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Kenny G blends the personal with the musical

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:07 p.m.
Saxophonist Kenny G
Saxophonist Kenny G

Saxophonist Kenny G is one of the most successful musicians of our time, with 75 million albums sold worldwide. He's famous for his soft jazz and adult contemporary style, which blends in jazz, Latin and pop elements — and his long high notes.

While he has a ton of repertoire to play at concerts, he makes sure to include the personal stories that give an extra dimension to the experience.

“I always put myself in the place of a person going to a concert, because I go to concerts,” he says. “Everyone wants a backstage pass.”

Kenny G will solo with the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops led by Lawrence Loh at concerts June 13 to 16 at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

“Some of our songs have really great orchestrations,” he says. “Some were original when we first recorded them, some done more recently. ‘Loving You' will, I think, be a great opener. We'll also do an Olympic theme that never saw the light of day. It's one of those things. You send it in, and it didn't receive any attention. But I'm proud of it.”

Other repertoire likely will include “Desafinado,” “Forever in Love,” “My Heart Will Go On,” “Someday Over the Rainbow” and “Havana.”

Kenneth Bruce Gorelick grew up in Seattle in a “very urban and interracial neighborhood.” Rhythm and blues was all around him, but he didn't label it that way, or any way at all.

“It was part of my music,” he says. “I gravitated toward beautiful saxophone tones, soulful melodies and arpeggios. My goal was to become a clone of Grover Washington Jr. Unfortunately for me, I had my own tone at 17. I was frustrated and wondered why I couldn't sound like Grover. I got lucky with what I thought was a fault because it's a useful achievement to have a recognizable sound.”

After nine years playing in bands, he went solo in 1982 when he signed with Arista Records. In the following years, he had a string of big hit albums, including “G Force,” “Gravity,” “Duotones” and “Breathless.”

In 1997, he made the Guinness Book of Records for the world's longest note, 45 minutes and 47 seconds performed at J&R Music World in New York City. He used circular breathing, in which air is taken in through the nose at the same time air pressure through the mouth causes the saxophone's reed to vibrate and make sound. He admits it was “very painful” toward the end of that note.

“I still practice three hours every day. I have for 45 years. I work really hard. I'm not up there because my hair looks good,” he says. “I tell my children, the reason I'm doing what I'm doing is because of what you see — me practicing from 8 to 11 every morning. I'm lucky I've had great support from people like Clive Davis. But I've practiced really hard, and that's what works.”

Not that he would deny he's been lucky. He was one of the early investors in Starbucks, fourth or fifth after his uncle, who was the first investor.

Music isn't his only passion. Kenny G has loved golf since he was a boy, and says one of the biggest thrills of his life was to play golf with Jack Nicholson before giving a performance with Nicholson in the front row. He says that day he was more nervous playing music than golf.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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