The Roots of Smooth Jazz
Smooth Jazz dates back to a fusion of music genres that stared to manifest itself in the 1970’s in America and developed alongside more traditional jazz, but it was not until during the 1980’s that the term ‘smooth jazz’ started to be used. It has to be said that the use of this classification and indeed the genre itself has created a great deal of controversy and conjecture especially amongst the jazz music community as a whole.
So who created or introduced Smooth Jazz to the world?
Well it isn’t really as simple as that. Since the likes of Elvis Presley and the Beatles turned the music scene on its head it opened the doors to many different music genres. It’s very much like cooking a good meal, you take a pinch of this and a pinch of that and the perfect meal is created. So it was a little of all the genres including rhythm and blues, rock, pop, Latin, hip hop and classical jazz to name a few that created this genre. Smooth Jazz founding fathers are considered to be, Grover Washington Jr., Joe Sample, Bobby McFerrin, Roy Ayers, Lenny White and George Duke. The smooth jazz musicians of the 70’s included George Benson, John Klemmer and Flugelhorn. In the 80’s we were subjected to continual radio play from Anita Baker, Sade, and Al Jarreau and of course we must include the saxophone of Kenny G who wasn’t really popular until the 90’s. There are far too many to be mentioned here and there is so much controversy as to what is and what isn’t smooth jazz, as well as who is and who isn’t considered a smooth jazz musician. Much like the Hip Hop controversies of who was considered ‘real’ it simply is a target for endless punches.
The distinctive sound usually being created by the use of a guitar, saxophone and synthesizer. It creates a dish that can be tasted in your heart and soul, a richness that can be felt but not easily put into words, and conveys a sensation of calmness or well-being almost at a spiritual level. In other words it’s like the feeling you have right before a well-timed bowel movement… As studies indicate- it may help to combat stress, or help to lower blood pressure and other health benefits. During the late 80’s Pop music started to become much heavier, so many radio stations in America changed to smooth Jazz as the new easy listening music. Advertisers hoped that being mainly instrumental it would be played nonstop in shops and public areas, hence the familiar sound of Muzak was often confused with Smooth Jazz into the 90’s! With advertisers chasing down a target audience, radio stations dropped smooth jazz and its popularity took a downward spiral driving the name ‘smooth jazz’ back into hell where it belonged.
With revenue streams changing in the music industry towards live performance there is a chance of revival as smooth jazz performances are growing popular amongst those that appreciate the construction of this artistic form of music. Yet as much as they tamper with this recipe it still falls flat for gaining a mainstream fanbase that isn’t checking into a hospice anytime soon.