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Why Do we Argue about Smooth Jazz?

  • Afraid of art form dilution

    Votes: 6 54.5%
  • Just like to argue about something

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Want to keep the "Jazz" listeners a select and small group

    Votes: 2 18.2%
  • Believe that it minimizes the greats of the past

    Votes: 3 27.3%
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Discussion Starter #1
This topic has perplexed me for a few years.

I am a big fan of Jazz music. Mostly listen to "Real Jazz" type offerings from Sirius, but I like Big Band (Sirius 40's station), and I like the Latin Jazz station on my Direct TV selection a lot as well. I like to listen to the smooth jazz stuff from time to time as well and find several of the artist very enjoyable; Chris Botti and Gerald Albright to name a few.

OK, so for what perplexes me. Jazz music is nearly dead on the american air waves with the exception of Smooth Jazz. I live in Chicagoland for Pete's sake and I cannot find a single jazz station besides smooth on the air. Some may argue that it's nearly dead, so I don't want that to be an issue, there's not many stations. How's that?

So if smooth jazz is the only widely played jazz music of any kind in nearly every large market, why do we affectionados of jazz hammer on it so badly?

In Ken Burns' documentary he basically blew off West Coast Jazz, which are some of my all time favorite Jazz musicians; Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck particularly.

Are we really afraid that our art form will turn into elevator music in 20 years, and real improvisational music will be gone? Really, with so many colleges teaching Jazz aren't we assured that it will live on?

I guess what really perplexes me is that Smooth Jazz, while not my personal preference for jazz, is certainly better than nothing and gives me hope that maybe more traditional jazz will someday be more popularized.

Or is that it, we don't want it popular? Or is it that we just like argue and this is as good as anything?
 

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How we decry smooth jazz because it is boring and has no artistic integrity?
 

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Before anyone else hammers you on your "we affectionados of jazz" term, (meaning if you are what you say you are, why do you have to ask the question)... The main complaint that keeps cropping up over and over in this forum is that smooth jazz, simply put, is not jazz. That begs the question of what should we call it, but in a nutshell that's why it gets blasted.

Just for kicks, take a listen to this piece from the past by Bud Shank and Chet Baker, and tell me where you would pigeon hole it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeVgoE0Xfcc

Now watch this and tell me if it's the same kind of music... not that it matters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnv6rO02T8M&feature=related

Same guy on alto... same general time frame but professional musicians and jazz musicians are still... musicians.

Enjoy what you like it's not an "intellectual" argument, really.
 

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Yeah, just as good as anything to argue about.

We don't want it popular? I don't have an easy answer. I started listening to radio about 1958... my first memories of spinning the dial and searching to see what was on the different stations and finding Elvis. If there were stations on the FM dial, there weren't that many and it didn't much matter because not many people had an FM radio. In 1967 I had a Zenith 3 transistor radio with FM and began to listen to KMPX in San Francisco. They were playing whole rock album sides. It was underground and far off the mainstream radar. That was the beginning of a big change in how music was marketed and even played and recorded.

Around '59 or '60 a station came on the air called KJAZ. It was an AM commercial station. The broadcast license cost them a couple thousand bucks at the time. I think the KMPX license cost fifteen hundred dollars. It was nothing compared to the tens of millions a license in that market is worth now.

Rolling Stone was a news rag that you could get fifty cents or a quarter or something... it was cheap, nothing. Bill Graham had started to produce big events in bigger and bigger venues. KJAZ was a total education for me... as well as listening to the three TOP 40 AM stations and the two underground rock stations. When it finally went under, it wasn't until '86 that KCSM emerged out of the San Mateo Community College broadcast arts program. That was like a breath of fresh air.

I believe KCSM is going as strong as ever and I stream it as much as I am able. Quality stuff for the most part and I have favorite DJs or shows that I try to catch. One of the DJs who started as a jazz DJ at KJAZ said on the '50s and '60s only a few new records came out each month. Now they get a hundred CDs in the studio every day.

