Kenny G Is in on the Joke

12/7/2021 5:11:00 PM
Kenny G Is in on the Joke

The pop saxophonist and the director of Listening to Kenny G discuss how their documentary about good and bad taste came to be.

Kenny G knows people hate him. And he's so unbothered by it that he agreed to participate in a documentary about his life with no expectation of controlling or curtailing its narrative. __ChrisLee spoke with the musician and director Penny Lane

The pop saxophonist and the director of Listening to Kenny G discuss how their documentary about good and bad taste came to be.

Penny Lane: When Bill asked me to pitch a new music documentary, at first I was like, I don’t know, man. Tough form. I don’t really like music documentaries very much.KG: Did you see the Bee Gees documentary? Why couldn’t we have done one like that? [Both laugh.]

Kenny, this film does such a thorough job of contextualizing how you and your music have been misunderstood over the years. But you are the first to say you are not angry at your critics and you’re not angry at the comedians who have taken swings at you. So what was your agenda here?

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__ChrisLee But we don't hate him as much as Zamfir 'Master of the Pan flute' __ChrisLee Laughing all the way to the bank. Good for him. daveweigel __ChrisLee Uncle Kenny in Last Friday Night will forever be king level __ChrisLee eu gosto __ChrisLee Ha. If I'd sold 70 million records and had net worth of $100m I wouldn't give a flying fuck what anybody else thinks, either.

__ChrisLee Glad you are ignoring incendiary political news to push the nonentity, the null set that is KennyG. What did you do to an editor to get such a shite story? __ChrisLee lennypane!!!! __ChrisLee why do people hate Kenny G? People are just fucked up. __ChrisLee A time will come, when Muslim ummah will be in strife, and anti-islamic forces will capture major Muslim countries. Then Allah’s rehma will come and the true Islam will rise again. Time of Imam Al-Mahdi in Muhammad Qasim's dreams.

__ChrisLee I saw the film. kennyg is so blissfully happy that Lane didn't bother to ask him about being divorced as that might pop his bubble. His 2 sons are just magically conjured. Once she didn't probe into areas that might have made him uncomfortable I thought, 'this is a puff piece.' __ChrisLee Believe is essential I gave you my trust and you didn't break it, you are who you say you're Nichelle_1111 I'll keep letting people know about your goodness and guarantee business Nichelle_1111

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__ChrisLee I don't hate him __ChrisLee Thanks for been a God sent to my life I’m forever grateful and will forever be proud of you anywhere, people like you are rare Juliee_Gua

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“I wouldn’t have approached Kenny if I thought he was going to be super-sensitive,” Listening to Kenny G director Penny Lane explains.(CNN)If the Jazz Police began launching midnight raids against musicians who offended their sensibilities, Kenny G would be at the top of their list.(CNN)If the Jazz Police began launching midnight raids against musicians who offended their sensibilities, Kenny G would be at the top of their list.The Heisman will be presented Saturday in New York, returning to its usual routine and date after it was forced to delay and go virtual last year due to the pandemic.

“It was very clear to me that he doesn’t give a shit.” Photo: HBO Kenny G gets it."The Jazz Police -- fans and critics who are self-appointed enforcers of jazz purity -- have called Kenny G's music"safe sax" and compared it to takeout Chinese food ("an hour later you're hungry again"). The chart-topping, Grammy-winning, multi-multi-multiplatinum-selling pop saxophonist — who released the most successful instrumental album ever in 1992 and is almost single-handedly responsible for creating the smooth-jazz radio format now inextricably associated with elevators, dentists’ offices, and waiting rooms — knows people hate him. Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has dismissed Kenny G's style as"lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy out-of-tune, noodling. He has read the critical brickbats, the complaints lodged by fellow jazz musicians." But a new documentary film by Penny Lane may lead some of Kenny G's critics to reconsider. (“Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture,” said guitarist-composer Pat Metheny. ADVERTISEMENT As good has Young has been in his first season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, following Heisman finalists Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa, an argument could be made he is not even the clear best player on his own team.

