Untitled Document
     
Advertisement Click to advertise with us!
     

Smooth Jazz Sound

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Could someone actually explain to me how the smooth jazz saxophone sound is achieved? I'm assuming that beyond the player him/herself, there is an element involved through the processing. Am I correct in that?
 

tictactux

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Could someone actually explain to me how the smooth jazz saxophone sound is achieved? I'm assuming that beyond the player him/herself, there is an element involved through the processing. Am I correct in that?
http://www.ehow.com/how_2157129_play-smooth-jazz.html

I am sure this helps you immensely. :-D

(But the hint about dynamic, articulation and air isn't completely wrong, methinks. Dunno if there's a fundamental lot of post-rec processing involved although I think the positioning and regulation of the mikes is crucial)
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
Here's what BB King has to say ...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt73TC9xRz8

(The movie is IMMENSELY amusing, too. Sorry if anyone's offended.)

=========

I guess we're talking about a serious question, however, I'm not quite sure which way to approach it: everyone's music is heavily processed, if you listen to it on a CD.

IMO, smooth jazz is characterized by the use of a lot of loops and overdubs -- although both could be duplicated in a live setting. I've also seen a number of "smooth jazz" musicians use drum machines and such. This tends to give a more precise beat. Heck, some go so far as to sequence most instruments on a computer.

The person I reference is Bob Hinz. I took an Electronic Music class from him in college and even taught one of the classes, once -- because I had more electronic stuff than him, at the time -- so, I might have more than just a grain of knowledge. This time.

Now, if you want to talk the sound or form, that's a bit like asking how to define jazz: if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know (Louis Armstrong). IMO, smooth jazz ... is really smooth. Smooth jazz doesn't swing, it's also not necessarily complex or challenging for the listener: you won't have something in 7/4 time or something like that. It's just ... smooth.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Actually, I was referring specifically to the "sound of the horn" that we hear in smooth jazz recordings.

(BTW, that video clip was funny as hell. I'd seen it before. I think I must have seen the movie...But I digress...)

It seems to me that it doesn't matter who you listen to: Dulfer, Koz, Sandborn, Elliot, etc. there is a quality to their sound that is hard to explain, but immediately recognizable and universal across all horn voices (s,a,t). I don't know if that makes sense to you, but to paraphrase & co-opt the Supreme Court Justice's comment on pornography: I know it when I hear it.

Maybe your suggestion of a lot of loops & overdubs is all it is. I've never heard any of these artists live, so I don't know if they carry this sound over to their live performances. I know from seeing live vocal acts that use processed effects, that those effects are carried over into live settings, so why should the sax be any different?

Anyway, it is something that I've always wondered about, and I've never really found an answer to. No one has talked about how the sound of the horn is achieved in smooth jazz. So I'm just putting it out there in the hope that someone might be able to shed some light onto a rather nebulous area.
 

bpimentel

Broadway Doubler List Owner
Distinguished Member
There are a few sound-related things that I hear in common among players of this style:

- A clear, intense, energetic sound, coming from powerful breath support and crisp articulation. In straight-ahead jazz some players choose a lighter or fuzzier tone and more subtle/vague articulation.
- A certain amount of brightness or presence in the sound, which might come a little from signal processing, but mostly comes from the player and the setup. Helen, I expect if you heard Sanborn in person he would sound like Sanborn even without the studio tweaking. It does seem like I see a lot more metal soprano and alto mouthpieces in "smooth" jazz than straight-ahead. The metal may or may not make a difference, but I think these players are choosing specific equipment that lends itself to some bite and carrying power.
- A narrower, faster vibrato than in straight-ahead jazz, often applied from the beginning of the note and not just at the end.
- A kind of small-scale phrasing detail. Bebop players tend to play long phrases with occasional accents, but smooth players seem to make each note an event in itself--it might be dramatically louder or softer than the previous note and the next one. Individual notes are also more likely to have individual shaping like a quick diminuendo or crescendo. Bop players are too concerned about picking the right notes to focus on this kind of detail, but a smooth player might milk one note for a while and give it some fine crafting.

Bret
 

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
Administrator
- A certain amount of brightness or presence in the sound, which might come a little from signal processing, but mostly comes from the player and the setup. Helen, I expect if you heard Sanborn in person he would sound like Sanborn even without the studio tweaking. It does seem like I see a lot more metal soprano and alto mouthpieces in "smooth" jazz than straight-ahead. The metal may or may not make a difference, but I think these players are choosing specific equipment that lends itself to some bite and carrying power.
Having heard David Sanborn, Dave Koz, Euge Groove, and Darrin Motamedy in person I would confirm that they sound like that without any discernible tweaking. Darrin was in a house as a charity even without mic'ing.

Same for Phil Woods although some of his stuff isn't of the smooth jazz genre but rather rock based derivatives.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I think Sanborn, when he plays in "jazz mode", doesn't sound like he does on his "smooth jazz" recordings. Just an opinion.

