Down-to-earth Kenny G set to impress in Merced

By BEVERLY BARELA
March 16, 2017

Grammy award-winning saxophonist Kenny G became commercially successful when his album "Duotones" was released in 1986 featuring soulful and melodic instrumental numbers like "Songbird," and he has continued to be enormously popular to the present.
He's the best-selling instrumentalist of the modern era, with global sales of more than 75 million records.
On March 23, at the historic Merced Theatre in downtown Merced, a local audience will have a chance to enjoy what is being billed as "An Evening with Kenny G."
During a pre-concert phone interview with the Times, Kenny G sounded strikingly humble and down-to-earth.
"To me, I’m creating melodies and making sounds that I hear inside of me," he said. "It’s the challenge of creating a great melody and playing in the way I hear it in my heart."
Kenny G was so comfortable and pleasant to talk to that it wasn't hard to imagine how he could collaborate so remarkably with the many high profile vocalists with whom he has worked — including Whitney Huston, Michael Bolton and Frank Sinatra.
He explained: "The saxophone is a pretty easy instrument to include because I can weave my playing in, so it gives me the opportunity to play a lot of duets. I’m trying to figure out what notes to play that don’t get in the way of their vocal but it still makes it sound that I’m doing more than just fluffy notes."
Kenny G said he writes music sometimes while driving in the car, or waking up in the morning. "I hear one chord on the radio and it starts the process," he said, "and sometimes you go into the studio and say, ‘I’m going to write a song between 10 and 11 a.m.’"
When asked where his studio was, he said, "I live in L.A. now, and my studio is at my house. I used to live in Sherman Oaks, but I’m on the West side now. There are a lot of great people, lots of good stuff going on in L.A., one of the entertainment capitals of the world. We have to be here, or New York or Nashville. L.A. is where I need to be. My goal is to keep becoming better."
He said that writing saxophone solos is easier now than it used to be because of more advanced technology.
"I like to take my time when I do those things. We have our digital recording machines now so I can try it out, listen to it, change a few notes and over the course of a few hours or a few days, come up with the right solo for the right song."
When asked what he thought about becoming famous, Kenny G replied, "I wasn’t thinking about fame, I was just trying to play well, make good music and write good songs. Otherwise, you’re doing things for the wrong reasons —to be famous, to sell records. You do want to sell records, but more importantly, you have to pay attention to your music. Otherwise, you start to believe your own press. Even now, I still practice saxophone three hours a day."
When asked how he became successful, he said, "I was born in Seattle. I was a normal public school guy, picked an instrument when I was 10, and my band teacher taught me to play. I saw someone on the Ed Sullivan Show playing saxophone, and it inspired me. In the 1970s when I was in high school I got good, and Barry White [singer-songwriter, composer] was playing a gig in the northwest and their saxophone player didn’t show up and my band director had a relationship with someone and they had a conversation, so they had me play with Barry White. That was a professional job and I did well, and started playing lots of shows around the northwest. There weren’t that many players in those days and my name got around, and people started to realize that I was a good player and I started doing more professional shows."
"I joined a band called Jeff Lorber Fusion from Portland, Oregon. Portland and Seattle were close enough. He asked me to audition for his band, and I got the gig and he had a record deal with [music producer] Clive Davis. So I automatically got to play in front of the record people and after 5 years, I got a record deal. Arista Records and Clive Davis behind me gave me national exposure. But it took four albums to really get a hit."
When asked about some of the great vocalists he has collaborated with, Kenny G described some of the highlights, saying, "Michael Bolton and I did years of performing live together on the road, so we have a special relationship. Whitney Huston and I did a whole year of touring, playing to 12,000 or 15,000 people. I was her opening act. I was on Frank Sinatra’s ‘Duets’ record."
Asked what the concert in Merced will be like, he replied, "We’re going to play songs from our previous records, and I’m sure people will know those melodies. We never get bored and like to play anything. We improvise so every time we play, it’s different. My band is made up of great musicians, and there will be great solos. Besides saxophone, they will hear piano, drums, bass, guitar, and percussion."
He concluded, "It’s the first night of our California run of dates. You’ll get us fresh off a couple weeks of downtime."
In 1997, Kenny G earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records by playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. He held an E-flat for 45 minutes and 47 seconds.
To produce a continuous note without interruption, he uses a technique called circular breathing which involves storing air in his cheeks.
Will he demonstrate this amazing feat at the Merced Theatre?
It remains to be seen ... and heard.
For further information about "An Evening with Kenny G" at the Merced Theatre at 301 Main Street in Merced on Mar. 23 at 8:00 p.m., those interested can contact the box office at (209) 381-0500.


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