“I really do not know if I adore new music that much,” the saxophonist Kenny G gamely admits in “Listening to Kenny G,” a new documentary directed by Penny Lane that premièred past week on HBO. As he claims it, Kenny G—born Kenneth Gorelick, in Seattle, in 1956—seems to know that this was possibly not the most prudent factor to admit. He scrambles to system-proper: “I guess, for me, when I pay attention to music, I believe about the musicians, and I just think about what it usually takes to make that new music, and how considerably they had to exercise and how great they experienced to be.”
All through the film, Gorelick regularly reminds viewers that he prizes tricky do the job and self-control previously mentioned all. We are handled to footage of him meticulously making ready an apple pie, meticulously laundering a pair of white pants, meticulously tweaking his golf swing, and meticulously tooting his horn. In 1 scene, he’s asked to indicator a wall at his outdated superior college, where by he proceeds to fret for a several minutes just before eventually deciding on “Go for what you love and observe, observe, observe.” Nonetheless who between us thinks only of practice though listening to, say, Sonny Rollins or Dexter Gordon? When the speak-display host Charlie Rose asked Gorelick if he was influenced by any of the great saxophonists—beloved legends of jazz, his supposed spiritual forefathers—he demurred. “It’s the technique of it,” he reported. “The John Coltrane, the Charlie Parker—their procedure was phenomenal. . . . But that tunes was under no circumstances heartfelt for me. . . . It was not nearly anything I wished to emulate.”
“Listening to Kenny G” displays Gorelick implementing this idea—that he can satiate his perfectionism through obsessive study—to all aspects of his existence, even the soft and instinctive types, these kinds of as parenthood. “How am I heading to grow to be the greatest father the globe has ever viewed?” he miracles, just after his sons are born. I really don’t know, Kenny—love your youngsters deeply and unconditionally? (He has two young children from his next relationship, to the fashion designer Lyndie Benson.) “I’m heading to begin finding out it,” he recalls imagining. “I started looking at guides, I began inquiring concerns.” He also wishes to be the very best interviewee in the planet. “If that suggests sitting in this article for twelve several hours and not taking in or drinking, I’ll do it,” he tells Lane. Rise and grind, baby!
Has this technique worked for Kenny G? Very well, indeed and no. In the film’s opening moments, as Gorelick warms up onstage, Lane asks him how he’s emotion. “Underappreciated, in basic,” he suggests. Gorelick signed to Arista Information in 1982, just after the label founder and pop- soothsayer Clive Davis noticed him carry out with the Jeff Lorber Team. “There was Kenny, standing up and performing his magic,” Davis remembers, in the movie. He firmly believed that Gorelick could have a feasible profession as a solo artist. “He experienced a extremely natural gift of relating to the audience,” Davis suggests. “It was dawning on me that, even though he was a soloist in what was a jazz band, that his main attractiveness would definitely be pop.” At 1st, Davis paired Gorelick with the R. & B. producer and performer Kashif, who additional creamy, polished vocals to Kenny G’s melodies. But Gorelick felt sure that he could split by way of merely as a saxophonist. When Kenny G was booked on “The Tonight Demonstrate,” in 1986, he opted to enjoy the instrumental “Songbird,” which options only Gorelick’s light, gooey sax—and tons of it.
Not very long following that visual appeal, Kenny G’s fourth album, “Duotones,” went platinum, and “Songbird” attained No. 4 on the Billboard Incredibly hot 100. Kenny G would ultimately promote much more than seventy-5 million albums globally. (Without the need of discounting his possess striving, Gorelick understands the instances that authorized for these types of figures: “I was super fortunate, lucky that I happened to be an artist at the time time period when people today have been buying albums and cassettes and CDs,” he claims. “Artists now, they arrive out—there’s no system to promote a good deal of data.”) “Songbird” is quintessential Kenny G: sentimental, slick, uncomplicated, kind of grossly passionate and smooth as hell. To simply call it corny feels also blunt. Shut your eyes, engage in a couple seconds, and see what you conjure: a Sandals Resort, an eighties romance film, the time you sat despairingly in a plastic chair for an hour and thirty-5 minutes, waiting around to see a tax accountant. It is a seem that appears to have no relationship whatsoever to what I consider of as jazz, still it is by some means however “jazz,” or maybe jazz-adjacent—jazz that has been remaining in a creek mattress for a million yrs, smoothed to oblivion.
Kenny G falls into the chasm among virtuosity and what usually will get identified as “soul,” for lack of a more precise term—that ineffable factor that animates a piece of songs, presents it daily life, presents it stakes. It would be easy to dismiss Gorelick as above-rehearsed, far too concerned with complex trickery, much too obsessed with round respiration. But is Gorelick even excellent in the strictest mechanical feeling, when when compared with a person like John Coltrane? Keeping a one take note for some ungodly amount of time is a feat of athleticism, certainly—in 1997, Gorelick sustained an E-flat on his saxophone for forty-five minutes and forty-7 seconds, placing a Guinness World Record—but is it wonderful?
Lane’s romance to Gorelick gives a prosperous subtext to the film, though their interactions acquire position pretty much totally offscreen. Lane, who is acknowledged for making wise, humorous documentaries about eccentric figures or ideas—from Richard Nixon to John Romulus Brinkley, the con gentleman who tried to remedy impotence by implanting goat gonads into the sexually weak—appears to regard her matter the same way that quite a few of us do, with a blend of amusement, curiosity, strange affection, and horror. She includes various bits of candid chitchat that transpired concerning her and Kenny G outside the house of the additional “official” takes—this product is definitely good video game, however it does make a viewer question how it felt for Gorelick, an clear handle freak, to willingly cede his narrative to a filmmaker. (On event, he evidently attempts to give Lane path.) These types of is the documentarian’s quagmire: How do you inform one more person’s tale in a truer or much more profound way than they at any time could (or would) on their own?
But, in the end, this is not an situation for Lane, simply because “Listening to Kenny G” is a movie about the meaninglessness of tale more commonly: Is Kenny G the worst musician of all time, or a titan in his area? It just depends whom you inquire. The film struggles with the uninteresting but inescapable point that flavor is subjective: some individuals definitely dig what Kenny G does—the supposed sensuality the bathos the odd, velvety luxurious of it—and some people today genuinely, actually don’t. In “Difference: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,” nevertheless the reigning bit of concept guiding conversations of what we like and why, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defines taste as “first and foremost distastes, disgust provoked by horror or visceral intolerance of the preferences of other individuals.” We are all secretly keen to ascribe morality to our likes and dislikes—to enjoy Kenny G is to be a poor particular person, and to uncover him absurd is to enhance your personal superiority.