) He has watched the comedy routines, even laughed along with cultural curiosities that knocked him off his pedestal and covered him in filth (like the South Park episode in which an animated Kenny G is shown compelling the entire world to simultaneously shit its pants with his music). Read MoreThe film suggests that Kenny G, who just released his first album in six years, is not only unappreciated but a groundbreaking artist who pursues perfection and innovation in his own sweet way. Read MoreThe film suggests that Kenny G, who just released his first album in six years, is not only unappreciated but a groundbreaking artist who pursues perfection and innovation in his own sweet way. But Kenny G (né Kenneth Bruce Gorelick) appears unbothered. So unbothered that the corkscrew-curled alto-sax cipher agreed to participate in a documentary spanning four decades of his life with no expectation of controlling or curtailing its narrative. It explores racial prejudice and the art vs. Directed by Penny Lane (Nuts!, Hail Satan?), the documentary Listening to Kenny G premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and arrived on HBO Max Thursday. commerce debate, and offers some lessons on what it takes for someone to be successful in any field. It traces his unlikely ascent — the Seattle-born son of a plumbing business owner who grew up loving and aping his musical hero Grover Washington Jr.What comes through is that Kenny G probably would have been successful at whatever he chose to do.5, but he didn’t get an invitation to New York.

— to the pinnacle of pop as de facto creator of “wallpaper music” and turns to critics, academics, and DJs to ask a larger question: What makes music good or bad? Kenny G, 65, and Lane spoke to Vulture ahead of the film’s release about why the musician agreed to be the subject of a documentary about artistic taste. “We were trying to figure out if I’m a subject or a star,” Kenny G began our conversation.Many critics have disparaged his musicKenny G's devotion to his craft, though, will probably not impress his critics.Many critics have disparaged his musicKenny G's devotion to his craft, though, will probably not impress his critics. “We haven’t figured it out yet.” How did this documentary come about? Penny, Bill Simmons asked you to pitch him? Penny Lane: When Bill asked me to pitch a new music documentary, at first I was like, I don’t know, man. It has furnished many Internet memes, and shows like"Saturday Night Live" and"South Park" have made fun of his"Snooze Jazz. Tough form."Pat Metheny perform in 2018 in Rome, Italy. Tide receiver DeVonta Smith won the Heisman last year.

I don’t really like music documentaries very much. The jazz guitarist has been critical of Kenny G's music. Kenny G: Why don’t you like music documentaries? PL: Because there’s no conflict in them. So there’s no drama. Many squirm like toddlers at the dentist, with looks of discomfort across their faces as Kenny G standards like"Songbird" play in the background. Many squirm like toddlers at the dentist, with looks of discomfort across their faces as Kenny G standards like"Songbird" play in the background. It’s just like, Here’s a person. People are there just to all say, like, how great they are in the movie. "I'm sure I heard of a lot of Kenny G's music -- while waiting for something," Ratcliff says, referring to the piped-in music he hears in stores or during visits to his bank. Woodson was also Michigan’s last Heisman winner.

KG: Did you see the Bee Gees documentary? Why couldn’t we have done one like that? [Both laugh.Another critic, though, cited Kenny G's massive popularity -- he has sold at least 75 million records -- as a form of defense.] PL: We had this conversation before."It can't simply be that millions of people are just stupid and Pat Metheny is the smart one," says Jason King, a musician and scholar at New York University. I was trying to think of something that would actually have some conflict in it. And so I thought about the conflict about artistic taste and how important our artistic taste is to us. His canny deflections of his detractors take the film in unexpected directions. His canny deflections of his detractors take the film in unexpected directions. I’m the first to admit that if I love a film and I talked to you and you hated it, I’m mad. 2 Michigan to its first playoff appearance as Big Ten champions and helped end an eight-game losing streak to rival Ohio State.

I’m not just like, Oh, it’s interesting that you disagree. Is it jazz, pop? You tell me, he says. It’s like, I’m angry. He also dismisses the notion that he deliberately set out to create jazz Muzak that would appeal to the masses. And I almost think of it as a moral problem or something or that I have to convince them that they’re wrong."These are songs from my heart," he says. So I thought that was interesting — that was a source of conflict. And so I was trying to think of a musician who would embody that conflict. They [critics] think I just decided to play these songs because I knew they would sell well. They [critics] think I just decided to play these songs because I knew they would sell well. He is the third straight Ohio State starting quarterback to be a Heisman finalist, joining Justin Fields (2019) and Dwayne Haskins (2018).

