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Smooth jazz
Stylistic origins Jazz
Pop music
Jazz fusion
Cultural origins 1960s/1970s in the United States
Typical instruments GuitarSaxophoneBass guitarPianoTrumpetFluteDrumsSynthesizers
Mainstream popularity Medium, from 1970s to present - United States
Other topics
List of smooth jazz musicians

Smooth jazz is a sub-genre of jazz which is heavily influenced by R&B, funk, rock, and pop music styles (separately, or, in any combination).[1]

Beginning in the early-1970s, jazz fusion (a.k.a., "fusion") was a movement by some jazz musicians to merge the instrumental virtuosity and improvisation of traditional jazz, with a modern, electronic sensibility. The instrument that has become the most widely-associated with this genre is the soprano saxophone, inspired by players like: Grover Washington, Jr.; Ronnie Laws; Wayne Shorter; and Nathan Davis; plus, a gentle, legato electric guitar (influenced by players like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green). Jazz fusion ensembles such as Spyro Gyra, Weather Report, Hiroshima, and Bob James' Fourplay were vital to the development of the genre.

Modern derivatives of the genre include the more-recent New Adult Contemporary format of broadcast radio. "Smooth jazz" has been successful as a radio format; however, in 2007, the popularity of the format began to slide. Consequently, it was abandoned by several high-profile radio stations across the U.S.A., perhaps most notably by New York station. Many industry insiders have speculated that the smooth jazz format may die out, particularly with many of industry giant Clear Channel Communications' stations dropping the genre.[2] However, smooth jazz concerts and record sales continue to show strong fan support for the genre.[2]



In general, a smooth jazz track is downtempo (the most widely played tracks are in the 90–105 BPM range), layering a lead, melody-playing instrument (saxophones – especially soprano and tenor – are the most popular, with guitars a close second) over a backdrop that typically consists of programmed rhythms and various pads and/or samples. Though much of what is played under the banner of the "smooth jazz" radio format contains vocals, music recorded with the intent of categorization as smooth jazz would typically not contain such a vocal track. Rather, the stations in question pull their vocal tracks from the work of artists like Simply Red or Luther Vandross, who are normally considered "soul" or "R&B".

Although many listeners and record companies group smooth and contemporary jazz together, the genres are different. Smooth jazz is generally considered background music, whereas "straight-ahead" contemporary jazz is seen as demanding the listener's undivided attention.[1]


Smooth jazz can be traced to at least the late 1960s. Producer Creed Taylor worked with guitarist Wes Montgomery on three popular records (1967's A Day in the Life and Down Here on the Ground and 1968's Road Song) consisting of instrumental versions of familiar pop songs such as "Eleanor Rigby", "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Scarborough Fair". From this, Taylor founded CTI Records. Many established jazz performers recorded for CTI (including Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, George Benson and Stanley Turrentine). The records recorded under Taylor's guidance were typically aimed as much at pop audiences as at jazz fans, with ornate string section arrangements, and a much stronger emphasis on melody than was typical in jazz. Some critics and jazz fans expressed a distaste for CTI releases, but the label's output is now generally well-regarded: critic Scott Yanow writes, "Taylor had great success in balancing the artistic with the commercial."[3]

In the mid- to late-1970s, smooth jazz became established as a commercially viable genre. It was pioneered by such artists as Earl Klugh, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton, Grover Washington, Jr., Spyro Gyra (with songs such as "Morning Dance"), George Benson, Chuck Mangione, Sérgio Mendes, David Sanborn, Tom Scott, Dave and Don Grusin, Bob James and Joe Sample.

Smooth jazz groups or recording artists tend to play their instruments in a melodic fashion such that they are recognizable within just a few measures; this category includes names such as saxophonists Kenny G, David Sanborn and Art Porter, Jr.; guitarists George Benson, Marc Antoine, and Peter White; and pianists Joe Sample, David Benoit, and Bradley Joseph. Some performers, such as Dave Koz, Bob James, and Nathan East are notable for their numerous collaborations with many of the genre's big names. Groups include Fourplay, Pieces of a Dream, Acoustic Alchemy, and The Rippingtons. Female performers include Keiko Matsui, Joyce Cooling, Mindi Abair, Candy Dulfer, Sade, Brenda Russell, Pamela Williams, Regina Belle, and Anita Baker.

