Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features

Smooth Jazz Society is on a musical mission

Barry Aiken, center, and NorthPoint perform Saturday at Windows.  Courtesy of Barry Aiken (Courtesy of Barry Aiken / The Spokesman-Review)
Barry Aiken, center, and NorthPoint perform Saturday at Windows. Courtesy of Barry Aiken (Courtesy of Barry Aiken / The Spokesman-Review)

When Dolores Gonzales moved to Spokane from Los Angeles, she didn’t miss the traffic or the hectic lifestyle of Southern California, but she did miss the music.

“In bigger cities, smooth jazz is the music of choice for mature adults,” she says.

So five years ago, she and a co-worker launched the Smooth Jazz Society of the Inland Northwest.

Smooth or contemporary jazz emerged in the ’70s, pioneered by musicians like Kenny G, Michael Bolton and George Benson.

“It’s a younger jazz with more of an R&B beat,” says Gonzales. “The reason it’s been so slow to catch on here is because there’s no radio station that plays it.”

Instead of bemoaning the limited availability of the music, Gonzalez got busy. She began searching for like-minded contemporary jazz lovers to fill the local void.

Soon, a core group evolved into the Smooth Jazz Society. Its mission: to educate, promote, and provide talent and entertainment opportunities for those who enjoy this soulful music.

For a while they hosted a jazz café in the Gallery of Thum’ downtown, but quickly outgrew that location. In August, the Red Lion at the Park agreed to offer the Smooth Jazz Society a venue at its Windows restaurant.

“It’s been a blessing to be at the Red Lion,” says board president Earl Hill. “Hopefully, it will be a stepping stone to get a radio station to host smooth jazz programming.”

In addition to his board duties, Hill serves as DJ for Smooth Jazz Society events. His mellow tones bring to mind the seductive classiness of Barry White – and that’s intentional.

“Smooth jazz crosses a lot of barriers,” Hill says. “It’s about putting on nice clothes and going to a sophisticated environment.”

Adds board member Carmine Conti of Coeur d’Alene, a well-known area musician: “I know there’s a market for this in Spokane. It appeals to a discerning 35-and-older crowd.”

Conti, an original member of Too Slim and the Taildraggers, notes that the genre is huge in Seattle and has been very successful in California, thanks to a successful marriage with local wineries. There’s even a magazine called Wine and Jazz.

He and fellow board members are passionate about promoting local musicians like Coeur d’Alene-based Barry Aiken and NorthPoint, who will play Saturday night at Windows.

The closure of Ella’s Supper Club added to the urgency of finding a venue to feature area jazz musicians.

“It’s all about the music,” said Gonzales.