Kenny G: A New Documentary Will Change Your View Of The Smooth Jazz Artist


The 65-year-old saxophonist has been called the best-selling instrumentalist of all time, someone whose songs formed the sonorous backdrop to so many weddings, shopping malls and dental practices that a critic musical said it was “part of the furniture musical of American culture.”

But a new Penny Lane documentary film might cause some reviews of Kenny G to reconsider.

The film suggests that Kenny G, who has just released his first album in six years, is not only unrecognized, but also a revolutionary artist who pursues perfection and innovation in his own way.

The documentary also asks more important questions outside of the music. It explores racial prejudice and the debate between art and commerce, and offers some lessons on what it takes to be successful in any field.

What stands out is that Kenny G would probably have succeeded in whatever he chose to do. He strives tirelessly – he practices his saxophone at least three hours a day – with a compulsive urge to improve himself at everything, even if he’s only baking apple pie in his opulent kitchen.

Many critics have denigrated his music

Kenny G’s dedication to his craft, however, is unlikely to impress his critics.

His music has been described as bland and somnolent, like an Ambien sound tube. He has provided numerous internet memes, and shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “South Park” made fun of his “Snooze Jazz”.

Some of the documentary’s funniest scenes come when jazz critics are asked to rate Kenny G’s music. Many squirm like toddlers at the dentist, with tunes of discomfort on their faces as the standards of Kenny G as “Songbird” play in the background.

When Ben Ratliff, a well-known jazz and pop music critic, was asked what he thought of Kenny G’s music, he struggled to give an assessment.

“I’m sure I’ve heard a lot of music from Kenny G – while waiting for something,” Ratcliff says, referring to the background music he hears in stores or on visits to his bank.

Another reviewer, however, cited the massive popularity of Kenny G – he has sold at least 75 million records – as a form of defense.

“It can’t just be that millions of people are just dumb and that Pat Metheny is the smartest,” says Jason King, musician and scholar at New York University.

The center of the documentary, however, is Kenny G himself. Its clever hijackings of its detractors take the film in unexpected directions.

Kenny G refrains from labeling his own music. Is it jazz, pop? You tell me, he said. He also rejects the idea that he deliberately set out to create Muzak jazz that would appeal to the masses.

“These are songs from my heart,” he says. “It’s just the way I hear it. They [critics] think i just decided to play these songs because i knew they would sell well. If only I was that smart. “

Even so he created a signature sound

But the film clearly shows, because it traces his rise in the musical world, that Kenny G is much smarter than people realize.

He was born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick in Seattle, Washington, a calm Jewish child who was one day to take over his father’s plumbing business. But young Kenny became fascinated by the silky music of jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., whose hits like “Just The Two of Us” heralded the boom in the smooth jazz genre in the 1980s.
Kenny G performs at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival Opening Gala at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City.

Kenny G’s high school music teacher remembers him as a shy kid with no girlfriend who was “super, super smart.”

The Professor tells a funny story about Kenny G stealing the show at one of his first concerts by holding an extended note – an iconic stage move that would be recognizable to any of his fans today. .

Some of the best scenes show the arrogance of Kenny G. He is also an outstanding golfer as well as a successful pilot and investor.

“It’s a hard blow and I just played it really well,” he says with a self-satisfied smile after an awesome workout on his soprano saxophone.

The film also explains well why some jazz critics despise it. Many say his music is not jazz.

Jazz, they say, is all about improvisation and vigorous interaction between musicians who test musical boundaries. These qualities do not describe the music of Kenny G.

Fred Armisen, in the middle, as a Kenny G lookalike in an October 2021 episode of

But even some of his critics concede that Kenny G created a new kind of instrumental music with massive hits like “Songbird” and “Silhouette”. What is indisputable is that it has a distinctive sound that has sold millions of records.

How many musicians can claim this?

“I don’t think a lot of people could say they made a new sound, but I did,” he says.

Some consider this sound to be “easy listening,” but Kenny G seems baffled by the label.

“When you hear the words ‘easy listening’ it almost sounds bad,” he says. “Well, I don’t see anything wrong with something that is easy to listen.”

His music sparks a debate about what authentic jazz is

Jazz purists criticize Kenny G for not believing his music to reflect exceptional jazz innovation or innovation. They also complain that he has made so many millions from his music when many jazz musicians who are much more skilled work in relative obscurity.

As the film clearly shows, the debate over what constitutes real jazz is as old as jazz itself.

Louis Armstrong is widely regarded as the greatest jazz musician of all time for his trumpet playing and virtuoso vocals. But is “What a Wonderful World”, one of his greatest hits, jazz? And if not, does it tarnish its legacy?
Jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong poses for a 1970 portrait in London.
Miles Davis, another jazz legend, was accused of selling himself when he went electric on his album “Bitches Brew,” which helped launch jazz fusion music in the 1970s. Yet no one would claim that Davis is not a genuine jazz artist.

In addition, there is another purpose that jazz, and all music serves.

Music gives people an escape, a way to feel good. Some of the documentary’s most moving passages show Kenny G’s broad appeal. His fans are of all races, ages, and nationalities (he’s huge in China). The film depicts them all nodding happily to the sound of his music with the same satisfied gaze.

Great jazz drummer Art Blakely once said that “jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.”

Kenny G’s music may not meet the classical definition of jazz. And that can put some listeners to sleep.

But perhaps we should not underestimate a musician capable of washing away the dust of everyday life from many listeners tired of living in an increasingly divided world.

If we follow this standard, Kenny G just might be a maestro.


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