The Weather Channel released its first compilation album in 2007, The Weather Channel Presents: The Best of Smooth Jazz, based on collections of popular smooth jazz music played on the Local On the 8s segments. It peaked at #1 on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz charts in the same year.[4] Artists represented include Joyce Cooling, Dave Koz, Paprika Soul, Four 80 East, Jeff Lorber, Pieces of a Dream, Chick Corea, Jeanne Ricks, Ryan Farish, Mark Krumowski, Najee, and 3rd Force. In 2008, their second compilation CD containing their most requested music was released, titled The Weather Channel Presents: Smooth Jazz II.[5] Artists include Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons, Jeff Lorber, Ramsey Lewis Trio, Bradley Joseph, Bernie Williams, David Benoit, Spyro Gyra, Norman Brown, Chris Geith, Joe Sample, Charlie Parker Quartet, and Eric Marienthal.


A recent development is urban contemporary, which incorporates aspects of hip-hop. This style is aimed at audiences who would normally listen to radio stations that play a mix of hip-hop and R&B. Among the musicians who frequently perform urban jazz are Dave Koz, Boney James, Paul Jackson Jr., Nick Colionne, Bobby Perry, Urban Jazz Coalition, Streetwize, Tha' Hot Club and former NBA player-turned-bassist Wayman Tisdale.

Urban jazz includes artists such as Michael Lington, Brian Bromberg, David Lanz, Bobby Ricketts, Kim Waters, Daniele Caprelli, Ken Navarro, Walter Beasley, Peter White.

Another nascent trend involves the fusion of smooth jazz and electronica, the results of which are similar to what has, among electronica enthusiasts, come to be called "chill." Radio stations such as New York's WQCD and DJs such as Rafe Gomez pioneered the usage of playlists that blend tracks from both genres.

Public reception

The music of musicians as Pat Metheny, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, and Sting is often classified as smooth jazz, and many of these artists are capable of performing well in multiple styles, although Metheny has been one of the harshest critics of smooth jazz, namely in his denunciations of Kenny G.[6] [7] The Allmusic guide article on "fusion" states that "unfortunately, as it became a money-maker and as rock declined artistically from the mid-'70s on, much of what was labeled fusion was actually a combination of jazz with easy-listening pop music and lightweight R&B."[8]

Music critic Piero Scaruffi has called pop-fusion music "...mellow, bland, romantic music" made by "mediocre musicians" and "derivative bands." Scaruffi criticized some of the albums of Michael and Randy Brecker as "trivial dance music" and stated that alto saxophonist David Sanborn recorded "[t]rivial collections" of "...catchy and danceable pseudo-jazz".[9] Kenny G in particular is often criticized by both fusion and jazz fans, and some musicians, while having become a huge commercial success. Music reviewer George Graham argues that the “so-called ‘smooth jazz’ sound of people like Kenny G has none of the fire and creativity that marked the best of the fusion scene during its heyday in the 1970s”.[10]

The over-30 audience in the US enjoys the melodic nature of the music, its frequent revival of Pop standards and its freedom from histrionic vocal lines[citation needed]). The appeal of smooth jazz is also developing in the late-teen and 20s age groups in East Asia (especially Japan[citation needed]) and in Europe. In particular, late-night coffee bars play smooth jazz in order to create an enticing late-night, non-alcoholic social atmosphere where conversation is encouraged.

