Kenny G isn’t going anywhere soon. The New York Times recently reported on his long-running popularity as the height of cool.
At 56, Kenny G remains in demand for concerts. He plays often in London, Paris and Hong Kong.
He also has a presence on YouTube, an impassioned fan base and an enduring appeal to a certain sort of heavily bootlegged, under-heated, beer-swilling white man who follows the local club circuit and gravitates to old soul music.
However, Kenny G’s air of unfair snobbery — and the semi-deserved reputation it has carried over many years — has stuck around in ways that few realize.
Certainly, as a performer, Kenny G sounds like just another lounge singer. His voice is bland, more befuddled than fluid, and his warbling is as warm as a mug of steaming phyllo dough.
He favors straightforward material: blues, gospel, swing and other romantic ballads with sweet, warm, bass notes. He walks the stage with a rigid resolve, and inked chest notes from a comfortable chair deliver the message: He is serious about his job, and his work isn’t for everyone.
His slow-burn foot work is a delicate, gorgeous stylistic touch that telegraphs the emotion of his songs and his personality. The musician sounds a little like George Benson or Ted Stryker and a lot like a 1920s showboat — sort of a gentle rock-and-roll Josiah Thompson, brought to life with trademark vocal flourishes.
His earlier years were dominated by a gentlemanly professionalism, and Kenny G’s song choices show that he has always had a strong fidelity to a certain sort of old-school swing and gospel music.
In the past 10 years, however, Kenny G’s status as the quintessential 70s playboy has been perpetuated by hard-core connoisseurs who think he’s a hipster lounge act. This has inspired some ongoing unease about the “official position of the Kenny G era,” as James Hersey and Clay Ellis put it in their Times story.
This negative portrayal has led to a lingering undercurrent of “snobbery” against the musician, expressed in an amusing photograph compilation on the Dallas Observer website.
The Onion published a segment a few years ago in which a critic called Kenny G “the mascot of New York social pretension” who “acquires the persona of a flamboyant stripper at the club holding a tray of cognac and vibrators.”
Kenny G remains adamant that he wants to play all types of music. He said in an NPR story that he’s famous for playing the type of songs his fans expect, and that there’s nothing out of the ordinary about his choice of material. He said that some people are attracted to his music because of his accent and dreadlocks, not because he’s singely played any different songs from another white saxophonist.
“It’s pretty funny to us all here,” Kenny G told NPR in 2014. “But I think that’s the fun of it, the fact that it’s been accepted as such. It’s me out on the road, and I’m somebody else out there.”