Listening to Kenny G (2021) Movie Script

Kenny G is the best-selling
instrumentalist of all time.
He's probably the most famous
living jazz musician.
And I made this film to find out
why that makes certain people
really angry.
PENNY LANE: How are you feeling?
Underappreciated in general.
-But other than that I'm fine.
KENNY G: I never get
to go anywhere
without playing the sax.
Honestly if I get invited
to a party,
it's only because
they want me to play.
So I'm never really
invited anywhere
-just because of me.
-PENNY: I disbelieve that...
It's like, "You're gonna
play, aren't you?"
-...I don't believe that at all.
-Oh. It's 100 percent true.
KENNY G: I think people
don't know me very well,
because it's a...
You know, they know my music.
They don't really know me.
I'm not a-- I don't think
I'm a personality to people.
I think I'm a sound.
-I almost had it. Shit.
I think you got enough
of this backstage right now.
Don't you think? Yeah.
Thanks, guys.
Stand by for house lights.
PENNY: We're gonna start
by listening
to some Kenny songs.
-PENNY: Um, you can talk
as much as you want,
or just listen,
it's totally up to you.
PENNY: Do you remember
the first time
you heard this song?
Absolutely not.
When you first called me
and said,
"I'm doing a Kenny G
I had to think about
my own relationship
to Kenny G and to his music,
um, 'cause I don't know
anyone out there
who's like a Kenny G scholar
per se.
Um, so I had to really think
about, like,
what is my intellectual...
...artistic relationship
to Kenny G's music?
He's just sort of part
of the musical furniture
of American culture
since the late '80s.
BEN RATLIFF: I'm sure I heard
a lot of Kenny G
while waiting for something.
At a dentist's office,
for example, or in a bank.
And so, I think
I associated his music
with a corporate attempt
to soothe my nerves.
And I didn't like that.
You know, I don't like that.
No, I'm being treated
like an ant or something.
It feels like
he's pouring a sidewalk,
and the music is just, like,
layered in there,
and it's just this thin,
and it's shiny.
He makes "nice" music
for nice people,
and I don't suppose I should
begrudge anybody
coming home from their job
and relaxing to that.
What it makes me feel
is that it's just wallpaper.
I don't know, I just want to
believe I'm better than that.
I get a little knotted up
and confused when--
If I have to talk about Kenny G.
With Kenny G's music,
what can you say?
I don't know.
What can you say?
Want me to sit in this chair
and you can check it out with--?
-PENNY: Yeah, check it out.
-With the real vibe here?
Sweater on this, over this,
would you like better,
or do you just like this shirt?
-PENNY: I love that shirt.
-Great then.
so my first question for you is,
what do you love about music?
What do I love about music?
I don't know if I love music
that much.
I do...
What do I love about music?
I guess, for me,
when I listen to music,
I think about the musicians.
And I just think about
what it takes to make that music
and how much they had
to practice,
and how good they had to be.
KENNY G: I practice every day,
three hours every day.
Could I practice two? Probably.
Could I practice five? Probably.
See? I get more excited
about that.
That's a hard lick.
I just played it really well.
I don't think there's anything
wrong with hard work,
practice, preparation,
and... not "perfection,"
but at least trying,
striving for it.
Trying your best
to strive for that.
I don't think anybody can say
there's anything
wrong with that.
That can't be wrong.
I think that's why my career's
lasted this long.
I'm hoping so,
because that way
I'll continue to do it.
Put your hands together
for Kenny G.
JASON KING: The 1980s and 1990s
represented a peak moment
for a kind of mass monoculture.
There was an attempt
to try to sell artists,
superstar artists,
to the widest possible audience,
and Kenny G is
one of those artists.
this white boy
with the naturally curly hair,
you know, who looked
very ordinary.
Almost a little nerdy, even.
But he had such a beautiful
tone on the saxophone,
and captured the imagination
of people.
Play that funky music,
white boy.
WILL SMITH: He's one
of the very few jazz artists
to move from the jazz
to the pop charts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
the number-one-selling
instrumentalist of all time,
Kenny G!
Are you sure this is right?
Are you positive?
The fact of the matter is,
Kenny G, in the 1990s,
was one of the most well-known
musicians on this planet.
TV HOST: How does it feel
knowing that
you are the favorite musician
of President Bill Clinton?
-Well, what can I say?
-TV HOST: I know.
I mean, I'm flattered
that anybody likes my music.
CHRIS: If you'd ask people,
"Name one jazz musician,"
it's not gonna be Miles Davis
or John Coltrane.
Many times, it's Kenny G.
REPORTER: Billboard Magazine's
Jazz Artist of the Decade.
-That's amazing.
What do you think about that?
Because you were an
accounting major in college.
TV HOST 2: I would like
you to demonstrate
the circle breathing technique
that you have patented.
Could you describe it
and then do it?
Well, I don't know
if it's my patent, but...
it's basically--
TV HOST 2: You don't breathe,
is basically it.
KENNY G: You breathe
while you play at the same time.
And a new honor today
for sax superstar Kenny G.
He's made it into the Guinness
Book of World Records
for holding the longest
sustained note ever.
Forty-five minutes,
forty-seven seconds.
Now, that undoubtedly
is a new world record.
-Thank you. Thanks.
PAT: Such an interesting person,
because at the same time
that he is one of the most
loved characters in jazz,
he is also one of the most
hated people.
And I won't say-- I can't--
I shouldn't say "hated."
Kenny G has a Christmas album
out this year.
Hey, happy birthday, Jesus.
Hope you like crap.
I remember hearing those songs,
and I also remember
that the...
denigration when it came
after Kenny G
that was, you know, really,
like, over the top.
-Kenny G?
And I don't remember exactly
what my reaction to it
at the time was.
I mean, I myself,
might have like,
joined in with...
(CHUCKLES) ...with the choir.
JOHN HALLE: Even today
you can go on the Internet
and just google "Kenny G,"
and find all sorts of abuse.
-We going all night
with this one!
I don't-- I don't care
for Kenny G. I'm not into it.
I don't like all that...
Oh, It's awful, that's awful.
Some people might think
this is easy listening.
-It's "Songbird."
It's my-- It's ringtone.
There's nothing easy about this.
Oh, I was about to pick up
my phone.
I thought suddenly
it was KG calling.
-Make it stop, Mel, please!
KENNY G: When you hear
that word, "easy listening,"
it almost sounds bad like...
Well, I don't see anything wrong
with something
that's easy to listen to.
But, that said,
I'm not writing music
so it's easy to listen to.
I'm writing music
that just appeals to me.
These are songs from my heart.
This is the way I just hear it.
The fact that what appeals to me
also appeals to other people...
that's the beautiful thing.
Most of the music critics
are not kind to me,
because most
of the music critics
aren't happy
with my style of jazz.
They think I've decided
to play these kind of songs
because I knew
they would sell well
and I could get rich and famous.
If only I was that smart.
KENNY G: And we are now...
Now we're flying.
-How about that.
That is pretty cool.
I'm gonna make this flight,
you know, stellar.
And I feel the same way
when I do a concert.
It's like, when I get on stage,
I don't want it to be just okay.
"Yeah, he did all right."
No, it's gonna be
my fricking best.
And it's gonna be, like,
not just my best,
it's gonna be the best.
And now you can see
downtown Seattle from here.
Never thought I'd be flying
my own plane
over my old high school,
that's for sure.
KENNY G: See, I just think,
walking in with the sax is--
It's-- It's more iconic.
Okay, fine, do it with the sax.
KENNY G: I don't think
I ever came in this way.
The band room is on
the other side of the school.
I would come in
that way every morning,
'cause we started at 7:00,
and school didn't open
till 8:00.
-This is the principal.
-Yes, right.
You know, here's what's weird.
I'm older than the principal.
