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New Situation Makes Things Smoother For Kenny G

Of the Oakland Press

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For Kenny G, smooth jazz is just a name.

“I’ve been around a long time,” notes the 52-year-old saxophonist, “so I remember when that title came into existence. It doesn’t bother me, ’cause it’s just a way for people to know what they’re getting, like going to a restaurant. If they say, ‘We serve Italian food,’ you may not like every Italian dish, but it gives you a sense of what you’ll get.

“It just helps people to get an idea of what the music’s going to generally sound like.” When asked, G (ne Gorelick) tells people, “I play the sax. I’m an instrumentalist.”

But the truth is he was actually instrumental in smooth jazz becoming established as a musical genre.

Before the moniker existed, the Seattle-born G was out there with platinum albums, scoring a Top 5 hit with “Songbird” in 1987 and the top-selling instrumental album of all time with 1992’s “Breathless.” He’s sold 75 million albums worldwide (48 million in the U.S.), and 1994’s “Miracles: The Holiday Album,” is the top-selling Christmas release in the world.

G also holds the Guinness Book of World Records mark for the longest note ever recorded — 45 minutes and 12 seconds in 1997.

But all that success made the recent turn his career has taken all the more frustrating.

“I was with Clive Davis and Arista Records,” G, who’s married and has two sons and a scratch golf game that’s endeared him to the pro circuit, says of his longtime record company home. “I was really part of the Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart thing, where we’re doing cover tunes. That was just part of what they wanted to do and release.” So G played the good soldier, recording standards for his 2006’s “I’m in the Mood for Love ... The Most Romantic Melodies of All Time.”

But G chafed when that project sold only 250,000 copies.

“I wanted to do original music,” he says. “And (the label) said, ‘No. We want you to do another one of these (covers) records.’ Then I said ‘no,’ and we both decided, ‘Well ... I guess we’re done.’ I’ve always done best with my own music.”

So G found a new home (the jazz-oriented Concord Records) and set to work on “Rhythm & Romance,” his first set of mostly original songs in six years. Working with longtime collaborator Walter Afanasieff, G tapped into an influence that had been part of his music since hearing bossa nova songs by Stan Getz and Cannonball Adderley when he was growing up.

“I’ve done a couple of Latin-style songs in my previous records, here and there,” says G, who also recruited a number of Latin musicians for the sessions. “I just wanted to see if I could do a whole album of that kind of Latin rhythm, with my saxophone and sense of melody on top of that.

“I feel like it’s a really different album than I’ve done in the past, one that, if people like my music they’re sure gonna like it because it’s got the best of a lot of styles — my style, Latin ...”

That certainly seems to be the case; “Rhythm & Romance” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart after its release in February.

That’s emboldened him to move forward with more original music — including, possibly, some classical material. “I want to write music that sounds like a Beethoven song you’ve heard forever but is an original song with me playing,” G explains. “I think that would be fun.”

Until that time, however, he’s happy enough to just keep playing the kind of music that’s worked so well for him to this point — no matter what people choose to call it.

“I don’t walk around telling people I play anything in particular,” G says. “I’m one of the only instrumentalists lucky enough to be played on popular radio. Some call it jazz. Some call it pop. But not that many people got that kind of exposure, so I’m just grateful.”

The 10th Annual V98.7 Smooth JazzFest takes place Friday (June 13) through Sunday (June 15) at the Southfield Civic Center, Evergreen between Ten Mile and Eleven Mile Roads. Admission is $20 in advance, $25 at the gate. Gold Circle tickets are $30 advance, $35 at the gate. Weekend passes are $50 general admission, $80 Gold Circle. Call (248) 796-4600 or visit www.wvmv.com.

The Smooth JazzFest artist lineup includes:

Friday (5:30-10 p.m.) -- Randy Scott; the Average White Band; Guitars & Saxes with Gerald Albright, Peter White; Jeff Golub; Jeff Lorber; Jessy J

Saturday (2-10:30 p.m.) -- Kimmie Horne; Tim Bowman; Bobby Caldwell; Alexander Zonjic with Marion Madows, Bobby Lyle and the Motor City Horns; Kenny G

Sunday (2:30-9 p.m.) -- Jimmy Sommers; Take 6; Mindi Abair; the Ohio Players.

Web Site: www.wvmv.com

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