I have wanted to comment for some time about the growing pasterization of the smooth jazz format. Now after many consultants and radio programmers have found a way to sterilize the format to a pop instrumental catagory, it has finally aroused my need to spew a few observations on the state of affairs today.
Many years ago, during the height of the Grover / Sanborn eras of the '70s and '80s, listeners were afforded at least a limited opportunity to hear the solo talents of the above two mentioned, along with other notable contemporary jazz artists like Spryo Gyra, Jeff Lorber, and George Howard, to name a few. These days, with the exception of the solos of George Benson clones, saxophonists really have been relegated to being melody players of the smooth jazz format.
Even Getz,Cannonball, and Paul Desmond would roll over in their graves knowing that Girl From Ipanema, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,and Take Five, having introduced the world to improvisation in jazz with a nice melody, was a thing of the past for today's artists.
Where are the solos? Where are the innovators of their instruments? Now everyone is either a Sanborn, Koz, or Grover clone on saxophone, only without the solo efforts. It's either that, or we hear multi-tracked sax sections, with three choruses of melody, all in a four-minute pop instrumental package served up to the listener as a form of.......jazz?
It's no wonder I hear that people are heading over to Sirius and XM from FM. It's the only place to hear Kenny Garrett play contemporary jazz, which is only pop instrumental, but with....yes...improvisation.
Folks, jazz is...and bless me Louis Armstrong for saying this....improvised music.
There's more jazz going on in heavy metal bands than on smooth jazz radio. At least the guitar player gets to scream out a solo, even if it's at a decibal, ear-splitting, ring. But there's improvisation going on there.
Herbie Hancock keeps the flame going. He's right on track. His latest album offers exactly what the title of the album represents...possibilities. We hear jazz improvisation going on mixed with pop. Pop music, and pop artists are great to improvise with, as Herbie does throughout the whole album.
Thank God for keyboard players in general. They seem to have the most flexibility to improvise on their albums in smooth jazz right now. Some, however, need to learn how to use both hands. It is a two-handed instrument, isn't it?
A lot of standards in the Great American Song Book were once pop tunes of their era. Jazz musicians expanded on those tunes. Surrey With A Fringe On Top, Days Of Wine And Roses, Alfie, Someday My Prince Will Come, a lot of the Bacharach tunes, etc. So why not take what's happening today and put jazz into it? Isn't that what's happening with the Santana, Earth Wind & Fire, Motown remakes? No! They are being re-made, without solos. Well, some have at least two to four bars of solos, if we are privilaged enough to enjoy a creative moment from the artist on record.
We all know that industry record sales are down, especially in smooth jazz. So maybe cloning and pasterization does get old. It has always been the way of the labels to find one sound. and re-issue it several times to the public until they are sick of it; and make sure it fits that sterile four minute form. That may work in pop with fifteen-year-old listeners, but smooth jazz radio consultants better get a clue fast before the smooth jazz market, comprised of adults targeting ages 25-54, dries up and goes back to pop or adult contemporary radio with solid vocals as their choice for listening. If you're only going to hear the melody, you might as well hear the words.