Smooth jazz has been a beloved genre for decades, known for its relaxing melodies and soulful rhythms. With so many incredible smooth jazz albums released over the years, it can be hard to narrow down the best of the best. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the greatest smooth jazz music ever released on YouTube & Spotify, from classic albums to modern hits. Get ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the smooth sounds of jazz.
Overview – Smooth Jazz Music
Numerous dedicated jazz enthusiasts reject smooth jazz due to its commercial tone and apparent departure.
The majority of those who had traced the evolution of contemporary jazz since its inception in the bebop period generally disapproved of smooth jazz’s refined, easy-listening style.
In contrast, the subsequent generation that grew up with artists such as George Benson, Bob James, and Anita Baker embraced this genre wholeheartedly. They sampled various tracks from the smooth jazz repertoire to produce what would eventually be recognized as hip-hop classics.
George Benson – Affirmation
In the 1970s and 80s, George Benson epitomized cool as a celebrated guitarist with numerous best-selling albums, including the hard bop masterpiece ‘Beyond The Blue’ and the iconic Quincy Jones-produced R&B album ‘Give Me The Night’.
Benson uniquely bridged jazz and pop, skillfully alternating between virtuosic jazz guitar solos and smooth R&B vocals. His scat singing in tandem with his guitar solos became his signature style.
Equally adept at playing bop alongside icons like Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette or singing with Chaka Khan and Minnie Riperton, Benson’s mastery of his instrument is undeniable. Recently, he has even collaborated with modern artists such as Gorillaz.
Bob James – Since I Fell For You – Smooth Jazz Music
Keyboardist Bob James, known for his numerous outstanding music jazz smooth albums, has a back catalogue that has served as the basis for countless hip-hop beats. Artists such as Eric B. & Rakim, Ghostface Killah, Common, Missy Elliott, and Beastie Boys have sampled his tracks.
Discovered by Quincy Jones in 1962, James’ band led to the production of his first studio album. A piano-based free jazz exploration that greatly differed from the pop-infused sound he later gained fame for.
In addition to producing records for prominent smooth jazz musicians like saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., Bob James also released pop-jazz albums under his own name.
“Since I Fell For You” is a ballad included in the 1986 album “Double Vision,” showcasing the talents of smooth jazz icons. They are, Al Jarreau on vocals and David Sanborn on saxophone. While it doesn’t redefine jazz, Jarreau’s emotive bluesy voice and Sanborn’s dynamic alto sax solo are undeniable.
Lonnie Liston Smith – Rainbows Of Love
Lonnie Liston Smith, a renowned funk, soul, and jazz musician. He gained fame in the 1960s and 70s as a keyboardist alongside jazz icons like Miles Davis and Pharoah Sanders. Initially a pianist, he delved into the electric piano and other keyboards’ potential before forming The Cosmic Echoes in 1973.
Their sound was atmospheric, funky, and smooth. Unsurprisingly, his shift from traditional jazz to more experimental styles wasn’t well-received by early fans. However, Smith attracted crossover music enthusiasts who enjoyed the funk and R&B elements of his later work.
His 1974 album ‘Expansions’ is an enduring spiritual funk-jazz classic; however ‘Dreams Of Tomorrow,’ released in 1983 with similar themes but softer pop-inspired rhythms was chosen for this list. Marcus Miller reappears as the producer of this album.
Incognito – Pieces Of A Dream – Smooth Jazz Music
The silky tone isn’t limited to American jazz. Incognito, a UK-based acid jazz pioneer, frequently ventures into smooth jazz territory. Their upbeat, R&B-inspired track from the ‘Positivity’ album boasts an amazing bassline and highlights the captivating voice of Maysa Leak.
Sade – Your Love Is King
Sade, a renowned British smooth jazz artist, masterfully combined jazz and R&B. Her debut album, ‘Diamond Life,’ achieved multi-platinum status in the UK and the US due to its exceptional smooth jazz and soul tracks like ‘Smooth Operator.’
Initially met with scepticism from critics, the album is now considered a classic and a forerunner of neo-soul music that emerged in the late 90s and early 2000s. ‘Your Love Is King,’ a more jazz-influenced track on the album, is among Sade’s best songs.
Chris Botti – Good Morning Heartache (feat. Jill Scott)
In this smooth jazz version of Billie Holiday’s iconic ballad, Jill Scott’s powerful vocals breathe new life into the classic tune. She is joined by trumpet player Chris Botti, who has an impressive background.
After a five-year stint with Paul Simon’s band, Botti pursued a successful solo career blending pop and jazz. As one of the leading names in crossover jazz, he enjoys steadfast support from both pop and jazz enthusiasts.
Norman Brown – After The Storm – Smooth Jazz Music
Norman Brown gained prominence in the smooth jazz scene during the mid-1990s. He joined Motown’s Mo’ Jazz label in the early 90s, rapidly becoming a notable figure in soul jazz.
‘After The Storm’ is among Brown’s most recognized albums, featuring numerous outstanding tracks. The title song showcases a relaxed, medium-paced melody with abundant velvety synths and complex guitar techniques that often draw comparisons to his idol, Benson.
Grover Washington Jr. – Winelight
Grover Washington Jr. led the crossover jazz movement during the 1980s and 90s. His 1980 release, “Winelight,” received praise as an early smooth jazz album and has since become a genre classic. Although smooth jazz often faces criticism for its uninspired solos. Washington’s intriguing and skilful solo in “Winelight” deviates from this trend.
Kenny G – Sade
Admittedly, many Kenny G albums embody what jazz musicians and fans dislike about the genre. He did produce a couple of exceptional tracks. As a prominent figure in smooth jazz, any ‘best of’ list should include the controversial saxophonist.
Kenny G’s 1986 hit album ‘Duotones’ received the most favourable reviews among critics. With Allmusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine rating it 4.5 out of 5 stars. ‘Sade’ is an engaging track featuring a groovy synth bassline and R&B-inspired keys that accompany Kenny G’s soprano sax performance.
It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re exploring this genre!
George Shaw – 6295 SW Fisher
This catchy tune is featured in a collection of lesser-known YouTube smooth jazz music treasures, released by the renowned reissue label, Numero Group. While not considered classics, these tracks boast exceptional quality and serve as an excellent entry point into the genre for listeners. Smooth jazz has secured its place in everyday life through its use as ambient music and prevalence on popular radio stations, distinguishing it from other jazz styles.
In conclusion, the world of smooth jazz music YouTube is vast and diverse, with a plethora of talented artists and timeless albums. The best smooth jazz music ever released is a subjective topic, but the albums and artists mentioned in this article are undoubtedly some of the most iconic and influential in the genre.
Whether you are a die-hard fan or a newcomer to the smooth jazz scene, these albums are sure to provide hours of enjoyment and relaxation. So sit back, relax, and let the smooth sounds of these timeless classics transport you to a world of pure musical bliss