-PRINCIPAL: Yeah, well, I'd love
to get you
to sign the wall here.
-We've got the signature wall.
-KENNY G: Hey.
It'd be my pleasure.
I've got to think
of something inspirational.
PRINCIPAL: An inspirational
note, if you can.
-Not to put you on the spot.
-No, no, it's just--
PRINCIPAL: But we'd love to...
KENNY G: I want-- Now this is
a lot of pressure
to put the right words down,
'Cause you know how long
it takes me to make a record.
Okay, I got to think
of something. Gosh.
-This is hard!
Let me see, I got to picture
what it's gonna look like.
KENNY G: Okay. Uh...
Okay, here we go.
You ready? Okay.
Yeah, I like that.
I think that's good.
-That okay?
-PRINCIPAL: That's awesome.
-That's really cool.
-Whew! Oh, my God.
Okay, Drew, that was a lot
of pressure.
Thanks for allowing me
to do that.
PRINCIPAL: Of course,
it's a beautiful
message, thank you.
That's really... I'm honored.
I really am, I'm really honored
to be on that wall.
It means a lot. It really does.
KENNY G: Yeah, look at that.
There I am on the stairs.
Unofficially, Seattle is
to be the jazz capital
of the northwest.
Officially, the Franklin
High School Jazz Lab
is the grand champion
of high school bands
for the west coast.
This 18-piece ensemble
has pushed itself
to an incredible list
of achievements.
This is the Franklin Jazz Lab.
KENNY G: The Jazz Lab.
Loved it, just loved it.
And we had a composer
in residence.
This guy, Jim Gardiner.
And all the guys in the band,
we all really loved
Jim Gardiner.
When you're teaching
you really don't know
if you're gonna be
affecting them, that makes them
do something
for the rest of their life.
Kenny was quiet, shy,
and very, very smart.
He didn't have any girlfriends.
The only girlfriend he had
was that new soprano sax.
Kenny was an incredible reader.
I mean, read anything.
So I would write some stuff
out for him freehand,
and I'd pass it to him.
Then all of a sudden...
And he played, these sight reads
and stuff.
I said, "Okay, okay,
so let's move this up a notch."
There was an artist by
the name of Grover Washington.
And I had gotten the album,
and I brought
the album to school
and I gave it to Kenny and said,
you know,
"I think that you should
check this out."
KENNY G: And that was what
really got me going,
'cause his sound was
so beautiful to me.
And I said, "I'm gonna sound
just like him."
"That's my sound."
KENNY G: Every night,
I'd put on Inner City Blues
and I would go to sleep
to that record.
Every night, probably for
at least two and a half years
of my high school life.
So, I tried to become
the white Grover Washington, Jr.
And I tried really hard.
But every time I played
my saxophone,
it just sounded like me,
it didn't sound like him.
And I was so frustrated.
But, in the long run,
it's good to have
your own sound.
The very good kids,
I would invite them to sit in,
you know,
with my professional band.
And we had a concert
at the Opera House.
So, I said to Kenny, "You get
to have a solo at this gig."
Kenny walks out
in front of the audience.
He's supposed to do a cadenza,
You know, with the stuff
you hear him doing today, right?
So instead of doing that,
Kenny decides to hold a note.
Not just a note.
I mean, he took Mother Earth
and was holding a note.
And he's holding a note
for ten minutes.
I looked over my shoulder,
imagine Kenny's playing
over here.
And all of a sudden, a light
is shining on this kid.
I'm going-- And a big old light.
I'm going, "What the hell?"
and stuff.
You know, and all of sudden
he holds that--
Standing ovation.
-Whoo! My God.
And that was,
at that particular moment,
when the gates of heaven
opened up
and gave Kenny
the other elements
that he was searching for,
which is his soul
with his instrument.
That was the moment
little Kenny Gorelick
became the G-Man.
FAN: I have Alexa in my house,
and every morning I wake up
at about 7:00.
And before I make my coffee,
I always ask Alexa
to play Kenny G.
It just, like, makes me feel,
you know, calm.
You know? It calms me out,
you know?
I had a big crush on him
since I was 12,
and my dad introduced me to him.
-It's from our childhood.
Our parents listened to Kenny G.
And I don't know how we ended
up finding the tickets,
but we're like,
"Oh, shit, do you want to go?"
-Yes, we do. Yes.
He makes playing an instrument
really cool,
so growing up, when we were
forced to play instruments
and, you know, it wasn't
the coolest thing to do.
He made it cool.
-There's no one like him.
-We love the show.
I've been listening to him
since I was a baby.
Thirty-five years,
because of her.
It always makes me angry
that people, you know,
sometimes mock him, sort of,
because, you know,
they call it easy listening.
But he's a really serious,
excellent musician.
-I mean, they wish they'd have
the success that he has...
-Yeah, right.
-Right exactly. terms of instrumental
Right, isn't he
the world's leading...?
Instrumental artist,
I'm pretty sure, so...
Kenny's got a wide range
of styles.
He plays everything.
Salsa, jazz,
he plays everything.
Pop. He's the number one
instrumentalist in the world.
-KENNY G: So, I'll do
the same thing again.
One thing that's interesting
is that
when people hear me play live,
they're usually hearing it
through a microphone
and speakers.
But here in the studio,
if I were to record
my saxophone,
you would hear it sounding like
this in the room,
and then I'll turn it on and see
what it really sounds like.
Sounds pretty nice,
but when we actually hear
what it will sound like
on the recording,
it adds all the beauty,
and I'll show you what we do.
So that sounds all so beautiful.
Usually the same three or four
reverbs in combination...
-KENNY G: Yeah. make the whole sound.
Without being egotistical
and no conceit here,
when I hear my sax recorded,
like when I give it
my stamp of approval,
I sit back and go,
"That's fucking beautiful."
I just say it.
I can just select this note
right here...
right there.
If I press record,
I will go in at the beginning
of that note,
out to the end of that note.
So let's hear
how it sounds now.
I'm going to record myself
playing that note again.
So watch this.
Now let's see
what it sounds like.
You can see how seamless
this recording is.
You can't tell that
there's even an edit in there.
Perfect. Okay, so,
how many edits are there?
Well, let's see.
There's an edit.
There's one right there.
There's one right there.
There's another right there.
There's one right there.
There's one right there.
This section right here
was an edit.
This little part
of this note was.
This section was an edit.
-PENNY: That's part of a note?
-Part of a note, right there.
I mean, it may look like
it's sterile,
the way we do it, but it's not.
It's actually-- It's from here.
It's like, "Why doesn't that
sound right to me?"
"Hmm, it's just that one note."
So when you fix that one note,
you're not making
like a laboratory thing,
and it doesn't take away
the feeling.
It adds to it.
That's how I do it.
Some people just wanna do
a take from start to finish,
and they believe that
a live take is the way to go.
For me...
it's-- I'm gonna hear it
This album we've been
working on about two years now.
The album is called
New Standards
because I like
old jazz standards.
And these standards have been
played so many times.
So, I don't want to do
an album of those standards.
I want to do an album
that sounds like
I'm doing those standards,
but they're my new creations.
So it's called New Standards.
This is the inspiration, right?
Because there's Charlie Parker,
that's Dizzy Gillespie.
I'm pretty sure
that is Dexter Gordon.
And then, this keyboard player,
gosh, I'm not 100 percent sure
who that is.
It's Monk with the hat.
-It is Monk!
-It is Monk!
Perfect. That's great.
This is the paradox
of Kenny G's musical world.
It does come from a tradition.
And yet, Kenny G's music
seems to want to have
nothing to do with a past.
Jazz has been
a chronological development.
And each stage
of its development
has built on what went before.
BEN: What is jazz?
Well, it's a music that has
this element
and that element. Sure, fine.
