Smooth jazz is music that evolved from a blend of jazz fusion and easy listening pop music, featuring a polished pop feel with little to no jazz improvisation. The genre arose in the mid-1970s in the United States, but it was not named "smooth jazz" until the 1980s. Traditional jazz players and jazz purists did not embrace the popular style; Jazz Journals "Sound Investment" column stated in November 1999 that it "would cover an extremely wide spectrum of jazz styles" while avoiding smooth jazz.
The earliest smooth jazz music appearing in the 1970s includes the 1975 album Touch by saxophonist John Klemmer, the song "Breezin'" as performed by guitarist George Benson in 1976, the 1977 instrumental composition "Feels So Good" by flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione, and jazz fusion group Spyro Gyra's instrumental "Morning Dance", released in 1979. Smooth jazz grew in popularity in the 1980s as Anita Baker, Sade, Al Jarreau and Grover Washington released multiple hit songs. The smooth jazz genre began to decline at the end of the 1980s in a backlash exemplified by critical complaints about what many critics saw as the "bland" sound of top-selling saxophonist Kenny G, whose popularity peaked with his 1992 album Breathless.
A further evolution that began in 2000 is urban jazz, which combines elements of hip-hop and fusion music. Counting among such musicians are Nick Colionne, Boney James, Vincent Ingala, Bobby Perry, Bob Baldwin, Brian Bromberg, Michael Lington, David Lanz, Jonathan Fritzen, Daniele Caprelli, Kim Waters, and Walter Beasley.
The AllMusic guide to jazz fusion states that smooth jazz has none of the improvisational "risk-taking" of jazz fusion. "Unfortunately as it became a moneymaker, much of what was labelled fusion was actually a combination of jazz with easy-listening pop music and lightweight R&B", the combination of which was soon called smooth jazz.
Kenny G in particular is often criticized by both fusion and jazz fans, and some musicians, while having become a huge commercial success. Music reviewer George Graham argues that the "so-called 'smooth jazz' sound of people like Kenny G has none of the fire and creativity that marked the best of the fusion scene during its heyday in the 1970s".
Digby Fairweather, before the launch of UK jazz station theJazz, denounced the change to a smooth jazz format on defunct radio station 102.2 Jazz FM, stating that the owners GMG Radio were responsible for the "attempted rape and (fortunately abortive) re-definition of the music -- is one that no true jazz lover within the boundaries of the M25 will ever find it possible to forget or forgive."