Hitting The High G

Critics say he plays music best suited for elevators and insomniacs, but Kenny G could care less - fans have bought 75 million of his albums. On Saturday and Sunday, he and his band join the Honolulu Symphony Pops. Kenny has been targeted by many in and around the industry as a rudimentary musician more concerned with selling records than becoming a proper jazz musician - whatever the heck that is

Steve Murray
Friday - March 14, 2008
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With more than 75 million albums sold worldwide, it would seem mellow jazz master Kenny G would be greatly praised for promoting what many consider America’s greatest gift to music.But because of his style,look, success and a whole bunch of jealousy, Kenny has been targeted by many in and around the industry as a rudimentary musician more concerned with selling records than becoming a proper jazz musician - whatever the heck that is.


The attacks began as soon as he started selling records and grew especially harsh in 1999 when he dared to tread on sacred ground by overdubbing a recording of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. Guitarist Pat Metheny, an ardent critic, responded to the recording on Jazzoasis.com that Kenny has “s**t all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician.”

Not that any of that matters to the well-adjusted musician, whose toughness flies in the face of critics and even what his music may seem to suggest.

Kenny G says his band is looking forward to playing with a full orchestra
Kenny G says his band is looking forward to playing with a full orchestra

“When my parents raised me, whatever they did they gave me good self-esteem, so when I read that (criticism) it doesn’t mean anything to me,“says the now 51-year-old father of two. “And when somebody gives me a lot of accolades,I don’t take that to heart either. You can’t take the good and not take the bad. You’ve got to be pretty straightforward about your goals, which mine are to become the best saxophone player I can be and to practice hard and to work hard,and try to do the best music I can, and to be inspired. I just focus on that and I don’t focus on negative comments or positive comments. It doesn’t affect me at all.”

So accustomed has he become to the jibes that he even plays along with the criticism on his web site, saying that he can “laugh along with all the jokes about his music being best suited for elevators, dental offices and insomniacs.”

Kenny G may not inspire new musicians with the technical mastery of Charlie “Bird"Parker or John Coltrane, but that’s not his goal. His only concern is to make music that is honest to the way he feels, and to perform it in front of fans who are more concerned with the pleasure it brings than with any perceived difficulties with harmonics or melodic vocabulary.


On Saturday and Sunday, Kenny joins the Honolulu Symphony Pops at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Because of the cost of touring and the complexities involved, playing with a symphony is something Kenny does not do too often.

“When it was presented to me, I thought that it sounded like a really fun idea because we don’t play with an orchestra that much, so this should be really, really fun. Any chance to go to Hawaii is pretty awesome for us, so we’re pretty psyched to be coming.”

While fans may come to the show because of his songs and reputation, the leader carefully points out that a Kenny G concert is more than a one-man show.

Kenny G heard his first saxophone player at age 10 and was hooked
Kenny G heard his first saxophone player at age 10 and was hooked

“Our concerts are about musicianship and having fun. People, if they come to the concert, are coming because they have probably heard some of my music on the radio or they like some of my songs, but when they leave the concert they will be thinking, ‘Wow, I just saw a whole bunch of great musicians.’ They are going to leave seeing a great drum solo, percussion solo, keyboard solo, guitar, bass and, of course, they’ll hear plenty of sax.”

Which, of course, is good news to Pops conductor Matt Catingub, who has wanted to bring in the world’s best-selling instrumentalist for a long time.

“Kenny G has always been on my list to join us at some point during the Pops season, so we went seeking him out to see if he was available,” says Catingub, whose orchestra will have only one two-hour practice to get things right. “Also, being a fellow saxophonist, I’m kind of intrigued by what he’s done in music and what he’s done with his career, and definitely he’s a very popular artist.”

Born Kenny Gorelick in Seattle, the Grammy winner saw his future for the first time at the age of 10 while watching a saxophone player on The Ed Sullivan Show.From then on, he knew what he wanted to do. That was in 1966.

That also was the year he was introduced to one of his other great loves, golf. Kenny has an official handicap of +.6, and recently completed the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am with pros Charley Hoffman, Kaneohe’s Dean Wilson and actor Don Cheadle.He did very well,even though he didn’t like what he saw after the tournament.

 

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