Geissman's last release, 1998's In With The Out Crowd was the last time he recorded original material. He says, "It had kind of a radio hit called 'Did I Say' that did very well. If you go back and listen to that, that track doesn't sound like a smooth jazz thing. We played solos, there is a long guitar solo and a long Wurlitzer piano solo. About half the stations initially didn't jump on that tune because it was a little outside the box because we actually played. The other half of the stations were really hot on it and that kind of embarrassed Broadcast Architecture into recommending the track, which I love. I'm a little stubborn, let's say, and I've never wanted to have some radio programmer tell me how my music should be. I've kind of sat it out for awhile until I realized what I really wanted to do was to make an album where we just play music and just forget about what category it is, what format it is, how long the song is, where it might get played or any of that. Smooth jazz is a recent acquisition of that term, which I absolutely hate because why shouldn't all the edges be smoothed off of music. That makes no sense."
Grant Geissman is against consultants like Broadcast Architecture that tell artists what to do with their recordings. He says, "I think people don't like everything watered down to this narrow, little thing. I think they're smarter than they give them credit for and they like a wider variety of material. It doesn't all have to be one groove or one tempo. It's very wide. People like not only Frank Sinatra, but they like Miles Davis and they like whatever. To focus something down to the n'th degree is just crazy."
Satellite radio, such as XM and Sirius, is helping to widen the playlist of smooth jazz radio. Geissman says, "A lot of satellite radio is much broader then terrestrial radio stations are because the terrestrial stations are too narrow. The truth is a lot of people are going to satellite radio because they want to hear a wider variety of music on a station. If they were smart, terrestrial radio would get off this focus group's real narrow thing and start expanding it back out."
In the late 80's and early 90's, smooth jazz radio was known as new adult contemporary. Grant Geissman says, "The format was kind of fun at the beginning because it was very wide. It was world music, it was jazz, it was Latin, it was a little new age. It was this big melting pot of interesting stuff and over the years, and especially in the last few years, it's just gotten so narrow that you practically have to ride a bicycle down the middle of the road to navigate how narrow it has become. The interesting example that I always bring up is 'Feel So Good' still gets a lot of airplay on smooth jazz radio, but the fact is if that song had come out right now, there's no way they would play it on smooth jazz radio because they would say 'oh, there's too many notes in the guitar solo.' It just gets really exciting in the middle and then surrounded by this very melodic thing, which actually is what music is about, tension and release. It's just not on one level all the time."
Geissman says smooth jazz programmers are just playing it too safe and building a kind of lifestyle format. He says, "More and more, everything is just literally on one level, so it's just wallpaper, it's just background music. Why do you want to buy any of that? It's like I've got nothing against wine, cheese and hot tubs, but it's just no basis for a musical genre. If you went out and tried to play a whole concert of music just exactly the way they play it on a smooth jazz station, you would be booed off the stage because there's nothing happening."
Grant Geissman's latest CD is called Say That!, where he goes back to his straight-ahead roots and presents originals with a 60's flair to it. He says, "That was our total intention to kind of get back to, in a way, the stuff I was influenced as a younger player. The whole concept of the album is kind of like to see if we can attempt to make a record that sounds like Wes Montgomery and Horace Silver meets Jimmy Smith. Silver would write tunes that were very melodic and very catchy and identifiable, but yet they still were very jazzy. That's kind of what I was shooting for here, a player's album that also had the appeal of Horace's most popular tunes. I always used to listen to that stuff and I still do. That's just such a great vibe to try and explore."
Even though Geissman's 13th release has the feel of the 60's, all the songs are originals. "The attempt," says Geissman, "was to go back and try to kind of get the vibe of just players playing in a room and just nice songs that have real changes and playing jazz over them. Hopefully we succeeded in that. You try on different hats, some of them fit, some of them don't and then eventually you just get back to the things that originally influenced you and remain important to you. So now, I just want to take my electric guitar and plug it into my amp and just get a beautiful sound with nothing in between the guitar and the amp and that's it. It was enough for Wes Montgomery and it should be enough for me."
One of the tracks on Say What! is an extended version of the theme to CBS' hit comedy Two and a Half Men. Grant Geissman says, "I've been very lucky. We're in our third season of 'Two and a Half Men.' I actually co-wrote that theme and I co-write the underscore with my partner Dennis C. Brown. But the longest version you ever here on TV is like 22 seconds and often you hear a six second version of the theme. I liked it and I wanted to extend it out into a real piece so I kind of wrote a bridge and it's a fun kind of thing to play. If you go back and listen to stuff from the 60's like Earl Hagen's them from 'The Andy Griffith Show' and you could name a thousand examples. The theme totally sets the mood for the show and they have gotten away from that, although it seems to be coming back a little."
Geissman's Say What! is a throwback to a time when you only had two kinds of music, good and bad. That's what musicians do for a living, making music that pleases different kinds of people in different kinds of ways. Smooth jazz programmers, take notice. Your audience is getting to know what you're doing and cares more about new music, which Geissman provides on Say What!