Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Interview: Kenny G comes to Clearwater, the perfect sax solo always on his mind

Thinking of picking up the saxophone? Great! Wonderful! Kenny G 100 percent supports your decision!

Just don't ask him for lessons.

"I've never done that," the uber-smooth saxman said in a recent interview, calling from traffic in L.A. "It's not like I haven't had where they've asked me to come in and do a master class. But in terms of a real teaching thing? No. I'm still a student."

A student? Kenny G? Even with some 75 million records sold worldwide?

Jazz is like that. Even smooth jazz, the dreamy, soft-focus variety for which Kenneth Bruce Gorelick is best known (and, in some circles, reviled). Kenny G, who performs Friday at Coachman Park in Clearwater, still practices three hours a day, running his scales and perfecting his technique, just so he can stay as sharp at 60 as he was at 17, when he first joined Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra.

"I'm always trying to learn how to play my scales better and jazz licks faster, higher, cleaner, stronger, longer, everything," he said. "It's like (being) an athlete. You may be very great at what you do, but you've still got to keep training so you can maintain. I suppose if I only practiced about a half hour a day, I'd probably maintain where I am. But I'm trying to get better and better. There's no end to how good you can be."

The saxophone, an instrument once mostly relegated to the E Street Band and odd one-offs like Baker Street and Careless Whisper, has enjoyed a resurgence in pop music in the last decade. Hits like Fifth Harmony's Worth It, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's Thrift Shop and Iggy Azalea and Ariana Grande's Problem are built around infectious sax samples. Songs like Lady Gaga's The Edge of Glory and M83's Midnight City soar through the roof when their spiraling solos kick in. Even Kenny himself has gotten in on the craze, joining Foster the People for a 2011 performance on Saturday Night Live.

But a sax solo alone does not a hit make. It takes the right sax solo, the perfect sax solo, to make your song fly like a California condor. That, Kenny says, is where his expertise comes in.

Anytime he's asked to duet with another superstar — and he's worked with them all, from Aretha to Barbra to Sinatra— he prefers to hole up alone with the track, feeling out and whittling away just the right solo for the song. If it doesn't sound absolutely perfect, it doesn't get out into the world.

"If they have changes, they can tell me, and I'll consider," he said. "But what I don't really tell them — but I can tell you — is that by the time I've sent them the solo, I've already gone through anything and everything. When I tell you this is the definitive solo, you've got to just trust me that I know what I'm talking about. If there's a couple of minor things, yeah. But if it's a major thing, I might just say, 'Hey, look, bro, just get someone else. If you don't like what I did, that's fine; you don't have to like it. But that's the best you're going to get from me. And I feel like it's the best solo that there can be.' "

Here's another example of his penchant for perfectionism: Kenny plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophone. He doesn't play baritone sax. Doesn't own one. Doesn't want one. Has no plans ever to learn.

"If I had a bari sax, it would mean that I would now have to add another hour of practicing to my schedule every day," he said. "And then maybe in 10 years, you would then, maybe, hear me play the bari saxophone in public."

This is not to say Kenny G is above the occasional laugh at his own expense. He's been offered, and is considering, an appearance in the sequel to the 2016 comedy Bad Moms. And he had a brief cameo in Netflix's Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special, which featured a sketch pitting onetime frienemies Bolton and Kenny G (played by Andy Samberg) in a Dueling Banjos face-off for supreme soft-rock dominance.

"If it's truly funny, then I don't care how bad I look, because funny is funny," he said. "The Michael Bolton thing was pretty funny. I just wish they would have used me more."

They did use his music. And in true Kenny G fashion, he took an obsessive commitment to that task, too, spending days studying Samberg's performance so he could play clean, perfect notes that matched the movement of his fingers.

"I like it when somebody takes something seriously, no matter what it is," he said. "Every performance I do, every solo, every note, I'm super serious about how much I want to make sure I prepare myself to do my absolute best. Then, whatever happens, happens. You can't go back in time. But you can certainly prepare."