In the United Kingdom, British jazz performer Digby Fairweather, before the launch of UK jazz station theJazz, denounced the change to a smooth jazz format on defunct radio station 102.2 Jazz FM, stating that the owners, GMG Radio were responsible for the "attempted rape and (fortunately abortive) re-definition of the music — is one that no true jazz lover within the boundaries of the M25 will ever find it possible to forget or forgive."[11]



Early history

Smooth jazz as a radio format has its roots in the construction of what were once called "beautiful music" stations, which generally played fifteen-minute sets consisting of instrumentals bookending a vocal song or two. The incubators of the format were specialty shows at night or on the weekends, in places such as Atlanta (WQXI-FM), Miami (WWWL-FM) and San Antonio (KTFM). The first jazz radio station to attempt to reach an audience beyond hardcore jazz fans full-time was New York's WRVR-FM, which was acquired by Sonderling Broadcasting in 1976. Under its new management, WRVR more than tripled its audience by emphasizing artists like George Benson and Pat Metheny that were crossing over to more popular formats. Other early pioneers included Russ Davis in Atlanta and "Jazz Flavours", Ross Block, Dave Caprita and Stu Grant at Love 94FM with "Sunday Morning Jazz" in Miami and Art Good at KIFM San Diego with "Lights Out San Diego".

After programmer Frank Cody began "The Wave" KTWV in Los Angeles and the simultaneous KIFM (San Diego) and the eclectic KKSF (San Francisco), another wave of "Smooth Jazz" stations banking on "The Wave's" softer sound grew quickly. Those included "Breezin' 100.7" in Milwaukee and KHIH in Denver programmed by consultant Gary Guthrie, WNUA (Chicago) consulted by Cody, WVAE and WJZZ in Detroit, WNWV in Cleveland, Ohio, and the re-launch of WQCD (CD101.9), New York. Also Love94FM [WWWL, later WLVE] in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, an early innovator with its "Sunday Morning Jazz" show went totally smooth jazz by 1990, not long after The Wave in Los Angeles had switched to the format. The format had been deemed "New Age" originally and radio stations like WNUA Chicago and KNUA Seattle emulated the phrase in their call letters.

In the late 80's, research firm Cody/Leach conducted a study for WNUA/Chicago; it was through the verbatim responses from listeners that the name "Smooth Jazz" was identified.[citation needed] WNUA then adopted the slogan "Smooth Rock, Smooth Jazz". Under the direction of General Manager John Gehron, "Smooth Rock" was dropped. Cody is credited with making "Smooth Jazz" a household name, giving rise to its nationwide proliferation through the firm Broadcast Architecture, the widely syndicated “The Jazz Show with David Sanborn” and his association with saxophonist Dave Koz. Cody was also responsible for overseeing the launch of the now defunct Satellite Music Network's syndicated "Wave" format.[citation needed]

"Smooth jazz" has gone on to be recognized as a successful radio format, first emerging in name in the mid- to late-1980s (often, they would be transitioned from existing "new age" stations) and subsequently spreading into most radio markets within the United States and many without.

Smooth jazz radio today

The smooth jazz radio format continued to grow and thrive through the 1990s and 2000s. Several radio formats like "Jammin Oldies", "Arrow", "Jack" and "Movin" have come and gone in many cities where smooth jazz stations continue to be successful.

Currently prominent commercial smooth jazz stations include Denver's KKHI, Los Angeles' KTWV, San Diego's KIFM, Seattle's KWJZ and KYOT Phoenix.

At least one non-commercial FM station, the community-based WGDR in Plainfield, Vermont, broadcasts a weekly program under the name "The Quiet Storm" -- a hybrid of smooth jazz and soft R&B, presented in "Triple-A" (Album Adult Alternative) style, with a strong emphasis on "B" and "C" album tracks that most commercial smooth jazz stations often ignore. Launched in 1998 and hosted by Skeeter Sanders, "The Quiet Storm" -- which takes its name from the early-evening program pioneered in 1976 by WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C. and duplicated with great success as a 24-hour format three years later by KBLX in San Francisco—is the only radio program of its kind in northern New England. WONB in Ada, Ohio, owned by Ohio Northern University, offers similar programs of "smooth jazz and urban vocals" on Sundays.

A handful of LPFM stations also offer the smooth jazz format, among them WGRV-LP in Melbourne, Florida and nearby communities via a translator network, and WLFM-LP in Chicago, Illinois.

