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August 20, 2019

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Kenny G: Ahead of the curve

Not known for edginess, Kenny G has ventured online with radio station, and he invested in Starbucks early

Kenny G


If You Go

  • Who: Kenny G
  • When: 8 p.m. Friday to Sunday
  • Where: Orleans Showroom
  • Tickets: $82.50 to $110; 365-7075

Not everyone is a fan of saxophonist Kenny G, but it’s hard to argue with his success.

Since the man with the distinctive soprano saxophone burst onto the music scene in 1982 he has sold more than 50 million records. His latest CD, “Rhythm & Romance,” was nominated for a Latin Grammy last year.

“I’ve always done a Latin song here and there,” Kenny G (for Gorlick) said from his home studio in Los Angeles. “I like the way my sax sounds on that kind of music, so I put together a whole album of the same theme.”

The 52-year-old artist will be playing cuts from the CD when he performs at the Orleans this weekend.

During the wide-ranging conversation the Seattle native talked about Starbucks, his new 24-hour Internet radio station, computer technology and his critics.

How would you describe your music — jazz, pop, pop jazz, contemporary? How would you define what you do?

I think I’d rather leave that to somebody else to figure out. I don’t give much thought to the label one would give to my music. Fortunately, I have my own sound and people recognize my sound when they hear it, and to me that’s as good as you can get.

How do you deal with jazz purists and other critics of your music?

I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what purists say or critics say. I don’t have any bad words to say about them because I don’t think about it that much. What those types of people say about my music pretty much doesn’t have any effect on me at all. I try to avoid reading stuff like that. Sometimes people will put an article right in my face and say “You gotta read this.” If I do and it’s derogatory it’s like water off a duck’s back. It rolls right off me. It doesn’t make me feel bad. It doesn’t make me want to lash out. It has no effect on me.

When and how did your interest in music begin to develop?

I saw somebody playing saxophone on TV when I was a kid and it got me excited. I started practicing and I liked it. I was a kid just having fun. I did other things. I was on the golf team. I was a straight-A student. I had lots of other things I did. Music was just part of my day. It just took over at one point.

Success seems to have come fairly easy for you.

I never thought anything was tough when it came to music. I just enjoyed myself. I never thought about the fact that I was trying to make a music career. One thing led to another and I found myself doing it. I never thought anything was tough. As long as I was playing my saxophone and had at least a gig I was happy, just like now. It’s tougher to sell records now but I’m still doing what I like to do, so I’m still having a great time.

It’s tough to sell records, even for you?

Today you have a young audience that’s really into iTunes and downloading songs, and then you have a more mature audience who really just liked it the way it used to be — record stores and CDs. But they’re not out there anymore, the way the used to be. You can’t just go to a neighborhood record store and buy a CD. It doesn’t work the way it used it. It’s hard to find the CDs you’re looking for. You used to walk into a record store looking for something by Billy Joel or Mariah Carey and you might see my face in the store — you’d walk in for one CD and walk out with 10. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. You’ve got to know what you want — it’s hard to find a CD at Best Buy that you really want. You’ve got to really look hard for it. So yeah, it’s hard to sell CDs.

Do you find yourself performing more concerts because of that?

I’ve always done plenty of concerts. I’m not doing more because of the way things are, but I know I sell more records when I’m out on the road. It used to be the road gigs were fun and they didn’t affect the record sales that much, but now the concerts are very important.

What would you have done if you hadn’t become a musician? With your passion for golf, would that have been an option for you?

I don’t know. There’s a lot of really great golfers out there who can’t make it as a professional. I certainly like golf. I don’t know what I would have done. My dad has a business in Seattle, where I’m from. His company wholesales plumbing, heating and hardware goods. Taking over the family business was an option. That wouldn’t have been so bad.

You seem to have a good business sense. Weren’t you one of the original investors in Starbucks in the early ’80s?

That’s right. In hindsight it seems like a no-brainer. But when Starbucks was raising money there was only one Starbucks in the world. The idea of a coffee chain like that was something that was new and very, very risky. I don’t know if I had a good business sense or was just reckless.

What are your plans?

My plan for the day, when we’re done talking, I’m going to practice my saxophone for a couple of hours. That’s my big plan. I have a radio show that I do. Actually, there are a couple of cool things I should tell you about. One is I have my own radio station, an Internet radio station. You’re the first person I’ve actually talked to about it. I’m not even sure I’m supposed to talk about it. If I’m not supposed to I don’t think it will be too bad to say anything. You can listen to it 24 hours a day. What’s cool about it is if you don’t like the song you’re hearing, you can fast forward a few songs. So I have my own radio station and online I have a store where people can go and shop. I’m encouraging my audience, even though they are probably reluctant to use the computer and do these things, but I encourage them to go to my Web site and get autographed CDs and stuff that you can’t get anywhere else. I’m trying to provide fun things for people who like my music, concert tickets early and things like that.

When did the Internet radio station go online?

There was a soft launch about three weeks ago. We’re just tweaking it before we make a big statement, but people can go to it right now. It’s my type of music. I’m the host and I talk about the artists and I play my saxophone in breaks. I have help in the programming, which is great. There’s a great mix between instruments and vocals, old songs and new. It’s not a watered-down radio station. I’ve heard some stations play this kind of music that is very watered down. This has got some punch to it.

Is this a lark or do you spend a lot of time with it?

I spend time on it. I’m actually sitting in my studio. After I practice today I’m going to go in and cut some more lines, do some more things, keep it fresh as much as I can. I like it. I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve instead of being behind the curve.

You seem to have jumped into the new technology.

It’s not hard. I wish it would all go away, to be honest with you. I want to go back. I don’t want any of this stuff. If we could go without the Blackberries, without the computers, maybe without the cell phones, I’d go back to that age in a second. But since it’s here I’m one of those guys that goes, “All right, it may not be the way that I want to live my life, but at least let me learn everything there is to know about it and see what part of it is going to make my life better.” So, I use these tools to help my life, not take over my life. I like my computer, and I use it, but I use it in a way that makes my life better. I’m not sitting there looking at my computer screen all day or at my Blackberry all day, but when I use them I use them really well.

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