The Suncoast Post Interview with Saxophonist Kenny G at the Sarasota Film Festival
Kenny G was in the SRQ for the premiere of the documentary about him “Listening to Kenny G” by director Penny Lane. He is also on tour, played Van Wezel Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, raced to NYC to attend the 90th Birthday Party of mentor and music mogul, Clive Davis on Wednesday. He came back on Thursday to promote the film, do a Q&A, receive that Sarasota Maestro Award, and squeezed in an interview with us at the Sarasota Film Festival. Director Penny Lane also attended the interview and interjected from time to time. It was a fun evening. I highly recommend the film especially if you are a music fan. It has been 40 years since Kenny came on the scene with his saxophone in the U.S. Since then, he has become one of the biggest selling artists in the world with 75 million records sold by a solo instrumentalist! He is also an avid golfer and a pilot. He has a new album out called “New Standards”
SP to Penny Lane: So, tell me how this idea came about for you making this film.
PL: Well, yeah. I mean, so essentially, HBO was putting together a series of music documentaries called Music Box. And they asked me to pitch them ideas for music documentaries. At first, I was like, I don’t really like music documentaries; I’ve never really watched one. I never really imagined that. I really wanted the job, and so I thought, yeah. Kenny G says, “She needed the money” and laughs. I’m desperate, lol. So, I thought I should think about it. I really like the people I wanted to work with them too. So, I guess I went home, and I started to think about, like, what I thought was interesting about music on a more conceptual level. What I came up with was the idea that people like tasting music is so deeply like woven up interwoven with their sense of identity, both like personally, almost spiritually and also socially and like communally, and that that to me, was like the most interesting thing. So, I started thinking about, like, well, what’s that? You know, a lot of music documentaries lack conflict. That’s like one of the reasons that they’re not good. It’s just like, yeah; it was great for 90 minutes. And so, I wanted to find something with conflict. And I thought, well, what’s a conflict about taste, essentially? And I thought of Kenny. I thought of Kenny, I think because I grew up in the 90s and I mean probably not in a way. Kenny was, like, the biggest guy in the planet when I was growing up and my punk rock friends didn’t like love that very much. And so, I thought that was kind of funny and I also liked it. I did a little research on Kenny, like watching interviews and saw that he has a sense of humor. And, like, you know, can laugh about the criticisms of him and I wouldn’t have approached him with this idea if I didn’t know that already. Look, if I thought it was gonna like hurt his feelings, I wouldn’t have brought him the idea, but I knew it wouldn’t. So that’s how it started.
SP: Kenny it has been 40 years since the first record I owned that record. Let me just tell you, it was on cassette!LOL
KG: Oh, cool. Yeah, it is forty years this year. The infamous Richard Simmons cover. (laughing)
SP: Globally you have sold 75 million records. And I mean it’s astounding. Being a music journalist, I research all this kind of stuff on people. And it’s pretty amazing.
KG: It is phenomenal. It really is.
SP: You’ve done 23 albums. OK, so where are you at now musically? Are you gonna make more records? Are you done making records? OK, well, some people are done making records you know.
KG: I am not done making records, No, no. I got a couple you know, I will keep making records until I stop playing. The hardest part is figuring out the concept like this new latest record is “New Standards.” So, because I always thought that those jazz ballads were my favorites because that’s all I was listening to at home, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and Miles. And usually, no not usually, I always love their ballad stuff more than I love the uptempo stuff. The uptempo stuff is good for me to practice my scales, working on my technique and my mechanics, so I wanna hear all those notes John Coltrane would play. So, when they play the ballads, that’s the sound I like. When I want to hear my music, I wanna hear the ballads. But I didn’t want to record the ballads because I already did a record “Classics in the Key of G,” where I took a bunch of those old songs. You know, I think I could write equally as good songs as those old standards that are beloved everywhere and let me write, let me just write it the way that I would do it. The melodies that I would do and then then let me craft the solos the way I would do it because that is what I want to listen to. Because there are a lot of records that I love and then they aren’t consistent. I wanna listen to a song. I want this whole song to be something I like. Then they just go crazy, and they create this whole thing in the middle of it. And you had me and then you lost me. So anyway, I did that record, and what will the next one be? I don’t know. I watched a movie today called “Queen and Slim” Great movie, I watched on the plane. There’s a lot sounds those movies have, certain types of movies have, which is heavy strings. Like heavy string with a melancholy melody over it. It’s a vibe. It’s just a vibe. Yeah. Record that, but I’ll make it better because I’ll bring melody. I was gonna make that. So that’s something that I was thinking, you know, that could be a record. So, then I at was at Clive Davis 90th birthday party in New York last night. They were playing a whole bunch of songs and there was one song that was like a whole 70’s funk vibe of one of the groups that he produced like. You know all that kind of funk vibe, let me make it better put the melody on it!
