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23 Apr

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Also, if you follow me on Twitter you can receive blog updates automatically as well. Follow me @KevinKniestedt or by clicking here.

Thanks for reading!

New App for jazz fans

23 Apr

A new App has recently been released by, an interactive music facts database. The App, called JazDayz, is a new iPhone and iPad App aimed at jazz lovers and professionals in the jazz world, with instant access to day by day jazz facts covering over 100 years – including  birthdays, wedding days, etc.

It also features facts linked to artist websites, video clips, audio files and more. The App will continuously update facts, allows users to search by day, month, year, or by any text string such as artist name, song title, city, or venue.

The App can be found for sale for 99 cents here. It is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

A Look at the End of Smooth Jazz Radio in Seattle

8 Jan

As many people now know, smooth jazz radio station 98.9 KWJZ recently changed formats, abandoning their smooth ways for what is now called Click 98.9, featuring what is being referred to as “modern music.”

For a variety of reasons, this might not be all that surprising. Smooth jazz radio stations around the country have been disappearing, and KWJZ was one of the few remaining. 98.9 was running on a skeleton staff, ratings were down, and many believed that a programming change might be right around the corner.

Additionally, two other factors were likely at play. The age of the average listener to KWJZ was getting older, which has a tendency to frighten away those who are purchasing advertising spots. While it might seem like Seattle has plenty of “modern music” stations already, those stations carry a younger demographic that businesses are much more comfortable spending advertising dollars on. No advertising dollars, no commercial radio station.

Also, KWJZ was a station owned by Sandusky, which also owns Warm 106.9 and Movin’ 92.5 in the Seattle area. Who did KWJZ compete with the most for listeners? Warm 106.9 and Movin’ 92.5. Having two stations fighting over the same listeners is a challenge, but having three stations fighting for the same listeners makes virtually no sense (which I’m sure is the conclusion Sandusky also came to).

What does surprise me however is the reaction that came from this change. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that virtually every radio station has loyal listeners, but listener loyalty is not exactly what I am referring to.

Let us start with the place I first heard about the programming change: The Big Blog from, which highlights Seattle news, arts, and culture.

The title of the blog (from author Amy Rolph) starts with “No more jazz for Seattle?”. The opening paragraph described KWJZ as “the region’s long standing jazz station.”

With all due respect to KWJZ and the blog author, those two lines, to be polite, are misleading to say the least. Without letting my pride as a KPLU jazz host get in the way too much, I will remind everyone that KPLU broadcasts 100 hours of jazz every week, has been doing so for 25 years (versus the 19 that KWJZ was broadcasting smooth jazz), and can be heard clearly on a variety of signals as far north as Canada. And that is not to suggest that KPLU is the only station in the region that offers jazz.

But what is even more surprising to me is the reader responses, not only to the blog post but to other articles written about the change as well.

Generally speaking, there seems to be two primary sides in the responses. One side suggests that they will miss this programming and the station that they loved, and that Seattle is now void of a station that can offer this specific type of music and programming. Programming that many suggest as their source for jazz.

On the other side, you find many who might define themselves as “jazz purists.” More or less, these folks are happy to see the station go. Referring to smooth jazz as “Elevator” or “Dentist Office” music, many of these people make mention of being offended that anyone could even qualify this music as a sub-genre of jazz at all.

To be honest, after reading the articles and the reader responses, I took some time to think about how to best address this topic. For me, someone who would do everything I could to avoid listening to anything even resembling smooth jazz (or what I thought smooth jazz was), I would close my eyes, say the words “smooth jazz” in my head, and a big picture of Kenny G would appear (with his hair taking up most of the vision). Artists like Kenny G were the bread and butter of smooth jazz radio stations and record albums for many years. With that in mind, I tend to side with those who define this music as “instrumental pop” versus some form of jazz.

But then, a few weeks before Christmas, I was walking through the Tacoma Mall and saw a big advertisement banner for KWJZ. On it there were photos suggesting their primary artists: Norah Jones, Michael Buble, and John Legend.

