David Royko Psy.D

david@davidroyko.com

What REALLY bothers you about Kenny G...

Jul 20 1999, SwingDoug wrote:
>I'm no G fan, but I don't see why folks bash his music and not Mangione's.


Two reasons come to mind right off the bat. First and more important, M's jazz pedigree is more substantial, with a stint with Blakey and 'real' jazz recordings to his credit before he moved into pop. G, afaik, had one sideman recording to his credit, with the Jeff Lorber Group, and no 'jazz' recordings to his credit, 'jazz' at least as defined by most RMBers, myself included (and no, I'm sure not interested in getting another pointless "what is jazz" debate going). Second, in all the interviews I've seen with G, he comes off as arrogant and defensive. M has always seemed more matter-of-fact and less full of himself. Of course, none of that has anything to do with the music they make, but it does tend to color one's feelings.

I too used to froth at the mouth about Kenny G. And who he seems to be—based upon interviews I've read--does in fact suggest that he is a defensive, arrogant jerk.

But as to whether what he does is called "jazz" by marketers bothers me a lot less than it used to. I used to get pissed off and I used to say "He's hurting jazz because the multiudes, the naive, will think this is jazz!" etc. etc.

But people like--and seek out more of--what they like. If they hear KG and like it, they'll buy him. At the same time, there are tons of ways people get exposed to what we in rmb consider "real" jazz. And if they find it appealing, they seek it out further. Considering that Kind of Blue is about to go double platinum (according to a Reuters piece I read this week), and sells thousands of copies every week, and has done so for 40 years, what that tells me is that plenty of folks find their way to "real" jazz, no matter how KG is marketed.

I finally realized what bugged me most about Kenny G some years back, and once I realized it, I felt FREE! Free to not really give a damn any more. What really bothered me was someone who thought of "jazz" as Kenny G, and then thought that Kenny G-type music must be what I, a "jazz" fan, was into. And it was embarrassing! Kenny G was embarrassing me, personally. Come on, isn't that at least part of why many of us don't like him, because of our feelings of guilt (or embarrassment) by perceived association? Fess up!

These days, if someone says, "Oh, I like jazz, too. Isn't Kenny G great?", I'll usually say, "Oh, you like Kenny G? You should buy 'Kind of Blue.' It's one of Kenny G's favorites." I have no idea if it's true or not, but it works for me.

Michael Fitzgerald writes:
>But don't you think that KOB has received enough "good karma"? How
>about you start telling the G-forces to purchase some Hank Jones?


I don't think something like a Hank Jones CD (at least based on the half-dozen or so Hank Jones discs I know) is as instantly appealing to a jazz novice as KoB tracks like So What, All Blues, Freddy Freeloader, etc. And if you're talking about solo or trio Hank Jones discs, then they lack the horn appeal of KoB (and what horns!). I think there's a reason, other than good karma and the snowball effect, that KoB sells so well. Another one I've had very good luck with in turning novices on to acoustic jazz is Abdullah Ibrahim's "Water from and Ancient Well," and I usually start with the title track. In fact, I've used my Kenny G lie ("It's his favorite") with that one, too.

Dave Royko