Smooth Jazz first became recognized as a musical genre during the latter part of the 1960s. This musical genre is usually downtempo and is often played at about 90 to 105 beats per minute.
There is sometihng about listening to Smooth Jazz, drinking a cocktail overlooking the beach in the Summer sun. It’s kind of, well, relaxing. Or that’s the image it conjures up for me anyway… It is a well known genre of music as it’s very easy on the ear. The sound layers a lead instrument that plays the melody (usually a saxophone or guitar) over a backdrop of rhythms. Most listeners can’t tell the difference between contemporary jazz and smooth jazz, but there are differences. One major difference is that the smooth or easy music works well as background music and doesn’t require the listener’s full attention, while contemporary jazz music demands that the listener pay attention.
Some say that smooth jazz began when guitarist Wes Montgomery worked with producer Creed Taylor to record instrumental versions of popular pop songs. These versions were simple and easy to listen to, containing little variation from the main melody. They were quite different from traditional jazz music, which often contained complex musical improvisation techniques.
These recordings were commercially successful and captured a different audience than traditional jazz enthusiasts who were looking for complexity and uniqueness in their jazz music. Many critics and jazz fans were offended by the dullness and simplicity of smooth jazz, but they didn’t stop this genre from achieving commercial success. Smooth jazz has become the perfect background music to play in doctor’s offices, restaurants and other public places because the music is familiar without being overbearing. The Weather Channel released a smooth jazz compilation album in 2007, containing many of the songs that are played as background music during weather reports. Their release is called “The Weather Channel Presents: The Best of Smooth Jazz”. This release made it all the way to number one on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts.
We can’t discuss any type of Smooth Music without mentioning Kenny G. He is one of the best known saxophonists to have recorded smooth jazz, yet there are many other musicians including Bob James, David Sanborn, Chuck Mangione, and Chuck Baker that play a similar melodic style. Many smooth jazz artists have also recorded traditional jazz records and have achieved success commercially with their smooth jazz albums. There are also many groups that have released smooth jazz records, including Fourplay, Airbourne, and The Rippingtons. Women such as Anita Baker have also recorded smooth jazz albums that have been well received by the public.
This type of music is losing a little support recently on the radio, and some people believe this is because the main demographic that listens to smooth jazz is aging. A new genre called urban contemporary is beginning to change the face of jazz music. This genre incorporates hip-hop elements and is aimed at younger audiences who normally listed to R&B and Hip-Hop on the radio. Some urban contemporary jazz artists include Dave Koz, Paul Jackson Jr., Nick Colionne, Urban Jazz Coalition, and Streetwize. Another developing trend is a fusion of electronica and smooth jazz. Many people call this new style “chill” and the fusion is being embraced by DJs and radio stations in New York and other areas across the United States.