Home > PUM One on One with Grammy Award Winning Saxophonist Kenny G headed to Pittsburgh

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Famous saxophonist joins the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to close the PNC Pops 2012-2013 season.

Grammy-Award winning artist Kenny G will perform his jazz and pop favorites with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, led by Lawrence Loh, in the final PNC Pops concert of the season. In a recording career that spans almost three decades and 23 albums, Kenny G has grafted elements of R&B, pop and Latin to a jazz foundation solidifying his reputation as a premiere artist in contemporary jazz. He played professionally while studying accounting at the University of Washington, and signed as a solo artist in 1982. Since then, his combination of unparalleled instrumental chops and indelible melodies has resulted in sales of more than 75 million records worldwide (45 million in the U.S. alone) and more than a dozen climbs to the top of Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart. Additionally, he has collaborated with many legends, including Andrea Bocelli, Whitney Houston, Tony Braxton, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Natalie Cole, Steve Miller, Dudley Moore, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra, Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin.

PUM Editor and Founder Robin Beckham caught up with Kenny G who shares more about his career as a successful musician/artist –a dedicated and devoted father who is now single and available to date-and what’s next in this chapter of his life.

ROBIN B: Kenny you will be joining the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to close the PNC Pops 2012-2013 season, we are so excited to have you in Pittsburgh what can fans expect from this concert?

KENNY G: Well , I’ve got a great band, there is six of us and we have been playing together for over 20 years –and as a team I would have to say we are really good, we really are --and we love playing with orchestra’s – it doesn’t stop us from featuring the things that we do, of course you know it would be beautiful to hear my melodies with the great Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra but also you know  all the guys in my band will be taking great solos and so there’s more to it than just my melodies and the orchestra.  It’s going to be a lot of great musicianship and you know it’s --what else is going to happen that night, I’ll talk on the microphone so you will get to know me a little bit and hopefully we will have a really good time.

ROBIN B: “Smooth Jazz” where are we with that genre of music-- is smooth jazz a thing of the past? What is happening in terms of the world of jazz?

KENNY G:  Well I think that as far as the exposure—it is a thing of the past,  for getting the exposure as it did before and I’m not happy about that I think there’s a lot of people that  love it, let’s just call it, I don’t know smooth jazz is kind of a generic term, but I guess we are using it so we can talk about the same thing, but there’s a lot of people that  love that music and want to hear it’s just that for whatever reason radio has decided that it’s not profitable enough or they are not doing the ratings that they need, or even just the way that they figure out what the ratings are something happened and we are just not hearing it on the radio the way that we should- but there is a big audience out there who want to hear us, so it’s a little frustrating.

ROBIN B: Absolutely, there are so many people that would echo your sentiments, what are your thoughts about just where we are with music today?

KENNY G:   That’s a good question, I just think that maybe people haven’t had a chance to really embrace you know  musicianship like when I was growing up ,  there wasn’t a lot to watch on television, you couldn’t see a lot of music you just had to process and you had to play and you had to just become  better at your instrument, I think we miss that  - I also see that in the classical world all of the great players that are going to be a part of the Pittsburgh Symphony we basically live the same life, we wake up,  we practice our instruments,  we get good on our instruments and we find a job. My job happens to be writing songs and performing around the world, and somebody else’s happens to be a second violin or first violinist we are all the same, we all appreciate the dedication to the instrument and I think that’s the part that I miss in today’s music world is --I don’t know if there’s that same dedication generally speaking to our craft as much as it is trying to do things that are popular and make money and become famous.

ROBIN B: So Kenny still when you are not writing or recording what sort of music do you listen to, what turns you on?

KENNY G:    I always listen to the old stuff – because I grew up listening to Grover Washington Jr., I still love Tower of Power, I listen a lot  to the jazz great players like Stan Getz, and John Coltrane, and Sonny Rawlings and Dexter Gordon and Cannonball Adderley and I just listen to those sounds  and that’s just pretty much where I’m at  every now and then I will listen to some more contemporary stuff but I don’t’ listen to the contemporary stuff as much as the old stuff.

ROBIN B: Back in the day, you had some funk with you- Is there any artist that plays “funk” that you enjoy, rap artist - which you can appreciate?

KENNY G: I don’t mind the rap thing, I like anything that has a good grove to it and I grew up with that – I appreciate any kind of music I really do Robin, as long as it’s good musicianship, as long as they really care – as long as you can tell they are dedicated - plus they better be talented, I mean I don’t care if you love music and if you are dedicated but if you don’t have a good voice I don’t care I’m not listening to you…but if you are talented and you are dedicated I will pay attention.

ROBIN B:   You are the biggest-selling instrumental musician of the modern era, with global sales totaling more than 75 million records. How do you process this accomplishment and is this success to you?

KENNY G:  Well I don’t even think about it very much I don’t really process it it’s a  great accomplishment and it just means that a lot of people really like what I do and that’s great so that’s just one part of it, the accomplishment is that I’m still after –  you know my first record deal was in 1982 so that’s 32 years ago and I’m still doing it so that’s my accomplishment for me that I’m still out here after all these years and I try to practice every day for three hours  so I think I’m a better sax player than I ever was so that’s all good.

ROBIN B: So you started your career with a job as a sideman for Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1973 while 17 and still in high school?

KENNY G: yes, I did that while I was going to Franklin High School in Seattle, I was part of the Barry Whites Band, sounds impossible…for me it was somebody opened the door, I had the opportunity and I went for it and I did a really good job that was part of my jump start into this music business.

ROBIN B: Kenny where do you get your soul from?  I know where you grew up in Seattle in Seward Park, not far from the high school I attended in Seattle, where does this softness and love come from when you create the beautiful music? 