BEN: But also, way up
on the list of things
that are central to jazz
is the fact
that it's a hundred-year
People playing jazz currently
are always in a kind of dialogue
with people who played jazz
50 years ago or whatever.
In the music of Kenny G,
that continuity... is absent.
I'm from Seattle,
and I live in a musical vacuum.
I don't really listen
to much music,
I don't read the paper,
I don't read magazines,
I don't watch the news.
So I don't really know
what's happening.
INTERVIEWER: Are you influenced
by the great saxophonists
of the--
You know, we've had so many.
I think I would say
I was influenced--
-Or is that more of a jazz...?
-Well, it's real jazz sound,
but it's the technique of it.
The John Coltrane
and the Charlie Parker,
I mean, their technique
was phenomenal.
But that music was never
heartfelt for me,
so when I went out
and gigged,
it wasn't anything
that I wanted to emulate.
You know, Kenny G
is playing music
that is sort of related to jazz
but isn't jazz.
Jazz is a very complicated
art form,
and to master bebop harmony,
and let's not even go
into what that is.
I mean, it's really like
getting-- it's like getting
a PhD in mathematics,
in a lot of ways.
It is not the same
as just picking up your horn
and playing what you feel.
Part of what makes jazz
is this sense of
call and response
and dialogue
among the musicians.
And what you hear
in Kenny G's music
is no conversation at all.
This is a solo project.
This is not sex.
This is masturbation.
CHRIS: The model that he's using
is not a jazz model
where everybody gets to have
a kind of an equal voice
within the jazz unit.
It's much more of a pop act,
where he is the star.
KENNY G: Somebody asked me,
"What kind of music do you do?"
"Uh, I play sax."
"Well, what kind?"
"It's instrumental music."
"Well, is it jazz?"
I don't know. You might think
it might be jazz.
"Well, is it pop?"
I don't know.
You might think
it might be pop.
Those labels are tricky.
I mean, my songs were played
on pop radio.
They were played on jazz radio.
They were played on R&B radio.
Am I an R&B artist?
Am I a pop artist?
Am I a jazz artist?
I think maybe the answer is yes,
just to everything.
Now that we're taking a break,
tell me, how is it going?
PENNY: It's going great!
I mean, seriously,
are you getting what you want?
-Am I talking too long?
-Am I animated enough?
Am I too animated?
That's my problem, is that
I always wanna be too good
-at everything, and so--
-I think you're doing great.
I want to be the best.
See, my problem is,
I wanna be the best interview
you've ever had.
And if that means sitting here
for 12 hours
and not eating or drinking,
I'll do it.
That's my problem.
So I would give you
whatever you want,
-as long as you want.
-We're doing great.
Okay, good.
KENNY G: There's a picture of me
as a baby, this one, up there.
That's me as a little baby.
I was a very happy baby.
I've been a happy kid
my whole life.
I really have.
I might worry,
or we call it kvetching.
You know, it's a Jewish word
called kvetching.
It's like, okay, you might be
kind of complaining
about this and that,
but it doesn't last,
it just kind of... (WHISTLES)
...and I'm back to normal.
Oh, there's my grandpa.
Lived to 103.
And he was always happy.
Never complained.
Like my father, my father
never complains either.
And my dad now is 98.
My dad started off as a plumber,
and then he created a wholesale
company for plumbing,
hardware stuff
called Thrifty Supply Company.
It was always kind of expected
that I would end up working
at Thrifty Supply.
I graduated from college,
and we had a talk.
And I said, "Dad, listen...
I've done a bunch of gigs."
I played for different people
that would come to town.
Like, Sammy Davis Jr.
So, I played
with Sammy Davis Jr.
Liberace. I played
with Liberace.
The Ringling Bros. Circus
would come to Seattle,
I'm in the Ringling Bros.
Circus band.
I'm also with an R&B band,
Cold, Bold & Together.
So I'm becoming well known
in Seattle
as a guy that can play.
"Dad, I'd really like to give
this a couple more years."
"And if nothing works out,
I'll come to Thrifty."
He says, "No problem."
I said, "Great."
One, two, three.
In Portland, Oregon,
this guy named Jeff Lorber
is putting together his band.
So I drive down, audition,
I get the gig,
and now I'm playing
with Jeff Lorber.
Jeff Lorber's record company,
Arista Records,
and the big man there,
Clive Davis,
would come down
to see Jeff Lorber play.
So Clive Davis saw me play
many times.
And after five years
and watching the audience
react to my playing,
which was positive,
he said to me one day,
"Would you like to have
your own record deal?"
NARRATOR: The resident genius
of Arista Records,
Mr. Clive Davis.
REPORTER: Davis's track record
of success began in 1967.
Back then as president
of CBS Records,
he sensed a revolution in music
and signed up artists
such as Santana, Janis Joplin,
Blood, Sweat & Tears,
and Chicago.
I went to see a tour performance
of the Jeff Lorber group. And...
there was Kenny, standing up
and doing his magic.
I was very impressed.
He had a very natural gift
of relating to the audience.
KENNY G: Clive Davis,
he's just a music man.
It's a puzzle, I think, to him.
He puts pieces together.
He sees it
and he can put it together.
Like he's-- for example,
he would find
a Whitney Houston
and then he would think,
"Who should write
the songs for her?"
And then he puts
the people together,
and then he puts
the producers together,
and they come out
with this record.
And, of course, she becomes
an international superstar.
JASON: Popular music
doesn't just show up.
It's constructed, it's mediated.
Often, we make assessments
or evaluations
about what an artist has done,
or what their intentions are.
But we fail to realize
that those artistic choices
are being made
in a much larger context.
So to talk about
Kenny G properly,
you have to talk about
the business aspect.
KENNY G: My first album
was produced by Jeff Lorber.
Clive Davis is basically saying,
"We're gonna have
the Jeff Lorber sound,
but now it's just
gonna feature you."
It's the one where I look like
Richard Simmons.
That one did not so great.
Sold about 40,000 records.
JASON: Clive Davis's approach
was to put an album out
and if it didn't quite hit,
you would re-jigger it
a little bit,
change the sounds,
alter the marketing.
CLIVE: It was dawning on me
that although he's a soloist
in what was a jazz band,
that his primary appeal
would really be pop.
So they said, "We'll have you
work with Kashif."
JASON: Kashif was a legendary
R&B performer,
producer, a songwriter.
They were interested in results
and getting hits.
Kashif was the hot producer
at the time.
He had a song out
with Evelyn "Champagne" King.
Love come down
Ooh, you make my love
Come down
He did that song.
And that was huge.
Clive Davis and Arista
were trying to find the formula
that would work,
and they were mercenaries
at doing that,
whatever it took.
PENNY: I want to talk
about your first music video.
-KENNY G: That's awful.
-I think it's great.
If you show that in this film,
I'm going to boycott
the premiere.
PENNY: Okay, if I show it,
it will be in the context
of you saying
how you feel about it.
-Good, I'm glad.
It's just ridiculous,
that thing.
The philosophy
of the record company was,
there's no format
for instrumentals,
so we're gonna do vocal songs.
That's what is going to get
radio airplay.
You're going to play
the sax solo.
They'll discover you
through this.
And I thought,
"That sounds awful."
People are gonna be tricked
into thinking
that I'm the singer,
and who knows
if they're gonna like sax stuff?
Can't we just put out
instrumental music?
"Nope, not gonna to work."
There's a point where
I'm break-dancing on the floor
like some weird, like, rotating.
And then I come up,
and I start playing my sax solo.
And that is supposed to change
everybody's mind.
Like, oh, all of a sudden,
"Oh, he's the artist?" Yeah.
Never worked.
By the way, have you ever
seen the single
for "Hi, How Ya Doin'?"
The single shows
a "silhouette" of a guy.
You can't tell
whether he's white or Black.
At that time, the most success
we have is in Black radio.
