With record sales in the tens of millions, saxophonist Kenny G, (born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick) remains one of the most popular figures of the smooth jazz genre.
The soprano saxophonist, who recently released a Greatest Hits album, achieved considerable success with his 1986 album Duotones and his 1992 album Breathless, which sold a staggering 12 million copies in the U.S. alone. To date, Kenny G has released 15 studio albums (including several holiday records) 18 compilation albums with R & B and jazz artists, and three live albums. He has performed with numerous R & B greats, including George Benson and Barry White.
The singular musician and his supremely talented band — a pianist, bass player, guitar player and two drummers (all of whom Kenny G has been playing with for decades) — performed Thursday night at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater, as part of a North American tour that also includes Wisconsin shows in Madison and Appleton.
Kenny G, 62, appeared somewhat ageless, with his trademark curly mane and lean build, dressed in a slim-cut blue-gray suit. At one time, the saxophonist held a Guinness World Record for the longest note ever held, and, while standing on an amp in the middle of the theater’s main aisle, he demonstrated his superhuman lung capacity during the intro song, blowing into his sax for what seemed like an eternity. Kenny G has been playing saxophone for over forty years, and his virtuoso solos during the concert seemed like second nature to him.
“We wanted to say how excited we are, on a Thursday night, to play a show in Milwaukee,” he said to the ethnically diverse, mostly middle-aged audience. The show was not sold out, but the musician drew a healthy crowd for a Thursday night. “Thanks for having us back. This is awesome!” Kenny G engaged in banter with the audience at several points in the show, persuading them to have “more sax” (“I have sax all the time,” he quipped), and joking that if his hairline went the way of his bald guitar player’s, “my career would go straight to the toilet, like Michael Bolton’s.”
Kenny G treated the audience to romance-inspired tunes, including “Songbird,” “Forever in Love” and “The Moment,” along with Latin and funk numbers. The saxophonist also paid tribute to his jazz influences with covers of Stan Getz’s 1962 bossa nova hit Desafinado (composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim), John Coltrane’s lush 1959 ballad, “Naima,” and The Average White Band’s 1974 funk-disco jam “Pick Up the Pieces,” rounding off his set with a cover of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” immortalized in the 1997 film Titanic.
Kenny G was generous with the spotlight, giving each of his musicians time for solos. The ultra-fast and powerful drum-playing was particularly impressive. Audience members had the chance to purchase raffle tickets prior to the start of the show for a sax giveaway, and one lucky couple won the instrument, signed by Kenny G himself. It’s clear that he appreciates his fans; after the show, he signed CDs by the merchandise table.
Although his music has, perhaps unfairly, been cast as “cheesy” and “square” by some pop culture arbiters over the years (the line Alicia Silverstone’s character delivers in Clueless comes to mind— “I so need lessons from you on how to be cool. Tell me that part about Kenny G again?”) the saxophonist’s melodies are undeniably soothing, memorable and atmospheric. The Thursday night concert proved one thing: Kenny G is undeniably cool.