But then I met Kenny and got to know him. So the movie really evolved a lot because he’s more than a vessel for an idea."Even so, he created a signature soundBut the film makes clear, as it traces his rise in the musical world, that Kenny G is a lot smarter than people realize. He’s a person with a career.He was born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick in Seattle, Washington, a quiet Jewish kid who was expected to take over his father's plumbing business one day. Kenny, this film does such a thorough job of contextualizing how you and your music have been misunderstood over the years. But young Kenny became enthralled by the silky music of jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. But you are the first to say you are not angry at your critics and you’re not angry at the comedians who have taken swings at you.com ___ More AP college football: https://apnews.

So what was your agenda here? KG: I was super-flattered that there was even an idea about it.Kenny G performs at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival's opening gala at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City.Kenny G performs at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival's opening gala at Radio City Music Hall on April 19, 2017 in New York City. I told Penny right off the bat that this is never going to see the light of day. “You guys are going to start this thing, and you’re going to find out this was a complete waste of time." The teacher tells a funny story about Kenny G stealing the show during one of his first live gigs by holding a prolonged note -- a signature stage move that would be recognizable to any of his fans today. There’s nothing here of substance.Some of the best scenes show Kenny G's cockiness. And you’re going to move on to — I don’t know — Bon Jovi or something. He's also an outstanding golfer as well as a pilot and a successful investor.

” PL: I love that your counterexample is Bon Jovi. KG: And then when I really realized it was going to happen, I just wanted to get across that my work ethic is something that I think has been the real key to my career: the practicing and the dedication.The film also does a good job explaining why some jazz critics despise him.The film also does a good job explaining why some jazz critics despise him. Not that I want anyone to pat me on the back. Just that I always admire somebody that’s put in the hours to get really good at something. Jazz, they say, is about improvisation and vigorous interplay between musicians who are testing musical boundaries. And then they make it look easy. Those qualities don't describe Kenny G's music.

So I was hoping Penny would catch that.Fred Armisen, middle, as a Kenny G lookalike on an October 2021 episode of"Saturday Night Live. And of course she did. Now she knows me better than anyone." What's inarguable is that he has a distinctive sound that's sold millions of records." What's inarguable is that he has a distinctive sound that's sold millions of records. She knows I’m constantly tweaking, trying to make sure that everything is as good as it can be. I work so hard at stuff.Some dismiss that sound as"easy listening," but Kenny G seems nonplussed by the label.

So that was the main thing I wanted to get across."When you hear the words, 'easy listening,' it almost sounds bad," he says. Penny, let me ask you this: Given Kenny’s overwhelming success, given the sheer ubiquity of his music, he’s not the most sympathetic subject."Well, I don't see anything wrong with something that's easy to listen to. It’s not like, Let’s celebrate the guy who’s had the diamond multiplatinum smooth-jazz success. How did it occur to you that this is a person who merits a deep-dive investigation? PL: Well, first I’m going to disagree with your premise. They also complain that he's earned so many millions from his music while many jazz musicians who are much more skilled toil in relative obscurity. They also complain that he's earned so many millions from his music while many jazz musicians who are much more skilled toil in relative obscurity. I think that people watch a film about someone like Taylor Swift, and they’re perfectly willing to extend sympathy.

I don’t think success is a stumbling block to feel empathy for somebody.Louis Armstrong is widely seen as the greatest jazz musician of all time for his virtuoso trumpet playing and singing. But I sort of know what you mean in the sense that maybe someone would think I was making a film that was, I don’t know, apologizing for Kenny or something. But is "What a Wonderful World," one of his biggest hits, jazz? And if not, does it tarnish his legacy?Jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong poses for a 1970 portrait in London. But I’ll deal with your second part of the question.Miles Davis, another jazz legend, was accused of selling out when he went electric on his album"Bitches Brew," which helped launch jazz fusion music in the 1970s. The reason I thought Kenny would be perfect is that he is incredibly successful and popular and people love his music. There is a scene in the film that always makes me cry, where you see a montage of people getting married to his music.Besides, there is another purpose that jazz, and all music, serves.Besides, there is another purpose that jazz, and all music, serves.

