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Kenny G to leave Hard Rock Rocksino breathless with August 12 concert

Wife mad because you missed your anniversary?

Sax man Kenny G plays Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield Park, Ohio on August 12, 2014.
Dominick Guillemot
Kenny G plays Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield on August 12
Dominick Guillemot

In the doghouse because you golfed and gallivanted with the boys all weekend? Neglected your cupcake to clean the carburetor last Saturday? Or maybe your girlfriend’s sore at you for dropping a couple grand on that new Ibanez guitar instead of the engagement ring she wanted?

Dude, I’ve got just the ticket.

Actually, Live Nation has it.

The answer to your problem?

Kenny G.

That’s right, Kenny G. Pop music’s original sexy sax man can make all your troubles disappear with one single, sensuously sustained C-note from his tenor saxophone when he headlines at Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield Park on Tuesday, August 12th.
Whaaat? You doubt the seductive powers of The G?

Kenny’s been blowing everybody’s blues away for over forty years now. Heck, he was still in high school in his native Seattle when he signed on with Barry White’s Unlimited Love Orchestra and was still an accounting undergrad while gigging with funk troupe Cold, Bold & Together and Grammy-nominated R&B keyboardist Jeff Lorber.

It wasn’t long before Arista Records mogul Clive Davis caught Kenny live in concert. The then-sideman practically stole the show, oozing confidence and swagger with original compositions and clever covers of popular songs like Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” Smelling success, Davis signed Kenny immediately.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Kenny hit the #10 spot on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart in 1982 and turned heads with his multiplatinum follow-ups, G-Force (1983) and Gravity (1985). If Davis (and the world at large) ever had doubts, Kenny whisked them away with his 1986, effort, Duotones. Co-produced by Narada Michael Walden (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck) and containing the megahits “Songbird” and “Don’t Make Me Wait for Love,” Kenny’s fourth studio effort soared over the airwaves and into our hearts.

1988’s Silhouette took the top spot on the Contemporary Jazz Albums chart, dented the R&B / Hip-Hop chart, and—as of today—has sold a whopping 25 million copies.

The world’s most famous “smooth jazz” musician shows no signs of slowing down. He’s jumped labels a few times but still releases breezy sax albums every couple years (along with updated best-of compilations and holiday albums). He’s worked with the some of the most talented session musicians in the business and gone on record with many of the greatest vocalists of all time: LeAnn Rimes, Richard Marx, Robin Thicke, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Peabo Bryson, Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, George Benson, Daryl Hall...the list goes on.

Still not “cool” enough to assuage your fears? Still harbor a few misgivings?

Kenny provided a horn solo for Weezer when promoting the alt-rockers’ Raditude album in 2009. More recently, he appeared in Katy Perry’s music video for “Last Friday Night” and jammed with Foster the People (“Pumped Up Kicks”) on Saturday Night Live. He starred in a Funny Or Die comedy sketch with Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine last summer.

Watch Kenny G on “Funny or Die:”

So take a breath, bro: Kenny’s got the soulful sounds you need to butter up the missus. Dinner, a couple drinks, and an evening with the G-Man at Hard Rock? It’s the perfect cure-all. Even if you’ve nothing mischievous to make up for, what better way to surprise your sweetheart and get in her good graces? They played Kenny G music at your prom, and you still hear his airy excursions today at weddings.

He’s got your date night gift-wrapped and ready to go.

We spoke with Kenny G by phone a few weeks back in advance of his Hard Rock show. The “Going Home” horn man—who has a keen sense of humor—reflected on his long career, but also unveiled some solid plans for the immediate future: He’ll be shaking things up on his as-yet untitled new album by reinterpreting some old-school jazz standards and playing a few originals in the swinging styles of yesterday.

CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Hi, Kenny! May I ask where you’re calling from? You just recently got back from touring Russia and Japan, right?

KENNY G: Yeah, I’m at my house in Los Angeles. So I’m back!

EXAMINER: You were on the Arista label for many years, but back in 2008 or so you jumped over to Concord. Your most recent album for them was the Latin-influenced Heart & Soul in 2010. How’s the new home at Concord? Did the switch give you a little more freedom?

KENNY G: It didn’t make a lot of difference in terms of my creativity. It’s just business. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. My time with Arista had come to an end, and the people at Concord were very open to me doing my thing. But I’ve always felt like I’ve had a lot of creative freedom
EXAMINER: A lot of folks know you as “the” instrumental sax player, but you’ve had great success partnering up with some rather famous singers. Any cool memories?

