I was trying to remember the first musical sound that I ever heard the other day. It was most definitely a lullaby sang by my mother, but I could not remember how it went. I was trying to retrace my listening to understand why I love music and what influenced my musical tastes. Today I love to listen to Smooth Jazz, Chill, Classical Rhythm & Blues (especially 60s, 70s and 80s) and Classic Rock music.
I grew up on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean, so the rhythms of steel pan and drums were clearly and influence and continue to this day. There is something very basic and earthy about the sound of a steel pan makes. I don’t remember listening to the radio, although we did have one. I do however remember “playing mas”.
Prior to moving to Canada in the mid-60s, my parents left my brother, sister and I with our grandparents in Barbados, while they got things settled in Toronto. It was there that I was introduced to pop music and given an opportunity to sing on radio as the lead singer of a local group called “The Raiders”. We sung island standards like “Listed Market” as pop songs like “I Can’t Wait Forever” made popular by the Outsiders from England in 1966.
It was my next door neighbours that introduced me to pop and rock music. Scott, Mike, Barry, Kevin, Wayne and I spent a lot of time listening to groups like Lighthouse, The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Heart, and Bryan Adams. It was Mike who introduced me to Jimi Hendrix.
My early high school days (’72 – “73) were filled with music from groups like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, The Who, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Aerosmith and other groups. The bars are snuck into all played rock and all my friends played rock music at their house parties. I was a true rocker.
In my high school music class, I played a trombone. I wanted to play the saxophone or trumpet but those instruments were all accounted for. I remember playing music a range of music from Chicago and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
I traveled to Bermuda in 1974, for a training camp. It was there that I heard rhythm & blues for the very first time. The club DJ played, The O’Jays, Gladys Night & the Pips, Barry White, The Ohio Players, Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang. I danced all night with the locals and enjoyed every minute of it. I came home and bought each of those albums and introduced my friends to R&B.
In university, my roommates all had eclectic musical tastes. They listened to Gil-Scott Heron, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, Rufus & Chaka Khan, The Spinners, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Commodores, and Parliament.
It was while I attended university, that I was introduced to jazz, Smooth jazz. Artists like George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Jeff Lorber, Lee Ritenour, Gato Barbieri, Grover Washington Jr., Earl Klugh, Santana, Hubert Laws, & Ramsey Lewis filled my record collection and I attended my very first jazz concerts, listening and watching jazz pioneer, Sonny Rollins and Roy Ayers do their thing.
Over the years I have come to understand the roots of Jazz, but I can’t always sit and listen intently to the music from the old jazz pioneers. You know, Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Art Tatum, Wes Montgomery and Oscar Peterson. BTW – To me the pioneers were all born in 1930s or earlier and they were all GREAT.
Oh, I do enjoy listening to the ladies: Billie Holiday (wow!), Ella Fitzgerald (style), Dinah Washington (incomparable) & Nina Simone (ahem!).
Early jazz music doesn’t move me like the sounds of Smooth Jazz.
Smooth jazz grew out of the jazz fusion era of the 60s which was a mix of funk and rhythm & blues amplified by electronic effects of rock music. Artists like John McLauglin, Graham Bond, Gary Burton and Larry Coryell were all influential figures, but the one artist who had a major influence was trumpeter and composer Miles Davis.
Miles was the first to incorporate electric instruments in his music. Davis worked with Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Ron Carter (bass guitar) and pianist Chick Corea to produce two fusion albums “Miles in the Sky” and “In a Silent Way in 1968. Hancock and Corea both formed their own bands in the 7os.
In fact bands like The Tony Williams Lifetime, Weather Report, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Headhunters were all started by alumni from Miles Davis ensembles.
Herbie Hancock took a more commercial approach in the late 70s and early 80s with his band Headhunters and was one of the first jazz musicians to use synthesizers.
Weather Report was an experimental jazz group that drew its influences from Latin, African and European styles an included Jaco Pastorius, an innovative fretless electric bass player.
Chick Corea formed his band, Return to Forever, in 1972. The band grew from its Latin-influenced roots to psychedelic and progressive rock influences. Their drummer Lenny White played with Mile Davis and the group added bassist Stanley Clarke and Al Di Meola later.
While Miles and other jazz musicians were experimenting with rock rhythms and electric instruments groups such as Cream, the Grateful Dead, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Frank Zappa, borrowed harmonic, melodic rhythms and instrumental elements from jazz.
John McLauglin’s formed his first fusion band called the Mahavishnu Orchestra included drummer Billy Cobham and keyboardist Jan Hammer in the 70s. His second band included jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. Ponty played with Frank Zappa, and drummer Narada Michael Walden. McLauglin also worked with Carlos Santana in the early 70s.
Santana’s band initially blended Latin salsa, rock, blues and jazz and moved progressively to a heavy fusion influence.
Other notable musicians influenced by the fusion movement during the 70s was guitarist Larry Coryell and electric guitarist Pat Metheny.
By the 80s much of the fusion genre was molded into what we now call Smooth jazz. Creed Taylor who worked with jazz pioneer and guitarist Wes Montgomery founded CTI Records. Many jazz performers including Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, George Benson and Stanley Turrentine recorded at CTI.
Smooth jazz has established itself as a commercially viable genre. Artist such as Lee Ritenour, Grover Washington Jr., Spyro Gyra, George Benson, Sergio Mendes, Chuck Mangione, David Sanborn, Tom Scott, Bob James and others all have made Smooth Jazz popular and profitable.
So you now know who some of my favourite Smooth jazz artists. What about Smooth jazz groups?
Here is a list of a few of my favourite Smooth jazz groups: Fourplay, Pieces of a Dream Acoustic Alchemy, Spyro Gyra,The Yellow Jackets, Incognito, and Boney M,
Who are your favourite Smooth jazz artists?