“I don’t know if I appreciate songs that a lot,” the saxophonist Kenny G gamely admits in “Listening to Kenny G,” a new documentary directed by Penny Lane that premièred last 7 days on HBO. As he claims it, Kenny G—born Kenneth Gorelick, in Seattle, in 1956—seems to know that this was maybe not the most prudent matter to confess. He scrambles to course-accurate: “I guess, for me, when I pay attention to tunes, I consider about the musicians, and I just think about what it requires to make that music, and how considerably they had to exercise and how very good they had to be.”
In the course of the film, Gorelick frequently reminds viewers that he prizes tricky work and self-control over all. We are handled to footage of him meticulously planning an apple pie, meticulously laundering a pair of white pants, meticulously tweaking his golf swing, and meticulously tooting his horn. In a person scene, he’s questioned to signal a wall at his old superior school, in which he proceeds to fret for a number of minutes right before ultimately deciding on “Go for what you appreciate and observe, practice, observe.” Nonetheless who among the us thinks only of apply although listening to, say, Sonny Rollins or Dexter Gordon? When the discuss-exhibit host Charlie Rose asked Gorelick if he was influenced by any of the good saxophonists—beloved legends of jazz, his meant religious forefathers—he demurred. “It’s the technique of it,” he explained. “The John Coltrane, the Charlie Parker—their strategy was phenomenal. . . . But that new music was never heartfelt for me. . . . It was not anything I needed to emulate.”
“Listening to Kenny G” shows Gorelick making use of this idea—that he can satiate his perfectionism as a result of obsessive study—to all sides of his existence, even the soft and instinctive types, this sort of as parenthood. “How am I likely to grow to be the most effective father the environment has at any time witnessed?” he wonders, following his sons are born. I really don’t know, Kenny—love your young children deeply and unconditionally? (He has two children from his second relationship, to the manner designer Lyndie Benson.) “I’m likely to commence studying it,” he remembers considering. “I started out studying books, I begun asking queries.” He also needs to be the greatest interviewee in the environment. “If that usually means sitting down here for twelve hours and not consuming or consuming, I’ll do it,” he tells Lane. Rise and grind, infant!
Has this strategy worked for Kenny G? Properly, certainly and no. In the film’s opening times, as Gorelick warms up onstage, Lane asks him how he’s feeling. “Underappreciated, in basic,” he claims. Gorelick signed to Arista Records in 1982, just after the label founder and pop- soothsayer Clive Davis observed him carry out with the Jeff Lorber Group. “There was Kenny, standing up and doing his magic,” Davis recollects, in the movie. He firmly thought that Gorelick could have a practical profession as a solo artist. “He experienced a extremely pure present of relating to the audience,” Davis claims. “It was dawning on me that, even though he was a soloist in what was a jazz band, that his most important enchantment would seriously be pop.” At very first, Davis paired Gorelick with the R. & B. producer and performer Kashif, who added creamy, polished vocals to Kenny G’s melodies. But Gorelick felt specific that he could crack as a result of simply as a saxophonist. When Kenny G was booked on “The Tonight Demonstrate,” in 1986, he opted to participate in the instrumental “Songbird,” which capabilities only Gorelick’s light, gooey sax—and heaps of it.
Not very long following that physical appearance, Kenny G’s fourth album, “Duotones,” went platinum, and “Songbird” attained No. 4 on the Billboard Incredibly hot 100. Kenny G would eventually promote a lot more than seventy-5 million albums worldwide. (With no discounting his very own striving, Gorelick understands the situations that permitted for these kinds of quantities: “I was tremendous lucky, blessed that I transpired to be an artist at the time interval when individuals were shopping for albums and cassettes and CDs,” he states. “Artists now, they occur out—there’s no platform to promote a large amount of data.”) “Songbird” is quintessential Kenny G: sentimental, slick, uncomplicated, type of grossly intimate and sleek as hell. To simply call it corny feels much too blunt. Close your eyes, play a few seconds, and see what you conjure: a Sandals Vacation resort, an eighties romance film, the time you sat despairingly in a plastic chair for an hour and 30-five minutes, waiting to see a tax accountant. It’s a sound that appears to have no relationship in any respect to what I assume of as jazz, however it is in some way nonetheless “jazz,” or it’s possible jazz-adjacent—jazz that has been remaining in a creek bed for a million decades, smoothed to oblivion.
Kenny G falls into the chasm amongst virtuosity and what routinely will get termed “soul,” for absence of a extra specific term—that ineffable detail that animates a piece of songs, offers it life, offers it stakes. It would be simple to dismiss Gorelick as more than-rehearsed, far too worried with complex trickery, far too obsessed with circular respiratory. But is Gorelick even great in the strictest mechanical feeling, when in contrast with a person like John Coltrane? Holding a solitary take note for some ungodly total 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, environment a Guinness Environment Record—but is it lovely?
Lane’s marriage to Gorelick supplies a rich subtext to the movie, even though their interactions choose place pretty much solely offscreen. Lane, who is known for creating wise, humorous documentaries about eccentric figures or ideas—from Richard Nixon to John Romulus Brinkley, the con man who attempted to overcome impotence by implanting goat gonads into the sexually weak—appears to regard her issue the exact same way that many of us do, with a combine of amusement, curiosity, bizarre passion, and horror. She consists of many bits of candid chitchat that transpired involving her and Kenny G outdoors of the more “official” takes—this substance is definitely fair match, even though it does make a viewer ponder how it felt for Gorelick, an noticeable regulate freak, to willingly cede his narrative to a filmmaker. (On event, he clearly makes an attempt to give Lane course.) These types of is the documentarian’s quagmire: How do you notify yet another person’s story in a more true or much more profound way than they at any time could (or would) on their personal?
However, in the long run, this isn’t an situation for Lane, since “Listening to Kenny G” is a film about the meaninglessness of story much more frequently: Is Kenny G the worst musician of all time, or a titan in his industry? It just depends whom you inquire. The film struggles with the unexciting but inescapable actuality that taste is subjective: some people really dig what Kenny G does—the meant sensuality the bathos the odd, velvety luxury of it—and some individuals really, really never. In “Difference: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,” continue to the reigning bit of principle 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 others.” We are all secretly keen to ascribe morality to our likes and dislikes—to get pleasure from Kenny G is to be a undesirable person, and to come across him absurd is to fortify your very own superiority.