And they wanted to make sure
that people didn't know I was
I thought they were
a bunch of shenanigans.
Like, you ever seen the cover
of G Force?
Same thing.
But that record did pretty well.
I think it sold, like,
200,000 records.
So me and Kashif
were gonna make
another record together.
It's called Gravity.
I hated that record. Hated it.
And it didn't sell well.
Which I was actually
kind of happy about.
I thought, "I don't want
to do any of this again."
I want to do my own kind
of music.
So, 1986,
the fourth record comes,
and I had written
a whole bunch of instrumentals.
So I sent them
to the guys at Arista Records,
They go, "Eh, yeah,
these are all right, but
we're looking for songs
that the 15-year-old kids
in the ghetto can groove to."
And I said...
"You know I'm a Jewish
sax player from Seattle."
"You realize that, right?"
I said, "You know what?
I quit."
"I quit. You guys need
to drop me from the label."
He goes, "What are you
talking about?"
I said,
"What am I talking about?"
"What do I know
about 15-year-old
kids in the ghetto?"
"What do you mean?
We need to write songs
they can groove to, from me?"
"I have no idea
what you're talking about."
So he goes,
"Look, look, before..."
"Well, do me a favor."
"There's a Junior Walker
"...and we think
that if you do a redo,
it could be really good."
"Has vocals, but it's really
a sax song."
So I listened to the song
and I went,
"Okay, that seems like
a good compromise."
Record comes out.
It's kind of a hit.
And we're at 300,000 records.
That's good for me.
I got a call
from my manager who said,
"I'm gonna see if I can
get you on Johnny Carson."
So exciting. So I--
So I get the shot.
ANNOUNCER: From Hollywood,
The Tonight Show, starring...
And they say,
"You're gonna do your single,
'What Does It Take
(To Win Your Love).'"
"That's why you're here."
"And then as
Johnny's going off air,
you play-- We don't really care
what you play
'cause we're signing off
I said, "Well, I'm gonna play
my song 'Songbird.'"
"We don't care."
Great young musician,
plays great saxophone
in his group.
-Kenny G is here tonight.
Stay where you are...
So, I'm back there waiting
for the thing to happen,
and they come on the door,
knocking on the door.
"Hey, Johnny's running late
tonight. Sorry."
"We got to cut you down
to only one song,
so come out and do your single."
I said, "Okay, cool."
Door closes, I look to the guys.
I go, "We're playing
I knew that I needed
to play that song.
I wanted to play from my heart,
I wanted people
to hear my music.
Because "Songbird" was a song
that I just did all by myself.
I mean, I played
every instrument on the song,
I recorded it in my own
little room.
I wanted that to be heard,
not the single that the record
company came up with.
I want to play my instrumental.
Would you welcome, please,
Kenny G.
KENNY G: My band got so scared.
I said,
"Don't screw me up here."
"When the curtains go up,
start playing 'Songbird.'"
"Don't start playing
the other song."
"I'm on the Johnny Carson
show, tonight, now."
"I am gonna play the song
I want to play."
And the guy that hired us
is behind the cameras
looking at me
like he wants to kill me.
He's doing a lot of finger,
hand gestures to me
while I'm playing,
and not just this kind of stuff.
We're talking about some
single-digit finger moves.
But that night, the wife
of the head of promotion,
Donnie Ienner, says to him,
"Honey, now that's the kind of
music you guys should be doing."
"That's beautiful."
So Donnie Ienner
now walks into--
Monday morning, into
Clive Davis's office
and says, "Hey, Clive,
we got it all wrong."
And so, Clive Davis
with his brilliance,
no ego attached, goes,
"Boom, let's do the new single."
And he starts writing letters
to the radio people.
CLIVE: I wrote
a personal letter,
which I had never done before,
to radio programmers
of every genre.
Start your day the easy way.
I said, "Look, I've given you
a lot of good music by now,
and I need a favor here.
Play the record."
Three-twenty-three, this is...
KENNY G: Finally, one station,
KMEL, "Camel," puts it on.
And it's 4:00 in the afternoon,
so it's drive time.
This is a big deal.
Their phones light up.
"We love it.
This song's beautiful."
"Why don't you play more songs
like that?"
"We really like that,
who is that?"
"I never heard a sound
like that before."
It's the demographic
they're looking for.
I guess it's 25
to 35-year-old women.
So, he calls his contemporary
in Chicago at their station.
And he calls Detroit,
and they call Atlanta,
and they call Miami,
and they call Houston.
And all of a sudden, these guys
are talking and saying,
"Hey, we don't know why,
but this instrumental
is working."
And it becomes
a huge national hit song.
I remember the first time
I heard "Songbird,"
and I heard it on the radio.
And it was just beautiful.
That song is haunting.
You know,
when Kenny came along
there was just something
different about that song.
The saxophone was mixed
more like a vocalist.
It was more up front.
And then the melody,
I mean, you know, that's one
of the great melodies
of all time.
Say the name Kenny Gorelick,
and many people will ask, who?
But say the name Kenny G,
and many will say "Songbird."
His current Arista album,
Duotones, is now double platinum
thanks to a top five
smash song called "Songbird."
-Ladies and gentlemen, Kenny G.
Please welcome Kenny G.
There he is, Kenny G.
It's like you are talking to
and doing a few other things
with this instrument.
-What-- When you... (CHUCKLES)
Well, I was gonna say--
I'm thinking about a few
other things when I'm playing.
It's like making love to this
instrument, it's incredible.
Do you marvel at the breadth
of your popularity?
That you've been able
to go outside the jazz world?
Well, it's so unusual
that pop stations
have played my stuff.
Why do you think that is?
Clive Davis.
KENNY G: If it wasn't
for his personal letters
to the radio programmers,
that record "Songbird" probably
wouldn't have been a hit.
And then to finish the story,
six months go by
and guess who calls?
The guys from Johnny Carson.
"We'd love to have you
back on the show." (CHUCKLES)
"Please play 'Songbird.'"
It's not-- like, it's normally
a lot more neater than this,
but I'm doing laundry right
now, so, you know...
Nice golf shirt, see?
Nice perfect color.
Look at these white pants.
They came out perfect.
Look, there are no stains
in there.
They were dirty before,
no stains, perfect.
Household chores are actually
a lot of fun for me.
We want to make sure
that's all mixed up.
It's like a detail thing.
Like playing an instrument,
it's details
that you get a reward
for doing them well.
I'm folding the top
under the bottom, see?
That's the story of my life,
pretty much.
I'm into the details,
working hard,
putting in the reps.
Timer, 20.
And then reaping the reward of,
"Hey, I'm really good at this."
"Hey, I'm really good at that.
Hey, I do this well."
Mm, smells so good.
Everything I try to get good
at, I've gotten good at.
-MAN: Well hit, man.
-KENNY G: Yes! On the green,
on the green...
PENNY: I wanna talk to you
about golf.
Golf Digest once called you
the best golfer in music.
And last Friday,
Aviation's version
of the Oscars--
I want you to know
how proud I am to be a pilot.
It's got a lot
of the same qualities
that go into being a musician.
You have to practice,
you have to work hard--
You also are an investor.
How did you select
Starbucks as an investment?
I was one of the original ten
guys that-- part of Starbucks
so that turned out to be
a really great investment.
That's like
the understatement...
REPORTER: Give us your best
pirate impression.
I leave that to my son Max.
Arr, matey!
KENNY G: I have two boys,
so how am I going to become
the best father
the world has ever seen?
I'm gonna start studying it.
So I started reading books.
I started asking questions.
They actually turned out
really, really good.
And, by the way,
both of them grew up
watching their father,
who's already super famous,
every day, practicing,
I still haven't hit one
I like yet.
When I do, I'll tell you, okay?
Okay, so I'm not gonna play
Name That Tune with you.
