Special thanks to Rob DeBoer of Four80East for this great post: What’s in a name? Embrace the hyphen.
You know, when I first got into smooth jazz at 15, I had no idea that the term “smooth jazz” was considered to be almost a dirty word, as far as genres of music are concerned. I still hear everything from, “it’s elevator music” to “who would want to listen to some guy on the sax wailing away?” and as far as misconceptions are concerned, there’s plenty.
In conversation with a client/friend of mine, who is a celebrated vocalist – and not just within the jazz world, far as that – and while on this very topic, I found myself saying, “It’s not smooth – you have your bossa nova influences, your rock fusion, your traditional, your New Age-influenced, your pop and R&B. What part of this constitutes ‘smooth’?”
This is what we call a Eureka moment. I had one right there.
The genre that had its name effectively become a sneer has the mother of all misnomers for its name. Smooth jazz is not “smooth”. For every variant of Kenny G, you find five horn players whose style is anything but baby-making soundtrack (pardon the expression, but it’s a pretty suitable description for the mis-perception). – I mean, hell, look at Boney James and Euge Groove, both heavily R&B’d. For every track that does make a person want to vomit with sappiness, there’s no less than twenty that sound absolutely nothing like you’d expect them to sound (Four80East, Down to the Bone, Spyro Gyra). There’s entirely, entirely too much variety in the genre to call it “smooth” or to just compartmentalize it into a comfortable box. FCC has been trying to shoehorn it into a box and pack it away, as evidenced by the reformats of multiple radio stations, but instead we have a slew of online radio stations, and Watercolors on Sirius XM. And none of those radio stations play only “smooth” jazz. The variety is there, and with the ventures of new faces onto the scene all the time, it’s still improving.
So what’s in a name?
Honestly, the only thing that’s in a name is perception, and it has been shown, time and again, with every new release that an artist puts out, that the perception is erroneous.
What one person calls this genre is up to the person, because there’s no two perceptions that are exactly alike. Smooth jazz is so much more than just smooth, and how about we just call it what it is: great music. It’s original, it’s not remanufactured, it’s not created via a “reality” show – it’s just music, and it’s great. And, for whatever reasons you can muster up, there’s not much exposure for it. Let’s just keep its name at great music, whatever the “hyphen-jazz” genre it may be dubbed as in the presses.
ETA: A great read by Shannon West of SmoothViews on this subject: http://www.smoothviews.com/archives/perspectives/perspectivesMar10.htm