Smooth Jazz?
I went to a jam session in Temecula Wednesday night, at a bar called Pub 'N Grub. It was fantastic for a number of reasons.

Number 1) The caliber of musicians was very high. Apparently his jam has been going on for years, and thus, the musicians have grown with the music and as a group. There is a clear respect for the music and the improvisation, and a lot of reverence as well.

Secondly, there is a crowd that also has a deep respect and interest in the music. People are listening, and even coming up to the musicians to praise their performances. The entire assembly is like a family. A lot of these people know each other, and get together like a congregation, except its at a bar late at night and people are drinking and dancing. But its rare to find the combination of very serious musicians and a crowd that seriously listens.

This is something I'm trying to figure out. I realized pretty quickly that the vibe was a "smooth jazz" vibe. But what does that really mean? I wouldn't consider myself a scholar on this topic, but just out of my own curiosity I want to break this down and try to understand it.

The repertoire was very diverse. The band (myself sitting in included) played Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Daft Punk, Gnarles Barkley, and also some old standards like Summertime and My Funny Valentine. The drummers were playing primarily hip-hop patterns, some R&B stuff, and funk. The bass player was the host and responsible for keeping everything locked together, so I think he wasn't trying to take lot of liberty in, say, exploring changes not on the charts, or 'playing out.' I mean, the goal was a tight and locked together sound. "In the pocket." Very polished. The bass player asked me what I can play, and I told him 'mostly jazz.' He said, 'this isn't really the room for that,' I think meaning that the crowd here wants to move and dance while we improvise, rather than just listening to a soloist shred on Donna Lee. So I just read some other charts on the spot, like the stuff I mentioned before.

My impression is that smooth jazz deals a lot with the drum groove and the bass player's materials, because those are the focal elements of rhythm. With a very structured/solid base, everyone else sort of just falls into place above that. Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

But I do know that these players took the music seriously. They were so full of spirit with their playing. I went through high school and early college disparaging smooth jazz, like so many others. I mean, I think the reason it gets such a bad rep is because in a lot of ways (i.e. record sales) it outshines the other stuff, and people (musicians) get upset. My old teacher, Kamau, once told me that it really doesn't matter what genre you play. There's no war. There's just musicians trying to make a living, so why are you going to get on someone's case for trying to make a living doing any kind of music? That resonated with me.