I cry every time I watch it. People have ideas about what jazz is and what it should be and what an artist should be or not, and all this stuff seems so fucking besides the point when you see these people all over the world. Some of the most moving passages in the documentary show Kenny G's wide appeal. I mean, with more time and budget, we could have found literally infinite wedding videos to Kenny’s music. His fans come in all races, age groups and nationalities (he's huge in China). If people didn’t love his music then there wouldn’t have been a film. The film depicts them all blissfully nodding along to his music with the same contented look. The point was not just to kick someone around for two hours.

I knew that there would be a kind of answer to his critics."Kenny G's music may not fit the classical definition of jazz."Kenny G's music may not fit the classical definition of jazz. I knew that from the beginning, even before I met Kenny. Kenny, a substantial part of this film features negative responses to your music, mean memes, jokes at your expense, critical bashing.But maybe we shouldn't underestimate a musician who can wash away the dust of everyday life for many listeners who are worn down by living in an increasingly divided world. Sure, it also shows you practicing for thousands of hours.If we go by that standard, Kenny G just might be a maestro. But is that hard to digest — that emphasis on criticism of you? KG: Not really..

No. Penny has the editing authority to do what she wants. But actually it’s not stuff I haven’t heard. PL: It’s all stuff he’s heard before and way meaner versions too. KG: Way meaner versions! PL: We did not cast the film with assholes who are just there to trash him.

We tried to find people who maybe didn’t love his music but had interesting things to say. KG: I liked your main critic guy at the end who goes, “What’s not to like?” While he’s criticizing me, he’s got a smile on his face. But he’s true to what he believes. So no problem. I’ve heard it so many times before.

But I’ve also heard Dizzy Gillespie tell me he liked what I’m doing. Miles Davis himself said he likes what I’m doing. But that critic there wrote this shitty thing about me? Hmmm. Let me think. Who should I rely on? That guy or Miles Davis? I wondered if your participation was motivated in part by being sick of being a punch line.

KG: No. I mean, did you see the South Park episode? That’s the greatest thing. I am on South Park! Somehow I’m on the radar of those guys. And they made a feature of me where I played the note that makes people immediately crap their pants. PL: It wasn’t as if I hadn’t done any research into who Kenny is and what his personality is like.

I watched interviews with him, and I looked at his social-media channels. Yeah, I wouldn’t have approached Kenny if I thought he was going to be super-sensitive and angry about every criticism that comes his way. It was very clear to me that he doesn’t give a shit. There was an early version of this film that was called Kenny G Gets the Last Laugh or something. KG: Really? That’s a way better title! There’s a fascinating moment in the film when Penny asks you about the benefits you reaped as a white artist in a predominantly Black field.

And you admit it’s something that never occurred to you. I was hoping you could talk about that a bit — and whether it’s an issue you’ve thought more about subsequent to shooting. KG: I thought about it more since I saw the film. But I still go back to the way I’ve always thought about it, which is: There weren’t radio stations just waiting for a white guy to play the sax. Oh, we’ve been waiting for this instrumental that we really wanted to play because we didn’t want to play any Black musicians.

I don’t think that was ever the case. What happened was that smooth-jazz radio started almost because of my sound. And now there’s a place for this kind of music. In early promo shots, Arista Records obscured your racial identity, polarizing the negative so it made it look like you were Black. PL: There’s a really simple, easy way to say, Well, there’s cultural appropriation.

But look at the particulars of a person and their particular career, and there are places where his race was an asset and there are places where it was not. And I thought it was interesting and complicated. Also, looking back on how the world was back then, Kenny was played on what was then called “Black radio.” He was at the top of the Black Music Chart. I was just very jarred by that.

Like, Wait. We used to have a Black Music Chart? KG: I’ve won a couple of Soul Train Music Awards. Very few white guys win Soul Train Music Awards. Very few white guys win Image Awards. Very few white guys get to play at jazz festivals.

And I remember being the white guy that was always the white guy in that environment. So that’s why I never really thought about it in the opposite way. Listening to Kenny G features footage from your first music video, which is so amazing. You are break dancing and you jump up from a backspin straight into a sax solo. Clearly your label made you do it.

KG: That’s one of the most unfortunate things that’s happened to me. PL: If you want to be an international star at Kenny’s level, you’re probably going to have to do some embarrassing things that you didn’t like at some point along the way. KG: It was so embarrassing. See, this is what happens when — PL: — when you’re the subject, not the star! This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. .