No synthesizers. No soprano saxes. All vocalists. Three “crossover” artists. Legend is an R & B star. Buble is doing his best to be the Frank Sinatra of today. And Norah Jones, who seemingly can do whatever she wants, has still managed to avoid involving any sounds of “smooth jazz” in the George Winston sense of the phrase.

Vocalists were incorporated into smooth jazz programming in the 90’s as part of a reinvention of their programming, and it seemed to work until the early 2000’s. At that point it appears the smooth jazz radio stations needed another reinvention in order to keep listeners around and to attract new listeners, but it doesn’t appear that reinvention happened.

In talking to several colleagues who have been in the industry far longer than I have, there are a couple common thoughts that I can pretty much qualify as true.

First, jazz is very much alive and well in Seattle. In addition to KPLU and other stations that continue to successfully program jazz, top jazz artists continue to make Seattle a destination point while on tour at a variety of Seattle jazz clubs and other venues.

Second, no matter what you define “smooth jazz” as, or if it is even jazz at all, is far less important than whether or not the music is actually enjoyable. That is what music is supposed to be – enjoyable. I find it just as wrong to criticize Spyro Gyra or The Yellowjackets for defining themselves as “jazz” as I do when someone tells me that I have to enjoy some obscure live 30-minute Coltrane solo because it is “important” rather than “enjoyable.”

Will I ever own a Kenny G album? No. Do I think that it is more appropriate to define what is called “smooth jazz” as instrumental pop rather than a form of jazz? Yes. But if YOU enjoy the stuff, then good for you. I’m glad that you are listening to music that you personally find enjoyable, versus feeling like you are supposed to for one reason or another.

And for everyone out there that feels like they have lost jazz because KWJZ went away, perhaps you could give KPLU a listen. Jazz is indeed still alive in Seattle.

Merry Christmas from Groove Notes…and Ella and Bird

25 Dec

On behalf of the staff at KPLU and Jazz24, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas. Here are a couple holiday songs/videos featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker.

Spain and The Netherlands, Jazz, and the World Cup

18 Jul

The World Cup is over, and I suppose the time has come for me to stop complaining. I was cheering for Holland from the beginning, and was crushed when the Netherlands lost to Spain in the final minutes of overtime in the final, in what in general was a pretty good game.

These two countries are soccer superpowers, but have also made some nice contributions as far as jazz musicians go.

The Dutch boasts a drummer who is a virtuoso in all styles, from Dixieland to free jazz. I speak of Han Bennink, who was the drummer of choice for jazz musicians like Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy when they would make their trips to Holland (in fact, Bennink was the drummer on Dolphy’s album Last Date from 1964).

Spain boasts the extremely talented blind-born pianist, Tete Montoliu. Montoliu learned to read music in Braille when he was seven, and a wonderful piano style followed shortly after. Several top-notch jazz musicians enjoyed working with Montoliu as well, including Lionel Hampton and Roland Kirk.

In addition to being thankful for the contributions the Netherlands and Spain gave to the 2010 World Cup, we can also be thankful for the contributions of their jazz musicians as well.

Doc pays tribute to Dizzy – 1958

10 Jul

Trumpeter and bandleader Doc Severinsen recently celebrated his 83rd birthday. After an extremely brief retirement following the end of Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, Doc can be found back on the road again teaming up with the group El Ritmo De La Vida. At 83, his chops are still in great shape, and his wardrobe is still flashy.

Here is a video originally from a program called The Subject is Jazz from 1958, where we see Doc in a rare setting outside of a big band.

Happy Birthday Doc!

Happy Birthday, Canada

1 Jul

Today is Canada Day, the celebration of the anniversary of the Constitution Act from 1867, which united two British colonies and a province of the British Empire into the single country of Canada.

