Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Smooth Jazz Christmas Your Way

If 22 years of playing Christmas music have taught me anything, it's this: listeners take it very seriously. People absolutely know what they like when it comes to the music of the holiday season. Requests start coming in as early as mid-October, and they don't stop until about the time the final present is unwrapped Christmas day.

That's why, as we launch the first ever SMOOTH JAZZ CHRISTMAS channel at, we want to make sure we're doing it right. When you have a moment, please consider these questions:

What are your favorite holiday songs?

Which ones should we absolutely add to our Christmas music channel?

At the same time, which Christmas songs should we avoid playing?

Some titles and artists would be most helpful.

Drop me an email:

We'll be incorporating your suggestions into Smooth Jazz Christmas this holiday season, and we'd really appreciate your input. Thanks!

Rick O'Dell - Operations Manager -

Monday, October 26, 2009

Coming Soon . . .


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's New at Ultra Smooth

Just added to the playlist:

Greg Adams - “Five to Eleven”

CD: East Bay Soul (Ripa)

If you were a fan of Tower of Power back in the day, you've been enjoying the music of Greg Adams for a long time, just as I have. Upon leaving the group he founded in 1995, the trumpeter and composer released a solo album that has become a Smooth Jazz standard: Hidden Agenda. His new CD, East Bay Soul, is his fifth solo project and embodies a little of everything he's capable of: urban rhythms, soulful ballads, a Tower of Power throwback track or two, and some tasty smooth jazz on “Five to Eleven.”

Ashling - “Jazzman”

CD: Sweet Feelings (SF)

This first generation Irish-Canadian was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, but has lived most of her life in San Francisco. Her solo debut features saxman Gerald Albright on the title track as well as the song you'll hear on UltraSmoothJazz, a fresh take on Carole King's 1974 hit. I've often wondered why no one else ever took a crack at this song, which seems to be right in the pocket both lyrically and texturally for Smooth Jazz.

The Sax Pack - “Can't Help Myself”

CD: The Pack is Back (Shanachie)

The trio doesn't miss a beat on their sophomore CD, bringing us a handful of energetic original tracks that pick up right where their first CD left off. When Steve Cole, Jeff Kashiwa, Kim Waters and company hit the road in support of the new release, try and catch them in action. It'll be an evening of unexpected pleasures, right down to the razor-sharp wit and humor of each of the three headliners.


Rick O'Dell

Operations Manager -

Friday, October 9, 2009

From Rick O'Dell's Smooth Jazz Notebook

As I put the finishing touches this week on the music for the new Sunday Brunch channel, thoughts were popping into my head left and right. Since I know many of you go way back with me when it comes to Smooth Jazz, I'll share with you what I was thinking as I uploaded one vintage track after another into our online music library . . .

  • There's an awful lot of darn good instrumental music from the late '80s and early '90s that doesn't get any kind of airplay anymore. I can understand that over-the-air radio has given up on it, what with the sad state of Smooth Jazz on terrestrial radio. But it's scarce on the internet too, and there's no reason for that. That's why I had to bring back the Sunday Brunch.
  • Anyone out there remember the group Uncle Festive? They were Barry Manilow's touring band in the '70s and '80s and, with crowds going wild for Barry, they even had their own fan club. By the middle 1980s, the quartet was performing on its own. Drummer Bud Harner went onto become one of the leading record reps in Smooth Jazz.
  • A listener once described Lonnie Liston Smith's “Quiet Moments” to me as “the national anthem of Smooth Jazz.” Indeed, it embodies everything we love about the genre. But another tune of Lonnie's, “London Interlude” is, to my ears, equally mesmerizing and a vastly underrated track.
  • I know we liked going deep into CDs when the format started, but Horizont's Silent Moon was exceptional, even for that era. When I got to the station in 1989, WNUA was playing six tracks from it. You better believe I added all six to the Sunday Brunch channel.
  • Between 1986 and 1992 Acoustic Alchemy did some unbelievably compelling stuff, making them one of the pillars of the “New Adult Contemporary” radio format, as it was called back then. Greg Carmichael and the late Nick Webb were creative geniuses at their peak. Today, their CDs of the period, such as Natural Elements and Reference Point, still hold up extremely well.
  • On the other hand, some material from the early days of the format just doesn't hold up as well, mainly because it was poorly produced, sounding like it had been recorded in a garage. The New Adult Contemporary format in its early days had a reputation of playing just about everything that came its way, and sometimes it was to our detriment. If anything's changed from the late '80s, it's production values.
  • Smooth Jazz has more than its share of one-hit wonders, including a French keyboardist named Serge Blenner. Played for only a brief time on WNUA between 1987 and 1989, his “Love Talk” is unique for its use of a human laugh track. And he actually makes it work. Listen for it here.
  • What was in the water up there in the Pacific Northwest? A large number of key artists in the early days of Smooth Jazz hailed from there: Kenny G., Jeff Lorber, Dan Siegel, Tom Grant, just to name a few.
  • If any tune could ever be called “smoldering,” it's Santana's “Aqua Marine.” Speaking of Santana, another of his tracks from that time in his career, “Love Is You,” has to be one of the greatest rock-influenced instrumental melodies ever.