That's "Silhouette" though,
So this is the thing about
"Silhouette" after "Songbird."
Because almost every
instrumental hit
up until this time...
Ramsey Lewis, "The 'In' Crowd."
"Feels So Good,"
Chuck Mangione.
Average White Band,
"Pick Up the Pieces."
You know, tunes that made it
on the pop charts
that were instrumental
kind of became one-hit wonders
in pop radio.
And then here comes Kenny
with a second hit,
and then a third and, you know,
and a fourth.
You could tell that this was
something different.
Hi, this is Kenny G,
and here's my new video
called "Silhouette,"
and I hope you like it.
BEN: He does have a style.
He does have a style.
This intensely gauzy,
very, very breathy thing.
Um, sort of trembly,
uh, lots of dynamics.
And he adds this little extra,
over-the-top, um,
vulnerable emotionality.
Perhaps that
is the Kenny G stamp.
CLIVE: He was coming up
with these melodies
that were unique,
and a style of play
that was unique.
I do have a sixth sense,
in a sense, of melody.
I just do.
I know when the melody is right,
and I know how to--
I know how to come up
with a melody.
A lot of times,
I hear the beginning of a song
in my head.
In my practice session,
I'll play a little...
"Ooh, I like that."
"I can hear some chords going on
with that little thing."
"That's gonna turn into a song."
Then I have to find someone
to help me.
I need somebody that knows
the chords,
and will be patient with me
when I go,
"No, no, no, yes, hmm, no, yeah,
hmm, try again,
give me 17 other options
on that chord."
"There's only 12."
"Okay, well, give me all 12."
"There's another one?
Well, yeah, that one."
Music theory will tell you
things about chords
and the notes that go along
with the chords.
But in college, I did not want
to study music theory.
Just didn't appeal to me.
I thought,
"You know what I'm gonna do?"
"I'm gonna take that hour
and go into the practice room
and practice."
So that's what I did.
I know what sounds good to me.
I don't need to know
that that note
goes with that note.
And I come up with melodies
that the whole world likes.
I do.
So if I think it sounds good,
it's probably sounding good.
Duotones sold
about 5 million records.
Next record, Silhouette.
Boom, another big hit.
Kenny G Live sold another
four, five million records.
1992, Breathless comes out,
and everything goes bonkers.
And it sells 12 million records.
TV HOST: How would you describe
the kind of music you play?
Well, it's hard to say
in words, you know.
Categorizing it, making some
sort of a descriptive label
will make some people
think one thing
and other people think another.
So you heard it
just a minute ago,
so what do you think?
What's your words for it?
It might be different
than somebody else.
-I think it's sexy.
-Do people call your music sexy?
-Some do.
BEN: Wasn't part
of the marketing
around Kenny G's music
that it was romantic?
And that maybe
it was like music,
you know, that people wanted
in the background
as they had sex,
and stuff like that?
Yeah. Um...
That's always been a little bit
of a mystery to me.
You know...
Oh, maybe not.
Maybe it makes sense.
Maybe it makes sense.
People have told me that,
you know.
They'll come and they'll whisper
in my ear what circumstances,
they might have used my music
in very, very intimate,
romantic situations.
It's great. I mean, to be--
To be with somebody
even in a spiritual,
musical sense
when they're either meditating,
making love and relaxing
in a certain way,
getting introspective with
that music of mine helping them.
It's flattering. It's, uh...
I'm glad to be part of it.
I think my music is romantic.
By the way,
I think I'm romantic.
I'm not sure that you would
get that same response
from the people
that are in my life,
the close people in my life.
And I think to myself,
how can I not be romantic
if I can play
this beautiful music
and write these beautiful songs?
I must be at least
somewhat romantic.
People have gotten married
to his music,
had babies by his music.
I mean, in the hospital
and everything.
I have a very good friend
who has twin sons who...
Uh, they played Kenny's music
in the delivery room.
-And I will tell you,
the wife was crazy about it.
The husband was like,
"Oh, God, Kenny G
in the delivery..."
His music has been a part
of a lot of our lives
as a soundtrack,
and so as a result of that,
we feel connected to him.
KENNY G: One of my songs
is super popular in China
called "Going Home."
Okay, that's my song.
It's been played now
for over 30 years
every day throughout China
at the end of the day.
They really literally
took the title "Going Home,"
and they decided that this song
is going to be
the national song
for the end of the workday.
They listen, and then they
start packing up,
and it's time to go home.
Yeah, I know. I don't know.
You don't know
how that happened?
I don't know exactly
how that happened.
BEN: The song "Going Home,"
like a lot of his songs,
has a calming effect, I guess,
which will reduce
people's desire
to resist things
or cause trouble.
It's not protesting anything.
It's not against anything.
Is Kenny G's music
a weapon of consent?
You know, like, um,
does it make people...
agree to comply?
Um... And if so, why?
I just have to time it perfectly
when I do my shows there,
because the first time
I played it,
I played it in the middle
of the set.
I looked up,
the audience left.
When I came into the scene,
I created maybe a new sound.
You know, you can call it
what you want,
but you could call it
a new sound of jazz,
a new jazz sound that appealed
to a lot of people.
And I don't think
a lot of people can say
that they created a sound
of music.
And I think I did.
And then people decided
there should be a whole radio
format like my music.
Welcome to the birth
of Philadelphia's newest
radio station,
WJJZ 106.1 FM.
We're proud to present
a music format
that's never been showcased
here before.
We call it smooth jazz.
In our debut hour,
we'll hear "Champagne"
from Kenny G.
So I became, like,
this face of this sound.
And they decided to call it
"smooth jazz,"
because if they called it jazz,
it was gonna turn people away.
In the late '80s,
the ratings game
was very competitive,
so everybody
was doing research.
We were market researchers,
and we really let the listeners
take over the format.
We would come in and get
at least a hundred people,
and we would run
hooks of songs by them.
They had a little dial
in their hand,
and if they liked it--
What do you do
when you like a song?
You turn it up, like the volume.
So they would just turn it up.
And they could go to 100
if they loved the song.
We would watch these lines
go up and down.
And then Kenny G
would come on...
Right up to the top.
Everybody loved it.
Nine out of the top 15 songs
would be Kenny G songs,
out of, like, 650 songs
that we researched.
And then we would say,
"Just tell us what words
pop to mind."
And almost everybody would say,
"It's jazz, but..."
And I still-- I still remember
this woman's face.
I can see it as clear as day.
She's thinking, she says,
"It's jazz."
She said,
"It's smooth jazz."
It was almost like it just came
to her like a lightning bolt.
And we were all like,
"That's it."
You know, I mean,
that's got to be it.
WNUA in Chicago was the first
station in the country
to use the term "smooth jazz."
You know, it later
was adopted in a lot of places
where we were consulting.
MAN: You're a bit too old
for rock and roll
and classical music for you
might be a little cerebral.
And jazz is a little esoteric.
But you want to be part
of what's going on in music.
What's for me?
I listen to it at work.
Uh, actually, I listen to it
all the time.
It fits in perfectly
with everything I do.
I think I perform better.
I hope my bosses say that.
I've never heard music
like this...
This format got a lot
of traction in offices.
It was something that everybody
could agree on
in the office.
No one was going to be offended
by anything that you hear.
It was never too loud or rowdy.
But it also had enough tempo
to keep it interesting,
to have you nod your head
a little bit.
The key was to make it
palatable for a big tent.
There are certain people
that love smooth jazz
that would never listen to jazz.
And we used to hear this
in focus groups.
"I didn't really know
I liked jazz, but I like this."
In the 1980s and the 1990s,
traditional jazz had been quite
marginalized economically,
and the opportunities for jazz
musicians were dwindling.
But at the same time,
you have someone named Kenny G,
and some other musicians, too,
that were playing in this
that were being extremely
successful financially,
and they were using
that four letter word "jazz."