KENNY G: That’s a good question, I don’t know. I guess it’s part of just who I am, besides  growing up in that area as you know Rainier Beach, Franklin High School and Mount Baker and Seward park – we know what that neighborhood was all about in those days (Robin: Yeah) I don’t know I just have those feelings inside my heart and just like any other artist if I can tap into those feelings which I have been very lucky enough to do musically then they come out and  again you know it’s like you have to be grateful that people enjoy what I do and its created a very nice life for me, but if people didn’t enjoy what I do  I’d  still probably would do exactly the same thing –and  I still would feel just as  fulfilled but I would just have a different life.  

ROBIN B: Early on who helped you pursue you music-was there a mentor?

KENNY G: I would say my music teachers at Franklin High School, Chuck Chin and Jim Gardner were the two people that really saw something in me and paid attention and encouraged me.

ROBIN B: You especially appreciate jazz musicians?

KENNY G: Yeah, I played with Ramsey Lewis, I played also with Sonny Rawlins, I played with Miles Davis with Dizzy Gillespie on many of jazz shows, we were on some of the same jazz shows, I’ve been out there and just being a part of the world, I stood on the stage and did a duet with Grover Washington Jr.  when he was alive, it was pretty surreal to have gone from hearing him at Franklin High School to standing on stage and basically being his equal you know, for me it just shows what a lot of really hard work and luck and talent-but the hard work is the main thing for me I mean I develop my talent and I really work it hard but it was there- talent- you really have to work hard to develop it and I wasn’t afraid of the hard work.

ROBIN B: I saw your upcoming tour schedule, at 57 - you have a lot of performances coming up, it doesn’t seem like there’s any slowing down for you Kenny.

KENNY G:  I feel just exactly the same way that I felt when I was 25, I really do my body feels the same, my attitude is the same,  I see a few more lines on my face, but not that many – I’m holding up pretty well.

ROBIN B: You recently celebrated your birthday on June 5th- what did you do for your birthday?

KENNY G: For my birthday present, I told my boys that I wanted them to cook dinner for me and that was my present.

ROBIN B: And what did that make you?

KENNY G: I told them it had to be fancy and that it couldn’t just be something blasé that they really had to work at it so they bought three live lobsters – they made some sort of like a crab stuffed mushroom thing and my other son made a peach cobbler and I got to say it was fantastic they did an awesome job.

ROBIN B: I was flipping through one of the channels and I saw this young man on stage with you and was really surprised when you introduced him as your son.  So you have two boys following in your footsteps?

KENNY G:     Well one of them is, the oldest one Max is but the youngest one Miller he doesn’t love  music I make him take piano lessons- I tell every parent don’t force your kids to take lessons, but here I am forcing my son Miller to take piano lessons, I know what’s good for him but you know  I think I can do that because I actually am a musician – but I still don’t say it’s the right move but I have to do what my instincts tell me and my instincts tell me my son Miller needs to take piano lessons and he’s doing it-and so that’s what I do and my other son Max is following in my footsteps he’s going to be a pro he’s very very good and I’m very proud of him, proud of both of them.

ROBIN B: Does he have that “it” factor, because Kenny you have “it” – does he have that hustle it takes to survive and thrive in the music industry the way you do? Back in the day, I remember you being very focused.

KENNY G: Well that’s a very good point, but I make it my point to make sure that they –I’m a divorced guy so I only have so much control but I make it a point to let them know that I don’t think that it’s in their best interest to live an entitled life so –so I don’t provide that kind of entitled life for them and I think that I am giving them the best that I can give them and I’m trying to instill in them the hunger that you talked about so  I’m doing my best to give them that’s and that’s all that I can do so again you know it’s just an individual thing – like I didn’t grow up in a poor house but I didn’t grow up in a rich house, I had the hunger because I got the hunger. I think my son Max has it and I’m certainly doing everything I can to make sure that I don’t do anything to take that away from him – I give him what he needs I don’t give him what he wants.

Take a look at video of Kenny G performing with his son Max G -  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9KLAltIol4  


ROBIN B: Do you call Malibu, California home or do you still have ties to Seattle?

KENNY G: I live in Malibu now, but my dad is still in Seattle so I go up there and I have family up there but I’m living in LA.

ROBIN B: Raining in Pittsburgh today, I thought about my days in Seattle, putting on your CD’s and for some reason I draw a correlation between your music and the rain, and Seattle.

KENNY G: I know what you mean, I love it when it rains to believe me when it rains I’m the most comfortable so I hear you on that one…

ROBIN B: Kenny I’m so excited about your success and it just seems like you keep getting better and there is just no stopping you…you are pushing toward 60 mark Kenny…

KENNY G: It doesn’t feel like that,  I just feel as excited about going and playing a concert  as I ever have and I love that feeling and I don’t think it’s ever going to go away because it’s just who I am.

ROBIN B: You have  collaborated with many legends, including Andrea Bocelli, Whitney Houston, Tony Braxton, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Natalie Cole, Steve Miller, Dudley Moore, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra, Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin.  Kenny who else would you like to want to collaborate with?

KENNY G: Yes I’ve been lucky I’ve done some really great duets – I think I take it as it comes, but if you ask me right now, I would tell you that if Paul McCartney, Elton John, or Sting or Jay Z called me right know I would be on a plane now to be where ever they said to be.

ROBIN B: What’s left for you Kenny it seems like you have accomplished a lot?

KENNY G: I don’t think about it like that, what’s left I’m going to make more beautiful cd’s create great music go on the road- play great concerts and take great vacations –and hopefully I will meet a really great woman-you know I’m a single guy now so I’m excited about the next stage in my life and we will see what happens.


Kenny G –Pittsburgh Concert Details next week




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