Friday, July 10, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Must Go
- What: Kenny G
- When: 8 tonight through Sunday
- Where: Orleans Showroom
- Admission: $82.50-$110; 365-7111, orleanscasino.com
Last Friday, I made all the Thomas Kinkade fans angry. This week, I thought what the heck, I’m on a roll here; I’ll get the Kenny G lovers all riled up. They’re the same thing, after all.
It’s almost too easy to make fun of smooth jazz sax hack Kenny G, who is a sales phenomenon, having moved more than 48 million copies of his 30-plus albums. Although legitimate jazz musicians go begging if they manage to get a gig in Las Vegas, the G-man will most likely fill the Orleans Showroom all weekend — his three-night stand begins tonight.
If you’re likely to go to a Kenny G concert, you probably bought your tickets a long time ago. And, of course, trash-talking Kenny G isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.
It’s just fun.
Let’s begin with a popular joke among musicians:
“What did Kenny G say when he stepped into the elevator?”
“This music is smokin’!”
1. You can run ...
No matter where in the world you may flee, there is no escaping Kenny G. Pity poor Evan Osnos, who traveled to the other side of the globe: “Atop the Great Wall the other day, savoring the great silent woods below, I was assaulted by Kenny G,” Osnos writes in a “Letter From China” in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker. “His music was coming from a transistor radio clutched by a security guard, who smiled so graciously that I couldn’t bear to ask him to throw it over the edge. A few days later, Mr. G was at it again, serenading grim-faced travelers on my pre-dawn flight out of Beijing, his saxophone as cloying and unchanging as ever, raining down from overhead speakers like a vengeful, smooth-Jazz God.” Osnos goes on to note that the Chinese spelling of Kenny G’s name is “only one character off of Ken De Ji, the Chinese name for Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
2. You can’t kill Kenny!
Kenny G, born Kenneth Gorelick, was popular when he unwittingly started a brush fire among professional jazz musicians. After G released an unauthorized overdubbing of Louis Armstrong’s classic recording of “What a Wonderful World” as a single in 1999, guitarist Pat Metheny lit the match, responding to G’s desecration by calling it “musical necrophilia,” in a lengthy vivisection on JazzOasis.com. “With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can’t use at all — as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.” English rock guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson later chimed in, writing and performing a song called “I Agree With Pat Metheny.”
3. G spots
A few, mostly neutral, factoids concerning Kenny G: He started playing professionally with Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1976. He has emitted five separate holiday albums, and released nine hits compilations. Golf Digest awarded him the position of No. 1 golfer in its December rankings of Top 100 in Music. He is one of the original investors in the Starbucks coffeehouse chain. In 1997, he earned a place in Guinness World Records for playing the longest note (a noticeably out of tune E-flat, for 45 minutes and 47 seconds) ever recorded on a saxophone. There are more than 10 anti-Kenny G groups on Facebook, including “Saxophonists Who Hate Kenny G” and the poetically titled and more inclusive “I Hate Music For People Who Don’t Really Like Music.”
4. The critics agree
Art is subjective, of course, and there’s no accounting for taste, etc. But if there’s any one thing that unifies the fractious, antisocial gaggle of disgruntled humans known as music critics, that thing is the music of Kenny G. In a review of “At Last ... The Duets Album” on AllAboutJazz.com, critic Mark Sabbatini explains why G is catnip to music writers: “Mr. Gorelick has never been the subject of a review at AAJ and probably never will be again, although I can’t imagine why. If there’s a better cure for writer’s block, it’s probably illegal and sold by the gram on street corners.”
5. Let’s talk about sax
We’ll leave the last word to saxophonist Branford Marsalis, arguably the most respected living U.S. jazz instrumentalist. Tempted by one of those scurrilous music writers into commenting on Kenny G, Marsalis took the high road, refusing to “fight that silly war between jazz and smooth jazz and all ...
“When all these jazz guys get in a tizzy over Kenny G, they need to leave Kenny alone,” Marsalis said in an interview with Jazziz magazine. “He’s not stealing jazz. The audience he has wouldn’t be caught dead at a real jazz concert or club. It’s not like some guy says, ‘You know, I used to listen to Miles, ’Trane and Ornette. And then I heard Kenny G, and I never put on another Miles record.’ It’s a completely different audience.”