Paul Brown gave perhaps the best definition of ‘What’s Smooth Jazz’ when I once heard him explain smooth jazz as the music that Luther Vandross would play but with the vocals removed. Fact is we have all been in situations where we have brought up the subject of the music that we love only to be asked ‘what’s smooth jazz?’ It is a question not always easy to answer and one that forms the motivation for this new feature quite simply called ‘What’s Smooth Jazz.’ Imagine an episode from the hit TV show ‘Third Rock from the Sun’. Dick, newly arrived from another planet and thirsty for information, might ask ‘what is this phenomenon called smooth jazz?’ His worldly mentor Mary Albright would respond by reaching for her iPod to play a definitive smooth jazz example. The purpose of this new ‘What’s Smooth Jazz’ feature is to draw up a short list of the really great examples of smooth jazz that could be used in such a situation.
We start to answer the question of ‘What’s Smooth Jazz’ by choosing a track from Peter Whites 1998 album ‘Perfect Moment’. It is ‘Midnight in Manhattan’, co-written by Peter White, Paul Brown and Mike Egizi. The blend of elements that make ‘Midnight in Manhattan’ a superb example of smooth jazz is breathtaking. First it utilises the classic smooth jazz guitar and sax combination that in this instance is done to absolute perfection. This is due, in no small measure, to the fact that the tenor sax is handled by the late great Grover Washington JR. GW could put the word ‘jazz’ into smooth jazz like no other and on this track his skill is wondrous to behold. That said ‘Midnight in Manhattan’ is not a one-man show. The feeling White produces with his guitar playing is of the highest order and fits so well with what Washington provides. Second there is the smooth as silk yet edgy production techniques of Paul Brown that continue to embellish the music of a whole host of today’s smooth jazz stars. In addition the line up of backing musicians is tremendous. Alex Al on bass, Mike Egizi on keyboards and the legendary Lenny Castro on percussion all combine to make this an outstanding example of what smooth jazz is meant to be.