Study Unit Progress

0% Complete
0/41 Steps

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz


Introduction – The Contemporization of Jazz – Soft Fusion and New Age

The three paths taken by jazz in the past twenty years have not been that dissimilar than those taken by contemporary country & western music. Beginning in the mid ’80s, a renewed vigor in the traditional sounds of bop, swing and early jazz was being felt. Jazz ensembles in high schools and colleges around the world were finding a wealth of material existed in stacks at the back of the music closet. Younger fans were discovering dusty albums in their parent’s attic with names like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.

Around the world a renewed interest in jazz caused festivals in Montreaux, Switzerland and Umbria, Italy to join dozens around the world and those in every major city in America to bring every style of jazz from Dixieland to hard bop to the public. Mainstream artists who were protégés of Gillespie and Parker and Monk in the ’50s were brought out of obscurity to headline these festivals. Almost every previous form of jazz was developing a renewed appreciation, a new audience. A jazz renaissance had begun.

Wynton Marsalis

One of the best proponents and most vocal defender of the neo-traditional movement in jazz has been trumpet player Wynton Marsalis. Without a doubt, no player in jazz history has had such a meteoric rise to stardom. Signed to a recording contract with Columbia Records at age 20, Marsalis won two Grammys (one in jazz, one in classical) by age 22, director of Jazz at Lincoln Center by age 31, winner of the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a jazz composer for his oratorio “Blood on the Fields” at age 35.

Beginning in the mid ’80s Marsalis, together with his brother, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and others like guitarist Kevin Eubanks (at one time, the bandleader for Jay Leno on the Tonight Show) were avid practitioners of a neo-traditional movement in jazz. In the past decade, Wynton has aggressively sought to give exposure to jazz history and tradition.

While hosting the  Lincoln Center concerts on jazz, Marsalis has brought a new level of understanding to prospective jazz audiences around the world by way of televised concerts and audio and video recordings. Marsalis is at the vanguard of a new generation of jazz musicians who are actively taking their art to the next generation of enthusiasts.

Traditional jazz was built upon the concept of swing. Whether it was big band, Dixie or bop, the element of swing was always present. But another style, de-emphasizing the swing tension of jazz was evolving which more closely reflected the cool experiments of Miles Davis in the early 1950s.

Keith Jarrett, playing with Miles Davis, 1971

This new path might have started as early as 1964 when clarinetist, Tony Scott, infused elements of Indian and Asian melodies into a softer sound. His Music for Zen Mediation (1964) and Music for Yoga Meditation (1967) were the first attempts towards a spiritual jazz sound.  Another early influence was pianist Keith Jarrett, who, like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, had been part of Miles Davis’ first attempts at the fusion sound. From 1969 to 1971 Jarrett played with Davis, electric organ first and then both organ and electric piano when Corea left in 1970. Soon after Jarrett left Davis’ ensemble, he turned his back on electronic instruments and went back to his first love, the acoustic piano. His work in the ’70s and ’80s brought a renewed interest in acoustic jazz and set the stage for the emergence of pianist George Winston and others in the Windham Hill group of acoustic jazz artists.

These artists were not only influenced by the piano music of romantic composers like Debussy, but the floating ethereal quality of Gregorian chant and by the sounds of nature: ocean waves, babbling brooks, and rainstorms. Early on, the mellow, quasi-spiritual acoustic jazz was termed “New Age” music by record stores who created a new category somewhere between classical music and traditional jazz.

A number of New Age artists achieved success in the ’80s including Yanni, Andreas Vollenweider, Brian Eno and the group Mannheim Steamroller, whose Christmas albums in particular have been well received.

During the ’90s a female artist named Enya emerged from Ireland to craft a new age style of music dependent on synthesized sounds. Her records have been welcomed by both critics and public alike, showing that the market for new age pop/jazz was significant.

But a third, more moderate path was also being taken. Similar to the country artists who acknowledged their traditional musical roots, but also wanted to form a contemporary, pop version of their music, there were those jazz artists who chose to find a new path which angled closer and closer to the middle of the road.

Dave Koz

The MOR (“middle of the road”) jazz sound was being stated first in the late ’60s by a very few individuals like flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione. The soft, breathy quality of his solo lines made them easy for the pop public to digest aurally, but with the aggressive drive of fusion, Mangione tempered his sound to fit the funky groove being developed by Miles Davis and others.

By the end of the 1970s, the popularity of fusion jazz had evaporated into the shadows of the disco movement. The driving brass punch of Tower of Power and other groups had too much funk for those seeking a smoother, more lyrical sound.

The arrival of the 1980s brought a reincarnation of fusion to fit the desire for a contemporary jazz with less beat and a softer melodic line. Groups like Spyro Gyra established a sound that utilized typical jazz instruments with improvisation, but a more modest rhythmic beat than ’70s fusion groups. This style, which has most recently been dubbed “smooth jazz,” could just as accurately be called “fusion-lite” or “pop-jazz.”

Saxophonists Kenny G, Dave Koz and David Sanborn, Japanese keyboardist Keiko Matsui and pianist David Benoit have also been highly regarded in the smooth jazz idiom.

Many jazz purists discard both smooth jazz and new age music, claiming that since neither consistently incorporate swing rhythms and improvisation (some smooth and most new age is as strictly scored as an Ellington chart). However, there are those individuals and groups, such as Spyro Gyra, Fourplay and the Rippingtons, who have tried to pay homage to their traditional jazz heritage by incorporating characteristic nods towards their bebop, cool and swing roots.

Keiko Matsui – “Safari” – Newport Jazz Festival, 1999

Scroll to Top
Watch and Learn

Audio/Video Room


Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

Study Units also have “Playdecks” – containing hundreds of chronologically organized audio examples of music in the study units, and “Study Qs” for unit chapters.

Study and Test

Testing Library

Contact Form