By: Timothy S. Liao
One of the absolute least cool traits I possess is my adoration and pure enjoyment of Smooth Jazz. Yes that music you hear on radio stations like the “The Wave” or “The Quiet Storm”. There will be times I catch myself driving down the road with sunroof opened, sunglasses on thinking I am the coolest thing since Tony Orlando and Dawn blasting my smooth jazz for all the twenty-somethings to be envious of but only to be reminded I’m listening to music even forty-years old won’t even put on their iPods. The thing about smooth jazz is that it was the type of music I had to listen to secretly in my room, away from the discerning ears that would often hint to me that my taste in music was flawed. This include those who would often remind me just because it share it’s nomenclature with jazz, it didn’t necessarily qualify as jazz. You see to them Jazz is cool, beatnik cool but Smooth Jazz is just souped up elevator music, music of 70s and 80s television jingles, dinner party background music, and music your unhip parents would put on in the car to end the argument between the kids about what station to put on. But I am here to educate you to the fact that smooth jazz is about so much more. First and foremost Smooth Jazz was born of real authentic jazz and there is no four better musicians that exemplifies that then Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock. These were the beatnik musicians that were responsible for taking jazz into the second half of the twentieth century and transforming the music from being the music of Harlem, New Orleans, and Kansas City to the music of progressive San Francisco, the classy Upper West Side, and the relaxing ambiance of Sunny Southern California.
The Most Influential Modern Jazz – Smooth Jazz Artist Based on Decades
1950s and 1960s gave us:
Miles Davis – Was a trumpeter that help create the jazz fusion category of music that was the bridge between traditional jazz and today’s modern jazz / smooth jazz
Wes Montgomery – Was an American jazz guitarist that influenced so many modern jazz and rock guitarist including George Benson, Pat Methany, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani and even the late great Jimi Hendrix.
Important: Take Note of all the great rock guitarist that have called Wes Montgomery a influence. Black culture, Blues Music, and Jazz were very important contributors to the Rock N’ Roll suburban White kids grew up listening to in the 1970s and 1980s.
Herbie Hancock – For those of my generation that only know Herbie Hancock for the 1983 futuristic song Rockit, beware that he is so much more. His songs Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island are the precursor of wonderful modern music to come from the 1970s and 1980s.
Dave Brubeck – Was the King of the Beatnik culture. His song Take Five is definitely a classic and is just as timeless today as it was when it was released fifty years ago. On a side note I remember seeing a episode of the Flinstones when I was kid, where Fred takes on the role as beatnik, a cool cat type character. That was Dave Brubeck.
Vince Guaraldi – If you can name one jazz song we all know – from the time since we were children, that song would be Vince Guaraldi’s Linus & Lucy the song people simply refer to as the Charlie Brown theme. Which I would then have to correct them because there is an entirely different tune called the Charlie Brown Theme. But it is Linus and Lucy that is most popular and when anyone hears that song – they are instantly transformed to the innocence of childhood, with some even doing that silly dance where it looks like their just walking in place. Vince’s jazz music is so well a reflection of Charles Schultz’s vision of life for the Peanuts gang, they pretty much go hand in hand. No offense to Schroeder, but the carefree nature of Schultz’s cartoons would not have had the same effect if classical music had been used. I met Charles Schultz a few times in Santa Rosa at random places like the Pacific Market. I even attended a memorial service for him when he died in the late 1990s. I really felt a strong affinity for the man who drew Charlie Brown, the lovable loser I have always seen myself as.
Soon To Be Continued