He was having a huge impact
on society,
in terms of defining
what jazz is,
even though within
the jazz community,
people were looking
at his music with disdain
and really distancing themselves
from what he was doing.
WILL LAYMAN: People sometimes
legitimately ask,
you know,
"Why do jazz musicians..."
"Why are they so irritated
by Kenny G?"
And I was thinking about this
and, you know,
the Harlem Globetrotters
are a basketball team
that's existed for decades.
WILL: And they do not play
competitive basketball.
They are a group
of entertainers,
and they spin the basketball
on their finger,
and they do trick shots,
and they clown around.
I would say that most players
in the NBA
love the Globetrotters.
But imagine a world
in which legitimate
competitive basketball
is not popular,
and LeBron James
and Michael Jordan in his day,
they worked their whole lives
to be great basketball players,
and now the only way
they can afford the rent
on their apartment is
to part-time be, like, waiters.
Imagine how they would feel
about the Harlem Globetrotters
spinning the ball
on their finger
and making a lot of money
from it.
And I think that's
how jazz musicians
feel about Kenny G.
Every single
jazz saxophone player
can do circular breathing,
and every player in the NBA can
spin the ball on their finger
and, like, have it roll
across their shoulders.
They can all do it because
it's fun and they do it.
But it's not basketball.
JASON: You know, to me,
I look at him in two ways.
On one hand,
he's introduced people
all over the world to jazz
in a way that is probably
given the number of records
that he's sold.
There's a lot of people
for whom they would never
have heard jazz unless
they had first heard Kenny G.
And maybe it was
a kind of gateway
into all kinds of other jazz.
It certainly was for me.
And yet, at the same time,
he seems to draw from
this rich and venerated history
of Black music without
necessarily contributing much
back to the form.
PRESENTER: ...artist, Kenny G!
He's such a deeply
problematic figure,
because he really extends
this long and troubling history
of appropriation
in popular music
where Black artists innovate,
and then white artists
come along and stylize,
and then receive greater
financial renumeration,
and greater critical acclaim.
Never th-- I've honestly never
put a lot of thought
into the color of my skin,
and my career, and my success.
Honestly haven't.
I mean, if I was a Black guy,
would Clive Davis
have signed me as easily?
I think he probably would have.
I don't think that
would have made a difference.
Would I have been as big
of an artist, you know?
Then we have to look at what was
pop radio like in,
let's say, 1986.
Because that's when I had
my song "Songbird."
Are they more apt to play it
because I'm white?
What if I was a Black guy
with the same song?
They might go,
"You know, we'll leave that
to the R&B stations."
So I'm gonna say I probably
benefited from that.
I'm kind of thinking
that I got that door
opened for me.
Yeah. I think
that's a good question.
I've never really
thought about it like that,
and I think-- I think
I benefited.
I mean, historically,
in this country,
certainly, African American
artists who have--
You know, who are great players
with incredible talent,
who get to watch others,
you know,
like your Elvis Presley's
and all these people,
take their music
and then become rich from it.
That's not a fun thing to watch.
I can understand where some
of the resentment comes from.
I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
KENNY G: The Louis Armstrong
duet happened
when I was sitting
in my driveway in Seattle.
I just got through hearing
that song...
KENNY G: With Natalie Cole
and her late father,
Nat King Cole.
I thought,
"Wow, that's cool."
"I want do a song like that."
We needed permission to do it,
from the Louis Armstrong
And we said, "Look, we want
to give all the money
to whatever charity you want.
And we want to pay tribute
to this beautiful song."
And it became a huge hit.
But there's a few musicians
out there
that felt protective of
Louis Armstrong and his legacy,
and they felt like it was
tainted by me playing with him,
and they were very vocal
about it.
KENNY G: It was a guitar player
named Pat Metheny.
BEN: Pat Metheny
had written something
like a screed against the song
and against what Kenny G
was doing.
CHRIS: He is highly respected
in the jazz world,
so that was kind of like
jazz aristocracy
coming out and speaking
against Kenny G.
-COMPUTER: You've got mail.
-BEN: More and more people
started forwarding me
this thing.
It was a moment
of going viral,
but through email.
You want me to read it
out loud for you?
"This type of musical
was weird when Natalie Cole
did it with her dad,
but it was her dad."
"When Kenny G decided
that it was appropriate
for him to defile the music
of the man
who's probably the greatest
jazz musician
that has ever lived
by spewing his lame-ass..."
JOHN: "...jive, pseudo-bluesy,
out-of-tune noodling..."
BEN: "...wimped-out,
fucked-up playing
all over one
of Louis' tracks..."
"...he did something
that I would not have
imagined possible."
"He shit all over the graves
of all the musicians
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
that he played."
"There are some things
that are sacred."
"And amongst any musician
that has ever attempted
to address jazz
at even the most basic
of levels,
Louis Armstrong and his music
is hallowed ground."
"By disrespecting Louis,
his legacy and, by default..."
"Everyone who has ever
tried to do something positive
with improvised music..."
"Kenny G has created a new
low point in modern culture,
something that we should all
be totally embarrassed about
and afraid of."
"We ignore this
at our own peril."
That's the line
that always gets me.
"The only reason
he could possibly have
for doing something
this inherently wrong
on both human
and musical terms
was for the record sales
and the money it would bring."
"Everything I said here
is exactly the same
as what I would say to Gorelick
if I ever saw him in person."
"And if I ever do see him,
he will get a piece of my mind,
and maybe a guitar
wrapped around his head."
He's entitled to his opinion.
I think he was being
super protective
of the traditional jazz genre,
and I understand it.
So I'm not mad at him.
I never get mad at anybody
for pretty much anything...
because it doesn't do me
any good.
I mean, when have you ever
gotten mad at somebody
and then they go,
"You're right, I was wrong"?
Nobody ever does that.
Sometimes you say
the word "jazz,"
and people think of some
of the worst music on earth.
Like, for instance, Kenny G.
I mean, you know,
there's nothing more stupid
than that, let's face it.
That's the dumbest music
there ever could possibly be
in the history
of human beings.
Pat Metheny was attacking
the song within a jazz context.
From my point of view,
I felt that
both Kenny G
and Louis Armstrong,
via that song,
"What a Wonderful World,"
were operating within the larger
sphere of popular culture.
And the sacredness of jazz,
and the ethics
of dealing with jazz...
I don't know, I just felt like
those questions were so--
like, didn't apply.
JOHN: You know, this idea
that Louis Armstrong
regarded his music as sacred?
What? (LAUGHS)
I mean, even if it were true,
sacralization of any art form
is what destroys it.
I kind of cheered
on Pat Metheny's complaint,
because I hated hearing Louis
kind of like gooped up
like that.
And at the same time,
I kind of just thought, like,
"Oh, man, you know,
don't complain about him
that hard."
It felt like it discredited
the rest of us
who were just disliking Kenny G
at a lower simmer.
Now, of course, the irony is,
it's one of the best things
Kenny G ever did,
because it's elevated by Louis.
And Kenny brings it down
a little bit,
to my hearing of it,
but he can't bring it down
that low,
because Louis is still there.
It's hard to say if Kenny G
has elevated the jazz form
But maybe we're looking
at the wrong
set of, you know, criteria.
There's something
deeply powerful
about the fact that that music
has reached millions of people,
and that people have found
their way into that music.
That has to be
at least addressed.
It can't simply be that millions
of people are just stupid,
and Pat Metheny
is the smart one.
There is some music
that some people call bad.
There's some music
that some people call good.
That doesn't really tell us
anything about the music,
but it tells us a lot
about society and culture,
and about those people.
YOUTUBER: Kenny G, Breathless.
I listened to this,
and this is complete crap.
