Arizona Daily Wildcat April 8, 1998
Lite on the jazz
It is a sound is unlike any other. It is the soundtrack to those ever-pleasant visits to the dentist. It is akin to the supermarket Muzak that is specifically engineered to drive people to buy that extra box of corn dogs. It is lite jazz, and I am listening to it as I write; a little food for thought.
My first complaint regarding lite jazz involves the use of the word "jazz" to describe this particular genre of aural "entertainment." Jazz is not merely a descriptor of music that involves a certain set of instruments. Rather, jazz sets loose boundaries on structure and encourages the investigation of a theme through improvisation. These two qualities of jazz hold no place in the realm of lite jazz, which is to say that lite jazz falls victim to the "lite fallacy." Other lite products - lite beer, lite margarine, lite corn dogs - do not fall victim to the lite fallacy because the lite versions bear some relation, besides superficial appearance, to their regular cousins. Lite jazz is only on the very surface an expression of jazz itself.
Secondly, I find it objectionable that the mind-numbing sounds that constitute the lite jazz instrumental section rarely come from any instrument other than a synthesizer (Kenny G being the quintessential exception). In fact, the bulk of what is played on the lite jazz stations is composed and played using MIDI, which means that the true musicians behind lite jazz are computers. This leads me to ponder, what does the live lite jazz experience entail? A bunch of people cheering on one person behind a synthesizer? Of course, there'd be some real instruments, but they would only be for show.
Third, the lyrical component of lite jazz seems strangely at odds with its formulaic and programmed nature. A sampling of lite jazz songs will, without fail, yield a drooling love ballad that is so brimming with clich¸d lines that you cannot help but question the sincerity of these "artists." How can songs that are sung with such heart-rending emotionality entertain the musical backdrop of computer generated sounds and rhythms? Perhaps it is because the feeling behind this music is, shall I say, lacking in character?
Tucson just got its own station (brace yourself) dedicated solely to the broadcasting of lite jazz. As it is played on the radio, lite jazz is marketed as a relaxing, stress-relieving alternative to the other selections on your radio dial. And while this is, in spirit, a seemingly acceptable motive for musical expression, the frequency and intensity of commercials that intersperse the musical selections speak to a different motive altogether, and do little to ease my stress.
Lite jazz is fraught with contradictions, the most blaring of which involves the use of the word jazz in describing a music that is anything but; the most subtle being the motivations that lie behind its broadcasting.
Another phrase that is often thrown about with lite jazz is "easy listening." These two words seem far more representative of this music, which demands little of the artist and less of the listener. At the risk of sacrificing art for convenience, I think that we should demand more of ourselves.