Have a track from the early days of Smooth Jazz that you find especially moving or interesting? Tell me about it, and I could add it to my Notebook and the Sunday Brunch channel. Drop me a line at this address:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Congratulations, Pam and Jim!

When major characters on a TV show get married to each other, I've learned it's nothing to celebrate. Even as a nine-year-old, watching Maxwell Smart marry Agent 99 on the original Get Smart, I felt something wasn't quite right. The idea of a wedding didn't fit a show that had gotten me hooked because of its gadgets, secret agents and world takeover plots. Get Smart is just one example. I can't think of a show that got better after two of its main characters got married.

That being said, I'm strangely optimistic about tonight's episode of The Office, where we get to see Jim and Pam finally tie the knot. Maybe it's because it's totally believable--we've all seen an in-office romance or two blossom and go all the way to the altar, just as Jim and Pam's has. Maybe it's because their courtship was so charmingly, innocently depicted on screen during the first two seasons that I've been rooting for them ever since. Maybe it's because John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer are creating characters who are so much fun to watch on screen. Or maybe it's because they're headed down the path we knew they'd be going eventually, and once they do, we can move onto their next (mis)adventure.

Usually, when a show decides to weave a wedding into its plot lines, it's a sign that the well of creative inspiration is running dry. I don't think that's the case, however. Jim and Pam's big day makes a lot of sense, and it happens to be just the latest in a series of hilarious plot points in another strong season of The Office. I know what I'll be doing at 8:00 tonight. Don't call me then.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Our Music's Not a Priority to Big Radio


Smooth Jazz lost another station this weekend. Detroit's WVMV, which had been around since December of 1995, switched to a Top 40 format this past Friday.

The ownership of WVMV, CBS Radio, was quick to put a positive spin on the format change, issuing a statement on its website saying, new media and new technologies have given us the chance to still keep this [smooth jazz] programming on the air.”

So, how will the format be kept on the air? According to the website: “Get an HD receiver, and you'll still hear us.” Without an HD receiver, though, the only way to listen to WVMV will be their audio stream. And, be it HD radio or internet, it'll be just the remnants of WVMV, because the station no longer features a full complement of announcers.

Moreover, when it comes to a radio format, do you know what being shifted over to HD radio means? It's the equivalent of “You get to keep your job, but we're transferring you to Nome, Alaska.” As a format, when you're sent off to HD land, it's all but over for you--HD is where radio formats go to die. So, “still being available on the air on HD radio” isn't exactly the gift you might think it is.

This isn't as much an indictment of how corporate radio operates as it is just another example of how little the Smooth Jazz fan means to them when it comes to over-the-air radio. They're in the business of making money, and they obviously don't believe Smooth Jazz is a moneymaker anymore. It's as simple as that.

Thankfully, we have internet radio riding to our rescue. As conventional over-the-air radio stations have dropped the Smooth Jazz format, internet radio has rushed in to fill the gap. As a result, Smooth Jazz fans have never had more and better choices than they do right now—on the internet. Think about it. Just a few years ago, if you were a listener of WVMV (or, here in Chicago, WNUA), that was the only station you could turn to for Smooth Jazz. If they were playing songs that weren't your cup of tea, well, you had no other station to switch to. These days, by listening on the internet, you give yourself choices. Lots of them. Twelve channel choices for Smooth Jazz here at, for example.

So I say, let Big Radio wipe Smooth Jazz off the face of the over-the-air radio dial. The listening's better—much better—here on the internet.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Smooth Jazz Q&A

Lately I've heard some jazzy-sounding jingles playing in between songs on UltraSmoothJazz. Were they done by Smooth Jazz musicians? (Lois - Brookfield, Ill.)

You could say that. They were composed and produced by a group called The Inline Six, a talented Chicago-based ensemble. Led by Jay Martini and Mitch Germaine, The Inline Six is as much at home creating jingles for UltraSmoothJazz as they are playing impassioned renditions of smooth and "rough" jazz numbers, R&B, rock and blues.

Is the Dave Koz and Friends Smooth Jazz Christmas concert all Christmas music? (Susan - Chicago, Ill.)

No. It's about 60% Christmas classics (along with Dave's spirited Hanukkah song) and 40% non-holiday tunes. The non-holiday material is made up of the Smooth Jazz hits by the individual performers in the band (Rick Braun, Peter White, David Benoit and Brenda Russell).
Dave and the band are able to transition seamlessly from Christmas songs to non-Christmas songs and back in a show that's festive and fun from beginning to end.

The tour begins the day after Thanksgiving and includes 21 performances around the country. To me, this is the one Smooth Jazz concert that's an automatic. Find out where they're playing nearest you, and enjoy a dose of holiday spirit that'll take you right through the New Year.

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