In the '50s we had dial phones with no area codes, black and white TV on 4 channels, AM radio... that was some high tech stuff man. We bought 45s, and 33RPM records but you could still buy '78s in stores. There was really only two kinds of music... Popular and Classical. Even on Top 40 Radio you could hear Johnny Cash, the Supremes, Beatles, Stones, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles as well, and all the different covers of Louie Louie. It was all pop music.

In the '60 we had FM, Color TeeVee and push button dialing. There was the money to be made, and the media industry we have today really started to grow up and corporations began to see the money that could be made. Not necessarily a bad thing... MOTOWN? But, this is a huge subject and I don't know enough about it. I do know that radio air play became really segmented and so did the record racks as new and bigger record stores popped up.

In the '70s there was stereo and even quadrasonic four channel recordings, Shefield Labs direct to disc. Our family had reeeemote control for our new Color TeeVee and then had 2 television sets. If that wasn't cool enough there were 8 track tapes and then cassettes. I used to transcribe solos using an Ampex reel to reel machine because I could slow the tape to half and a quarter. Whee!

The '80s was cable TV, MTV and then finally CDs. Still a long way from MP3s internet, PCs, cell phones. Right! The last 25 years had been a wild ride.

So here is the deal. It's all about the money. I don't want to get into politics... but I'm jussayyin'... this bill that just passed to cut funding for public broadcasting is heart breaking. It is unfortunate that music and the arts have been caught up in the power/money games.

No matter how you label it is all just music. I don't have Sirius and think that maybe it is just against my religion to subscribe to canned programming. I know I am spoiled to have been able to have a listener supported and largely volunteer Jazz stations to listen too for the last 25 years. Not like that everywhere.

We are lucky here in Portland to have a 24 hour listener supported Jazz and Blues station KMHD (KMHD.FM) much like KCSM. The Smooth Jazz station that was here in this market died a few years ago and there isn't one now.

The air waves... our public airwaves... we own the FCC... at least that was my understanding. Practice is probably different than theory. But, bandwidth is worth lots of money, so it's kind of amazing that there is any kind of jazz or blues out of the air anywhere. Jazz ain't dead, it's getting supported with real money on a grass roots level.

But we are so in the minority as a demographic. I heard an interview with Milt Jackson and he said something like; if all you heard on the radio was, Ellington, Lester Young, Miles, Bird and Diz... everybody would dig it and support the music.
Maybe that is a good topic for discussion... Who, what happened there in the '60s/'70s for the growing music industry to bail out on jazz. Was it the public that bailed or the record companies... or something else?

Last night I went to see Pancho Sanchez Latin Jazz Ensemble. They played a whole spectrum of grooves and feels, from salsa, mambo, classic Willy Bobo, Tito Puento to soul music. Was it commercial? Yeah, was he pandering to the audience? Yeah. Was it a great show with world class musicianship? Yeah it was BADD to the bone!

"Jazz" might be really screwed up by the corporatocracy but it is by no means dead. We might look back at this time in ten years and just laugh because we have no idea what is going to blow up here next. The music is still getting played and recorded.

Chris Botti and Gerald Albright were mentioned. For me, if those guys want to be tagged in a certain kind of way to get their music heard, more power to 'em. They are both great artists and people connect with them. I have seen Chris Botti three times in like five years. His touring band kills. I saw Gerald Albright a dozen years ago too and he was really hot.

I have a high school friend that owns a successful recording studio and her own record label. Her deal now is 96KB downloads and analog recording. High resolution for acoustic artists. Hot stuff... it's a brave new world out there.

What gets marketed may have no direct relationship to good or bad. A bunch of this stuff is controlled by fat, bald guys in three piece suits, sitting in a board room trying to figure out some new angle to justify their existence to the share holders. NO?

I don't get the point of beating on different players or "styles" or music. It's a waste of time. There is so much good new stuff to listen to. And besides, jazz is live art form. Before I ever was a player, I was a music fan. I get to see Regina Carter tonight and Joshua Redman next week.
 

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"This topic has perplexed me for a few years."

Good grief some folks evidently need to get a life!
 

