Here is why I think musicians who make
smooth jazz are legitimate.
Lets compare various aspects of smooth jazz to a genre of jazz
that no one would argue is legitimate jazz - Bebop.
Bebop was based on popular music of the
day. Sorry revisionists! Beboppers were only one or two steps
removed from the popular music textures of the day. All of the
instruments in bebop were instruments that the average shmoe
were familiar and accustomed to, acoustic bass, piano, horns
c etc. The forms were borrowed from pop
tunes of the day, Honeysuckle Rose, Back Home In Indiana, Ive
Got Rythm, blues forms etc etc. Except for an athletic
"attitude" and inherent hippness applied to it,
bebop was something that was hip because a fresh spirit was
brought to the music that was, albeit "quirky" to
many at the time, relevent to many in the culture. When a
person of the day heard bebop, he was probably amused at the
sensabilities exhibited, and maybe even questioned the players
intentions, but certainly did not hear jazz as some foreign
abstract, esoteric mish mash that he did not understand. He
may or may not have dug it, but he respected and understood
Mainstream jazz today, reflects sensabilities of the musicians
in the circle, but for most, totally irellevent to the culture
of today. The typical sounds of mainstream jazz do not reflect
the instruments, the grooves, and the forms that are prevelent
in the greater culture (non-musicians), as bebop did back in
Smooth jazzers today, it could be argued, at least are
reflecting the musical sensabilities that are prevelent in the
greater culture- funk and hip-hoppy grooves, electric
instruments, a certain contemporary harmonic vernacular etc
They do this all while improvising the snot out of it,
exhibiting a high level of proficiency, musicality and
experience at the same time.
It could be said that smooth jazz is carying that tradition of
improvisational music on forms based, or relevent to, the pop
culture, something that was left by the wayside by hard core
jazzers many years ago. Not that hardcore jazz is not cool,
and even necessary, it simply stopped being a vehicle that
epresses contemporary sensabilities to the average
non-musician on the street.
The label "jazz" is a two edged sword, it suggests a
wonderful tradition and lineage on one hand, yet pigeon holes
many minds as to what the significance of it is on the other.
Perhaps the sad part about it is, that perhaps
"jazz" as an art form that was both explorative,
innovative, relevent, AND popular to the culture as a whole,
was a special genre unique to its own time and space in
history, that will doom many who continue use labels without a
thorough analysis of its significance.