Syndicated shows

In January 2007,[12] Broadcast Architecture launched the satellite-delivered Smooth Jazz Network, featuring smooth jazz artists Dave Koz, Kenny G, Norman Brown, Brian Culbertson, Paul Hardcastle and Ramsey Lewis as on-air hosts. So far the network has spread to 25 markets across the US and brand new stations have launched utilizing the network in Norfolk, Milwaukee, and Oklahoma City.

Saxophonist Dave Koz is now the most listened to Smooth Jazz host in the US with his daily Smooth Jazz Network afternoon show in over 20 cities across the US.[citation needed] The smooth jazz network's morning drive is hosted by Jazz Legend Ramsey Lewis. Other weekly syndicated smooth jazz radio shows include the long running Art Good's Jazztrax, "Chill" with saxophonist Mindi Abair, Ramsey Lewis' "Legends Of Jazz and the weekly two-hour Dave Koz Radio Show. In the summer of 2007, Broadcast Architecture launched the format's first ever national countdown show, the "Smooth Jazz Top 20 Countdown with Allen Kepler". The Smooth Jazz Top 20 now airs in more than 20 radio stations.

Until September 30, 2008, Jones Radio Networks also distributed a smooth-jazz format via satellite. This network was discontinued following Jones Radio Networks' purchase by Triton Media Group, owners of the Dial Global stable of 24/7 formats, and Triton's decision to eliminate Smooth Jazz from its portfolio. Jones' Smooth Jazz network had dwindled to only a handful of affiliates at the time the format was discontinued; most of the remaining Jones stations were switched over to Broadcast Architecture's network.

Recent problems

However, there have been a number of well-publicized defections from the format in recent months. In a number of media markets, this format is no longer available over-the-air except on HD Radio.[13]

Three of the originators of the smooth jazz format - WQCD in New York City, WNUA in Chicago, and KKSF in San Francisco - have all signed off in the last several years.[citation needed] WQCD became album-rocker WRXP on February 5, 2008; KKSF shifted to classic rock as "The Band" on May 18, 2009; and just four days later, WNUA abruptly dropped the format for "Mega" (a Spanish pop format).[citation needed] The demise of these pioneering smooth jazz stations seems particularly indicative of the problems within the format. However, the format soon made a minor comeback in Chicago, as low-power TV station WLFM-TV - which broadcasts on Channel 6, allowing its audio portion to be heard at 87.75 MHz on most FM radios - switched from alternative country to Broadcast Architecture's Smooth Jazz feed as "87.7, Chicago's Smooth Jazz."[citation needed]

The growing list of former smooth jazz radio stations that have dropped the format in recent years also includes:

