“I really don’t know if I like songs that considerably,” the saxophonist Kenny G gamely admits in “Listening to Kenny G,” a new documentary directed by Penny Lane that premièred very last 7 days on HBO. As he states it, Kenny G—born Kenneth Gorelick, in Seattle, in 1956—seems to understand that this was perhaps not the most prudent thing to confess. He scrambles to program-correct: “I guess, for me, when I hear to songs, I feel about the musicians, and I just feel about what it will take to make that music, and how much they experienced to exercise and how superior they had to be.”
In the course of the movie, Gorelick commonly reminds viewers that he prizes hard do the job and discipline above all. We are taken care of to footage of him meticulously planning an apple pie, meticulously laundering a pair of white trousers, meticulously tweaking his golf swing, and meticulously tooting his horn. In a person scene, he’s requested to signal a wall at his old substantial university, in which he proceeds to fret for a couple of minutes in advance of at last choosing on “Go for what you adore and observe, apply, exercise.” But who amongst us thinks only of observe even though listening to, say, Sonny Rollins or Dexter Gordon? When the chat-exhibit host Charlie Rose asked Gorelick if he was motivated by any of the wonderful saxophonists—beloved legends of jazz, his supposed spiritual forefathers—he demurred. “It’s the method of it,” he reported. “The John Coltrane, the Charlie Parker—their approach was phenomenal. . . . But that music was under no circumstances heartfelt for me. . . . It wasn’t just about anything I wished to emulate.”
“Listening to Kenny G” shows Gorelick implementing this idea—that he can satiate his perfectionism by obsessive study—to all sides of his existence, even the comfortable and instinctive ones, this sort of as parenthood. “How am I going to turn into the most effective father the entire world has at any time witnessed?” he wonders, soon after his sons are born. I really don’t know, Kenny—love your youngsters deeply and unconditionally? (He has two small children from his next relationship, to the trend designer Lyndie Benson.) “I’m going to begin finding out it,” he recalls imagining. “I commenced reading through publications, I started off inquiring issues.” He also wishes to be the greatest interviewee in the planet. “If that suggests sitting down right here for twelve hrs and not eating or ingesting, I’ll do it,” he tells Lane. Increase and grind, child!
Has this tactic labored for Kenny G? Well, sure and no. In the film’s opening moments, as Gorelick warms up onstage, Lane asks him how he’s sensation. “Underappreciated, in common,” he states. Gorelick signed to Arista Data in 1982, immediately after the label founder and pop- soothsayer Clive Davis saw him execute with the Jeff Lorber Group. “There was Kenny, standing up and carrying out his magic,” Davis recalls, in the film. He firmly thought that Gorelick could have a feasible profession as a solo artist. “He experienced a quite all-natural present of relating to the viewers,” Davis states. “It was dawning on me that, whilst he was a soloist in what was a jazz band, that his main appeal would truly be pop.” At to start with, Davis paired Gorelick with the R. & B. producer and performer Kashif, who additional creamy, polished vocals to Kenny G’s melodies. But Gorelick felt sure that he could split through basically as a saxophonist. When Kenny G was booked on “The Tonight Exhibit,” in 1986, he opted to enjoy the instrumental “Songbird,” which functions only Gorelick’s gentle, gooey sax—and lots of it.
Not prolonged just after that look, Kenny G’s fourth album, “Duotones,” went platinum, and “Songbird” attained No. 4 on the Billboard Incredibly hot 100. Kenny G would finally sell extra than seventy-5 million albums throughout the world. (With no discounting his possess striving, Gorelick understands the situation that authorized for these kinds of numbers: “I was tremendous blessed, fortunate that I occurred to be an artist at the time time period when people had been shopping for albums and cassettes and CDs,” he claims. “Artists now, they come out—there’s no system to promote a large amount of records.”) “Songbird” is quintessential Kenny G: sentimental, slick, uncomplicated, form of grossly intimate and easy as hell. To get in touch with it corny feels much too blunt. Close your eyes, enjoy a handful of seconds, and see what you conjure: a Sandals Vacation resort, an eighties romance movie, the time you sat despairingly in a plastic chair for an hour and 30-5 minutes, ready to see a tax accountant. It’s a audio that appears to have no romantic relationship in any way to what I feel of as jazz, nonetheless it is in some way nonetheless “jazz,” or maybe jazz-adjacent—jazz that has been remaining in a creek mattress for a million many years, smoothed to oblivion.
Kenny G falls into the chasm in between virtuosity and what often gets known as “soul,” for deficiency of a extra exact term—that ineffable matter that animates a piece of audio, provides it everyday living, offers it stakes. It would be uncomplicated to dismiss Gorelick as over-rehearsed, much too concerned with technical trickery, far too obsessed with circular respiratory. But is Gorelick even superior in the strictest mechanical sense, when compared with anyone like John Coltrane? Holding a single observe for some ungodly sum of time is a feat of athleticism, certainly—in 1997, Gorelick sustained an E-flat on his saxophone for forty-five minutes and forty-seven seconds, placing a Guinness Globe Record—but is it gorgeous?
Lane’s romantic relationship to Gorelick provides a abundant subtext to the film, despite the fact that their interactions acquire spot nearly completely offscreen. Lane, who is acknowledged for producing sensible, funny documentaries about eccentric figures or ideas—from Richard Nixon to John Romulus Brinkley, the con gentleman who attempted to remedy impotence by implanting goat gonads into the sexually weak—appears to regard her subject the similar way that quite a few of us do, with a blend of amusement, curiosity, bizarre affection, and horror. She consists of numerous bits of candid chitchat that transpired among her and Kenny G outside of the much more “official” takes—this product is definitely truthful match, though it does make a viewer wonder how it felt for Gorelick, an noticeable management freak, to willingly cede his narrative to a filmmaker. (On occasion, he clearly tries to give Lane path.) These kinds of is the documentarian’s quagmire: How do you tell a different person’s story in a truer or far more profound way than they at any time could (or would) on their own?
Nevertheless, ultimately, this isn’t an difficulty for Lane, simply because “Listening to Kenny G” is a film about the meaninglessness of story far more frequently: Is Kenny G the worst musician of all time, or a titan in his area? It just depends whom you ask. The film struggles with the dull but inescapable simple fact that flavor is subjective: some men and women definitely dig what Kenny G does—the meant sensuality the bathos the odd, velvety luxurious of it—and some people truly, seriously never. In “Difference: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,” even now the reigning bit of idea guiding conversations of what we like and why, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defines flavor as “first and foremost distastes, disgust provoked by horror or visceral intolerance of the tastes of other people.” We are all secretly keen to ascribe morality to our likes and dislikes—to get pleasure from Kenny G is to be a terrible man or woman, and to discover him absurd is to fortify your individual superiority.