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Interview With Grammy Award Winning Saxophonist Kenny G

Kenny Photo Credit: ATT Performing Arts

Grammy Award–winning saxophonist Kenny G was born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick on June 5, 1956, in Seattle, Washington. The son of Jewish parents, Kenny G grew up in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood, in the center of the city’s Jewish community.

He took an early interest in music and began playing the saxophone at the age of 10. He continued on with the instrument in his teens, while falling in love with the R&B sounds of popular groups like Earth Wind & Fire.

In 1973, at just 17 years old, Kenny G was hired by Barry White to play with his Love Unlimited Orchestra at the Paramount Northwest Theater in Seattle. The gig with White and his band was the first of several for the saxophonist, and it was about this time that he changed his name to Kenny G.

Following his graduation from Franklin High School, Kenny G followed two different career tracks: He enrolled at the University of Washington to study accounting, while also continuing to pursue a career in music.
In addition to playing with White, Kenny G recorded with the Seattle funk band Cold, Bold & Together. Later, he would collaborate with Jeff Lorber Fusion, recording an album with the group and playing with them on tour.

In 1982, after signing a deal with Arista Records, Kenny G released his self-entitled debut album. Striking a balance between jazz and R&B, the record marked a solid start to his solo career.

His next two albums, G Force (1983) and Gravity (1985), continued his upward trajectory, it was his fourth studio album, Duotones (1986), that made the saxophonist an international star.
Eventually topping 5 million sales, the slick-smooth jazz album led the way for Kenny G to work with other big-name stars, including Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Natalie Cole. During his long career, he’s also performed by Barbra Streisand, Burt Bacharach, and Frank Sinatra.

Over the next decade, Kenny G and his smooth sound dominated the airwaves and the record charts. His 1992 release, Breathless, sold more than 12 million copies in the United States alone and became the top-selling instrumental album in history. In 1994, Kenny G won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for the track “Forever in Love.” That year he also issued his first-holiday album, Miracles, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

In addition to his recording success, Kenny G set a Guinness World Record in 1997 for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. At a performance at J&R Music World in New York City, he employed a method called circular breathing to hold an E-flat for 45 minutes and 47 seconds. Although his mark passed in 2000 by Van Burchfield, Kenny G was hopeful of reclaiming the record.

Grammy Award winner Kenny G provided The Hype Magazine with a candid look into his passion for both music and golf during a telephone interview while en route to Dallas.

When you hear someone say, Seattle, Franklin High School, and the Jazz Band, what does this mean to you?

It is where I got my musical start. My instructors at Franklin High School were very instrumental in my preparation as a musician and I was able to perfect my craft.

When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician?

During my senior year in high school, I had the opportunity to perform with Barry White and being exposed to that side of the business, I decided to pursue a professional career as a musician.

Being that there are only a handful of successful artists from Seattle, Washington, what steps did you take to make it as an artist in the entertainment business?

I never thought Seattle would limit me as a musician because I thought if I need to relocate to Los Angeles and find a manager that is something necessary for progression in the entertainment business.

Is it true that you were one of the early investors in Starbucks Coffee Company?

That is actually a true statement

Can you tell us how that opportunity came about?

Starbucks is a Seattle-based company and I was fortunate enough to network with some of the individuals looking to invest and launch the company.  I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

What was that experience like, especially since Starbucks is now an international company?

I am always excited to be able to be involved at the beginning of a  start-up and happy for everyone one involved. Howard Schultz is a  good friend on time and I’m always happy for his success. He Deserves it because he is an amazing person.

I’m intrigued by your latest album “Brazilian Nights,” which was also nominated for Best Instrumental Album at the Latin Grammys. Where did you draw your inspiration from?

This album was inspired by Bossa Nova music, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderly, Paul Desmond, masterful musicians from the late 1950s and 60s. I was intrigued by their work and that is why I decided to compose this album and plus I’m a fan of  Bossa Nova music.

You won a Grammy in 1994 for Best Instrumental Composition, can you tell us what that experience was like?

I  had the opportunity to experience twenty plus nominations at the Grammys and finally won one.  It was a great experience. I was not sure I was going to win one obviously, but it was super fun. Winning and being nominated for all of those Grammy awards is flattering. I do not feel it changed my life, but I can say it was a nice moment.

You recently had the opportunity to travel to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Can you describe that experience and which events caught your eye?

I enjoyed being able to be a  spectator for the beach volleyball events. It was a  beautiful event and the beach was incredible and the energy was definitely breathtaking. in regards to the Zika Virus, I did not come across one mosquito while I was there. As far as Rio being dangerous, I just stuck with the company” Omega,” as we were working together on a project during my time in Rio. Unfortunately, the world was given some misguided information in regards to Rio de Janeiro as an Olympic venue.

How do you feel about modern music that doesn’t use real instruments such as, horns, drums, or pianos, but instead uses machines?

Obviously, I am not a fan of music sampling and other techniques created through computer-generated technology. Computer generated music is not the same as acoustic instrumentation. Individuals will do what they need in regards to making music, but if you are a talented musician there will always be work whether you’re a violinist or a saxophone player.

You had the opportunity to play your music around the world, what are some of the venues that stand out in your mind?

There is a lot of beautiful buildings throughout the world like Royal Albert Hall in London, Tokyo International Forum int Tokyo and you have Hollywood Bowl, Just to name a few incredible venues around the world. I am happy to say I have had the privilege to perform at a variety of amazing venues.

Who are some of the artists and musicians from today’s generation that you would love to work with in some capacity?

Honestly, I would love to work with any musician that wants to create fun music and feeling the music. The artists do not have to be famous, but he or she would need to be talented.

You a have passion besides playing music, that passion being golf, can you tell me how you started?

When I was 11-years-old my brother introduced me to the game and it turned into a hobby of mine.

Can you tell me how you are able to keep up with golf game while you are traveling?

Typically, I do not have a lot of time to play while I’m on the road.  I have more of an opportunity to play when I’m at home since I am able to play during the day and then I can perform at night, so it all works out.

I know you won the 2001 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am as a member of Phil Mickelson team. Can you tell me about that experience?

First off, play at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is like the Masters for amateurs. It is the greatest golf tournament an amateur can participate in and it is just wonderful to be paired with the top pros in the world. I was lucky enough to be Phil Mickelson’s partner in 2001.  We ended up tying for first place. I play there every year and I’m going on my 15th year.  I love playing there and have the opportunity to hang out with Clint Eastwood and a lot of the elite golfers. Last year, I was able to meet Larry “The Cable Guy” because I was in the tournament.

What made you decide to get your pilot license?

In 1989, I decided to get my pilot license and I’m glad that I did because I personally feel that planes are the safest vehicles to be in.

You have an upcoming performance at Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in Dallas tomorrow night. Can you give your fans in Dallas a sneak peak of the songs that you will be playing?   

The band and I will be playing a lot of my greatest hits like Song Bird, Forever In Love and Silhouette. I want the fans in Dallas to know that it will definitely be a show you do not want to miss and I hope to see all of you there.

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Written by Landon Buford

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