Friday, October 9, 2009

From Rick's Smooth Jazz Notebook

As I put the finishing touches this week on the music for the new Sunday Brunch channel, thoughts were popping into my head left and right. Since I know many of you go way back with me when it comes to Smooth Jazz, I'll share with you what I was thinking as I uploaded one vintage track after another into our online music library.

  • There's an awful lot of darn good instrumental music from the late '80s and early '90s that doesn't get any kind of airplay anymore. I can understand that over-the-air radio has given up on it, what with the sad state of Smooth Jazz on terrestrial radio. But it's scarce on the internet too, and there's no reason for that. That's why I had to bring back the Sunday Brunch.
  • Anyone out there remember the group Uncle Festive? They were Barry Manilow's touring band in the '70s and '80s and, with crowds going wild for Barry, they even had their own fan club. By the middle 1980s, the quartet was performing on its own. Drummer Bud Harner went onto become one of the leading record reps in Smooth Jazz.
  • A listener once described Lonnie Liston Smith's “Quiet Moments” to me as “the national anthem of Smooth Jazz.” Indeed, it embodies everything we love about the genre. But another tune of Lonnie's, “London Interlude” is, to my ears, equally mesmerizing and a vastly underrated track.
  • I know we liked going deep into CDs when the format started, but Horizont's Silent Moon was exceptional, even for that era. When I got to the station in 1989, WNUA was playing six tracks from it. You better believe I added all six to the Sunday Brunch channel.
  • Between 1986 and 1992 Acoustic Alchemy did some unbelievably compelling stuff, making them one of the pillars of the “New Adult Contemporary” radio format, as it was called back then. Greg Carmichael and the late Nick Webb were creative geniuses at their peak. Today, their CDs of the period, such as Natural Elements and Reference Point, still hold up extremely well.
  • On the other hand, some material from the early days of the format just doesn't hold up as well, mainly because it was poorly produced, sounding like it had been recorded in a garage. The New Adult Contemporary format in its early days had a reputation of playing just about everything that came its way, and sometimes it was to our detriment. If anything's changed from the late '80s, it's the production values.
  • Smooth Jazz has more than its share of one-hit wonders, including a French keyboardist named Serge Blenner. Played for only a brief time on WNUA between 1987 and 1989, his “Love Talk” is unique for its use of a human laugh track. And he actually makes it work. Listen for it here.
  • What was in the water up there in the Pacific Northwest? A large number of key artists in the early days of Smooth Jazz hailed from there: Kenny G., Jeff Lorber, Dan Siegel, Tom Grant, just to name a few.
  • If any tune could ever be called “smoldering,” it's Santana's “Aqua Marine.” Speaking of Santana, another of his tracks from that time in his career, “Love Is You,” has to be one of the greatest rock-influenced instrumental melodies ever.

Have a track from the early days of Smooth Jazz that you find especially moving or interesting? Tell me about it, and I could add it to my Notebook and the Sunday Brunch channel. Drop me a line at this address:

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