Originally Posted by keep it simple
Wasn't Louis Armstrong the Kenny G of his day?
This is the crux of it right here. No Louis Armstrong was not the Kenny G of his day, and this again is one of the greater issues that Pat is talking about. General musical confusion. When you're talking about Pops, you are talking about an incredible musician with impeccable phrasing, tone, pitch, invention never mind personality. He created the role of the soloist in jazz and popular music in general; and influenced generations of instrumentalists and singers a like. Kenny G knows that.
Why is jazz so special? Why is Fletcher Henderson, Ellington or Bill Evans so special? As Abe pointed out music that is is accessible is usually not as special. Jazz has a rich harmonic language for one that in the case those mentioned above did not come out of the bluebut out of their assimilating the harmonic language of Debussy, Ravel, Bartok and even Schoenberg to some regard. I am a drummer, I don't solo in the same way a sax or pianist does, and my harmonic knowledge is limited. I do know that these harmonic changes create great vehicles for soloing, The blues scale can be a very interesting melodic and harmonic device because it has a major and minor intervals as well as a tritone at its disposal. From there you have the modal basis of musical theory that includes the addition of melodic characteristics. When you are soloing, you have to understand the melodic character of the changes, the scales that they are based on and this helps point you in the direction you will go.
In Smooth jazz the harmonic vocabulary is more limited. Kenny G, as Pat pointed out, uses a lot of pentatonic melodies. One of the things about pentatonic melodies is that it is hard to write a bad one. Take you fingers over the black notes of the piano, "Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise." Everything sounds nice. That is because in a pentatonic scale there is no dissonance. There are no interesting intervals like a tritone, a minor sixth or minor seventh. There is no chromaticism. Everything is at least step a part. This creates no drama, no tension and no interest. Most folk melodies are based on the pentatonic scale. The argument is that as such, smooth jazz does not use harmony or even the blues scale as the great jazz players employed it; but relies on very simple harmonic exploration for its soloing.
From there you have the interplay of a great jazz ensemble, the counterpoint, the nuance, the drama comes into play. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jFL1KuvSyo
Again, a keyboard player would more readily give a better analysis.