Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, known to the general public as the curly-haired, loveable, saxophone playing Kenny G, definitely knows how to make jazz ‘‘work’’, and his global album sales totaling more than 75 million prove this point. But how does he do it? First of all Kenny G takes classic jazz and turns it into something that people in this day and age can relate to. He understands ‘why people are listening to this music at this time’ and has effectively produced music that captures what people want to hear.
Weezer Featuring Kenny G – I’m Your Daddy
Secondly Kenny G works with artists in several varying genres, and merges what works for others with what works for him. An example of his techniques of collaboration can be seen in his soon to be released album entitled Rhythm & Romance; a jazz album with a Latin flavor. This album features some of the world’s most prominent Latin musicians, yet never loses that distinctive Kenny G feel, and is predicted to be a huge success.
Kenny G – Sabor A Mi from the album Rhythm & Romance
Gorelick’s music has often been criticized for being ‘impure’ jazz. In fact his biography, written by Scott Yanow, begins with the line “Kenny G has long been the musician many jazz listeners love to hate.” Fellow jazz musician Pat Metheny bashed Gorelick saying he is not ‘anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that have been set on his instrument over the past 60 or 70 years.”
However the reality is that Kenny G is not a musician of 60 or 70 years ago, and he is one of the few jazz musicians of today that realize this fact. He embraces the fact that he is a musician of the twenty-first century and acts accordingly. Many modern jazz musicians view their music as ‘high art’ and as such do not work to make it accessible to the general public. Kenny however aims to bring jazz back into the ‘popular’ music sphere. In one interview he said he lives by the rule of ‘Let’s do things we haven’t done before.’
One of the main grudges that the jazz world holds against Kenny G is that he does not improvise as typical jazz performers do/did. But it is a fact that the popular music of today is much more basic than it used to be (‘Touch My Body’ by Mariah Carey was a perfect example of this phenomena.) Trying to force what used to be popular onto the younger generation cannot and will not be successful. Instead Kenny G has merged old jazz customs with styles that will appease his crowd in order to bring jazz back into the popular realm or, in other words, save jazz.
Additionally we must note that we live in the time of technology, and the use of technology in saving jazz seems to separate those who succeed from those who don’t. Today the key to success lies in utilizing facebook, twitter, and blogging as forms of advertisement. On Kenny G’s official website fans can read blogs straight from Kenny on his most recent musical happenings, or download his latest hit to their computer, or even download their very own Kenny G ringtone. The music industry is a business, and attempting to keep jazz on its high horse in art galleries and on dusty records will never successfully restore it to where it used to be.
Finally, collaboration with other artists, both within the genre and externally, can only help the music to grow and prosper. Music is dynamic and ever changing. It is impossible to keep any form of music pure. In fact if that were the outlook, we would not have jazz music today in the first place. Each form of music is popular for a reason, and by working in non-jazz genres, jazz musicians can incorporate what makes salsa, for example, interesting to its respective listeners into their own music, and in turn expand the jazz audience.
Kenny G – Songbird
Kenny G’s first breakthrough album entitled Duotones was not only a hit on the jazz charts, but also in the R&B, Hip-Hop, and Adult Contemporary worlds as well, as it incorporated nuances from all of these. In fact one of his most popular songs from this album, Songbird, was number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100, which ranks the most popular songs in the US regardless of genre. By taking pages out of the books of genres not within the jazz continuum, Kenny G was able to make his music accessible to a wider audience, bringing it, even if for only a moment, back to the forefront of popular American culture, or in short, save jazz.
It may take some getting used to, but jazz can be saved. By appreciating the needs of the targeted audience, appealing to them accordingly, and ‘borrowing’ ideas from other successful popular genres, it is very possible for jazz to again be America’s music.