Jackson Griffith and the coining of bizjazz -- a highlight of the nineties

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Not the music, the critical piece. He came up with this one for April 1996's Pulse and I loved it so much I copied it -- came across it in the move and figured now was the time to electronically archive it. So behold!

BUSINESS JAZZ RECONSIDERED
Theta enturbulated? Audit these "snappy" sounds
by Jackson Griffith

Call it what you like, "smooth jazz," "business jazz," "elevator jazz," "basketball jazz," "818 jazz," "fusion," "fuzak," "jazzak," "cell-phone jazz," "GOP jazz," "flat-tax jazz," "spray-on helmet-head TV newscaster jazz," "sales-motivation jazz" and, of course, "BMW reptile music" and "stuff Sting probably listens to." Whatever, you cannot deny that this essential oeuvre was and is to the '70s, '80s and '90s what the currently trendy easy listening and exotica genres were to the '50s and '60s -- music for harried businessmen to unwind to after a hard day of putting the screws to the competition. Indeed, no other genre of music comes closer to that hallowed subgenius ideal: Art = Whatever Turns a Profit.

Like exotica's space-age bachelor pad totems, business jazz can rely on its own resonant imagery to ensnare gullible "hepcats 'n' kittens." Like? Um, uh, consider the seductive siren call of Kenny G's soprano sax, a sound not unlike the cum-on pitch of a testosterone-Pavlov'd Lexus salesman drooling sweet nothings into the ear of a comely advertising sales representative in the dark corner of an authentic '80s pasterl Miami Vice-themed bar over margaritas under the de rigueur cheesy repro of a Nagel print: "Your condo or mine, babe?" Or the sprighly sales-motivational snap of the latest "side" from Russ Freeman's totally awesome Rippingtons -- the relentlessly perky Brave New World (GRP), never mind the unintended irony and Aldous please stop spinning -- percolating out of an Acura sport-utility vehicle's multi-CD changer, as the key player behind the wheel, who's just wrapped a deal that'll erect the most aesthetically challenged (aka ugliest) excuse for a "postmodern" skyscraper west of the Mississipii, snakes it through a high-velocity sequence of turns: "Grrr," he growls, "I am Manly Man." Or, dog forbid, imagine what talk radio wicked witch Dr. Laura Schlessinger probably listens to as she tools along in her Benz, gleefully smacking her lips over her daily roadkill of twentysomething newlyweds and confused young women: "Mmmm, that Kim Pensyl is sooo smooth." Yes, today's go-go, sometimes ethically challenged business executive lifestyle will be tomorrow's desirable kitsch, and its music should be fair game for iconographic status, too.

As for any new critical assessments of this much-maligned genre, it's like this: Business jazz -- like capital, or technology -- is neither good nor bad, only neutral; it's how you apply the tech that counts. Business jazz is above criticism, because criticism comes from the reactive mind, and (oh, let's just call it) "bizjazz" is, ahem, most assuredly clear. People you might avoid at all costs may "groove" to it, but that doesn't necessarily make the music itself inherently lame (Um, are you sure about this? -- Ed.)

Indeed, a case can be made for bizjazz as tomorrow's faddish cocktail party fare: substitute catchphrases like "Digital Master" or "audiophile quality" for "Stereo Action" or "Living Presence," and you can draw a direct line between the '50s-era goofball stereo gimmickry associated with the now-oh-so-hip cocktail/exotica/easy listening genres and the CD-era goofball audiophile gimmicky that goes hand-in-hand with so much fusion product. And pencil in a bilevel "mullet-head" haircut and '80s black-on-black "jazz fusion" threads on your suave '50s/'60s bachelor (be sure to accessorize with that crucial "gig bag"), and you've got the template for tomorrow's Mr. Hipster.

So now you're sold, you're ready to unload those hard-won Hugo Winterhalter and Yma Sumac collections at the swap meet (not to mention those Esquivel, Walter Wanderley, Les Baxter, Martin Denny and Command and Project 3 sides), and you ask, "Where do I start?"

OK (once, of course, you visit your unisex hair-stylist for that essential mullet-head make-over), probably the coolest place is the Mother Church of Bizjazz, the GRP label. If the cover copy includes the words "Digital Master," you know you're scoring quality bizjazz repetoire. It's no coincedence that "GRP" can be an acronym for "great recorded product."

