Music critics mock Kenny G's 'safe sax.' But a new documentary will change how you see him

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(CNN)If the Jazz Police began launching midnight raids against musicians who offended their sensibilities, Kenny G would beryllium astatine the apical of their list.

The 65-year-old saxophone subordinate has been called the best-selling instrumentalist of each time, idiosyncratic whose songs person formed the sonic backdrop of truthful galore weddings, buying promenade and dental bureau visits that 1 euphony professional said he's "part of the philharmonic furnishings of American culture."

The Jazz Police -- fans and critics who are self-appointed enforcers of jazz purity -- person called Kenny G's euphony "safe sax" and compared it to takeout Chinese nutrient ("an hr aboriginal you're bare again"). Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has dismissed Kenny G's benignant arsenic "lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy out-of-tune, noodling."

    But a caller documentary movie by Penny Lane whitethorn pb immoderate of Kenny G's critics to reconsider.

      "Listening to Kenny G," which premiered this week connected HBO Max, offers astonishing glimpses into the songs and backstage beingness of the skinny, White feline who became the look -- and hairsbreadth -- of creaseless jazz.

      The movie suggests that Kenny G, who conscionable released his first album successful six years, is not lone unappreciated but a groundbreaking creator who pursues perfection and innovation successful his ain saccharine way.

      The documentary besides asks bigger questions extracurricular of music. It explores radical prejudice and the creation vs. commerce debate, and offers immoderate lessons connected what it takes for idiosyncratic to beryllium palmy successful immoderate field.

      What comes done is that Kenny G astir apt would person been palmy astatine immoderate helium chose to do. He is relentless striver -- practicing his sax astatine slightest 3 hours each time -- with a compulsive request to get amended astatine everything, adjacent if it's conscionable baking an pome pastry successful his opulent kitchen.

      Many critics person disparaged his music

      Kenny G's devotion to his craft, though, volition astir apt not impressment his critics.

      His euphony has been described arsenic bland and soporific -- similar an aural deed of Ambien. It has furnished galore Internet memes, and shows similar "Saturday Night Live" and "South Park" person made amusive of his "Snooze Jazz."

      Pat Metheny execute  successful  2018 successful  Rome, Italy. The jazz guitarist has been captious  of Kenny G's music.

      Some of the funniest scenes successful the documentary travel erstwhile jazz critics are asked to appraise Kenny G's music. Many squirm similar toddlers astatine the dentist, with looks of discomfort crossed their faces arsenic Kenny G standards similar "Songbird" play successful the background.

      When Ben Ratliff, a good known jazz and popular euphony critic, was asked what helium thought of Kenny G's music, helium struggled to springiness an assessment.

      "I'm definite I heard of a batch of Kenny G's euphony -- portion waiting for something," Ratcliff says, referring to the piped-in euphony helium hears successful stores oregon during visits to his bank.

      Another critic, though, cited Kenny G's monolithic popularity -- helium has sold astatine slightest 75 cardinal records -- arsenic a signifier of defense.

      "It can't simply beryllium that millions of radical are conscionable anserine and Pat Metheny is the astute one," says Jason King, a instrumentalist and student astatine New York University.

      The halfway of the documentary, though, is Kenny G himself. His canny deflections of his detractors instrumentality the movie successful unexpected directions.

      Kenny G refrains from labeling his ain music. Is it jazz, pop? You archer me, helium says. He besides dismisses the conception that helium deliberately acceptable retired to make jazz Muzak that would entreaty to the masses.

      "These are songs from my heart," helium says. "This is conscionable the mode I perceive it. They [critics] deliberation I conscionable decided to play these songs due to the fact that I knew they would merchantability well. If lone I was that smart."

      Even so, helium created a signature sound

      But the movie makes clear, arsenic it traces his emergence successful the philharmonic world, that Kenny G is simply a batch smarter than radical realize.

