The Pure Tasty Melody of Smooth Jazz

Smooth Jazz covers a wide selection of styles and artists. In this lesson, I’ll be teaching concepts that revolve around the guitars approach when it comes to playing Smooth Jazz melody lines... 

Smooth Jazz is a music style that is composed around combining the colors of jazz harmony and pop melody.

However, the style of smooth jazz is also extremely diverse because it tends to include the sounds of; Blues, Rock, and Funk mixed with different jazz ideas.

In the end Smooth Jazz is a blend of several music styles that has one main theme holding it all together, and that is the styles strong use of melody.

George Benson, (virtuoso guitarist with unimpeachable straight-ahead jazz bona fides), once said, "Smooth Jazz is here to stay - because the songs tend to both focus and also cement a strong melody in very palatable way." All one has to do is listen to his hit "Breezin" for proof of this.

There's no arguing that Smooth Jazz is certainly melodic, and it covers all kinds of different directions musically, making it not only an extremely palatable form of music but a very relaxing form as well.

George Benson, Bob James, David Sanborn, Herb Alpert, and Chuck Mangione played what would now be labeled smooth jazz as far back as the’70s. And, yes, fans ate it up.

The Pure Tasty Melody of Smooth Jazz
In this lesson, we’re going to examine how to apply some of the smooth jazz melody effects that happen when we work out melodic statements that get performed under chords following a jazz harmony.





First, lets begin by taking just one chord, and playing a typical smooth jazz statement over it. We’ll use the “Dmaj7” chord for our example…

Example #1). Melodic Statement over “Dmaj7”

In that short "Dmaj7" example above, the melody line was all diatonic to the key of “D Major.” It made use of slightly syncopated sixteenth notes to establish a "pop-jazz" sounding melody idea over the underlying chord of, “D major 7th.”

The emphasis here in our first example stresses a smooth easy flowing melody that has a unique sixteenth-note rhythmic feel to it. Notice how the line is only slightly syncopated. If we go too far with an "off-time" feel, we risk leaving the "pop" angle of the melody line behind and we start venturing a little too far towards traditional jazz.

As long as we're careful, we can form a melody that carries an impression to it as if it was something from a pop song, (rather than from a jazz piece). Through strong resolutions and balanced phrasing, our lines can be easy to follow for the listener.

Think of your use of the rhythmic style more like something you’d hear in a Motown number or perhaps in a funk tune, rather than a traditional jazz piece.

Let’s check out another example. This time we’re going to expand on the chord changes a little more. We’ll move away from the use of strict diatonic melody and diatonic harmony.

We’ll still be (more or less) within the key of “D Major.” However, we’ll also be introducing a chord at the end of our part that ends up leaving the key.

Have a listen to the next example so that you understand how it sounds.

Example #2). Leaving the key

In our second example, the melody line is similar to the part performed back in example one. However, this time we have a number of grace-note slides that apply tones that exist from outside of the key.

This is something important to remember when playing in the Smooth Jazz style because it works so well to bring in notes that can generate a jazzy effect. Plus, in this melody, there’s also a new chord appearing in the second measure, (Gmaj7).

Of particular note, is how example two has a unique chord that appears right at the very end of the progression. This chord establishes a situation which has the melody leaving the key, (the new outside chord is an, “Am7”).

As you can tell, smooth jazz melody applies more variety than a pop song. Plus, with the addition of chords that leave the key smooth jazz harmony expands our melodic options and allows us the chance to add new notes with more of a "jazz feel." Playing outside of a key presents a jazz approach that corresponds into those new chords and sets a particular musical tone.

If you enjoy the flowing melodic sound applied in the smooth jazz style, you’ll definitely want to also explore the melodies that are a part of; Pop music, and Motown, along with Soul music, and R and B, as well as, traditional jazz.

Plus, definitely keep in mind that smooth-jazz is (above all else) a blended style. It mixes together a number of ideas that end up creating a sound that’s kind of like “half jazz” and “half pop music.” Very interesting stuff…

Be sure to spend time listening to music by famous players in this style such as; guitarists - George Benson, Norman Brown, Chuck Loeb, Sheldon Ferguson and Larry Carlton. Plus, of course there’s many who I’m sure you’ll discover along the way...

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Thanks again and we'll catch up next week, for another episode of the, "Guitar Blog Insider."



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