CHRIS: As soon as I say,
"Kenny G sucks,"
then I'm aligning myself
with a bunch of other people,
and one of the functions
of bad music is just that.
It's a way that we separate
each other
and distinguish each other,
and create distance
or create allegiances.
Some guy says,
"Kenny G's trash,"
and then there's some person
that, like,
played a song by Kenny G
at their wedding,
and it's deeply meaningful
to them.
JOHN: Every time it comes on,
they just have these really
wonderful associations with it,
and then they're being told,
"No, you should not have
those experiences,
or if you have them, you should
be apologizing for them."
When you love a piece of music,
you're basically exposing
something about you.
"I like this, don't you?"
"No, I hate that."
They're basically saying to you,
they hate something about you.
"It's good. It's no good.
It's good. It's no good."
You're basically saying,
"You're good, you're no good."
"You're good, you're no good."
And then people fight
for their own self-worth.
JOHN: Ultimately,
what the musical
experience resides in
is how this music
communicates to you,
what its meaning is to you,
why it actually conveys
some really deep,
ineffable meaning that we can't
even put words on.
That's the ultimate
musical experience.
Yeah, what the hell's
not to like?
Like, I totally...
waiting in line for Kenny G,
then please line up this way.
We'll make it really quick.
That's what I'm here for,
to make it really quick.
So have your CDs ready.
KENNY G: This feels good.
Okay, here we are.
All right, ready? And smile.
Good. Excellent. Come on out.
-FAN 1:
Thank you. See you later.
-Bye. Thanks. Next in line.
-FAN 2: How are you?
-KENNY G: All right, you?
Fourth time seeing you.
I love it.
-KENNY G: Fourth?
-KENNY G: Good, we like that.
-Thank you.
KENNY G: Thanks for doing that.
You got your raffle
ticket already?
-FAN 2: I did.
One, two, three.
Excellent, excellent.
All right,
right this way.
All right!
I want you to know
that we were married in 1989,
and "Silhouette"
was our wedding song.
KENNY G: Yeah! That's awesome.
Good job. Good job.
FAN 3: So many
Christmas trees that she...
-KENNY G: I love that.
-FAN 3: ...decorated.
FAN 4: Oh,
with listening to your music.
KENNY G: Well, we'll come out
with a new Christmas record
Be ready with the raffle,
because I'm going to make
an announcement for the raffle.
And they're just gonna want
raffle tickets.
So, you know,
it's three for twenty, right?
Do you know that
or not know that?
-Yeah, we know.
I would break them off
into threes.
Oh, you're already
ready in threes.
Okay, you're ready to go,
aren't you?
-Okay, all right.
-We're ready to go.
ASSISTANT: One more.
Yes. Which one, hon?
-Give him three tickets.
Okay, Harry, come on in.
Harry, come over here.
Come over here
and look at the picture,
look at your camera now,
here we go.
ASSISTANT: Beautiful.
That little boy, he said,
"Give him three tickets."
I know. He's very sweet.
And he's good to his fans.
-One more.
Ready for the next round.
KENNY G: One thing that I've--
we've been doing lately,
like, in the last
six months or so,
I've been introducing
old jazz tunes.
And they've never heard
this stuff before.
And they-- honestly,
they probably don't really care
that much about it.
Maybe they don't even want
to hear it.
But I think it's part
of my job.
All right, we're gonna turn it
into a jazz club.
All right, by that lack
of enthusiasm,
I see we need
some sax education.
That's all right.
I'll be your sax professor
for the night.
So let's have some sax
education right now.
In the 1950s and '60s,
that's when the jazz masters
lived and played
their great jazz music.
One of the jazz masters
was Stan Getz.
Stan Getz was the guy
that brought bossa nova music
to the world.
So we're gonna go back and play
one of his famous bossa novas
from the '60s.
We're gonna play it just like
they did back then,
which means lots
of jazz improvisation,
and that means we actually
don't know how long
the song's going to be
or how it's going to end.
And that's the way it is.
KENNY G: People, I'm hoping,
will go home and go,
"I like that song, honey,
that he played."
"What was the name
of that artist?"
"Stan Getz, honey."
"Well, let's look him up."
And then they listen to that,
"Ooh, we like that."
We're going to play something
else for you right now,
something was made famous by,
I would say,
probably the most famous
and well-deserved
saxophone player of all time,
tenor sax player.
His name was John Coltrane.
It's called "Naima."
When I started my career,
I hadn't listened a lot
to traditional jazz.
It was mostly just R&B stuff.
Then I started to play
and listen to John Coltrane,
and Miles, and Stan Getz.
And as, over the years, as that
stuff has been absorbed by me,
I think my music and the way
that I play my music,
and the way I write it
is changing, and rightfully so.
Well, I'm gonna play
whatever happens.
The new album is called
New Standards.
I've written the songs
with just slightly
different melodies
than I would normally do,
but the chords are gonna be
way different.
I want sophisticated
jazz chords,
but I don't want it
to sound unrelatable.
So I want to marry
a melody that's relatable
with the sophistication
of the '50s and '60s jazz.
And that was my challenge.
Can I do that,
or is it just gonna sound off?
One of the songs
on the record is,
and hopefully, is gonna be
a virtual duet with Stan Getz.
Nobody-- Nobody knows this.
This is brand-new info.
Stan Getz's sax
was such a beautiful sound.
In fact, his nickname,
from what I've read,
was called "The Sound."
So we're gonna feature
the sound of Stan Getz
on this tune,
and it's gonna be beautiful.
I wrote the song.
We recorded it the other night.
I played all the parts.
Steve is gonna go,
and he's gonna go take
the Stan Getz saxophone parts,
that we're going to find
in the world,
and we're gonna adjust them
to play my song.
And I've spoken to
his daughter and his son.
Obviously wanted
and needed their blessing,
which they've given me on this.
So everybody's onboard.
We're just trying
to put this thing together.
And the jazz community's
gonna hate it.
I know they're gonna hate it,
which is not something
that concerns me, by the way.
The jazz police will just
have to do what they have to do.
I'm prepared for it. I'm strong.
I've had reps with
the jazz police not liking me,
so I've already got
my scar tissue.
It's not gonna--
It's not gonna rock my world
in a negative way.
-KENNY G: You want
to see this picture?
-PENNY: Yeah.
Okay, so this picture
is a picture that was taken
when they first gave out
awards for an album
that sold over 10 million.
It was called a Diamond Award.
We got a bunch
of Billboard, uh, music awards.
Those are NAACP Image Awards.
This is my only Grammy.
There's a good picture of me
and Jack Nicklaus right there.
Playing golf with him
at the Honda Classic.
That's a golf award right
My golf stuff, I think I like to
talk more than the music stuff.
That's also a golf trophy
back there.
The music stuff is--
It's kind of subjective.
Like, how did I earn a Grammy?
Well, because some people
that they liked the way
that I played my song.
How did I earn that golf award?
Well, I won.
I won it by literally
beating other people.
Back in 1994, you know, my...
my album had sold more
than any of the other...
adult contemporary artists.
And that's what the American
Music Award was, really, was a--
It's just a sales award.
We don't sell records
like we used to back then.
Boy, those were the good days.
Those were the good days.
With so many huge artists,
there comes a time
when it peaks.
That familiarity.
You don't have to guess
when you hear that sax,
"Oh, that's Kenny G."
The sound was too familiar.
I felt that we're not
gonna have hit singles again.
PAT: For a lot of listeners,
I think it was just overplayed.
I think we just overplayed
Kenny G.
It was too much Kenny G.
You can play music to death.
the snowshoes and the shovels.
CLIVE: As an executive,
you're more aware of it.
And you're certainly aware of it
much earlier than the artist.
KENNY G: When I think about
selling 75 million records,
I feel like I was super lucky.
Lucky that I happened to be
an artist at the time period
when people were buying
albums and cassettes and CDs,
because that was the technology.
