The first music that comes to mind is the sound of certain forms of so-called “smooth jazz”. Some of this music evokes in me a feeling of contentment and well-being. It is relaxed, with a flowing underpinning of sweet, impressionistic harmonies, usually by double bass or electric bass providing an interesting bass line (often punctuated in rhythmic simultaneity with the bass drum of the drum kit), along with a piano or organ or guitar providing the full realization of the chords. A complex and syncopated rhythmic context is provided by dedicated percussion. Over this harmonic and rhythmic foundation, and after enunciating the melodic theme, virtuoso soloists weave inventive improvisations on that theme, always rooted in the harmonic and rhythmic foundation which provides the work’s structure. Usually the theme is restated at the end of the piece.
All of what I wrote above could be said equally of another variety of jazz, often called “hard bop”. In hard bop, as in smooth jazz, the theme is stated, and soloists improvise on it, the theme is restated, and out. But the “feel” of the music is, as its name implies, “hard” and anything but relaxed. These are musicians on a mission, driving hard to unleash energy and sometimes what comes across as anger. The classic example of this kind of hard, sometimes angry bop is a recording by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers entitled “Free for All”. Listen to the title tune. It is a piece of coiled creativity unwinding itself in an froth of growling intensity. It is indeed entertaining. It is indeed exciting. And it is probably useful from several points of view. But does it make one happy? That depends on the individual, but for me, entertainment and excitement do not necessarily equate to happiness.
If the hard-bop “Free for All” does not make me happy, then what does? How about ”Close to You” from the smooth-jazz album “Love Letters” by Dancing Fantasy. The Rippingtons can do it too. But some varieties of smooth jazz, e.g., many of Pat Metheny’s metaphysical meanderings through the megaverse, produce more an ineffable longing than they do mere happiness. Sometimes, happiness is all you want.