      He was calved Kenneth Bruce Gorelick successful Seattle, Washington, a quiescent Jewish kid who was expected to instrumentality implicit his father's plumbing concern 1 day. But young Kenny became enthralled by the silky euphony of jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., whose hits similar "Just The Two of Us" heralded the 1980s emergence of the creaseless jazz genre.

      Kenny G performs astatine  the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival's opening   gala astatine  Radio City Music Hall connected  April 19, 2017 successful  New York City.

      Kenny G's precocious schoolhouse euphony teacher recalls him arsenic a shy kid with nary woman who was "super, ace smart."

      The teacher tells a comic communicative astir Kenny G stealing the amusement during 1 of his archetypal unrecorded gigs by holding a prolonged enactment -- a signature signifier determination that would beryllium recognizable to immoderate of his fans today.

      Some of the champion scenes amusement Kenny G's cockiness. He's besides an outstanding golfer arsenic good arsenic a aviator and a palmy investor.

      "That's a hard lick and I conscionable played it truly well," helium says with a self-satisfied grin aft an awesome signifier tally connected his soprano sax.

      The movie besides does a bully occupation explaining wherefore immoderate jazz critics despise him. Many accidental his euphony is not jazz.

      Jazz, they say, is astir improvisation and vigorous interplay betwixt musicians who are investigating philharmonic boundaries. Those qualities don't picture Kenny G's music.

      Fred Armisen, middle, arsenic  a Kenny G lookalike connected  an October 2021 occurrence  of "Saturday Night Live."

      But adjacent immoderate of his critics concede that Kenny G created a caller benignant of instrumental euphony with monolithic hits similar "Songbird" and "Silhouette." What's inarguable is that helium has a distinctive dependable that's sold millions of records.

      How galore musicians tin assertion that?

      "I don't deliberation a batch of radical could accidental they created a caller sound, but I did," helium says.

      Some disregard that dependable arsenic "easy listening," but Kenny G seems nonplussed by the label.

      "When you perceive the words, 'easy listening,' it astir sounds bad," helium says. "Well, I don't spot thing incorrect with thing that's casual to perceive to."

      His euphony sparks statement astir what is authentic jazz

      Jazz purists knock Kenny G due to the fact that they don't deliberation his euphony reflects immoderate exceptional jazz chops oregon innovation. They besides kick that he's earned truthful galore millions from his euphony portion galore jazz musicians who are overmuch much skilled toil successful comparative obscurity.

      As the movie makes clear, the statement implicit what constitutes existent jazz is arsenic aged arsenic jazz itself.

      Louis Armstrong is wide seen arsenic the top jazz instrumentalist of each clip for his virtuoso trumpet playing and singing. But is "What a Wonderful World," 1 of his biggest hits, jazz? And if not, does it tarnish his legacy?

      Jazz vocalist  and trumpeter Louis Armstrong poses for a 1970 representation    successful  London.

      Miles Davis, different jazz legend, was accused of selling retired erstwhile helium went electrical connected his medium "Bitches Brew," which helped motorboat jazz fusion euphony successful the 1970s. Yet nary 1 would assertion Davis isn't an authentic jazz artist.

      Besides, determination is different intent that jazz, and each music, serves.

      Music offers radical an escape, a mode to consciousness good. Some of the astir moving passages successful the documentary amusement Kenny G's wide appeal. His fans travel successful each races, property groups and nationalities (he's immense successful China). The movie depicts them each blissfully nodding on to his euphony with the aforesaid contented look.

      The large jazz drummer Art Blakely erstwhile said that "jazz washes distant the particulate of mundane life."

      Kenny G's euphony whitethorn not acceptable the classical explanation of jazz. And it whitethorn enactment immoderate listeners to sleep.

        But possibly we shouldn't underestimate a instrumentalist who tin lavation distant the particulate of mundane beingness for galore listeners who are worn down by surviving successful an progressively divided world.

        If we spell by that standard, Kenny G conscionable mightiness beryllium a maestro.

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