In an ever increasing environment where smooth jazz radio programming is in a continuing state of flux, it is refreshing to note a few successes as they occur. KHJZ 95.7 "The Wave" celebrated its 4th year of programming on October 28th; a feat that is very significant, especially in an arena where station after station has flipped to a more attractive format.
Most recently, Dallas’ KOAI 107.5 and Philadelphia’s WJZZ 107.5 decided to change formats while dropping their smooth jazz connection completely. Reports have indicated WJZZ may return to smooth jazz at some point; however, numerous smooth jazz radio stations have gone the way of the dinosaur in favor of rock, adult contemporary, Spanish, C&W or urban programming. The mere fact that KHJZ 95.7 has lasted four years in a city that does not appreciate jazz to any large extent is significant. Historically Houston has seen more than five jazz stations come and go over the last 20 years. As such has been the case; a positive statement was made during "The Wave Day Four" celebration at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, Texas. To celebrate 4 years of successful programming, KHJZ featured local Houston artists Mark Dini and Dean James opened for guitarist Norman Brown, trumpeter Rick Braun and vocalist Chaka Khan. Also on hand for the "Wave Day 4" was Kenny G, who is by far the most recognized name in the annals of smooth jazz. To further expand upon the celebratory atmosphere, Rick Braun brought along a special guest to enhance the line-up even more. Saxophonist Shilts, rounded out the array of talent with but another dynamic of finely tuned live jazz/R&B entertainment. Collectively, the overall line-up KHJZ 95.7 brought to the stages of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion were all some of music’s most recognized artists.
In every instance, the combined efforts of KHJZ and the artists in residence was monumental in more ways than one. Although smooth jazz radio was the primary sponsor, this show was light years ahead of any radio format of its type. Houstonians had not seen Chaka Khan in many years, while the last appearance made by Norman Brown was cut short by municipal red tape. During Norman’s last visit, his appearance was cut short by an ordinance that required live performances to end at a certain time in a city run facility. Norman was quoted twice once during an interview and again on stage: "The last time I was in Houston, I played five bars." He then corrected himself and said: "Actually, I only played five notes." But this time out, Norman was given more than enough time to prove why he is considered one of smooth jazz’s most dominant and sought after guitarists.
With Mark Dini and Dean James set as the opening acts for "Wave Day 4," KHJZ not only showcased two of Houston’s best jazz artists, they also wanted to feature the artist who set the overall tempo for the entire smooth jazz movement. Kenny G is considered by many to be the model for smooth jazz. His success as a musician with more than 15 million albums sold and countless accolades behind him has not only changed the focus of jazz, numerous artists have attempted to replicate his success. In between the two extremes, Norman Brown, Rick Braun and Shilts are by-products of Kenny’s influence on smooth jazz. In a stand-alone category all her own, Chaka Khan has pushed the envelope of pop, jazz and R&B music for more than 30 years. Her successes with Rufus and as a solo vocalist are widely known, which has also included numerous collaborations with practically every prominent composer and musician imaginable since her debut. With Chaka and the other noteworthy artists in attendance, KHJZ’s sold-out concert provided eight hours of highly evolved entertainment.
The celebration not only rocked the Pavilion’s audience, the event also elevated the radio station’s popularity with jazz hungry connoisseurs. This was not only a tribute to four illustrious years of great programming, "Wave Day 4" was also the culmination of doing every thing right to maintain Houston’s presence as a viable smooth jazz radio force with a high degree of clout in the community for which it serves.
As one examines the current state of radio programming in America today, jazz music at practically every level has been vilified and downgraded as something to be totally disregarded as a viable form of entertainment. The presence of live jazz entertainment in Houston as well as in other major cities is most often limited at best. Jazz is fast becoming one of the United States’ most significant cultural exports, as jazz entertainment becomes even more popular overseas. This may be due in part to the rationale that smooth jazz music is nothing more than high-end elevator music; however, the problem may well be with record label and radio marketing. Many of the artists in jazz are seldom get the recognition they deserve and are seldom marketed or played to any great extent. In addition, very little has been done to magnify the rich heritage and legacy of jazz as America’s most original art form.
On the other hand, KHJZ 95.7 "The Wave" seems to have found a formula that works, especially in a city like Houston. The station has been creative and innovative in its approach to smooth jazz programming by offering a multi-layered array of enhanced perspectives. In spite of the naysayers who believe the genre to not be all-inclusive, Maxine Todd the station’s program director and her crew have made KHJZ one of the best radio formats in the city. Four years ago when KIKK 95.7 FM flipped from Country & Western music to the smooth jazz format things did not go well. KIKK had been a force in Houston for more than 30 years and to replace the city’s most beloved icon was considered to be a cardinal sin. In spite of the tumultuous start, "The Wave" is now firmly entrenched in minds of Houstonians as the sun has now set on Wave Day 4. The dawning of Wave Day 5 may well be even more auspicious in 2007. If the first 4 years of celebratory activities are any indication of the type of line-up the city can expect, things can only get better for smooth jazz connoisseurs and KHJZ 95.7’s all-inclusive programming approach.