Thanks to Canada for providing us with several jazz musicians, including Diana Krall, Oliver Jones, Renee Rosnes, Michael Buble’, Holly Cole, Maynard Ferguson, and of course, Oscar Peterson.

So texting is out…but what about jazz and driving?

10 Jun

Beginning today in Washington state, using a cell phone while driving becomes a primary offense, and if caught, you can receive a ticket for $124.

I have read and heard a variety of reasons as to why using a phone on the road is a bad idea. The most glaring might be the comparison of texting while driving safety-wise being the equivalent to having a blood alcohol content somewhere between a .08 and a .13.

This lead me to wonder (tongue in cheek) if there was any information about the safety of listening to jazz while driving.

Oddly enough, there is, sort of. Privilege Insurance conducted a study of drivers, and asked them what music they listened to. The safest drivers happened to listen to classical, jazz, easy listening, and indie/folk. The most unsafe drivers listened to indie/rock, dance/house music, or R & B.

Dr. Nichola Dibben, a music psychologist who conducted the survey on behalf of Privilege, went on to suggest that overly complex music, or music with emotive vocals or music that has little repetition, can lead to greater driver aggression and reckless motoring behavior.

Dr. Dibben went on to say that music was however better than silence or talk radio, and can help actually keep the driver attentive, and that singing along can actually help keep eyes on the road.

In a separate study, Israeli researchers in 2002 concluded that drivers should stick to songs with similar beats per minute (BPM) to their heart. For example, if a heart beats 60 BPM, and the tempo of a song beats 120 BPM, then the driver listening to that song is more likely to be reckless and increase in driving speed. On the other hand, music that is very slow can keep you from staying awake, the study suggests.

So what jazz might you avoid listening to, according to these studies?

Perhaps something like this?

I must admit, you would be hard to find a jazz song playing in my car that clocks in less than 180 BPM. I hope my insurance rates don’t go up.

To the Vocalists

24 May

It seems that recently I have been presented with an onslaught of male jazz singers that seem to be…well…confused and moody.

Everyone who likes vocal music likes it for their own particular reasons. Obviously having a good voice and the ability to sing in tune is a nice start. And be it a male or female singer, I enjoy an uptempo vocal tune that shows a little fun or a little attitude, and a ballad that makes its best attempt to tug at the heartstrings.

As far as the female singers go – keep up the good work. I’m happy hearing Dianne Reeves and Roberta Gambarini swing, Maria Muldaur and Ernestine Anderson lay down the law and tell it like it is, and hear Diana Krall and Tierney Sutton sing great versions of ballads like A Case of You and Two For the Road.

I feel like when I am listening to them, their personalities and talents are reflected in the music they are choosing to sing.

But lately, I feel like the guys are letting me down a bit. There are exceptions, of course. Ever since his 2004 recording Twentysomething, I’ve been impressed with what British vocalist Jamie Cullum has been doing.  Cullum, maybe more than anyone that could qualify as a jazz vocalist, reflects his personality in his music. You listen to one Jamie Cullum album, and you feel like you know what you are in for if you were to head out for a night on the town with him. His voice and attitude match his lyrics and music, and it makes sense.

He has attitude. But this attitude doesn’t confuse you, the way I am confused by what other male vocalists of today are trying to convey. It is as if they are so confused about how to express their personality through their voice, that it has just got them feeling mopey, lethargic, and overly contemplative, and that’s how it sounds. Some great male vocalists sang sad songs (Johnny Hartman, for example), but these sad songs had purpose. A girl left them. The dog ran away. We can all relate to that kind of sadness and the voice that is expressing it to us.

But no song is going to tug at your heartstrings, or make you smile or dance, if it doesn’t make sense to you. A song will never matter, no matter how pretty the strings or horns sound in the background, if there is no way for the listener to relate, or in many cases, even understand what the singer is trying to say. And if the singer cannot communicate, be it via the lyrics, emotion, or both, it just doesn’t work.

Just for Fun – Dizzy with The Electric Mayhem

23 May
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