And we had record stores,
and we had radio that was
promoting these things.
The VH1 ticket hotline
is brought to you by...
Artists now, they come out.
There's no platform to sell
a lot of records.
Now you're looking at views
and you're talking about plays.
How many plays equals a "sale"?
I reminisce and wish that
the old days
would come back,
but they're not gonna come back.
So, for me, and my audience
that's out there,
we have to relearn
how to connect with each other.
That's what's really tricky.
Hey, Kenny G here
for the 22 push-up challenge.
-...11, 12, 13, 14, 15...
Hey, everybody, it's Kenny G
wishing you a very happy
Valentine's Day.
KENNY G: It's like an old dog
learning new tricks,
so I've had to be on Instagram,
and try to be current.
And, you know,
I post what I post.
Sometimes it's funny.
Sometimes it looks
kind of corny.
Hey, it's Kenny G here,
my new saxy
Christmas sweater.
You can get yours
I try my best.
So now, with my management,
I've got all these
young people around
that think the way
that they should think,
so that they get
the old guy... hip.
MANAGER: So, viral moments,
release, and consistency
-are the three things
that we gotta stay on.
-I see.
-MANAGER: And we're lacking...
KENNY G: I'm working on it.
I'm gonna get it,
because I'm a good student.
So I'm going to--
I'm gonna get it.
Here with the song "Regulate,"
Kenny and Warren G!
Kenny G, take us to break!
GORBURGER: We kidnapped Kenny G,
and he's being held hostage
here with some cement shoes.
And she putts it in
with Kenny G playing
right in her face.
I think people like celebrities.
They get the joke.
Like, I get the joke.
You know, I know,
I know for a fact
that if I cut my hair,
my career will go
right down the toilet.
I know that, so I get it.
Well, Kanye West took it
to an entirely different level
for wife Kim Kardashian
for Valentine's Day.
That's the legendary
saxophonist Kenny G,
serenading Kim
in a sea of roses.
How did that conversation go?
Is Kanye a big Kenny G fan?
Apparently, I mean...
I got a message through
a third party,
and they said,
"Hey, you know,
Kanye wants you to come
over tomorrow
and serenade Kim
for Valentine's Day."
I mean, I'm thinking, "Okay,
but is this a good thing to do?"
"Is it a...?"
I mean, I'm not a reality TV
kind of guy,
so is it gonna look like I'm,
you know,
just doing anything
to get exposure, or is it cool?
And so I talked to both my sons
and they both said,
"No, this is cool.
This is gonna be cool."
I had never met him before,
and just was immediate warmth.
He says, "Why don't you come
to the studio with me?"
"I want you to see my studio."
So I went there,
and he started playing me
some music and one of the songs,
he played me a part of it,
and I said,
"Whoa, let me play on this one."
When I heard that song,
I could hear my sax on it,
and so he let me
take his music home.
I took it back to my studio,
did my thing,
sent it back to him,
and he loved what I did.
So that's how it started.
WILL: I will confess,
I love that track.
The melody Kenny plays
is kind of great.
He was immediately identifiable
as Kenny G,
and there seems to be almost
like a play in that moment,
hoping that you're going
to recognize that sound
and sort of enjoy
the decontextualization of it.
BEN: Kenny G's music
sounds to us now
like music from another time,
if not another planet.
BEN: It's full of, you know,
like, excesses of a past age
and ignorance of a past age,
and whatever.
But there are also things
about it that are so alien
to us now
that they're kind of cool.
Younger people, especially,
are gonna be able to put it
in new piles,
juxtapose it with other things.
BEN: So, I wouldn't have
said this ten years ago,
but I think there's a future
in Kenny G's music
that I'm kind of
looking forward to.
Whenever someone says,
"I don't know if
you could do this,
I don't know if you could
do all that,"
Kenny takes that in and goes,
"Okay, now check this out."
"You see?"
Then he goes back up again...
Oh, it's been so long.
Oh, my God.
Gosh, I can't believe it.
It's so great to see you.
I can't believe you're here!
Whenever I see him,
it puts a tear in my eye.
You know,
because we go back so far.
And it's like, you know,
seeing family.
Well, you know, I told them
the funniest story.
JAMES: I said "Here's this
16-year-old kid, turned 17..."
JAMES: You know, it's like
a young brother of mine.
And what he's worked at
achieving is just amazing.
KENNY G: I got a surpr--
Yeah, I wanna play you
something that's really cool.
-JAMES: Okay.
-I had this idea.
I wanted to do a duet
with Stan Getz.
JAMES: Oh, gosh,
you gotta be kidding.
-Let's see where it is.
-JAMES: No, you didn't.
That's amazing.
-That's our duet.
-JAMES: That's crazy. That's...
So when I was writing
the melody...
...that's what I would do
But that's not
what Stan would do.
That takes it somewhere else.
It takes it to...
I don't know.
It sounds more like...
It sounds less happy
and less normal,
and more...
uh... mysterious.
More-- It's leading you down
to another place.
I felt really kind of proud
that I could
take myself out of the equation,
not just autopilot my way
of putting a melody together.
-Oh, my God.
-KENNY G: How cool is that?
-That's frigging,
you know, insane.
You know, I was telling
Penny the other day, I said,
"You know, when you got bit
by that bug,
you left the planet Earth."
You know, you've been getting
downloads from heaven
-ever fucking since.
-KENNY G: Thanks, man.
Let me play you
something on tenor.
-JAMES: Oh, sure.
-KENNY G: Here's one more
New Standard.
JAMES: Oh, yeah.
JAMES: It's not so much that,
"Oh, it's jazz,"
or if you play chord changes,
or it's this kind of music.
It's how you can affect
other people
to be able to communicate
with the other person
that's next to you,
and they understand you.
Then you've succeeded.
They're beautiful melodies.
Beautiful melodies
with chords that go,
"Ooh," rather than just, "nice."
Not that I'm not proud
of my past work because I am.
Because what I created,
when I created,
exactly the way I wanted it.
Wouldn't change a thing.
Probably would change a thing.
I would change some notes,
not necessarily the composition.
I'd change some notes because,
you know,
I can play better now.
KENNY G: You know,
after you've done 23
or 24 records,
I don't want to repeat myself.
So there's a lot of new ground
that I need to discover.
For example, I've always wanted
to do classical music.
Like New Standards,
I'm gonna have to write
new classical music,
and you're gonna hear it,
and you're gonna go,
"Is that Beethoven?
Is that Bach? Is that Brahms?"
I'm gonna go, "It's G." (LAUGHS)
Next album could be
all lullabies.
I'm gonna give you the album
that makes the babies,
then I'm gonna
give you the album
that puts them to sleep.
That's funny.
That's a commercial.
You know what?
I don't really hear
a lot of great film music,
and I actually
have a couple of songs
that are in my little vault
that will win an Oscar.
They will.
If Ron Howard
were to make a film
about some circumstances
that happened,
let's say, in
Kansas City, Wichita,
somewhere in the middle
of America.
Some beautiful cornfields,
drama that happens.
I've got the theme song
for it.
Another one would be a film
in European like--
Like Austria,
Switzerland, German.
Cold, like, post-war,
or during World War II
or something,
something about that.
Dark, and it's just real sad.
It'd be like a movie,
if they made it, called the...
like, The German Captain.
Or The Swiss Captain.
And it's about this sad life
of this guy that goes out and,
you know, there's all these
trench coats, it's gray.
And so, I got
the music for that.
It's so perfect.
And it'll win
the Academy Award.
I know it.
When I get in my 80s,
if everything's still working,
I'm gonna be out there
playing my shows.
Hopefully, you know,
riffing just as fast
and playing just as good.
Or, I mean,
hopefully a lot better.
20 years more practicing.
That's another 20,000 hours.