Also, I always peruse the back cover for certain telltale "Special thanks to (Berklee) (GIT) (Celebrity Centres International) (L. Ron Hubbard)" plugs -- any of these is a tip-off that you're about to grok some prime bizjazz cuttage. Other things to look for are labels like Bluemoon, Blue Note Contemporary, Chesky, GTSP, Heads Up, JVC, Manhattan, Mojazz (whose roster includes ex-Sacramento Kings forward/ascendant bizjazz bass icon Wayman Tisdale), Noteworthy, Optimism, Passport Jazz, Shanachie Cachet, Sin-Drome, Verve Forecast and of course the all-important Stretch, bizjazz god/OT Chick Corea's GRP-marketed imprint. And look for cover art with airbrush cartoons of "jazz" cats (felines, not 'hipsters') wearing Ray-Bans and blowing saxes -- always a dead giveaway for choice bizjazz "sides." Also, if the artists have blow-dried hair and are fondling a soprano sax and/or a Chapman stick and/or any instrument manufactured by Steinberger and/or any unrecognizable keyboard-like object, bingo! Go for it!

Bizjazz is best enjoyed on CD, but for you thrift-store Luddites, LPs will do -- although the analog sound may sound too warm and rounded for the true bizjazz enthusiast, who always must opt for the more brittle, edgy, "coke-jitter" quality of a DDD recording. In whatever format you choose to "dig" these "sounds," however, a snappy bizjazz "side" will clear your engrams, balance your ARC and tweet your woofer (or should I make that, woof your tweeter?).

So c'mon, you irony-in-overdive-martini music trendies, get with the future and get "hip" to bizjazz already. It's tomorrow's cocktail exotica, and it's here today. Accelerate ahead of your trendy pals and dig these jazz cats now! As '70s schmaltz-pop king Barry Manilow introduced his ahead-of-its-time bizjazz concept album -- which featured the back-up sounds of a thoroughly blow-dried, black-on-black ensemble called "Uncle Festive" -- to a music-biz convention dinner in 1988: "Let's take a trip down to Swing Street," Manilow cooed in his finest approximation of a Scotch'n'cigs Wayne Newton-reads-Bukowski voice, "where the jazz cats hang out." Uh-huh, color me there.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 12 January 2003 06:24 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

818 jazz?? this stuff big in the valley?

JasonD (JasonD), Sunday, 12 January 2003 07:52 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Jackson Griffith. I guy I always felt embarrassed for when I would read his writing. The Bangs ape-ing was pathetic. The guy really must have some issues if he so lacks the self-confidence to forge his own style.

Mr. Diamond (diamond), Sunday, 12 January 2003 09:02 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

It was always a polite Bangs, though, wasn't it? Seemed perfectly suitable for Pulse. And I still love the overall conclusions he draws with this one!

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 12 January 2003 15:24 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Griffith's good, almost as good as Nesbitt Bireley...

Paul (scifisoul), Sunday, 12 January 2003 19:11 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

one year passes...
Jeez, I forgot I'd written that. Stumbled across this after reading something about "self-googling as personal brand management" on the net, and wondered what might come up. Thanks!

Jackson, still in Sacramento.

Jackson Griffith, Wednesday, 7 April 2004 15:50 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Heh, no worries! It remains a definite winner.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 7 April 2004 16:19 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Yes, today's go-go, sometimes ethically challenged business executive lifestyle will be tomorrow's desirable kitsch, and its music should be fair game for iconographic status, too.

i misread that as ethnically challenged and was amused/offended for a good ten minutes.

vahid (vahid), Wednesday, 7 April 2004 16:22 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

two years pass...
millions now bizzing will never jazz

((((((DOPplur)))n)))u))))tttt (donut), Monday, 5 June 2006 23:53 (twelve years ago) Permalink

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blunt (blunt), Tuesday, 6 June 2006 00:47 (twelve years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

Speaking of insufferable music snobs, isn't there a place for this music? Like, you're at the office and want something intelligent (mathful) but not too distracting?

Earth Dye (u s steel), Friday, 12 March 2010 14:46 (eight years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Come one, come all. (Come chillwave.)

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 9 August 2011 17:34 (six years ago) Permalink


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