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Why Smooth Jazz Sucks

By Peter Lloyd

I'm sitting in my favorite independent coffee shop. Creative people come here. I enjoy writing here, but right now something gnaws at my nerves. Sure, the air conditioning might blow a tad too cool but that's not it.

It's not the annoying pair of self-inflated middle managers talking much louder than they need to a couple of tables to my left. What's wrong? Suddenly a sigh of ersatz passion wafts meekly from a shamefully misdirected saxophone. That's it! I forgot the smooth jazz satellite feed.

I've asked the servers to alter the menu. "The coffee's strong enough," I pleaded, "but the music's a little weak."

You guessed the reply. "A lot of people like seem to like it."

Since when has public acclaim had anything to do with satisfying music?

Why does smooth jazz fail to satisfy me? That's putting it mildly, but I have the answer. For the same reason that, despite the US Government's resources, we still do our census on paper. Stay with me.

Smooth jazz is like an Elvis impersonator. It's not really jazz. If it were, we wouldn't have to tack on the adjective smooth. Generally if you have to modify a term, you're really not comfortable with it. If you've seen Elvis perform, no impersonator will ever satisfy. If you know your jazz, anemic attempts to impersonate it can actually make you nauseated.

According to "Edgar" C. on Yelp, "jazz has always been about being dangerous - taking chances and being daring - that's why the best improvisers are celebrated - like Coltrane and Parker - it's about possibilities. smooth jazz is about feeling safe - about nostalgia for what was."

Risk, danger, leaps of faith—these are the engines that drive great jazz or any other kind of creative endeavor. They are the elements that satisfy. Unlike columns of numbers, lists of words, and repeated verses of "99 Bottles of Beer."

On the other hand, the census will be perfect if its content is precise. If pencil and paper get the job done, why upgrade? There's little need for change, risk, creative interpretation, or improvisation when it comes to counting. Creative accounting, we consider a crime.

Music is not a collection of notes played in the proper order in a given amount of time. That's called Muzak. At least it was. They've filed for bankruptcy. Unfortunately we're going to run into smooth jazz now and then.

Meanwhile, here's my idea for a New Yorker cartoon:
From the engineer's side of the recording studio window, we see an ensemble of jazz musicians paused, listening to the engineer, who says, "Okay, remember this is a smooth jazz cut. So let's try it again with less feeling."

Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.
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