence of European folk and African/Caribbean elements were merged with a popular American mainstream, which combined and adapted Old World practices into new forms deriving from a distinctive regional environment. Just after the beginning of the new century, jazz began to emerge as part of a broad musical revolution encompassing ragtime, blues, spirituals, marches, and the popular fare of “Tin Pan Alley.” It also reflected the profound contributions of people of African heritage to this new and distinctly American music.

    Thanks for your time and I hope you have learned something new and something you will use to your advantage.Thanks again!

    Posted by ____  on  04/14  at  05:47 PM
  94. thanks so much for you site! it really helped a lot in learing about the start of jazz music and where it came from. keep up the awesome effort and continue to give people info on a topic they should be informed about. Everyone listens to music and it wouldn’t the way it was today if it wasn’t for jazz. The music today,like Frank Sanatra, Anne Murray-even Britney Spears and Blink 182 wouldn’t be they were today if jazz music hadn’t been developed and the tradition continued for more than 100 years. thanks so much.

    Posted by  on  04/14  at  05:50 PM
  95. Well this certainly was a provocative subject. Define “smoothe” now define “Jazz"(good luck),thats smoothe jazz. Jazz has been around for a long time. By my reconing it started with dixiland back at the turn of the century (20th) and has been evolving ever since. It was pretty popular I think in the 20,30,40’s but then something happened that I think was the beginning of the fall of jazz. Bebop ,the product of a few drugged musicians trying to out do the others began pushing the harmonic envelope and actaully came up with some pretty cool stuff (no pun intended) and some noise! Now the race was on , who could push their ear and chops farther than the other guy. Well this is all cool and fun as a competition between players but what about the point? What point you ask?  Music!!! What about the listener,The’re supposed to like it. The music is for them not for some ego trippin audio terrorist! well after about a decade or so of degeneration the genre was DEAD. I mean dead!! In the early 70"s I went to a bar in San francisco and saw the great Barney Kessel and the only people there were myself and my friend (guitar buddy) and 2 other people . They were there for the dinner!! Thats pretty dead. As you recall the 60’s and early 70’s had a major music explosion in this country and england.The music was alive and had a purpose that people could feel and understand,phenominal. That brings us to rock and funk which were major parts of that explosion. Now remember jazz-rock, jazzrock-fusion, now called just fusion ,(the brain dead version called acid jazz more recently). Those live throbbing sexy rhythms were used by many jazz artists to create music that grabbed back the listeners. They also used their advanced tonal envelope with taste, you know “taste” that thing that makes one piece taste better ha ha pardon my pun! You know what I mean, not just how many how far out (gnat notes as zappa would say) I think frank said once “jazz isn’t dead , it just smells funny” . Well that genre, jazz rock fusion,I think was the beginning of what we call today smoothe jazz,just the next evolution of jazz.I must admit though that it has smoothed out a bit too much but that is just some artists idea of a nice sound!?! There is still a lot of smoothe jazz being done that’s very much alive. If you don’t believe me just come over here to Astoria ,Oregon and check out one of my shows around town, It’s like Smoothe Bop latin style.  So put that in your pipe and smoke it.  ML Richard T.

    Posted by  on  04/25  at  02:41 PM
  96. I’ve found this article beeing very useful. Thank you

    Posted by Bob Marley Quotes  on  11/27  at  11:55 AM
  97. You can bring the roots even farther back to Plas Johnson, who played the “A shot in the Dark” sound track for the Pink Panther. Gabor Szabo, Luis Bonfal, Barney Kessel contributed to the themes as well.

    Posted by  on  02/28  at  07:23 PM
  98. If you’ve been reading some of the articles in Jazziz magazine recently about guys like David Sanborn and Chris Botti, each has made a point of saying that the stuff they are doing is not “jazz.” Both of these guys can and have set in and mixed it up very capably with jazz musicians, but want us all to know that this is not the focus of their recent releases. A growing number of musicians see a need to note this difference.

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  102. I’d never heard of smooth jazz before this article - thanks for the info! Now I’m going to have to find some on Napster…

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  103. I love smooth jazz - been an avid listener for about seven years now. It’s really great music, I’m glad you think so too Michael.

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