An extremely popular genre of music, the concept of ‘smooth’ jazz revolves around the same musical instruments associated with traditional jazz, and strongly reflects the influential elements of rock & roll, funk, rhythm & blues, and pop.
Smooth jazz tracks happen to be ‘downtempo’, characterized by a lead instrument such as saxophone or guitar, with a backdrop consisting of programmed rhythms along with different synth pads or samples. The huge craze for this genre of music can be attributed to the exceptional melody created by smooth jazz musicians using their instruments!
In what sense does smooth jazz differ from traditional jazz?
The basic point of difference between traditional and smooth jazz is rooted in the improvisation technique adopted by the pianist. Smooth jazz is not just about improvisation. In the cases of vocalists, they place tremendous emphasis on lending a unique quality, a remarkable degree of soulfulness to the piece.
This overwhelming soulfulness is in turn reflected by the instrumentals. Be it an instrumental or a vocal song – the heart-rending melody and the rhythmic pulse are the main driving forces of smooth jazz numbers.
Tracing the Roots of Smooth Jazz
The origin of the term ‘smooth jazz’ can be traced to a number of radio programmers who were working in collaboration with one another for designing a particular format which later rose to popularity as the ‘smooth jazz network’.
The fundamental aim of these programmers was to come up with an innovative radio format which is solely based on instrumental music. This was a deliberate attempt to bridge the gap created by the withdrawal of the ‘Muzak’ stations in the 1980’s.
What are the defining traits of smooth and contemporary jazz?
Smooth jazz is all about depicting the lightest forms of fusion jazz and infusing certain sensational musical elements of the 1970’s, for producing a sweet, soothing effect like never before. Smooth jazz keeps the extent of improvisation limited to extremely subtle alterations of the model figures. It is associated with a light, funky backbeat blended with strains of alluring melodies created by the instruments being played.
By a vast majority, smooth jazz is often regarded as ‘contemporary’ jazz or ‘instrumental pop’. To be more precise, urban jazz or contemporary jazz is to be regarded as a derivative of smooth jazz. It is a new style of music incorporating the key aspects of hip-hop.
Individuals who are fond of tuning into radio stations which play a mix of rhythm & blues and hip hop music, ideally qualify as the target audience of urban jazz. Bobby Perry, Dave Koz, Paul Jackson Jr, and Bonny James are some of the leading performers of urban jazz.
Can the claims of critics be justified on valid grounds?
The opinions of the critics regarding smooth jazz can be pretty bewildering at times. A lot of individuals argue that smooth jazz can never be considered ‘jazz’ in the strict sense of the term.
This claim is far from being acceptable, especially since traditional as well as smooth jazz revolves around the usage of the same major 7th, minor 7th, diminished or altered chords. Just because smooth jazz is marked by the absence of complex harmonies and improvisation techniques, it does not necessarily imply that it cannot be categorized as jazz music.
The term ‘Jazz music’ is quite broad in the sense that it includes a wide variety of styles, namely Latin jazz, acid jazz, smooth jazz, contemporary jazz and several others. The truth is that most of the hardcore fans of jazz music are fiercely possessive about traditional jazz, and they find it really difficult to accept any sort of variation in the set standards. For them, smooth jazz or contemporary jazz is more of an accompaniment rather than a main course item.
Sales Figures Reveal the Roaring Success of Smooth Jazz
Despite a marvelous deal of commercial success over the years, smooth jazz or urban jazz musicians are frequently subjected to criticism due to their apparent lack of brilliant improvisation techniques or harmonic complexities associated with traditional jazz, in the eyes of many.
However, the reports of a number of statistical analyses suggest that smooth jazz artists tend to outsell the traditional artists. This is primarily due to the fact that smooth jazz artists gain more exposure on account of the radio stations, leading to the expansion of smooth jazz outlets. Isn’t it quite natural that the loyalists find it impossible to imagine life without the spellbinding tunes of Norah Jones, Sting, George Benson, Kenny G, and David Koz?
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Lady Gaga is the first artist IN HISTORY to simultaneously top the iTunes overall chart, pop chart, jazz chart and country chart! pic.twitter.com/EGMuOEq3x2
— Shady Music Facts (@TheFactsOfShade) October 24, 2016
— Mark W. (@TMITGS) October 27, 2016
Seven Contemporary Jazz Guitarists Worth Checking Out
Frank Zappa famously proclaimed that “jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.”
And while that certainly may have been true in the fusion heyday of the 1970s and Eighties, there’s a younger breed of jazz musicians making music that is forward-looking but far less odorous.
Here are some personal favorites—seven jazz guitarists you might want to check out.
Stephane Wrembel, “Bistro Fada,” Origins
Is Gypsy jazz “jazz”? Of course it is! And Stephane Wrembel is one of the most promising young players in the genre. Via Guitar World
Michael Blake: How I Teach Contemporary Jazz
It’s probably not a coincidence that Michael Blake’s speech patterns align closely with how his contemporary jazz class operates—at lightning speed, with wavelike inflection and syncopated rhythms. In a narrow, ninth-floor studio in lower Manhattan, he guides 25 of his Joffrey Ballet School students through a warm-up. They move swiftly from swinging pliés to hyperarticulate flicks of the feet and ankle stretches, all layered on top of tricky balances and high releases of the upper back. It might feel a little manic to an outsider, but Blake’s students (ranging in age from 13 to 18) are attentive, thorough and eager to please. Via Dance Teacher
Young saxophonist hopes his talent leads to a career in contemporary jazz
The afternoon sun streaming through the window bathed Kyle Schroeder in warm light as he gave a solitary performance in his parents’ dining room.
With eyes closed, foot tapping time, Schroeder, 18, moved his fingers over the brass keys of his alto saxophone while the family’s pet pocket beagle, Olive, lounged lazily nearby.
Kicking off the casual set was an old Charlie Parker tune called Billy’s Bounce, followed by a little jazz improvisation, Stella by Starlight, and a song Frank Sinatra used to sing called Nancy (with a Laughing Face). Via Tampa Bay