Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Kenny G

We chat with the smoothest of sax men before his string of Jazz Alley shows.

By Seth Sommerfeld April 23, 2012

It’s a rare thing to hear a multiplatinum musician play an intimate club show—then again, Kenny G’s career has been anything but typical. The man brought smooth jazz to the masses and became an indelible (and recognizable, thanks to his curly ‘do) pop culture figure. He even popped up playing with Foster the People on Saturday Night Live last year. Thirty years and 23 albums into his solo career, the Seattle native remains driven (despite some vocal critics.) He still practices saxophone three hours a day to hone his craft and he’ll put that practice to use this week when he comes home to play eight shows over four nights at Jazz Alley.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation we chatted with the contemporary sax man about his continued passion for music, being a punch line, and (of course) golf.

After all your success, what about playing a smaller venue like Jazz Alley appeals to you?

We just got through doing [clubs shows at] Blue Note in New York in November and it was really fun, so that’s kind of opened up the door to doing more. And Seattle’s my hometown, so why not? You feel that connection between people that like your music and yourself, and that’s really important. That’s how it started.

Do you have any preshow routine?

No, not really. If I’ve got friends there, I probably end up hanging out with them. If I’ve got no friends there, I probably practice more. Neither one of those situations necessarily lends itself to a better show. It’s so organic. It’s like a professional golfer; you know you’re good, you know you can do it, but you’re not necessarily going to hit all the good shots that night. You never know.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you do?

If I was good enough in golf, I would’ve loved to be a professional golfer. [Kenny G is a scratch golfer.] That’s pretty much the thing that gets me excited. I like flying. I’m a pilot, so maybe some sort of a job as a pilot might be fun, too. I like building things. Maybe I would build furniture, houses, or something like that.

At times, especially in the ’90s, you were often used as a pop culture punchline. Did that ever get under your skin?

You gotta look at the big picture. What you said is true, but how many people actually wrote or said things like that? Could it be handful? And then how many people like my music and went to my concerts? When you look at the difference between a handful to millions—it’s absolutely meaningless. So that’s how you have to look at it. Unfortunately, a lot of artists get too bent out of shape if they read something in the paper that’s not complimentary.

How has Seattle impacted and shaped your sound and career?

In the ‘70s when I was in high school [at and doing my thing, we had a big R&B/funk scene in Seattle. Everybody was gigging and there were clubs all over the place. It was a very vibrant scene. At a time when Earth, Wind, and Fire was the band to be like, there were plenty of gigs for sax players and horn players. There was a lot of action. It really got me excited and motivated and got me on my way to be playing music all the time. If that wasn’t the case, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I would’ve been in high school, playing in the high school band, and that would’ve been it. But I was out there playing shows, and playing in bands, and playing clubs. It was a huge, huge plus. It launched me.

How does it feel to still be in the mainstream consciousness after all these years?

I’m grateful that I’ve managed to stay current enough to still be doing what I’m doing after [all these] years; where people haven’t gotten sick of me, or my music, or my sound, or whatever else. Maybe they’re sick of my hair.

Kenny G
Apr 26–29, Jazz Alley, $55

Note: Video contains mild profanity.

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