Since its debut in October, music-intensive "Smooth 106.5" WSSM has been a breath of fresh air in radioland, introducing brightly talented, lesser-known artists such as guitarist Marc Antoine and new-age keyboardist Keiko Matsui and reintroducing past favorites -- Luther Vandross, George Benson and Sade. Smooth jazz is smart, contemporary instrumental music, and the best thing about this format is the sheer musicianship. These folks can really
play -- no hacks allowed. And kudos to the station for sponsoring first-rate shows such as June's Firstar Jazzfest in Shaw Park and Jazz It Up on the Landing over Memorial Day weekend, where trumpeter Rick Braun, a WSSM standby, blew the ashes off our skin. The station also has put its stamp on other concerts, such as the Rippingtons and Spyro Gyra, who performed before larger-than-usual crowds at the Pageant in early summer. Jazz purists may sniff at the playlist: Where's Coltrane? Monk? Bird?
True, listeners won't hear edgy, over-the-top improvisational riffs. They may, however, hear some of the more commercial work from these jazz legends -- Miles Davis, for instance, doing Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." WSSM's fare is not entirely instrumental; Al Jarreau, Sting and Toni Braxton, among others, vocalize to their heart's content. But which particular artist is on tap doesn't matter so much as the mood being set, a groove that is at once uplifting and soothing. St. Louisans are definitely pricking up their ears.