I think I can agree with the narrower vibrato. I think it's almost non-extant in some things.
 

SOTSDO

Old King Log
Staff member
CE/Moderator
You need to mark me down in the "Can do without vibrato" column. I enjoy it enough when it happens (as it does in some big band stuff), but the absence of it most of the time doesn't bother me that much.

Some of the younger players I know hardly ever employ it unless it is specified in the chart (when they come in with it just fine). They all use it on Haarlem Nocturne, however...
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I thought Haarlem was in the Netherlands.

:p

Another thing I've noted is that smooth jazz players seem to favor alto and soprano. Kenny G occasionally uses tenor, but it's rare in comparison to his soprano playing. I don't think I know of another "smooth jazz" tenor player, much less a bari player.
 

Ed

Founder
Staff member
Administrator
From talking to some musical engineers it seems that the one common element in recording smooth jazz sax players is the judicious use of compression. It sounds like most engineers also play with the EQ. I've also noticed that most of the smooth jazz guys play pretty bright pieces.
 

bpimentel

Broadway Doubler List Owner
Distinguished Member
Kenny G occasionally uses tenor, but it's rare in comparison to his soprano playing. I don't think I know of another "smooth jazz" tenor player,
Helen mentioned Richard Elliot, who I like quite a bit.

Also don't you dare leave out Boney James or Kirk Whalum.

And there are those who play tenor some of the time, like Gerald Albright, Eric Marienthal, and, of course, Grover Washington, Jr.

Bret
 
I know this is an old thread but I have a couple of more names for your consideration: Jessy J, Shilts Wiemar, Jeff Kashiwa, and Steve Cole all of whom play tenor Primarily. Smooth jazz tends to be much more melodic than the regular jazz and that is the biggest difference that I have noticed.
Mark
 

tictactux

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Conclusion: there are way too many posters here that listen to smooth jazz :p.
On the other hand, we all know that that thmoooooth sound happens in your brain, in your mouth and sometime in your pants, but never in the instrument itself. You just can't sing opera arias with a hoarse throat, regardless of the costume you're wearing or the toothpaste you've been using.

Interpretation is not the same as imitation.

(I'm saying this with a considerable bit of tongue between teeth and cheek)
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
A long while back Peter Schickele, my favorite modern composer, had a radio program. In one of the episodes he talked about "smooth jazz". He made some comparisons to minimalist music -- and that's a relatively easy comparison to make -- but he also said one of the reasons why "serious" composers look down on "smooth jazz" and "New Age" music is that there isn't much, musically, to those genres' music. Now, I have not done an in-depth survey of smooth jazz musicians, nor am I an expert on music theory, so I cannot really determine the truth of that comment. However, there really isn't much of a comparison of, say, Dave Brubeck and Kenny G.

In support of the above, I went to many, many concerts when I was going to college ... the second time ... and I remember seeing more than one musician that was playing "smooth jazz"/"New Age" and would not show up with any music; he'd just play a solo for a fixed amount of time. That's it.

There's also another way of looking at it.

There are a lot of pieces that are not that complex, musically, and they still sound good. Hey, "Let it Be" has all of four chords and that's extremely listenable. I don't think anyone's complaining that The Beatles weren't a musically sound band.

However, swinging this back to the topic of conversation, one might be able to generalize and say that there isn't necessarily that much, musically, to any "smooth jazz" piece. Keep it simple. Don't belt out bebop solos.

Of course, I'm just extending the original question a bit to include the style ....
 
I think the difference is more about style than a specific sound I don't have a degree in music I just Know what I like and what I don't. Smooth Jazz and My wife are the main reason for my starting to play sax again after 30 + years of not playing.:wink:
Mark
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
... and that's perfectly OK.

I think one of the biggest problems I have -- and I know this feeling is shared by quite a few -- is that I object to the word "jazz" in the appellation "smooth jazz".

(I also object to Kenny G re-dubbing Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" with his soprano playing, but that's a different issue.)

Speaking of Kenny G -- and I highlight this every time I even mention him -- at the very least, ANYONE has to admire the fact that he almost single-handedly brought the soprano sax back into vogue. That's a task far greater than Fred Cicetti and I bringing SML back into vogue.

All that said, if you look at the music, it really isn't terribly complex. I'm just attempting to define the style. In other words, Kenny G is unlikely to break out into a Charlie Parker-style bebop solo. Although, that'd be insanely kewl.
 

Groovekiller

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
How to make smooth jazz:

1. Take 2 cups of Hank Crawford

2. Sterilize thoroughly

3. Add previously prepared compression, chorus, reverb and echo

4. Sterilize again

5. Remove all notes not included in pentatonic scale

6. Sterilize

7. Market heavily

I was going to try it myself, but I got sick.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
What I'd like to hear from you Randy, is some smooth jazz on the slide sax. ;-) With the slide all greased up, it should be insanely smooth.... groan...
 
Top Bottom