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Very limited number of answers provided for voting. Are you trying to similarly limit the way we consider the question? In my opinion smooth jazz is as separate as big band or Dixieland . A more truthful answer would be that mainstream jazz is not popular and it irks those who have worked hard to be good (mainstream) jazz players to hear less accomplished music being embraced by the masses. I guess the rub is that it's a sax based sound and I guess many think only mainstream jazz owns the saxophone? Would be just as easy to rile against pop, rap or country western music as these are all simplistic formulaic types of music that also have little or no integrity.

A more interesting question to ask is whether mainstream players think that it's reasonable to expect an audience today to embrace a style of music that is 50 + years old that is solely based on the player showing off their abilities (rather than the music itself) and uses tunes that nobody under 60 knows.

If you want to be popular/successful today the means is obviously not through perpetuating a dead art form. There is a small market for Dixieland, big band and mainstream jazz. Teaching students to try and perpetuate a dead art form is hardly a kindness. Let it go. Move on. Doesn't mean that you need to play smooth jazz, just stop looking backwards. Jan Garabeck fills the Albert Hall when in England and sell heaps of records. He doesn't play smooth jazz and certainly doesn't play mainstream. He and his group play music and not just endless variation on known tunes. The music comes first, not the ego/ability of the player. Audiences get this. Stepping outside of playing standards holds far more challenge as it requires you to be something more than a technician playing endless variations on a (known to you, unknown to the populace at large) "standard".

Think about the question posed and the expectations within it. Is this reality or are mainstream jazz players just punching at a convenient target and not recognizing their own plight?
 

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I don't see the point in getting worked up about these labels, unless someone is trying to ram some kind of orthodox definition down your throat. The labels are helpful somewhat when searching for music to buy or listen to. There is obviously overlap but the labels can be a helpful start. Other than that, it's just music with differing influences and tendencies.

Personally, I enjoy a lot of smooth jazz that I hear on internet radio, but after a while, there's so much redundancy, it gets boring for me. If I had a beef, it is not really so much with the musicians "selling out" as much as it is with a musically illiterate public that neglects or downright puts down more sophisticated music, just because they've never taken the time to familiarise themselves with it.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
"Same guy on alto... same general time frame but professional musicians and jazz musicians are still... musicians."

I think both pieces are forms of West Coast Jazz. A better example of the point your trying to make is Eric Marienthal, who plays traditional jazz with Gordon Goodwin but plays Smoth Jazz on all of his solo albums.

Thought I'd add this as well, Coltran did several pieces like Favorite Things and Central Park West that are either very melodic and or based on existing tunes in which the melody is repeated many times over. Granted, the work is excellent, but it's interesting how he gets a pass none the less and delivers some of his most financially successful music of his career, then he can mess around with the avante garde stuff of the 60's that some die hards cannot even stomach.
 

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I just noticed that this is a poll. There are only 4 choices and they're all very biased. It's a dumb poll.

Why do we argue about smooth jazz? There are many reasons. For some people, it's the use of the word "jazz" to apply to music that has little improvisation. It also often sounds like "product" rather than an expression of creativity and spontaneous group music-making, the essence of jazz.
 

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I just noticed that this is a poll. There are only 4 choices and they're all very biased. It's a dumb poll.

Why do we argue about smooth jazz? There are many reasons. For some people, it's the use of the word "jazz" to apply to music that has little improvisation. It also often sounds like "product" rather than an expression of creativity and spontaneous group music-making, the essence of jazz.
Biased, yes. Cool jazz, West Coast jazz, have very little to do with smooth jazz. I play with West Coast guys. They play music, just like I do. I play with East Coast guys, same thing. Jazz is an individual thing.

The 'radio' (except for public radio) has been dead for half a century...you didn't get the memo?:)
 

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Sometimes the whole labeling conventions of sub-grenres (sub-genrae?) serves no purpose, imho. For me, guys like Desmond, Getz, Chet Baker, Mulligan, Konitz, Shank, Shorty Rogers, etc. etc. are just more great players to listen to. It seems there was some of a backlash during the post-bebop (here I go with my own labels) era as far as hard-bop versus west coast jazz with a perception of hard-bop having more substance. Maybe because of key innovators like Rollins, Coltrane, Miles Davis.

