Bob Reynolds-From Smooth Jazz to the Fringe

I must admit that for me Smooth-Jazz is right below Country&Western if I had to rate my favorite types of music. I usually call it 'Weiner-Jazz' of 'Fuzak'. It always seems like the players think that the closer to Kenny G they sound, the more money they'll make. It just doesn't usually seem authentic to me, like the musicians are 'dumbing down' their playing to sell records. I obviously have a very strong prejudice against this style of music. Then Bob Reynolds read my post about NYC Jazz musicians to say that it was spot on. Bob is a young saxophonist carving his mark in the Big Apple. He sent me a link to his web site where I listened to his MP3s. There were a few Jazzy tunes on there but most were 'Smooth Jazz', or to be more respectful 'Jazz Funk'. Bob sounded great. Big fat sound, great technique, perfect intonation, and great time. As I was listening to one of the tracks Bob broke into some double-time lines. He sounded like Garzone playing Smooth-Jazz!!!! Crazy. Even when Bob is blowing over typical Smooth-Jazz grooves he's always creative and fresh. He doesn't ever stoop to playing stock R&B saxophone licks. He sounds like he is really hearing whatever he plays. He just put up some new MP3s on his site yesterday and one of those was a live trio recording of him playing Trane's 26-2. It was SLAMMING!

Bob sounds a lot like Chris Potter and George Garzone. He also reminded me of John Ellis and Kenny Brooks (probably because of the Garzone connection). I could tell immediately that Bob had studied with George. Bob told me that he took lessons from him for four years at Berklee.

Here's what Bob wrote me about his studies with Garzone:

"So, Garzone....by the time I got to him, I was a strong player highly influenced by Potter — and Lovano was creeping in, but George blew away all my preconceptions. I was never a ‘lick’ and ‘pattern’ player, but I was always looking for the perfect stuff to play over changes, and Garzone starts coming at me with all this “You can play major triads connected by steps over anything...” stuff, and I’m like, “No. You can’t do that!” But I stuck with him for four years and forgot how to articulate and play swung eighth notes (instead playing them straight but behind the beat). Then there was Hal Crook who introduced me to the world of thematic/rhythmic development and stretching the time.. So by senior year I’m wide open as a player (sort of) and playing all the “baddest” shit ...but I’m also in the inaugural edition of Walter Beasley’s “Smooth Jazz Ensemble” !!! What a ride, man. But that’s me. Much as I enjoyed various “smooth” artists early on, I now find 99% revolting (got a soft spot for some Kirk records) and never actually listen to any of them. But, there is an element of r&b/funk that’s deeply ingrained in my musical sensibility

So, now, after 5 years of marinating in NYC, it’s all just turned into different parts of me. I could never really imagine cutting one part out forever. I enjoy trying to bring a bit of each to any musical setting I’m in. Garzone gave my mind the freedom to let go, but the foundation came from all the other guys."

I just might start checking out that adult-contempory station again...........


zach said...

hey, man.
i remember you.
chances are you probably don't know me by name, because i think i was in master's program when you'd just come to berklee and kicked majority of asses....always fun to watch a new kid comes in and just smokes everyone...
didn't know you were playing smooth type as well.
checked out your site...you're doing great.
keep up the good work.

Bob Reynolds said...

A thought:
I think there needs to be some new classifications added to the current lexicon because there’s so much stuff out there that’s neither smooth-jazz or straight-ahead jazz.

David Valdez said...

It's really just an indication of my prejudice that I wrote that Bob was a Smooth Jazz player. 'Smooth Jazz' is a very new term. But also a lack of proper definitions in the Jazz lexicon. When I was younger it was just called Jazz fusion.

It wasn't called 'Smooth Jazz' until some 'Adult-Contemporary' radio stations started going with an all instrumental format. I agree that there should be more descriptive names for the very wide ranging genre. To me 'Smooth' means light in the panties or wide vibrato, lots of blues scales, bad drum and keyboard
synths, and two chord vamps. L.A.all the way baby!

The Don Grusin material on Bob's site is probably the closest thing to actual Smooth Jazz. I would say that Bob is just a very versatile professional. Just the fact that Bob is blowing some real shit over those
fusion groove automatically takes it out of the 'Smooth Jazz' realm in my opinion. It's too good to be called 'Smooth Jazz' anymore!

ryan dolliver said...

could you explain the theory of playing major triads moving in steps over any changes? i'm familiar with the concept of upper structure triads, but when i work on that, i play all four types of triads. i should probably do this homework myself, but i'm curious if you have or could direct me to a concise explanation.

Bob Reynolds said...

What I was referring to was Garzone’s theory of major triads. From what he told me, it really came about as the result of trying to illustrate his approach in a way that his students could understand and apply, rather than a specific method he set out to employ.

The basic principle is this: the structure of a major triad (and half and whole step resolutions) is so inherently strong that it can supercede any underlying harmony and bring the ear of the listener along with it. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the jist)

He wasn’t recommending just playing any old bullshit, but rather, a way to slowly open up your ears through this triadic practice. In true George fashion, he had no pages of exercises written out in all keys, he just talked about how to do it.

Here’s the premise: Start slow (metronome at 60 bpm or so) and play a major triad — in any inversion you want. When you reach the 3rd note of the sequence, move up or down a half step and begin another major triad. When you choose the 4th note (1st note of the 2nd triad), you have three options for what triad you could play (depending on whether the note you selected will be the root, third, or fifth). ...is this making sense?

Then, just rinse and repeat.

For example: let’s say you begin with an F maj triad... you play F/A/C and then you have 2 choices: you could play a C#/Db or a B. Let’s say you choose C# and decide that it will be the 3rd of your next triad (A maj), so you play C#/E/A. When you get to A, you have (once again) two choices: Bb or Ab. Say you choose Ab and it will be the fifth (of Db maj) so you play Ab/Db/F ...getting the idea? Keep in mind you’re making a few decisions every three notes (and it’s hard to do for any length of time) so start very slow. So now you’ve just played this sequence: F A C C# E A Ab Db F. In nine notes you’ve moved through three keys. The possibilities are infinite.

What if you’d made these choices:
F A C B D G G# B E or,
F A C Db F Ab G Bb Eb or,
F A C B E G# G Bb Eb or,
A C F F# D A Ab Eb C....you get the idea.

After gaining familiarity with 1/2 step resolutions, then try the same approach moving in whole steps.

Don’t concern yourself with what changes to apply this over; it’s more about opening your ears and expanding your ideas beyond the borders of II V I’s and altered dominants, etc.

Hope that’s concise enough.