"Smooth Sounds"

The Farmington Observer

By Nicole Stafford
Special Editor

Easy listening. Contemporary jazz. Call it what you will. A more melodic, more accessible style of jazz has come into its own in the last decade: smooth jazz. And, since the form, which often includes teners to follow - many music consumers traditional jazz musicians "stretch it out," or improvise musically - the style continues to gain in popularity. But today's appetite for smooth jazz may stem from deeper cravings: want for relaxation and spiritual healing.

Musical medicine

"Doctors have prescribed contemporary jazz to patients to help them unwind," noted Tom Sleeker, V98.7 FM Smooth Jazz radio program director and co-organizer of the station's 2nd annual Smooth JazzFest, running June 2-4 at the Southfield Civic Center. While smooth jazz, like, say, aromatherapy or yoga, has always had a soothing quality, the public is just beginning to discover the style has a calming, quieting effect, particularly for those with hectic lives and busy schedules. One nationally known artist scheduled to play at this year's Smooth JazzFest, Keiko Matsui, couldn't agree more. A contemporary jazz keyboardist from Japan, Matsui's compositions have an ethereal, bird-like quality. And, her newest album Whisper from the Mirror has an other-worldly, new age character reminiscent of film scores. The title also refers to the Japanese Shinto Shrine where a mirror representing a deity or God is traditionally placed. While Matsui, one of two female artists slated for JazzFest (local musician Kimmie Horne opens the event on Friday), doesn't categorize her music as new age or spiritual, she said she does seek to bring elements of spirituality to her compositions. That fans send mail saying her music touches their soul or makes them feel peaceful "means a lot to a musician," she said. "Nowadays, music is about business, but music is really a prayer to, the gods or for people to sing and dance to, and people have been doing this a long, long time. That's the beauty of music," she said. Matsui will be accompanied by her husband Kazu, who plays the Shakuhachi, a Japanese wood flute.

Living legends

While many of Matsui's compositions have a dreamy quality, there are several other smooth jazz artists scheduled for the event, promising a mix of styles and sounds for those who plan to attend. Of particular interest is jazz legend George Benson, who began his career in traditional jazz and moved in the direction of smooth jazz in the 1970s. Describing Benson as one of the pioneers of contemporary jazz, Sleeker called his appearance at this year's JazzFest "an opportunity to see one of the true legends and innovators in smooth jazz music." Likewise, Detroit's own Earl Klugh, slated to perform at 9:15 p.m. Friday, is known for bring the acoustic guitar to jazz. Other local musicians who will perform include flutist Alexander Zonjic and guitarist Tim Bowman.