September 24, 2018

Kenny G’s Sax Appeal

Saxophonist Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, better known by his stage name, Kenny G, rose to fame in the 1980s and ’90s, becoming one of the top-selling recording artists of all time. He won a Grammy Award in 1994 and at one point held the world record for the longest sustained note on a sax.

However, at 61, he’s more than the sum of his trademark curly locks and his reed-blowing skills. He’s also an accomplished golfer and a pilot — because, why not?

Jewish Journal: How did you get interested in music?

Kenny G: I was made to take piano lessons at 6 years of age. I hated it. And then I saw a sax player on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and that struck a chord in me and made me want to play sax.

JJ: How and why did you settle on the professional name Kenny G?

KG: My friends always called me G or Mr. G or G Man, so it was a no-brainer.

JJ: Which musicians have been your greatest influences?

KG: I really got inspired with Grover Washington Jr.’s sound. And also pretty much all the jazz greats — John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon. I’m old school. I listen to the jazz that the masters played in the ’50s and ’60s and to the great players of today, too.

“Be humble. Listen more. Don’t try to be ‘right’ but instead ask more questions when involved in confrontations.”

JJ: What part has your Jewish upbringing and heritage played in your work and life?

KG: I’m proud of my Jewish heritage and I know how to read Hebrew. I think my attention to detail and the fact that I wanted not only to play an instrument but also to get really good on the instrument was due to my Jewish mother’s quest to make sure her kids worked hard and got good grades and played music.

JJ: Any charities close to your heart?

KG: I donate each month to Food on Foot, a program in L.A. that takes people who have become homeless and helps them get back on their feet.

JJ: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music and show business?

KG: I play golf. I’m a 3 handicap and I am a pilot with 3,500 hours of flight time since 1989.

JJ: What do you do to maintain peak performance?

KG: I work hard at staying in the best shape I can. I work out every day for about an hour. I eat good, healthy food. No junk food, I love to cook and do that most days. Consistency is the key to it all. Just do it every day and eventually you will get into great shape. I also practice my sax three hours every day.

JJ: You’ve worked and collaborated with many amazing musicians. Do you have any favorites?

KG: I have lots of favorites. All you have to do is look at the names of those I’ve collaborated with: Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Earth Wind & Fire, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli. [They’re] all great, fun and different.

JJ: Do you have a philosophy that you live by?

KG: Be humble. Listen more. Don’t try to be “right” but instead ask more questions when involved in confrontations.

JJ: You earned a place in “Guiness World Records” in 1997 for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone — 45 minutes and 47 seconds. How did you manage that?

KG: Circular breathing is a technique. In through the nose, out through the mouth simultaneously. I saw some players do a version of it when I was in high school at a concert for the group the Jazz Crusaders. I went home, figured out how they did it and then spent the next 10 years getting great at it.

Mark Miller is a humorist, stand-up comic and has written for various sitcoms. His first book is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Anat Cohen: One Reed, Many Sounds

Clarinetist Anat Cohen and musical director Oded Lev-Ari. Photo by Aline Muller

Praised by The New York Times for “beautifully crafted” and “eloquent” solos, jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen also will take on the role of bandleader when her newly formed ensemble, the Anat Cohen Tentet, makes its West Coast debut at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge on Nov. 30.

Forming a tentet (a 10-piece band) was an idea Cohen, 37, discussed a year ago with her musical director, Oded Lev-Ari, a composer-arranger-producer she’s known since high school growing up in Tel Aviv. The two friends played in the school’s orchestra — Cohen on saxophone; Lev-Ari on piano.

“For the tentet, we wanted a small band flexible enough to produce a variety of sounds,” Cohen, who is now based in Brooklyn, said in a telephone interview. “The idea was to be able to swing like a Benny Goodman or Lionel Hampton, and since several of our musicians play more than one instrument, we can create a lot of different combinations.”

Aside from Cohen, the group’s multi-instrumentalists include pianist-accordionist Vitor Gonçalves and trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, who also plays the trumpet-like flugelhorn. Cohen’s tentet performs on her new album, “Happy Song,” on the Anzic label, which she co-owns with Lev-Ari.

Versatility is a must for Cohen’s tentet, because these 10 musicians cover a lot of musical ground. To name just a few styles: modern and traditional jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian choro and Argentine tango. “Everybody in the ensemble gets to shine,” Cohen said. She and Lev-Ari wrote a few of the arrangements.

Although Cohen’s been highly honored for her clarinet playing, including being named multiple times by the Jazz Journalist Association as Multi-Reeds Player of the Year and Clarinetist of the Year, it took her years to discover and develop her distinctive personal voice on the clarinet.

After a stint playing saxophone in the Israeli Air Force Band as part of her military service, Cohen left Israel for the Berklee College of Music in Boston where she discovered Brazilian choro — music characterized by the joyful spontaneity of its melodic leaps, breakneck speeds and unpredictable harmonic changes.

“Brazilian choro brought me back to the clarinet,” Cohen said. “I went to Rio in 2000 and fell in love with the culture and language. There’s a lot about the sound quality that reminded me of Tel Aviv, because Brazilian music was imported into Israel. I grew up hearing these sounds.”

