music gets a bad rap from some parts of the jazz community, but if you find the best artists playing in this genre, you’ll discover some excellent tunes to listen to.
So, as part of our round up of the different styles of jazz, we decided to put together a list of 10 essential which prove that it is certainly much more than elevator music…
Many devout for its commercial and seeming abandonment of the principles that was built on: , experimentation and creative freedom. fans dismiss
Those who had followed the trajectory of modern from its beginnings in the bebop era mostly turned their noses up at the polished, of .
However, the generation after them, who grew up listening to the likes of George Benson, Bob James and Anita Baker, received the with open arms, sampling tracks from across the canon to create what would later become hip hop classics.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best of all time, from George Benson to Lonnie Liston Smith. Perhaps it will change your opinion of this sometimes-maligned sub- of !
1. George Benson – Affirmation
George Benson was the epitome of cool in the 1970s and 80s. The renowned released a string of best-selling albums, from the hard bop classic, ‘Beyond The Blue’ to the iconic Quincy Jones-produced R&B record, ‘Give Me The Night’.
Benson bridged the gap between solos and smooth R&B vocals, also scat singing in unison with his solos, which became his trademark. and like no other. He seamlessly alternated between virtuosic
A master of the , he was as much at home playing bop with the likes of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette as he was singing with Chaka Khan and Minnie Riperton. In recent years, he has even collaborated with contemporary artists like Gorillaz.
His 1976 . The /R&B categories paved the way for the which would hit its peak of popularity in the 80s and 90s. ‘Breezin” is the perfect example of his chameleon-like abilities, topping the charts in both the and
Any of all time, but we’ve picked Affirmation for Benson’s intricate which floats over the ‘s infectious, laid back beat and swelling strings. from this seminal would fit nicely into this list of the best
This , along with other cuts on the , would later be picked up by hip hop producers including the late, great Japanese producer, Nujabes.
2. Bob James – Since I Fell For You
Keyboardist Bob James, who has released dozens of excellent albums, is another whose back catalogue made the foundation for countless hip hop beats.
His tracks have been sampled by the likes of Eric B. & Rakim, Ghostface Killah, Common, Missy Elliott, Beastie Boys and loads more.
James’ band was originally discovered in 1962 by Quincy Jones, who went on to produce his first studio . Interestingly, his first effort was a exploration of free – a far cry from the -infused that he would later become famous for.
Bob James produced records for some of the biggest , including the Grover Washington Jr., before releasing – albums under his own name.
‘Since I Fell For You’ is a ballad from his 1986 greats, Al Jarreau on vocals and David Sanborn on . It might not be pushing the boundaries of , but you can’t deny the passion in Jarreau’s bluesy vocals and Sanborn’s powerful . , ‘Double Vision’, and features two other
Those with keen ears may also recognise the distinctive playing of Miles Davis’ long-time collaborator and fusion legend, Marcus Miller.
3. Lonnie Liston Smith – Rainbows Of Love
Lonnie Liston Smith is a legendary , and who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s playing keyboards with greats like Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, Leon Thomas and Art Blakey.
Starting out as a and other keyboards. In 1973 he formed his own group, The Cosmic Echoes. , he began to explore the musical possibilities of the
The band’s was spacy, funky and smooth.
Needless to say, his departure from the and R&B inflections of his later releases. and free explorations didn’t go down well with the fans of his earlier work. As is the case with most artists on this list, Smith gained popularity with a new audience of crossover fans who appreciated
His 1974 spiritual , remains a stone-cold classic, but for this list we wanted something smoother. Smith’s 1983 – , ‘Expansions’ , ‘Dreams Of Tomorrow’, contains similar themes of spirituality and universal love but with a gentler, -inspired .
Marcus Miller’s name pops up again here as producer of the .
4. Incognito – Pieces Of A Dream
The smooth . is not exclusive to . Representing the UK on this list is Incognito, the acid innovator whose often edged into the realm of
This joyful, R&B-infused music fanatics., from the ‘Positivity’, has an incredible bassline and features the wonderful vocals of Maysa Leak, a hugely popular amongst
5. Sade – Your Love Is King
Sade is another British icon who seamlessly blended and R&B.
Her debut , ‘Diamond Life’, went multi-platinum in both the UK and US – and for good reason. It contains some of the greatest and smooth tracks around, including the opener and classic R&B number, ‘Smooth Operator’.
Although the was met with some scepticism from critics of the time, it is now regarded as one of the best albums of all time and a precursor to neo- which would emerge towards the end of the 90s and early 2000s with the likes of D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.
‘Your Love Is King’ is one of the more -influenced tunes on the and one of her best songs.
6. Chris Botti – Good Morning Heartache (feat. Jill Scott)
Staying with Jill Scott, this rendition of Billie Holiday’s classic ballad features the singer’s powerful voice which gives the a whole new lease of life.
Accompanying her sultry performance is the trumpet player Chris Botti.
After five years performing as part of Paul Simon’s band, Botti embarked on a and with great success. He has become one of the biggest names in crossover and has earned the loyal support of and fans alike. career that would frequently fuse
7. Norman Brown – After The Storm
Rising to fame in the mid-1990s, Norman Brown took the baton from George Benson and pushed the forward. He signed to the Motown label Mo’ in the early 90s and quickly became one of the most talked-about artists on the – scene.
‘After The Storm’ is one of the ‘s best-known records and contains many of his greatest tunes. The title is mid-tempo and carefree, with plenty of smooth synths and intricate work which has led to many comparisons with his idol, Benson.
8. Grover Washington Jr. – Winelight
Grover Washington Jr. was one of the leaders in crossover record released in 1980, which earned acclaim on its release and has since become a classic of the . in the 1980s and 90s. ‘Winelight’ is an early
One of the most common criticisms of is its unadventurous solos, but on ‘Winelight’ Washington departs from the and offers up an interesting and virtuosic , which makes this well worth a listen!
9. Kenny G – Sade
Okay, we admit that many Kenny G albums sum up what jazz musicians and fans don’t like about this genre… but he did release one or two great tunes!
With his name practically being synonymous with , no ‘best of’ list would be complete without mentioning the divisive sax player.
‘Duotones’, Kenny G’s 1986 best-seller, is probably the of his that fared best amongst critics, with Allmusic editor, Stephen Thomas Erlewine giving it 4 and a half out of 5 stars.
It’s definitely worth a listen if you’re diving into this style!
10. George Shaw – 6295 SW Fisher
This infectious gems via the acclaimed reissue record label, Numero Group. is included in a compilation of lesser-known
Although these cuts are by no means classics, the quality of the the . is fantastic and they make an ideal gateway into this for
is here to stay.
Through its use as format it has become part of everyday life, in a way that many other styles of jazz haven’t. and in the popular
Thanks for joining us for this top 10 list of our favourite recordings. Have any of these tracks changed your opinion of ? Let us know in the comments!