  • Cleveland: WNWV dropped its' NAC/SJ format after 22 years to pick up an adult album alternative format as "BOOM! 107.3," trading HD Radio subchannel placements with BOOM!, moving to WNWV-HD2 (as well as online). It was one of the first new age/smooth jazz stations in the eastern United States, and was patterned directly after KTWV.[14]
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex: KOAI is now Spanish Hot AC KMVK.[citation needed]
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul: KJZI is now talk station KTLK-FM.[citation needed]
  • Sacramento: KSSJ changed to alternative rock.
  • Indianapolis: WYJZ was displaced by CHR/Top 40 station WNOU (whose former frequency was taken over by news/talker WIBC which moved from the AM band).[citation needed]
  • Houston: KHJZ was replaced by CHR/Top 40 KKHH.[citation needed]
  • Baltimore: WSMJ is now modern rock station WCHH.[citation needed]
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The market lost its smooth jazz station, WJJZ, twice; WJJZ was displaced from its original home at 106.1 FM by Rhythmic AC station WISX, and from its second home at 97.5 FM by WNUW, a mainstream AC station (later a hot AC station, and now a sports talk station).[citation needed]
  • Washington, DC: WJZW ended its 14 year smooth jazz run, fired its entire on-air staff and changed to a "true oldies" format in February, 2008, although the station's HD-2 subcarrier still carries smooth jazz, as does the HD-2 subcarrier of DC soft rock station WASH-FM. The station has since switched from oldies to classic rock.[citation needed]
  • Miami: Heritage smooth jazz station WLVE dropped the format for Rhythmic AC as WMIA after Christmas of 2008.[citation needed]
  • Atlanta: WJZZ, a heritage station with eight years in the format, switched to Urban AC as WAMJ ("Grown Folks Radio").[citation needed]
  • Dayton, Ohio: WDSJ replaced its smooth jazz output without warning for country music in May 2009.[citation needed]
  • Cincinnati: WCIN, one of the few AM stations to carry the smooth jazz format, was displaced by oldies station WDJO.[citation needed]
  • Detroit: WVMV (V98.7), a heritage station with nearly 14 years in the format, signed off on October 2, 2009, and, after a weekend of stunting, was replaced with "AMP Radio," a CHR/Top 40 format; the V98.7 format continues on the station's HD Radio subchannel and online. In addition, 107.5 WGPR experimented with a mix of Urban AC and smooth jazz for a number of years, but dropped this direction in June 2008 to return to a straightforward Urban AC format.[citation needed]
  • Traverse City, Michigan: WJZQ (92.9 The Breeze) evolved from satellite-fed smooth jazz from Jones Radio Networks into locally-originating but voicetracked Soft AC, and then into a Hot AC/Adult CHR direction as "Z93."[citation needed]
  • Tampa: Smooth jazz WSJT did not change format in August 2009, but was significantly downgraded when it swapped frequencies with rhythmic contemporary hit station WLLD, with WSJT moving to WLLD's weaker 98.7 signal and WLLD resurfacing on 94.1.[citation needed]
  • Sirius Satellite Radio: The Jazz Cafe channel was taken off the air on November 12, 2008, resulting from the Sirius/XM merger of channels, and replaced with former XM-exclusive channel Watercolors.
  • Low-power FM KJZT 107.9 changed format to Contemporary Christian music at the beginning of March 2010. The new station holds the call letters KFMY.


The decline in popularity of the smooth jazz format has been blamed on a variety of factors, including lack of compelling new music, over-reliance on instrumental cover versions of pop songs similar to the mostly-defunct Beautiful Music format, and Arbitron's PPM reports showing lower ratings[15] returns for smooth jazz stations than the traditional diary system had. Lack of revenue and the genre not being viable during the current economic crisis have also been cited as reasons.[16] Many purists of the format also feel that the smooth jazz interpretation has strayed too far from its roots in contemporary jazz and new age music by over-relying on soft urban vocals, with R&B artists such as Beyonce Knowles and Aretha Franklin now staples of many smooth-jazz playlists. Others indicate that the repetition of the same tracks on stations[2] and the reduction of artists recording tracks resulting in fewer tracks for airplay[14] may have also contributed to the decline. Arbitron's renaming of the format from "Smooth Jazz" to "Smooth AC" seems to underscore the recent changes in the format.

Time to stop complaining about it not being the way it used to be ... and start embracing the way it is and the way it’s going to be in the future ... whatever that may be! Hello, Tomorrow.

—Dave Koz[17]

American saxophonist Dave Koz responded back in November 2009 to the claims that the smooth jazz radio genre was in decline by stating that although the audience has aged and not enough young people were embracing the format, making it harder to gain advertising revenue, the genre is still seeing the support in record sales and audiences at shows. He also suggested that the format may move from a genre covered by big FM stations to one covered by smaller stations, in particular Internet radio stations which were showing an increase in popularity.[17]

It's business... What research and ratings have definitively shown is there are a lot more people in the Bay Area who enjoy the kind of music that you hear on "The Band" compared to Smooth Jazz. Not thousands, not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands more. From a business stand point, the decision was obvious.

