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Kenny G smoothly controls Pittsburgh Symphony Pops stage

| Friday, June 14, 2013, 8:48 a.m.
Saxophonist Kenny G
Saxophonist Kenny G

Popular saxophonist Kenny G was a commanding presence Thursday night at Heinz Hall in the first of four concerts that provide a strong big-name finale for the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops season.

He began by entering from the rear of the hall, playing as he strolled down the left aisle. He uses a snap-on microphone which connects to an excellent sound system, but as the bell of his soprano saxophone was for a moment no more than five feet away from me, I can report his unamplified sound is surprisingly gentle.

Smooth style is Kenny G's trademark, one which draws upon absolute technical security including circular breathing. Throughout the concert, one could see his cheeks puff out to maintain air pressure through the instrument while he took in air through his nose.

He held one note for a couple of minutes, even waving to the audience with fingers not being used for the pitch being played. As he held the note, he walked through a row of seats, with people rising to let him pass, to the right aisle and then up to the stage, where he continued holding it. In fact, Kenny G holds the record for longest-held note, at more than 45 minutes.

Unlike many Pops concerts that offer medleys, Kenny G's preference is to riff on tunes he knows the audience is looking forward to, such as “Loving You,” “Havana” and “Forever in Love.”

While he mainly played soprano, he took up tenor sax to play “Desafinado” in tribute to Stan Getz. He played a bit of “The Girl From Ipanema,” Getz's best-known hit, then neatly wove fragments of it into his performance of “Desafinado.”

While it can be said that Kenny G's style made whatever he played his own, it also is true that every number sounded alike to some degree.

He brought five musicians with him for the concerts: Robert Damper, piano; Daniel Bejarano, drums; Vail Johnson, bass; John Raymond, guitar; and Ron Powell, percussion. All have been playing with him for 25 years; Damper is a friend from high school and took a fine long solo.

Kenny G has an appealing stage presence, exuding a calm enthusiasm and definite sense of humor. He shared some excellent stories, including about the night he slept in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House.

But the most memorable moment came when he selected the winner of a raffle for a soprano saxophone he was giving away. The man and his wife came on stage and sat in two chairs brought out for them as Kenny G played from a few feet away.

Kenny G will give away a saxophone at each of the remaining concerts.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. June 15 and 2:30 p.m. June 16 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $108.

Details: 412-392-4900 or

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

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