A Small Piece of Smooth Jazz Historical Trivial


Here in the USA, the smooth jazz format has evolved considerably since the
first stations came on the air right here in Southern California in the
early eighties.

First came KIFM in San Diego, which evolved around 1982 or so, as a young
Art Good came on the scene and was on the air for at least 50 hours each
week (and I believe was always live).  Over the next 5 years Art became an
underground hit for all age groups other than teens in Southern California.
I used to listen to Art 6-7 nights a week.  Art just LOVED all modern jazz
from Dave Brubeck on, but especially liked contemporary jazz (Chuck
Mangione, Weather Report, Yellow Jackets, Spyro Gyra, Incognito, Stuff and
the local group Fattburger to name a few).  There were exceptions like
Michael Franks (then a local), but mostly Art played instrumentals from a
huge play list.  Art was like the "Wolf Man Jack" of an emerging genre.
(The-Wolf-Man was a GOD of Top 40 radio when I was growing up.)  Everyone on
this list has probably at least heard Art's name since he does lots of
smooth jazz concerts/festivals (Jazztrax), and has a widely syndicated
weekly radio show.  Art's gotten slicker over the years and doesn't whisper
all the time like he used to, and he's become a BIG business.  But he's
otherwise, still doing about the same shtick with one exception I'll comment
about further down.

The second local radio station to do contemporary jazz was KTWV ("The Wave")
in Los Angeles.  But KTWV was different.  Basically they were doing a mix of
2-3 contemporary jazz instrumentals from a smaller play list followed by 1-2
pop vocals.  They called their format "The Quiet Storm", starting in about
1982.  As an aside, "The Quiet Storm" format originated in Chicago in about
1976 and featured more of an "urban" format featuring jazz and black vocal
artists.  I lived in Chicago then and really liked it.  But in LA (I lived
there by now), KTWV replaced the urban sound and the black artists
repertoire with contemporary jazz instrumentalists and pop vocal artists.
Ugh, I hated it, and still do hate hearing somebody like Michael Bolton,
George Michaels and Dionne Warwick after every nth "jazz" song!!!

In a sea change event around 1987-88, if memory serves me, KTWV simply
changed their tag line from "The Quiet Storm" to "Smooth Jazz" and the rest
is history!  Why?  Because KTWV was/is in major radio market (we live in our
cars in LA after all <s>) and is owned by the world's largest syndicated
music programmer, Clear Channel Communications.  (This ugly animal owns
about 1300 radio stations.)  CCC could afford to do things like having Dave
Koz originate a 2 hour morning drive time radio show on the LA station and
more important, could market a particular music format, and whatever else
they want to, on those 1300 stations.  It follows that the smooth jazz
format quickly took off.  Over time, there was less and less "The Quiet
Storm" tag lines heard across the country (the original urban version was
still alive in NYC area the last time I was there however) and more and more
"Smooth Jazz" tag lines.  After all, smooth jazz is really "pop" and appeals
to a fairly large audience.

The genre Art Good "invented", contemporary jazz, just died away here in
California beginning around 1994.  Even Art dropped his old moniker,
"America's Showplace of the Latest in Contemporary Jazz", from all his
promotions effective about 4 years ago. (This is the comment about an
exception I promised earlier.)

Here's an important closing point: the CCC smooth jazz play list is
essentially identical in every market.  It's all recorded in the Hollywood
and San Diego and piped out to their owned affiliates.  (CCC just splices in
local names, events, themes and landmarks to make it seem local when it's
really not.)  They really have the same play list on all their 1300
stations.  Imagine for a moment what an impact this must have on what
individual artists choose to record!