SP: Critics wise, you don’t care what the critics say, right? You don’t care about the intense jazz people versus smooth jazz.
KG: I don’t not care. I care in the sense that I could care about just life in general, things that maybe don’t affect me that much. I care. I care a lot about it, but I hear enough that it’s not gonna affect the way I feel about myself or it’s not gonna tell me what I should be doing, right. It’s not that I don’t care what they say, I’m listening. Yeah, you know it would be nicer if they said nice things, it would make me feel better obviously, but I listen, I go, OK. It’s like getting bad news, do you care about it? Depends on how it impacts you. You know, it’s raining today. OK, well, I can handle that and all that stuff. Telling me that the weather turns really shi**y, when I was planning to do something really fun outside. How’s that affect you? It’s like I will stay inside and practice and have a great day. That’s kind of how it is with the critics. I like that analogy. Yeah, that’s OK. Just sounds good.
PL: I was thinking about this because one of the things that Kenny says in the film is, like, you know, I’ve already got my scar tissue. Yeah, I’ve got reps with the jazz police. And I think about that all time because, like, it’s everything in that in that statement, you can hear someone who like yeah cares but, like, also has learned through work and probably partly temperament to like kind of not let it like stick. You know, it’s kind of like water off a duck’s back. But you know what a lot of artists are just really, really sensitive.
KG: Remember now before my first record I made my first record 1982, I was 26. Well, they didn’t care much about me at that point, till I was successful. I think that’s when I start getting more bad reviews, right. So, we’re talking about 86 now. Yeah, the bad reviews are the first time is when you were big enough to be worth to be criticized. Since I was 17, I’ve been playing in bands, mostly R&B bands, black bands, clubs, gigs. Watching the audiences give me, not that I’m doing it for that I’m saying I’m playing right and the feedback I’m getting is, wow standing ovations. I am with Barry White when I was 17, right? I’ve had all that, so when the critics started doing their thing in the mid-80s, it’s like, OK, but I already have a whole not only I didn’t have any reps at that point with the jazz police. But I had so much, I guess confidence. You’re telling me I’m crappy. But everybody I’ve seen in the last 13 years that I’ve played for is telling me I’m phenomenal! Hum, I want to go with that. Yeah, let’s stick with that because I also think that what I’m doing is pretty great.
SP: I brought this along (“At Last, The Duets Album” 2004), this is my personal CD. I wanted to ask you about this. Daryl Hall is on this record. How did this come about, and did you actually record together in studio?
KG: Wow, this was Clive Davis’ brainchild. No, I just sent him the track and he did his part, never recorded in the studio and in fact I don’t recall ever having met Daryl. Kenny is looking at the CD liner notes and says, “Here’s a good one, “Pick up the Pieces” and “The Way You Move” with Earth, Wind and Fire. Yeah, I was just hanging out with them last night. I was sitting at a table last night with Earth Wind and Fire, Dionne Warwick and who’s the King interviewer? Gayle King. I said. You know, I’ve always been the white guy in the room and I’m still the white guy at the table, laughing I thought that was pretty funny.”
SP: Are you still playing golf? Yes, I am still playing golf. Kenny is looking at the CD cover and marveling at the photo and how young he looks, “with no wrinkles, I look so young” Penny Lane says “Like a baby” as she laughs.
SP: Have you been to Sarasota before? I know you have played Van Wezel many times, but I mean, have you spent time here?
KG: OK, so I’ve been to all these places many times, that’s the norm. Have you done anything there – no I haven’t. This is my big night out in Sarasota! It’s pretty great, a big deal.
PL: This why I love being with you Kenny. No one cares about me. (Laughs)
SP: How did you get the Penny Lane name?
PL: My parents, you know, Beatles fans, cute, adorable concepts that they had. Yeah, they loved The Beatles.” Kenny asks her, “Do you like it?” She says, “Yeah. I’ve always liked it. The thing I don’t like about it is I know that a lot of people think it’s like a fake name, right? Like a name that I made up, which I find humiliating because if I was gonna pick a name, it wouldn’t have been that. (Everyone laughing.)
More information- Sarasota Film Festival
Top Photo– Kenny G poses for portraits during the screening of “Listening to Kenny G” as part of the 24th annual Sarasota Film Festival on April 07, 2022, in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by John Parra/Getty Images for The Sarasota Film Festival)