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“Hey Pat, what do you think of Kenny G?”

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My brother ran across this – I think it represents my own attitude rather well, and has a lot more weight coming from Pat Metheny:

    Kenny G is not a musician I really had much of an opinion about at all until recently. There was not much about the way he played that interested me one way or the other either live or on records … My impression was that he was someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop oriented sax players of that time, like Grover Washington or David Sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style.

    ….Not long ago [2000], Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old Louis Armstrong record, the track “what a wonderful world”. With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can’t use at all – as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.

    This type of musical necrophilia – the technique of overdubbing on the preexisting tracks of already dead performers – was weird when Natalie Cole did it with her dad on “Unforgettable” a few years ago, but it was her dad. When Tony Bennett did it with Billie Holiday it was bizarre, but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment.

    ….But when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis’s tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician.

    By disrespecting Louis, his legacy and by default, everyone who has ever tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be, Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture – something that we all should be totally embarrassed about – and afraid of. We ignore this, “let it slide”, at our own peril. His callous disregard for the larger issues of what this crass gesture implies is exacerbated by the fact that the only reason he possibly have for doing something this inherently wrong (on both human and musical terms) was for the record sales and the money it would bring.

I would add that Kenny G blows chunks, and anyone who voluntarily listens to his insipid instrumental pop bilge should be forced to live in an elevator.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    that was big news when it hit the pat metheny discussion boards. i was a little surprised that pat could be so venomous since his personality is pretty laid back.

    but pat does has a ton of respect for the founding fathers of jazz.

    before this armstrong flap i was willing to cut kenny g some slack. i mean, there was an interview with him once in Downbeat where he pretty much admitted that what he did was not jazz….i think he called it something like “pop music for adults”.

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com/ Bill Sherman

    Can’t decide which that phrase demeans more: pop music or adults.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    i prefer to think of it as music for people who don’t really like music.

  • http://TheNewJazzThing.com Vince Outlaw

    Hey Eric and All Blogcritics!

    Here’s was my angle when the subject came up in a Fusion-era jazz class taught by San Diego Pop Music Critic George Varga that I took last year,

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PostKenBurnsJazz/message/5
    “When all of this first came out in June 2000, I thought the best
    thing about it (other than hearing an artist really speak without
    much thought for any personal back-lash…in a non PC way), was all
    of the hoopla surrounding it. As you say, there are lots of copies of
    his initial comments on the web (you seem to point to one of the ones
    with the full text) and that’s a big sign of what he stirred up. Pat
    was saying what a lot of serious music people had been saying amongst
    themselves for awhile about Mr. G (and fusion, rightly and wrongly,
    as we’ve been learning in the class) for a long time. Having a honest-
    to-goodness musician say it just gave it a little more credence and a
    lot more voice.”

    And Pat continued to entertain when expressed his feelings about the response to his remarks, or should I say lack-of response by other people in the know and of like mind.

    http://www.allaboutjazz.com/articles/arti0900_02.htm
    “…are we all so
    numb to all the crap out there and so worn down by the apathy of the
    general public to any higher musical intentions that it really
    doesn’t matter to anyone anymore, something like this?”

    Keep the Blogcriticism coming. Looks like a perfect match with The New Jazz (Blog) Things:
    http://thenewjazzthing.com/2003/04/15.html#a909

    Much Love…VO

  • http://hastyman.blogspot.com Mark Hasty

    Is there anything more pleasurable in life than watching a critic really lay into an artist who had it coming? Metheny’s is some of the best invective EVER!

