Reflections On My First Kenny G Concert

As I mentioned below, on Friday I reviewed a Kenny G concert at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, NJ. If you missed it, read the review here.

Believe it or not, I actually pitched this assignment to the Star-Ledger, because after years of uncritically accepting the rampant smooth jazz bashing of my peers in the jazz community, I thought I should at least take a listen for myself and see if the unrestrained anger directed at this man is justified.

My brief impression of the show was that Kenny G is a shameless but devastatingly effective self-promoter, a decent technician on his instrument, harmonically and melodically limited to pre-bebop diatonicism and blues riffs, and an amazing onstage communicator.

I had a much longer post written, but the internet just ate it. Instead, here are some links to some previous reactions to Kenny G, ranging from dismissive to derisive to furious:

Scott Yanow

Ben Ratliff

Pat Metheny

If you really want to dig deep into this, check out Aaron West’s PhD dissertation on smooth jazz. It’s really fascinating, and says a lot of what I wanted to say much better than I can.

Although the three-hour-long concert was too long for my skeptical ears, even I was rarely bored. Jazz musicians would do well to adopt some of Kenny G’s performance savvy and onstage exuberance into their live performances. One of my favorite current musicians, Matt Wilson, is doing this better than anyone, but playing awesome music. (His new Christmas CD puts poor Kenny to shame. Seriously, it’s really good! Buy it!)

I left the theater that evening feeling a bit silly for going along with the Kenny G haters for so long, but not exactly digging his act either. At the end of the day, I’m glad that I checked it out, and am especially curious to know what you all have to say about my reactions. Please chime in below, whether you’re a smooth jazz nut or a longtime G-hater.

About arodjazz

Writer, trombonist, and PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology exploring the complexity of today's jazz world
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3 Responses to Reflections On My First Kenny G Concert

  1. Jason Parker says:

    Good for you for checking out the show! I’m not a fan of his music either, but I’ve never understood the vitriol that some jazz folks (JNI?) feel towards the smooth jazz guys.

    I wrote a similar blog post after I attended a Chris Botti show earlier this year: http://oneworkingmusician.com/13-things-i-learned-at-the-chris-botti-show

    Jason

  2. Good for you for being open minded Alex. You can’t hate something you haven’t actually heard!

    Pat Metheny’s antipathy towards Kenny G is well documents – but to be fair, whilst it never quite plumbs the depths of Kenny G and he’s a fabulous player, there’s a lot of Pat Metheny stuff that I consider cheesy, sell-out, ‘smooth’ jazz – the album ‘We Live Here’ springs to mind…

    Despite that, and no matter how much I personally can’t stand Kenny G, it always strikes me that behind much of the ire is the mistaken belief that the smooth jazzers have somehow ‘stolen’ part of the jazz audience.

    The reality is that people who like smooth jazz were never likely to have bought Sun Ra or Cecil Taylor albums if they’d have had the same exposure to that music. Furthermore, the term ‘jazz’ is becoming harder and harder to define as the years go on.

    Sure it’s frustrating that there are a lot of people who don’t demand any more than Kenny G’s slightly sharp pentatonic noodling, but the fact that his music gets filed under jazz is a strange thing to get worked about.

    Sometimes I think jazz fans would be better of trying to promote the music we love rather than complain about what everyone else is listening to.

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