Cohen said she was also inspired and encouraged by her two siblings, who were aspiring jazz musicians. Her older brother, Yuval, plays soprano saxophone; younger brother, Avishai, is a trumpeter. The trio often performs together as the 3 Cohens.

“There was no competition,” Cohen said. “I wanted to be like them. The only problem was finding time to have dinner together.”

Cohen, who is giving a master-class at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 1, said she doesn’t play klezmer music, although her roots show on “Happy Song.”

“There is a nod to klezmer on the new CD,” Cohen said. “I heard it growing up, so it’s in my DNA, but I have too much respect to say I play klezmer. Someone like clarinetist David Krakauer has a master’s feel for the ornamentations, the way you bend the sound.”

Another influence on Cohen’s playing was hearing different cantorial styles. “Clarinetist Artie Shaw talked about this,” Cohen said. “The way a cantor sings — the music is there to enhance the expression, the importance of a certain word. I play one note at a time with my focus on expressing the melody and making it meaningful.

“A cantor has a very deliberate way of reaching us and making us feel something,” Cohen added. “With the clarinet, the idea is to humanize the instrument. It’s a magic wand, but the challenge of every instrument is always the same — to find your own voice and express who you are.”

The Anat Cohen Tentet performs Nov. 30 at Cal State Northridge. For tickets and information, visit valleyperformingartscenter.org.

Cookies for a Koz: How mom’s cookies made a difference

Audrey Koz was a pharmacist, but her best medicine was the love she baked into her chocolate chip cookies.

“The cookies pack my mom’s magic in every bite,” said her daughter, Roberta Koz Wilson.

They were so good, Audrey Koz credited her cookies for launching the musical career of her son, Grammy Award-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz. When he started out in the jazz world, she sent cookies with him to every meeting and performance, and Capitol Records even took her — and her goodies — to meet record executives.

“We would send my mom in with batches of cookies to grease the way,” Dave Koz said.

When Audrey Koz died suddenly in 2005, Wilson decided that she needed a way to impact people like her mother did. She already had left her role as longtime vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at MTV Networks in search of a new challenge.

After tinkering with other small-business ideas, Wilson started baking her mother’s cookies for her daughter’s elementary school holiday boutique. Her success there gave her an idea, and with no previous experience in baking or starting a business — aside from her background in sales and marketing — Wilson launched Cookies for a Koz in 2008.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I learned everything I could.”

Wilson created a Web site and moved into a West Valley commercial kitchen as demand increased. When clients asked for different flavors, she introduced oatmeal raisin, white chocolate raspberry, snickerdoodle and red velvet. Seasonal specialties developed, too, such as pumpkin chocolate chip for Thanksgiving and apple pie cookies for Mother’s Day.

“I try very hard not to eat too many cookies while I’m baking them,” said Wilson, a Calabasas resident whose favorite cookie is shortbread.

To honor her mother, Wilson donates 10 percent of retail purchases to Starlight Children’s Foundation, Audrey Koz’s favorite charity. The organization, for which Dave Koz is a global ambassador, works to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children through entertainment, education and family activities.

“Anything that anyone can do on any level to make the world a little bit better for those in need is tikkun olam (repairing the world), and working with an organization like Starlight lets us see a tangible impact that we make on the lives of others,” Wilson said.

So far, her company has donated more than $30,000 to the foundation, but that’s not all that keeps her going.

“The greatest joy, by far, has been that it has kept me feeling connected to my beloved mom,” Wilson said. “I know this was her dream, and I feel like I am helping to fulfill that for her.”

Wilson’s brother, who is also her best customer, said there is something that sets his mother’s cookies above the rest.

“It’s like the way someone sings that takes your breath away. It’s not definable,” Dave Koz said. “When I tasted the cookies, there was a secret ingredient of love — a big, huge helping of it that sets them apart from other cookies.”

Hollywood has noticed. The cookies have been featured on the “Rachael Ray Show” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” and they have been included in gift bags for nominees and presenters at the Academy Awards and at numerous celebrity events.

With efforts to grow the business, Wilson hired a food consultant who shared the cookies at meetings across the country, and, in November, Cookies for a Koz hit the shelves of 375 HomeGoods stores. More recently, they were introduced at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, resulting in a total of 2,200 stores across the United States and Canada that will sell a dry mix and cookie assortment.

Wilson said this is especially satisfying because Marshalls was her mother’s favorite store to shop at for bargains. Now its shelves feature packages with Audrey Koz’s photo and story.

“The fact that her cookies are at Marshalls truly gives me the chills,” said Wilson, a mother of two teenagers who she hopes will one day run the growing enterprise.

Her brother, who is the owner of Koz Wine, donates proceeds of his sales to the Starlight Children’s Foundation as well. Now the two are working to expand their brand as a socially conscious food company known as Koz Kitchen. Once again, their inspiration is their mother, whose kitchen was home to a steady stream of friends, family and love.

“My mom had the ability to make everyone in her presence feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Wilson said. “And it was all truly genuine.”

The siblings recently paired up on Dave Koz’s tour aboard a Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise. Wilson was on board to teach cooking school.

“The great irony is that when she started out, she was really lousy,” he said of his sister. “Over the years, she has become a really great chef.