To Wade's point earlier, this perception seems to continue today with the whole mainstream versus smooth jazz argument. Ridiculous. When did smooth jazz begin anyhow? Before "smooth jazz" became so maligned, there were guys like Grover, Les McCan, Eddie Harris and Stanley Turrntine and even the early Gerald Albright and Dave Sanborn stuff. Limited thinking could lead to discounting a lot of great music. And, many times smooth is an adjective used to describe positive qualities!

However, I think all of the players I listed have enough variety in their recorded output to make a great case that they just played some great music....

Shawn

ps I don't think of mainstream jazz as being a stagnant art form, and there are certainly many opportunities in my metropolitan area to hear mainstream, smooth, and about any other type of jazz you like...and I would disagree about people under 60 not knowing any of the old songs (Jerome Kern, Sammy Cahn, Gershwin, etc.). Many of these jazz standards are still used in popular movies, not to mention played on the jazz radio stations in my area.
 

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I like many forms" of jazz,..smooth if you like the term" i actually enjoy a lot.
A few not so much, but a lot like gerald albright very emotional,intense playing a lot of feeling that to me is very good.
I think to many people worry to much, who cares really about smooth jazz"..if you like fine if not like wise!,of course traditionalists will probably defer to prefer not too,i believe the most popular form inn the uk, is trad" jazz but i loathe that.
Its just a personal choice..
 

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This topic has perplexed me for a few years.

I am a big fan of Jazz music. Mostly listen to "Real Jazz" type offerings from Sirius, but I like Big Band (Sirius 40's station), and I like the Latin Jazz station on my Direct TV selection a lot as well. I like to listen to the smooth jazz stuff from time to time as well and find several of the artist very enjoyable; Chris Botti and Gerald Albright to name a few.

OK, so for what perplexes me. Jazz music is nearly dead on the american air waves with the exception of Smooth Jazz. I live in Chicagoland for Pete's sake and I cannot find a single jazz station besides smooth on the air. Some may argue that it's nearly dead, so I don't want that to be an issue, there's not many stations. How's that?

So if smooth jazz is the only widely played jazz music of any kind in nearly every large market, why do we affectionados of jazz hammer on it so badly?

In Ken Burns' documentary he basically blew off West Coast Jazz, which are some of my all time favorite Jazz musicians; Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck particularly.

Are we really afraid that our art form will turn into elevator music in 20 years, and real improvisational music will be gone? Really, with so many colleges teaching Jazz aren't we assured that it will live on?

I guess what really perplexes me is that Smooth Jazz, while not my personal preference for jazz, is certainly better than nothing and gives me hope that maybe more traditional jazz will someday be more popularized.

Or is that it, we don't want it popular? Or is it that we just like argue and this is as good as anything?
You're too hung up on the label, "smooth jazz," which some radio producer decided to call that format of music one day back in the 1980s or '90s. It's not really a type of music but a radio station format that consists of mostly instrumental pop music (which is what most people think of when they hear the term "smooth jazz") BUT ALSO consists of original soft rock and soul selections from artists such as Anita Baker, Sade, etc.

Billboard actually use the terms "Contemporary Jazz" I believe to categorize the music performed by Kenny G, Euge Groove, Gerald Albright and others, whereas it would put Anita Baker and Sade on the Soul/R&B charts. So if you want to be technical, that's what we should be calling it (though that would probably confuse most folks on here who would think you were talking about Garrett or Binney or some other poor soul in the trenches still struggling to carry the torch and forced to tour overseas since few in their own country know or care who they are :bluewink:).

So please keep that in mind--smooth jazz is not a type of music--it's a radio station format. And thus it has nothing to do with jazz (aside from the fact that many of the same instruments are used in both). In fact, there are much more similarities between smooth jazz and rock/r&b music.

BTW you have a LOT of choices in Chicago for jazz music--both live venues and on the radio, so you should be very content. Ever dial in to COD's radio station out in Glen Ellyn? :bluewink:
 

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In Ken Burns' documentary he basically blew off West Coast Jazz, which are some of my all time favorite Jazz musicians; Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck particularly.

Are we really afraid that our art form will turn into elevator music in 20 years, and real improvisational music will be gone?
Really?? I am sorry, but any group that has Desmond, Getz, Chet Baker, Brubeck, Candoli brothers, Miles, Konitz, Mulligan, Morello, W Marsh, Pepper, Zoot, Lester & more - I want in!! I don't care what kind of music anybody wants to call it.

