The Best Smooth Jazz Bands and Artists of All Time

Over 4.4K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best Smooth Jazz Bands and Artists of All Time
Voting Rules
Smooth jazz bands and artists only.

Combining elements of funk, R&B, rock, pop, and yes, jazz - smooth jazz is wildly popular as a commercial subgenre of jazz. Smooth jazz artists are generally considered adult contemporary radio content and called smooth due to their downtempo melodies that carry their songs. First emerging in the 1960s, smooth jazz worked well as background music and wasn't necessarily as complex or innovative as traditional jazz music. Nevertheless, top jazz artists rose to prominence in the late 1980s before peaking in the 1990s and early 2000s. Although smooth, contemporary jazz isn't as big as it once was, its impact can't be disputed, and many famous smooth jazz artists are even some of the best musicians of modern time. 

So, who are the best smooth jazz artists of all time? Any list of smooth jazz musicians has to include the names Anita Baker, Dave Koz, Chris Botti, Al Jarreau and Norah Jones. These smooth jazz artists are among the most well known singers and instrumentalists across the genre, and with good reason. In fact, their unparalleled songwriting and countless accolades speak for themselves. 

That said, it's up to you to determine which smooth jazz artists rise above the rest. This list answers the questions "who are the best smooth jazz bands of all time?" and "who is the greatest smooth jazz musician ever?" If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the bands' music (albums and songs) instead of just voting for the most popular smooth jazz vocalists or groups that you might've heard of. 

Ranked by
  • Fourplay
    682 votes

    As an acclaimed supergroup, Fourplay brought together four of the genre's greatest talents: Bob James, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, and Harvey Mason. The synergy between these musicians created a sophisticated and groovy sound, solidifying their place among smooth jazz royalty. With an impressive discography spanning over three decades, Fourplay has produced numerous chart-toppers while evolving their sound and lineup with legends like Larry Carlton and Chuck Loeb. Their skillful compositions and innovative collaborations continue to push the boundaries of what smooth jazz can be.

  • A titan in the smooth jazz world, Grover Washington Jr. exemplified the soulful side of the genre with his sultry saxophone playing. Throughout his illustrious career, he released several chart-topping hits that showcased his undeniable talent and shaped the sound of smooth jazz for generations to come. Unfortunately, his life was tragically cut short in 1999, but his music continues to captivate audiences today, proving that Grover Washington Jr.'s influence and mastery of smooth jazz are timeless.

  • David Sanborn
    440 votes

    With a distinctive style and emotive alto saxophone playing, David Sanborn has become an icon in the smooth jazz world. His remarkable career boasts numerous chart-topping hits, Grammy awards, and collaborations with some of the biggest names in the industry. Demonstrating his versatility, Sanborn has ventured into other genres like pop, blues, and R&B, always leaving his unmistakable mark. Fans of all ages appreciate the raw emotion and technical skill that David Sanborn brings to the smooth jazz landscape.

  • Bob James
    715 votes

    A pianist with immense prowess and visionary composer, Bob James has been a mainstay in the smooth jazz scene for decades. His knack for creating memorable melodies and lush harmonies has garnered him numerous awards and accolades throughout his celebrated career. Not only has he made an indelible mark as a solo artist, but James also played a pivotal role in the formation of the aforementioned supergroup, Fourplay. His enduring influence and ever-evolving artistry have cemented his legacy as one of the genre's finest.

  • Spyro Gyra
    431 votes

    This eclectic ensemble, led by saxophonist and composer Jay Beckenstein, has been at the forefront of the smooth jazz scene since forming in the 1970s. With their distinctive fusion of jazz, R&B, and world music influences, Spyro Gyra has crafted a sound that is both refreshing and unmistakably their own. The group's prolific output, featuring over 30 albums and numerous chart-topping hits, has garnered them legions of devoted fans worldwide. Spyro Gyra's innovative approach and unwavering commitment to their craft have solidified their status as smooth jazz luminaries.

  • George Benson
    208 votes

    An extraordinary guitarist and singer, George Benson has been enchanting audiences with his smooth jazz stylings for over five decades. He rose to prominence in the 1970s and continues to be an influential figure in the genre today. His ability to create fluid melodies and intricate improvisations on the guitar, coupled with his velvety vocals, make him a standout talent among his peers. Benson's superb musicianship and lasting impact on the world of smooth jazz have earned him a well-deserved place among the greats.