CULTURE- MUSIC- Suit himself: Kenny G likes Kenny G just fine
None of young Kenny Gorelick's high school teachers could have predicted that their prodigious young saxophone student would eventually grow up and turn into the best-selling instrumental composer of all time. But there are also legions of detractors who would say that's the musical equivalent of TV Guide's being the most popular magazine in the country: Gorelick has attracted more criticism than almost any other musician of his generation, most notably a biting critical essay by guitarist Pat Metheny over Kenny G's decision to overdub his sax stylings on Louis Armstrong's pop classic "What A Wonderful World." But then, those jazz purists will complain about pretty much anything, won't they?
The Hook: So, Latin music this time?
Kenny G: It's an all Latin CD, almost all original music. It was fun to try to compose in that field, challenging and very satisfying. It turned out great, and I'm really proud of it.
The Hook: As a white dude, do you feel personally connected to that music?
The Hook: I don't know that I have a connection in that normal way. I've done songs on my previous records that had a Latin feel, and I loved the way they turned out, so I figured I'd try to do a whole album that way. I knew a lot of the best Latin players in LA, and we just got together and started jamming.
The Hook: How much harder is it to write an album outside your element, as opposed to just a song or two?
Kenny G: It was challenging in some ways. It was a different approach; it had a little bossa nova underneath it. That was the only difference.
The Hook: Are there other foreign dialects you might eventually want to explore?
Kenny G: I've always thought it would be fun to do classical music, but I wouldn't want to do a famous classical piece. I'd want to write a piece of music that sounds like a classical song but is my own composition– maybe go on the road and play with a symphony orchestra.
The Hook: Is there a philosophical reason for wanting to write it yourself?
Kenny G: For me, the satisfaction of creating music is why I do what I do. It's not about playing a song; it's about creating something that's never been done before. I think that's one of the reasons people like my music; I'm not just playing somebody else's music.
The Hook: Considering you're probably your own worst critic, what's the whitest thing you can hear about this last album?
Kenny G: I'm not trying to be an egomaniac, but everything turned out really good. I can't think of anything I'd do differently.
The Hook: Do you generally feel that way about your records?
Kenny G: I do, because I take my time with them. They're not quick little things that I throw together. I spend a lot of time listening to them, and I don't release them until they're where I want them.
The Hook: Do you listen to your own records a lot, or does that happen only during the process of making them?
Kenny G: I listen to my Christmas music at Christmas, but not really. People will put the record on when I go over to their house, and I don't mind at all– I'm proud of my music, and if they want to show me my music, I'm not going to ask them to change it. If it comes on the radio, I let it go. But no, I don't listen to it.
The Hook: What's the working process like?
Kenny G: I usually come up with a melody on my saxophone and try to see if I can do something with it.
The Hook: Do you ever write it down?
Kenny G: No. I don't need to. I just play it. And when somebody else comes to play on it, they just play it. The only time anything is written down is when there's an orchestra arrangement.
The Hook: How did starting your professional career so early shape your work? What might have gone differently if you had waited a few more years?
Kenny G: When you have success, it gives you confidence to do your own thing. The successful songs were the ones I composed by myself and played every instrument. It gave me some confidence to go in the next time I was recording to know that if I liked it, it was good enough.
The Hook: You've been clear about your admiration for Grover Washington Jr. What was the most difficult part about learning to play his music? The challenges posed by Coltrane and Charlie Parker are a little more obvious.
Kenny G: As a student, the best way to learn is to emulate, and hopefully somewhere along the way you come up with your own sound. The thing that I hear, unfortunately, about people who go after Charlie Parker and Coltrane is that they really do sound like them. If you sound like Charlie Parker, people are going to compare you to Charlie Parker, and it's tough to beat him– same with John Coltrane. With Grover, I went after him, and I came up with my own sound.
The Hook: What's so different about the way you do things?
Kenny G: It's the sound of the saxophone. I just get a sound that nobody else gets; it isn't a conscious effort, that's just the way it is. And since I'm writing my own music, I know they're not compositions you've heard before. When I do my music, I'm proud of the fact that it's going to be unique.
The Hook: Do you think of yourself as a pop artist or a jazz artist? That's one "criticism" that's often pointed at you, but if you embrace it, maybe it's not such a bad thing for people to say.
Kenny G: Really, I couldn't care less.
The Hook: Did you think about that after Metheny's essay?
Kenny G: That didn't affect me at all. I actually thought it was a joke at first. I was disappointed that a musician like that would go out and say that stuff publically about somebody else; it's not a classy way to be. I was disappointed that he chose that route, but it was meaningless to me– I do what I do, and if I like it, that's good enough. I can tell you this– I've never heard anybody in the world say that they didn't like that arrangement. Everyone says it's one of their favorite things I've ever done.
Kenny G performs at the Paramount Theater on June 8. $58.50-$69.50, 8pm.