There are 2 kinds of music in my book - a kind that interests me and a kind that doesn't. I don't believe the music that doesn't interest me is bad or anything. It is what it is. It's just not for me.
 

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"Same guy on alto... same general time frame but professional musicians and jazz musicians are still... musicians."

I think both pieces are forms of West Coast Jazz. A better example of the point your trying to make is Eric Marienthal, who plays traditional jazz with Gordon Goodwin but plays Smoth Jazz on all of his solo albums.

Thought I'd add this as well, Coltran did several pieces like Favorite Things and Central Park West that are either very melodic and or based on existing tunes in which the melody is repeated many times over. Granted, the work is excellent, but it's interesting how he gets a pass none the less and delivers some of his most financially successful music of his career, then he can mess around with the avante garde stuff of the 60's that some die hards cannot even stomach.
Actually hak got the point I was trying to make. The selections I linked were Bud Shank during his "West Coast" era which was fairly tainted with the "pop" tunes of the era (can you spell "commercial") he was a jazz musician making a living as a musician catering to the likes of the day. The clip with Clare Fisher was more straight ahead, albeit maybe you could call it West Coast. My problem is with the categorization of the music and the musicians. You mention Eric Marienthal playing "traditional" jazz (a term often if not usually relegated to dixieland/NO style jazz) with Gordon Goodwin and SJ on his solo albums... that's just the kind of categorization I don't care for. If you listen to Eric's Walk Tall Album / Cannonball tribute and check out "The Way You Look Tonight" I'd say the SJ tag is just way off base. Truth is Bud Shank, Eric Marienthal, and just about any pro musician working today will play for themselves AND for anyone willing to pay them to play for them because that's what professional musicians do. Phil Woods is probably the ultimate living bop/post-bop player alive and he'll tell you he's a professional musician. That's why you hear him on Billy Joel and Paul Simon's stuff. He loves bop, but he ALSO loves pop and just lives to play alto saxophone... Perplexed? Not with the argument or the music.

The reason Smooth Jazz is called smooth jazz is so we start the conversation with a common starting point the term "jazz" should tell you there's improvisation happening, but as far as getting us in a mindset about the same topic, I'm afraid we just have to put qualifiers on the term.

I picked the poll choice about artform dilution, and put up two examples of Bud Shank, because I felt at the time those things were recorded Bud had "sold out" along with Chet Baker on the pop album when the other example of "Misty" was more acceptable as a true jazz form, albeit West Coast Jazz. The whole concept of "selling out" as it applied then was just as wrong as it is today. Music is music. Bud Shank made that California Dreamin' album because it allowed him to sail around in his rather ostentatious sailboat and live a life-style most of us would like to have become accustomed to.

hakukani, in 1966 that Bud Shank album would have been just about the smoothest smooth jazz album ever released, 'cept there weren't no smooth jazz in 1966.:mrgreen:
 

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Discussion Starter #17
You mention Eric Marienthal playing "traditional" jazz (a term often if not usually relegated to dixieland/NO style jazz) with Gordon Goodwin and SJ on his solo albums... that's just the kind of categorization I don't care for. If you listen to Eric's Walk Tall Album / Cannonball tribute and check out "The Way You Look Tonight" I'd say the SJ tag is just way off base.
Obviously, a matter of opinion, but in my opinion that work really has nothing in common with Cannonball. No offense to Eric, I love him in fact I think he's one of the best living Alto's today. But that album has all the trappings with the base lines, and guitar style backing tracks, and just an overt studio sound that I believe is the problem for me with most "Smooth Jazz" music. The instruments (particularly the sax) sound altered, filtered, edited to the point where the instrument sounds like something other than what they really are.

Here is the Eric Marienthal that I love to listen to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYT4MAleO6I
Now that's they way Cannonball would play today:mrgreen:

Here's another of my favorite Marienthal performances:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blCCYm_Ly8o
Could almost sware he's sight reading.
The improve with Eric and the bassist at 2:27 is flat nasty:bluewink:
 
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