We have all been in situations where we have brought up the subject of the music 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 occasional feature unremarkably called ‘What’s Smooth Jazz?’ Designed to illustrate some of the most definitive examples of the genre, this latest track perhaps demonstrates better than any other the broad church from which smooth jazz draws its influences. In addition, it spotlights a remarkable artist who’s music is, in itself, sometimes difficult to categorize. That artist is Michael Franks and the song is ‘On My Way Home To You’.
For over thirty years Franks has been able to go where very few jazz artists ever can in terms of attracting a larger audience and considerable airplay. He was born in La Jolla CA and, after studying literature at UCLA, taught undergraduate music courses at both UCLA and Berkeley. He provided the score for the 1972 movie ‘Count Your Bullets’ before releasing his self titled debut album a year later. A further film credit came courtesy of the music for the 1974 Gene Hackman vehicle ‘Zandy's Bride’ but it was when Franks signed with Warner Brothers that his solo performing career really took off. A succession of successful releases, with a number of them produced by 80’s smooth jazz architect Tommy Lipuma, followed and in a career that continues unabated to this day Franks has worked with the best in the business. The artists with whom he has recorded reads like a who’s who of popular music and includes Patti Austin, Brenda Russell, Art Garfunkel and David Sanborn. In addition, he has had his own songs recorded by The Manhattan Transfer, Patti Labelle, Carmen McCrae and the Carpenters.
The quality of Franks music lies both in his distinctively gentle singing voice and the sophisticated melodies with which he landscapes his consistently wonderful compositions. ‘On My Way Home To You’ is a superb example of his art and comes from the 1980 Lipuma produced ‘One Bad Habit’. Tenderly constructed around his hallmark melody, and bestowed with the most spellbinding chorus imaginable, this masterpiece is further blessed by memorable piano from Tennyson Stephens plus horn arrangements by the venerable Jerry Hey.
‘One Bad Habit’ is still available at Amazon as a CD (circa 1990) and the track ‘On My Way Home To You’ can also be found on Franks 2004 Warner Brothers compilation ‘Love Songs’. There is no doubting it is an outstanding example of great smooth jazz.