KENNY G: It’s always fun for me to be part of a song where it’s a singer I like. I’ve done stuff with Whitney Houston, been on with Celine Dion. Frank Sinatra, of course. It’s very cool that I get the chance to make music with these great artists.

EXAMINER: Do you ever go into the studio with someone like that—maybe someone you always looked up to—and have a “wow” moment, or get the chills? Or does a lot of the collaboration happen remotely, given technology these days?

KENNY G: Most of the time it’s just me doing it on my own. But I was in the studio with Smokey Robinson. We were together when we did that song [“We’ve Saved the Best for Last”], and that was really fun. Every now and then you find yourself in the same place at the same time. But right, most of the time you work on your track separately, and then we put it together later. That’s kind of the way it has to work with everyone’s busy schedules and logistics, and things like that.

Watch Kenny G’s “Don’t Make Me Wait for Love:”

EXAMINER: How’d you start playing saxophone? In the ‘60s and ‘70s—and even now—most young people gravitate toward piano or guitar. You read about bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s who were inspired by The Beatles, for example.

KENNY G: Honestly, I just saw somebody on television playing the sax, and it just connected with me. So it wasn’t…we didn’t listen to any music in our house. It wasn’t really part of our routine. I remember the first record I got. It was a Tower of Power record. That was the first record I bought, and I was 15 or 16 at the time. And that’s the first memory I have of actually playing a record in our house!

EXAMINER: Legend has it you played in a couple ensembles early in your career, and then the right people “discovered” you and gave you an opportunity to be a solo artist in your own right.

KENNY G: Correct! Yeah. I got lucky that the people around me recognized I had some talent. And getting into those bands early on was key, because I got a lot of experience. I got to learn, and play, and grow. And if you don’t have that kind of opportunity, it’s hard to get better!

EXAMINER: It must’ve been great having a first solo record in your early 20s….

KENNY G: No, it was tough at first! They didn’t see me as an instrumentalist getting exposure as an instrumentalist. It was more about me working with vocalists and putting out songs with vocals, with me just participating. That’s how they viewed it. We had a lot of problems at first; it wasn’t this big honeymoon where everybody thought we’d make these instrumental records and get them all out there! So it was a struggle at first.

EXAMINER: It sounded like you’d come into your own by the time Duotones and Silhouette were released. And you’ve put your stamp on old standards and holiday classics, too.

KENNY G: Oh, yeah. At that point, yeah. Because at that point I insisted to Arista that we were going to be doing some instrumental songs, and I played one on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson—totally against the wishes of everyone wanting me to play a different song on the show. So that was the big change, right then and there.
EXAMINER: You must’ve felt vindicated.

KENNY G: No, it wasn’t so much about being proven right as it was about doing what was right for me. I never wanted to point any fingers like, “Hey, I told you guys!” It was just, “Here’s the music I want to do, and this is the music I’m going to do, and hopefully everyone’s going to be okay with it!”

EXAMINER: It’s been a couple years since Heart & Souls. Is Kenny G cooking up something new?

KENNY G: I’m almost finished with the new CD. It’s going to be an all bossa nova CD, in the style of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Of course, I’ll be doing some originals. I’ll be doing some Stan Getz songs, a couple Cannonball Adderely songs, and a couple Paul Desmond songs. It’s all from their bossa nova years, in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And I’m trying to play in the traditional style. So there’s lots of alto and tenor—and less soprano—on the CD.

EXAMINER: I always wondered about that. I mean, I don’t know anything about playing saxophone, so I don’t know how someone goes about choosing which sax is right for a given song.

KENNY G: You know because you try it, and the one sounds terrible, and the other sounds good [laughs]! But yeah, on this one…Cannonball Adderley and Paul Desmond played alto, so the songs I’m doing that they recorded in the ‘50s, I’m doing on alto. Stan did tenor, so on those songs I’ll use a tenor. And I also wrote an original on alto, and a couple originals on soprano. We’re like ten or eleven songs into it. We’re really kind of done, but I want to record a couple more and just see what else is possible. I actually reached out to Sergio Mendes, who played with Cannonball Adderley. I want to see if he wants to play with us. We want to get some of those cats, to get that authentic bossa nova vibe! I’m trying to get it, because I love that style and love that era and want to do my own tribute to it.

EXAMINER: Can fans expect to hear some of that new material at the Hard Rock show?