—Michael Erickson, KKSF Program Director[18]

In June 2009, San Francisco's KKSF radio station responded to tens of thousands of complaints about its station format change from smooth jazz to classic rock by responding with the reasons why they changed their format and where else to listen. The program director stated in his response that far more people would listen to classic rock according to research, acknowledged that smooth jazz stations changing formats was a national phenomenon, stated that the business decision was "obvious" and that people should use alternative internet or HD2 services.[18]

Some of the former terrestrial smooth jazz stations, including the former KHJZ in Houston, the former WJZW in Washington, WVMV in Detroit, and the former WQCD in New York, continue to offer smooth jazz programming as Internet streams or as offerings on their HD subchannels. Some stations which are still providing smooth jazz and are still popular in their respective markets, including Jazz FM in the United Kingdom are integrating traditional and popular jazz and jazz standards alongside smooth jazz tracks in their playlists.[13]

Smooth jazz radio internationally

The smooth-jazz format is less common in Canada, possibly due to Canadian Content regulations and a relative lack of high-profile Canadian smooth-jazz artists (with some exceptions such as Diana Krall and Michael Buble). Two of the more notable smooth jazz stations in Canada include CIWV-FM (The Wave) in Hamilton, Ontario (which also reaches parts of the Toronto market) and CJGV-FM (Groove FM) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, although Montreal's CKLX-FM is a mainstream jazz station playing partially smooth jazz, and CHMC-FM in Edmonton, Alberta as an AC/smooth jazz hybrid.

New and innovative material from the UK, Europe and Australia has largely failed to gain airplay in the US. Well financed and often government-funded radio organisations in the UK, Europe and Australia, coupled with technical developments in the digital radio field, have led to the launch of a number of smooth jazz radio stations in these markets and their playlists are substantially more diverse than in the US.[citation needed]

In the UK however, the only radio station that regularly played smooth jazz was 102.2 Jazz FM in London and 100.4 Jazz FM in the North West. Upon takeover by the Guardian Media Group in 2003, the station started to create playlists predominantly consisting of easy listening soul and pop. Finally, in March 2004 in the North West and in June 2005 in London, the station changed its name to Smooth FM, and dropped smooth jazz from its playlists altogether. At the same time, GMG launched in some parts of the UK which after closing in some areas. However, as part of its relaunch, smooth jazz and funk has also been played alongside more mainstream and traditional jazz output as played by former UK jazz station theJazz. On October 6, 2008 was relaunched[19] under a three year deal with The Local Radio Company to relaunch Jazz FM[20] with smooth jazz output in the daytime and early hours of the morning.

See also

Record labels


  1. ^ a b "What is smooth jazz?". Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  2. ^ a b c Harrington, Jim (2009-06-14). "Smooth Jazz might be in big trouble". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  3. ^ Creed Taylor biography
  4. ^ "Chart history for The Weather Channel Presents: The Best of Smooth Jazz". Billboard Magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  5. ^ "Weather Channel, Best of Smooth Jazz II". JazzHQ. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  6. ^ Metheny, Pat. "Pat Metheny on Kenny G". Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  7. ^ Michael, Df. "On Pat Metheny on Kenny G". Retrieved 2010-01-15. 
  8. ^ Available online at:
  9. ^ Piero Scaruffi, 2006. Available at:
  10. ^ George Graham review - Available online at:
  11. ^ Fairweather, Digby (2006-11-18). "New Jazz Station - Goodbye to the Smooth, Hello to the Classics". Fly Global Music Culture. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Fisher, Marc (2008-03-09). "Smooth Jazz: Gentle Into That Good Night?". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  14. ^ a b Washington, Julie (2009-12-23). "WNWV "The Wave" to flip format from smooth jazz to adult album alternative". Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  15. ^ Bentley, Rick (2009-05-01). "Jazz station moves to talk format". Fresno Bee. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  16. ^ Moss, Khalid (2009-05-05). "Local radio station changes format". Dayton Daily News. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  17. ^ a b "Dave Koz says: ‘Stop complaining’ about smooth jazz radio’s decline because…". Radio Facts. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  18. ^ a b Kava, Brad (2009-06-02). "Smooth Jazz KKSF-FM program director apologizes and offers alternatives". Retrieved 2009-06-09. 
  19. ^ "Jazz FM set to return". Radio Today. 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  20. ^ "Wheatley to relaunch Jazz FM". Radio Today. 2008-06-29. Retrieved 2008-06-29. 


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