Some blather on the good...the bad...and the foo king ugg lee...FWIW.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Smooth Jazz...is it jazz or elevator music for baby boomers?

Mindy Abair...Peter White...Euge Groove...Boney James...The Rippingtons...Michael Linkton...David Benoit. Have you heard of these names? They are at the top of their profession in today’s world.

If I said Miles Davis...John Coltrane...Dizzy Gillespie...Bill Evans...Ella Fitzgerald...would these names be more familiar? Probably so.

All the names listed here so far are top jazz artists. Some have been around forever, and some for only a few years. But they are all jazz musicians.

Artists like Mindy Abair and Euge Groove are what some call Smooth Jazz musicians...Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie: Traditional Jazz. But the lines separating these two musical genres has been blurred of late. In fact, the music you hear on so-called Smooth Jazz stations is not what is was just a few years ago.

True traditional jazz purists still do not accept this new, and still evolving, direction of jazz music...a distinctly American invention that now spans the globe. Jazz was born in America. So, is Smooth Jazz its own genre? I think so.

Smooth Jazz station playlists now include recent and, at times, older R&B types tunes from Al Green, Earth, Wind and Fire, and DeBarge...yes, DeBarge! It seems to have evolved into a truly listener-driven format. But which listeners? Who are they?

Being a dyed-in-the-wool typical baby-boomer (at 56), I almost exclusively listen to Smooth Jazz stations. This coming from an ex-radio announcer who, for the most part, can’t stand to listen to any radio station these days. In fact, on recent trips to our old stomping grounds, San Luis Obispo, my disdain for “local” radio there has been elevated to new levels. It’s worse than it ever was. The formats, the playlists, the incessant, annoying commercials...and, the announcers. Wow...it’s like this area I lived and worked in for 25 years is in a time warp of sorts. On most any station where there are actual “live” D.J.s, the same people are on the air from 25 years ago...and they haven’t improved one bit. They all still sound like they are still working at the college radio station (Cal Poly’s KCPR).

I apologize if I offended anyone, since many of these people used to be in our social circle back in the day. I can only assume that, like me, they enjoy being on the air...because there most certainly is no money to be made in small town radio. They are probably working for minimum wage. Herein lies one of the reasons I exited the radio biz some 15 years ago. Radio station owners simply do not care about what the announcers sound like. The business is now solely music and commercial driven. Yes, there are some local, live, morning shows...and they are annoying at best to listen to. They are not funny...they are not clever...and they simply blather about nothing and continually laugh at each other as if there was actually something funny going on! The rule of thumb now? Continue to beat the Morning Zoo format into the ground, ie, load up the morning show with six or seven voices on the air saying nothing worthwhile. Someone is bound to upchuck something of interest by sheer volume of prattle.

So...back to us baby boomers and what we would like to hear on the radio...and that brings us back to Smooth Jazz. Some people have called it Prosac Radio or Pablum Radio. It is not produced to incite enthusiasm, or elicit thoughtful conversation, or motivate anyone to do anything. It is there for a relaxed listening experience...and nothing more. It really is our Elevator Music. Elevator Music, btw, is still around and is still the most listened to radio format...believe it not. Even E.M. comes in a plethora of fragmented formats from which to choose. For the uninitiated, E.M. is composed of a selection of lushly orchestrated cover versions of long popular songs. Percy Faith, Montovani, even the likes of Yanni and John Tesh are some of the names that come to mind. And, typically, it was the music played in hotel lobbies, department stores, and elevators...background music.

Is Smooth Jazz background music? To some extent. But a good majority of it is cutting edge, state of the art, groovin’ music for us old folk! Listen to any CD from L.A. jazz group The Rippingtons with Russ Freeman and you won’t come away with the feeling you just took a double dose of Zoloft. Russ Freeman, for one, is a premier guitar player whose production style and electric (and acoustic) guitar riffs put some of younger “ax masters” to shame. He’s a smokin’ musician. And he’s not the only one...there are many others...masters of the tenor sax, keyboard, and brass.

Give your local Smooth Jazz station a try sometime. Around here we have The River (KOVR, 105.5). I don’t always agree with every song on their playlist, but it’s the only radio station I listen to right now. Of course, I have yet to purchase a satellite radio rig. At least the XM radio thing (and its clones) provide a wide source of listening choices that include AM type stations with teams of idiots blathering away about nothing.

When I first got into radio in the early-70s, there were only a small handful of radio stations allowed in any given area. Now...most every available frequency on the dial is occupied by some sort of broadcast fodder. It’s a whole different game out there now. Sure, we have more choices...but in this case, more is not necessarily better. We old radio personality dogs are not a dying breed...we are already dead...and gone.


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