British super-producer Paul Hardcastle is well-known in electronic music circles for his remixes and studio productions -- some under his own name. He also has a project called 'The Jazzmasters,' which features a rotating cast of collaborators. Off of 2003's 'Jazzmasters Vol. 4,' 'Puerta Banus' is a slinky blend of soul-stirring saxophone and spacey synthesizer that heats things up nicely.
British born guitarist Ronny Jordan was an innovator back in the early '90s for finding a way to fuse contemporary styles such as funk and hip-hop with his classic jazz style of guitar playing. This smooth jazz song is the first, and perhaps the best example of this approach, subsequently drawing a lot of attention to Britain's so-called "Acid Jazz" scene.
Saxophonist Richard Elliot has performed with such big names as Tower of Power, the Pointer Sisters and Natalie Cole, showing that he's acquired the chops to work in both jazz and soul music. Off his 1999 album 'Chill Factor,' 'Deep Touch' is a bit more restrained than his '80s and early '90s material, despite still topping the charts.
'Hearts of Longing'
Pianist Ramsey Lewis leads all-star group Urban Knights, a jazz collaboration that also includes saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Omar Hakim, as well as the band's producer and Earth Wind and Fire member Maurice White. The smooth jazz song 'Hearts of Longing' is the standout track on the band's 1995 debut, proving that sometimes all-star projects do create music that is even greater than the sum of its parts.
One of today's biggest stars, Paul Taylor is known for his sexually-charged live performances. Here on the title track (Taylor wrote himself) from his 1997 album, Taylor channels all that energy into a yearning melody. Subtle and seductive are two words that come to mind.
The late Grover Washington Jr. will be remembered as one of jazz's most popular saxophonists, playing to large live crowds and seeing considerable success on the jazz and R&B charts -- thanks to his blend of jazz solos over funky rhythms. Released in 1975, 'Mister Magic' has the disco influenced-rhythms of the day but was a precursor to smooth jazz. Now the smooth jazz song is regarded as a hugely influential classic of the genre.
This Bobby Womack-penned hit catapulted guitarist George Benson out of the jazz world and into the pop charts in 1976. 'Breezin'' sat on the Billboard's R&B singles chart for 55 weeks and the track's album (with the same name) went all the way to No.1 on the pop charts. The flourishing flute in the opening of the song might not be recognizable at first -- at least not until the song's main riff kicks into gear with Benson's guitar.
'It's All Good'
One of the most popular tunes on AOL's Smooth Jazz station, 'It's All Good' sums up the career of saxophonist Boney James. James remarkable track record begins in early '90s, a time when he released one strong album after another. Even though this smooth jazz song came from the 1997 greatest hits album, it was a new track. The requisite production values are eminent, but James always seems add deep emotion to his solos, as shown here.
'Angela' (Taxi Theme)
Everyone who has watched TV in the last 30 years knows this song as the opening theme music to the landmark sit-com 'Taxi.' The sentimental flute melody (played by Hubert Laws) and James' warm electric keyboard lead punctuate this song, making it seem almost at odds with the show's gritty urban setting in New York City. Regardless, it remains one of the greatest TV themes ever produced, as well as a smooth jazz classic.
Kenny Gorelick explored other styles earlier in his career before becoming the smooth jazz legend now known as Kenny G. He's had numerous hits since breaking through in the mid '80s, and none of them have been as big as 'Songbird,' off 1985's 'Duotones.' The song and album raced to the top of Billboard's Hot R&B, contemporary jazz, jazz, and pop charts upon release, partly due to the song's soulful melody, which has been heard countless times over the years in TV ads and most notably 'Pretty Woman.'