Smooth jazz is a term used to describe commercially oriented crossover jazz music. Although often described as a "genre", it is a debatable and highly controversial subject in jazz music circles. As a radio format, however, it is clear that smooth jazz became the successor to easy listening music on radio station programming in the mid-1970s to the early 1990s.


Smooth jazz may be thought of as commercially-oriented, crossover jazz which came to prominence in the 1980s, displacing the more venturesome jazz fusion from which it emerged. It avoids the improvisational "risk-taking" of jazz fusion, emphasizing melodic form, and much of the music was initially "a combination of jazz with easy-listening pop music and lightweight R&B."[1][2]

During the mid-1970s in the United States, it was known as "smooth radio"; the genre was not termed "smooth jazz" until the 1980s.[3]

The term itself seems to have been birthed directly out of radio marketing efforts. In an industry focus group in the late 1980s, one participant coined the phrase "smooth jazz" - and it stuck.[4]

The popularity of smooth jazz as a radio format gradually declined in the early 2000s.[5]

Notable artists

The mid- to late-1970s included songs "Breezin'" as performed by another smooth jazz pioneer, guitarist George Benson in 1976, the instrumental composition "Feels So Good" by flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione, in 1978, "What You Won't Do for Love" by Bobby Caldwell along with his debut album was released the same year, jazz fusion group Spyro Gyra's instrumental "Morning Dance", released in 1979[3] and in 1981, a collaboration between Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers was released as one of the most popular smooth jazz songs "Just the Two of Us". Beginning with Taking Off by alto saxophonist David Sanborn, Warner Bros. Records became a viable and popular record label for smooth jazz.[citation needed]

Smooth jazz grew in popularity in the 1980s as Anita Baker, Sade, Al Jarreau, Grover Washington Jr. and Kenny G released multiple hit songs.[6]

Critical and public reception

The smooth jazz genre experienced a backlash exemplified by critical complaints about the "bland" sound of top-selling saxophonist Kenny G, whose popularity peaked with his 1992 album Breathless.[3]

Music reviewer George Graham argues that the "so-called 'smooth jazz' sound of people like Kenny G has none of the fire and creativity[7] that marked the best of the fusion scene during its heyday in the 1970s".[8]

Digby Fairweather, before the start of UK jazz station theJazz, denounced the change to a smooth jazz format on defunct radio station 102.2 Jazz FM; he stated 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."[9]

See also


  1. ^ "Fusion". AllMusic. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  2. ^ "Jazz » Fusion » Smooth Jazz". AllMusic. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Gioia, Ted (May 9, 2011). The History of Jazz. Oxford University Press. p. 337. ISBN 9780195399707.
  4. ^ Marshall, Colin (July 6, 2023). "The Rise and Fall of Smooth Jazz". The New Yorker.
  5. ^ Jazz of the 00s - Jumping The Great Divide - Popmatters "the market for jazz was starting to get less rigid too. “Smooth jazz” was by far the dominant market force in jazz at the end of the century, and it sidetracked the artistic lives of some musicians who might have made more interesting music but for the draw of big paydays. But the radio stations playing sax-and-synth dominated lite funk faded in the first decade of the 21st century. 2008 marked the death of the smooth jazz stations in both New York and Washington, DC"
  6. ^ Larson, Thomas (2002). History and Tradition of Jazz. Kendall Hunt. p. 188. ISBN 9780787275747.
  7. ^ How smooth jazz took over the '90s-Vox on YouTube
  8. ^ Graham, George, review.
  9. ^ Fairweather, Digby (2006-11-18). "New Jazz Station - Goodbye to the Smooth, Hello to the Classics". Fly Global Music Culture. Archived from the original on 2008-03-04. Retrieved 2008-02-16.