On Smooth Jazz and Exposure

If you caught American Idol recently, then you may have seen something different.

And if you’re not part of the jazz scene, then you may be asking yourself, “Who is that sax player? She is good!

From what I saw on FB and Youtube, Mindi Abair all but upstaged the contestant, and people are absolutely amazed, asking why they hadn’t seen her before. Why they hadn’t known that someone can play the saxophone like that. And I say to them, “Are you of the people who dismisses smooth jazz as ‘not real music’? Then that’s why. You dismissed the very music that you’re finding yourself noticing as great and enjoyable.”

Oh, the power of perception and exposure that shatters it.

I will say, point blank, that perception is everything, and we have seen that jazz does not, does not at all gets its fair share of exposure. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a respected jazz artist showing her stuff in the mainstream medium, such as American Idol, to be sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted. Jazz radio stations have been shutting down and flipping formats all over the country, and any mainstream exposure that changes the perception of smooth jazz is a good thing. However, I am a bit dismayed that it would take Idol to make people of my generation notice this style of music.

Just on a side note, I don’t watch American Idol because, in an effort to give talent a new stage, what it did was make the work of sustaining focus that much more difficult. The winners of Idol continue onwards in the music world, but then the focus is where as far as Idol is concerned? On the next show? What happens to the old winners as there are more and more new ones? It takes a lot of gumption and hard work towards recognition, in easily the most difficult of industries. Idol boils it down to an audition, and makes a contest out of the results. Instead of focusing on the realities of the music business, it seems that Idol gravitated away from showcasing the talents of the contestants and instead focused on the show in and of itself as a manufacturer, so to speak, of the talent that it shows.

It’s not Mindi’s presence I’m commenting on here. Mindi is one of the most astounding, multifaceted individuals that I had the pleasure to see play and to meet. It’s the reactions to her performance from non-jazz fans that prompted this post. You know the ones.

“Who is she? She’s amazing!”

“Since when’s a girl so good on sax?”

“Who’s the mystery sax player?”

Why is it a mystery? Mindi Abair is a powerhouse, and she has been on tour with more than one popular act in prior decades. Her own shows are sell-outs, and she has the crowd on its feet and cheering in no time. Why is it so shocking that a respected jazz artist surfaces into the mainstream and shows off what she can do?

These reactions show one thing clearly above others, and that is that jazz and the people playing it have been pushed so far out of the mainstream that the guest-starring of one on a popular show is viewed as a surprise and their reputations are a mystery.

To me, that’s both frustrating and very, very exciting. Frustrating in the regard that all it would’ve taken to find out more about Mindi is a tweak of the dial towards the local jazz station – what little of them exist, in any case. And exciting because after her appearance on Idol and the stir that her performance caused, people are bound to take more of an interest in her. And, as well as her, the rest of the world that is smooth jazz.

Still, it drives home the point that this music is overlooked. A lot.

I can always say that it shouldn’t take a show like Idol to revive jazz, but you know…it actually does. It does take something like what the American Idol franchise became to put jazz into the spotlight it so rightly deserves.



4 thoughts on “On Smooth Jazz and Exposure

  1. It was nice to see Mindi getting that recognition. There are great Sax players in many music genres, so I don’t know how much it’s going to do for Smooth Jazz in general, but it sure didn’t hurt Mindi Abair. Way to go Mindi, and nice job Kat in writing about it.

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