    If interested, you can read my take on the matter here:

    http://hastyman.blogspot.com/2003_04_20_hastyman_archive.html#93043013

  • Dale Leopold

    Of course, the ultimate comment on this was by Richard Thompson, who wrote (and frequently performed) the following ditty, entitled “I agree with Pat Metheny”:

    I agree with Pat Metheny
    Kenny’s talents are too teeny
    He deserves the crap he’s going to get
    He overdubbed himself on Louis
    What a musical chop suey
    Raised his head above the parapet

    Well Louis Armstrong was the king
    He practically invented swing
    Hero of the twentieth century
    He did duets with many a fella
    “Fatha” Hines, Bing, Hoagy, Ella
    Strange he never thought of Kenny G

    A meeting of great minds, how nice
    Like Einstein and Sporty Spice
    Digitally fused in an abortion
    Kenny fans will doubtless rave
    While Satchmo turns inside his grave
    Soprano man’s bit off more than his portion

    Oh brainless pentatonic riffs
    Display our Kenny’s arcane gifts
    But we don’t care, his charms are so beguiling
    He does play sharp, but let’s be fair
    He has such lovely crinkly hair
    We hardly notice, we’re too busy smiling

    How does he hold those notes so long?
    He must be a genius. Wrong!
    He just has the mindlessness to do it
    He makes Britney sound like scat
    If this is jazz I’ll eat my hat
    An idle threat, I’ll never have to chew it

    So next time you’re in a rendezvous
    And Kenny’s sound comes wafting through
    Don’t just wince, eliminate the cause
    Rip the tape right off the muzak
    Pull the plug, or steal a fuse, Jack
    The whole room will drown you in applause

    Yes, Kenny G has gone too far
    The gloves are off, it’s time to spar
    Grab your hunting rifle, strap your colt on
    It’s open season on our Ken
    But I await the moment when
    We lay off him and start on Michael Bolton

    I agree with Pat Metheny
    Kenny’s talents are too teeny

  • baritoneguitar

    I think what Metheny is targeting is his discomfort with someone as popular as Kenny G. playing Armstrong’s tunes (overdubbing them) and calling his work jazz. I believe most musicians would feel this is misleading and irreverent. Many musicians mention on the Internet that Kenny is lying to his audience by telling his listeners that he playing Armstrong is jazz. Kenny is an R&B sax player who takes jazz tunes and makes them popular in the referenced recording effort. It is sort of the opposite of what jazz musicians do when they take pop tunes and make them jazz.

    I think it needs to be recognized that not always does a jazz musician take pop music and further its “truth.” In fact, many jazz musicians simply reiterate the phrases they have heard other greats play and emulate them as best they can. Is this worse then Kenny G. who clearly copies none of the greats? I am unsure. I think Kenny maybe an introduction for some listeners who need to develop their musical mind before they can accept the uniqueness of a musician playing the “truth”. The “truth” is that we all hear differently… however, we all don’t venture to become more in touch with our differences in concept… this is very scary for most musicians as our human nature is to want to be appreciated by others regardless of how mundane, simplistic or uninspired we are. Pat is willing to take some chances that most aren’t willing to. Yet he often displays his fears by recording some of the more commercial efforts (and yes I acknowledge he needs to eat too).

    Ultimately, what Kenny does is exploit his instrument and his ability to play soulfully as a white man. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that especially since he does that well. As musicians, we all wish to be loved for what we hear. Our investment in the “truth” is based on how fearless we can be. I think musicians need to sh!t or get off the pot. If you are unwilling to play popular, then accept you don’t sell as well as others. If you want to display your truth and you are conceptually different others… then do it because it’s you. Chase the note vigorously until you are completely exposed. Treat it as war!!! Stop crying about it and accept it!!!

    While I tend to agree with Metheny for the most part, reverence for the dead is probably not such a concern. I think Louis would have laughed about the effort, possibly even had been a little pleased at the attempt. Sometimes people don’t understand that whether a musician is considered a genius or not it doesn’t make him or her infallible. Every musician has off days. Every musician can show lack of luster. Greatness was not spewed out of Louis’s horn each time he played. Louis had no more depth and understanding beyond his concept then anyone else. Louis was noted to make comments about his lack of appreciation for be-bop for example. Does that make him less of a musician? No. And it does not make Metheny less for saying things to 13-year-old kids in fear of being associated with musicians he does not respect. It makes him human.