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Comments
Dead and Company’s Orlando concert, postponed after John Mayer’s appendectomy, rescheduled for Feb. 27

Dead and Company’s Orlando concert, postponed after John Mayer’s appendectomy, rescheduled for Feb. 27

John Mayer is on the mend, and Dead and Company are making plans to get back on the road.The Grateful Dead-honoring supergroup has rescheduled several concerts postponed by Mayer's emergency appendectomy this week, including a Dec. 7 date at Orlando'...
Published: 12/08/17
Clearwater Sea-Blues lineup: Kenny Wayne Shepherd, ZZ Ward, more coming to Coachman Park

Clearwater Sea-Blues lineup: Kenny Wayne Shepherd, ZZ Ward, more coming to Coachman Park

A handful of artists are about to put the blues back into the Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival.Blues guitarists Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Ana Popovic will headline the 2018 Sea-Blue Festival, Feb. 24-25 at Coachman Park in Clearwater. Fiery singers ZZ Wa...
Published: 12/08/17
SoundBytes: Senses Fail, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and more

SoundBytes: Senses Fail, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and more

— Senses Fail is coming to the Orpheum in Tampa on March 6, along with Reggie and the Full Effect, Have Mercy and Household. Tickets are $16 and up. Click here.— Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox will perform at the Tampa Theatre on Apri...
Published: 12/07/17
Updated: 12/08/17
The Band Perry drops out of Florida Strawberry Festival

The Band Perry drops out of Florida Strawberry Festival

Tickets went on sale for the 2018 Florida Strawberry Festival Thursday, but if you were hoping to see the Band Perry, think twice before you purchase.The band has canceled its March 3 performance at the Strawberry Festival, according to organizers. N...
Published: 12/07/17
This week’s best Tampa Bay concerts: 98 Degrees, David Crosby, Petula Clark

This week’s best Tampa Bay concerts: 98 Degrees, David Crosby, Petula Clark

PACKAGE DELIVERY: 98 Degrees Oh, the weather outside is far from frightful — that’s one of the perks of December in Florida, you know. But inside the Mahaffey Theater on Friday, it’ll be 98 Degrees and steamy. The Brothers Lachey w...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Dead and Company postpone Thursday’s Orlando concert after John Mayer’s emergency appendectomy

Dead and Company postpone Thursday’s Orlando concert after John Mayer’s emergency appendectomy

If you had to guess which member of Dead and Company might have an emergency medical issue that would force the postponement of several shows, you might guess Bob Weir, right? Or maybe Mickey Hart or Bill Kreutzmann?Nope. It's John Mayer.The guitaris...
Published: 12/06/17
Jason Mraz coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Jason Mraz coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Jason Mraz is coming from the Great White Way to the Sunshine City.The pop singer-songwriter will embark on a solo acoustic tour next spring that includes several stops in Florida — including a March 17 date at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Peter...
Published: 12/06/17
Photos: Lil Pump gets his ‘Gucci Gang’ lit at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Photos: Lil Pump gets his ‘Gucci Gang’ lit at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Teenage Miami rap phenomenon Lil Pump packed the Ritz Ybor last week, bringing hundreds of members of his Gucci Gang to Tampa.It was an all-too-brief show — he went on late and left early, spending only a short time on stage — but the Tim...
Published: 12/05/17
Petula Clark talks about the enduring magic of ‘Downtown,’ her first U.S. tour and more

Petula Clark talks about the enduring magic of ‘Downtown,’ her first U.S. tour and more

Petula Clark needs no reminder of her recent 85th birthday."Oh, please," she sighed. "I haven't celebrated my birthday for many, many years. The problem is, sometimes I think, Ah, I've got away with that! Then suddenly, there are people singing Happy...
Published: 12/05/17
Fleet Foxes coming to the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Fleet Foxes coming to the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Cross another big band off the Tampa Bay bucket list.Harmonious Northwestern indie rockers Fleet Foxes are coming to town for the first time next spring, with a gig at the Ritz Ybor on March 1. Tickets start at $36.50 and go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday...
Published: 12/05/17