January 17, 2019

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.”

Jamming with the pros at Hamilton High

Kenny G reads Hebrew, knows a thing or two about kabbalah and blows the shofar at shul annually. “Because,” he said, “I am the only one who knows how.”

Looks like Kenny is a model Jew. “We used to be on the road, and Kenny would insist that we celebrate all the Jewish holidays,” recalled Jeff Lorber, renowned keyboardist, composer and record producer. “In 1980 we bought all the food and had a Passover seder in our Holiday Inn hotel room.”

G, in Kenny’s case, is in place of Gorelick. One Kenneth Gorelick, along with musicians Paula Cole, Lorber, Chris Botti, Billy Childs and the horns of Blood, Sweat and Tears, volunteered his talent for an evening of charity at the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School on June 7. The event raised $350,000 for the music magnet school that serves 925 students from 96 ZIP codes in the L.A. area.

A few names at the event: Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss; Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Zev Yaroslavsky; 14-time Grammy Award-winner David Foster; and Bobby Colomby, founder of the rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears.

A long list of Jewish men at the Hamilton High event opened up and grew excited to tell about their roots.

Colomby recalled growing up in New York “without trauma or difficulty” with parents who were Holocaust survivors. Of the eight Blood, Sweat and Tears band members in 1967, he said, five were Jewish.

Norm Pattiz, founder and chairman of radio giant Westwood One and donor to both the Hamilton event and the Norman J. Pattiz Concert Hall at Hamilton High, recalled attending the high school back in the 1950s when it had an all-Jewish student body. Lorber spoke of the Jewish value of fostering the arts in children, recalling his own childhood surrounded by music.

But amid the crowd it was Kenny G, minus the Gorelick, who was most comfortable speaking about his Judaism. Cascading curls and all, Kenny played at the benefit like a proper pied piper, finessing the crowd in the aisles of the auditorium.

The event, featuring remarkable performances by Hamilton’s own jazz vocal and instrumental acts, ended with a grand finale performance featuring, among others, Cole on vocals, Kenny G and Botti on wind instruments, the Blood, Sweat, and Tears horn section, and Lorber on piano.

This is not your ordinary high school.