KENNY G: We’ll probably play one bossa nova, I think. That’s one of those things where the people…you know, it depends on the vibe that night. It depends on the venue, and how it looks. Certainly, if I’m playing in an old jazz club, we might do more bossa nova. If we’re playing a big theater, maybe a little less. It depends on the circumstances. It also depends on whether the CD is out, and people have heard it. But for me, it’s just a great journey for my musicianship, because I’m going out and playing in a much more traditional jazz style. I think if people heard it—like, if they just randomly played a track on the radio—I don’t think people would know it was me. But again, I think it’s still got my style on it. It’s just that I’m choosing to play in a more traditional be-bop style, as opposed to a more modern or contemporary style. Because it’s not like that.

EXAMINER: Sounds like the new stuff might be more up-tempo than many of the Kenny G songs people are familiar with already—your smooth, relaxing ballad-y stuff.

KENNY G: Well, it’s bossa nova. So they can be more upbeat, or they can be more slow and romantic, but it’s got that bossa nova rhythm to it. So they can be romantic, but they’ll have that feel. So it’s a mix of a lot of things on this record. I’m super excited about it. I’m excited about it as a musician. We’ll just see what happens in the marketplace. I’m not thinking about that part yet; I always do what I think I need to do as a musician first, and then let the business and the market end of things take care of themselves.

EXAMINER: Who’s in your backing band these days?

KENNY G: Same guys we’ve always played with. Some of us went to high school together. We’ve just been playing together forever. And everyone gets featured, and at least half of them get standing ovations for their solos, because they’re such great musicians. So it’s not just about me!

EXAMINER: Anybody you haven’t worked with yet, but want to? If you could pick a couple singers to work with, knowing they’d say yes, who would make your short list?

KENNY G: I don’t know. I’ve done a lot of duets with a lot of great artists. So I don’t really think about it like that. I usually just wait and see what happens. But if Billy Joel were to call up wanting me to do a solo on one of his songs, that’d be pretty darn cool! Or if Elton John called me, or Paul McCartney. I mean, they’re icons! Maybe Rod Stewart. I don’t really think about it like that. I’m open to all that. It depends on the song, depends on the artist. No one in particular, but when you’re talking about musicians and singers in that category, yeah, I’d love to do it!

EXAMINER: A while back I read something about you getting into the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the longest saxophone note ever. Was that a “stunt” kind of thing, or did that happen at a show?

KENNY G: That was a special thing I set up in a music store, and we just kind of did it as part of a promotion for the release of a record. We partnered with J & R Music in New York, and I went down to their store—back when there were real record stores—and I just went onstage and held a note, and people were milling about, buying CDs and whatnot, while I was holding the note. It was kind of an odd scene, but cool.

EXAMINER: I suppose it would’ve been even stranger had you spontaneously decided to do it at a show—people in the crowd might’ve thought you’d flipped out or something. So, what’s this cyclical breathing thing? Apparently it’s a method for recycling your air for sustaining notes like that.

KENNY G: It’s just a technique for breathing in and still holding a note for a long time, or for playing runs that are longer than normal. It’s just part of my playing now, so I don’t think about it too much. I’m pretty good at it. And when people get amazed by things like that, it becomes part of the performance. So it’s always fun when people go, “Wow! How does he do that?” When people are amazed at any kind of performance like that, it makes the show better. So it’s a cool thing. I like being impressed when I go to a concert, and there’s something out of the norm. So I try to give that to my audience
EXAMINER: You still an avid golfer?

KENNY G: Yeah, I golf a lot. No so much right now, because I’m trying to get my CD finished. But normally I’d golf a couple times a week.

EXAMINER: I wonder sometimes about musicians and sports. If I made a lucrative living working with my hands, I’d be worried about hurting them by doing stuff like that.

KENNY G: Not with golfing [laughs]! You get injured when you try to catch a football or basketball, or when you’re skiing, and you try to break your fall with your hand. That’s how you hurt yourself! I’ve had my share of little bumps and bruises. But the show must go on! That’s the way it goes. If I hurt my hand, maybe I won’t play quite as fast for a while. Whatever it takes. But the show must go on!

EXAMINER: You sometimes pop up in places where people are least likely to expect to see or hear Kenny G. You’ve done television shows, a couple commercials, some comedy bits with other people. Do you cherry-pick extracurricular activities like those?

KENNY G: Yeah! As long as something’s quirky or offbeat and funny, then I’m in! As long as I don’t offend anybody, then I’m okay with it.

Kenny G. Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 7:30pm. Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park (10777 Northfield Road, Northfield OH 44067). Tickets $56.35-$90.90.

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