Kenneth Bruce Gorelick (born June 5, 1956), known professionally as Kenny G, is an American smooth jazz saxophonist, composer, and producer. His 1986 album Duotones brought him commercial success. Kenny G is one of the best-selling artists of all time, with global sales totaling more than 75 million records.
Kenneth Bruce Gorelick
June 5, 1956
|Education||Franklin High School|
|Alma mater||University of Washington (BS, magna cum laude)|
|Years active||1973–1982 (group)|
(m. 1980; div. 1987)
(m. 1992; div. 2012)
Kenny G was born in Seattle, Washington to a Jewish family. His mother was a Canadian Jew from Saskatchewan, Canada. He came into contact with the saxophone when he heard a performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He started playing the saxophone, a Buffet Crampon alto, in 1966 when he was 10 years old.
Kenny G attended Whitworth Elementary School, Sharples Junior High School (renamed Kurose Middle School), Franklin High School, and the University of Washington, all in his home city of Seattle. When he entered high school he failed at his first attempt to get into the jazz band but auditioned again the following year and earned first chair. His Franklin High School classmate Robert Damper (piano, keyboards) plays in his band. In addition to his studies while in high school, he took private lessons on the saxophone and clarinet from Johnny Jessen, once a week for a year.
He was also on his high school golf team. He has been a fan of the sport since his elder brother, Brian Gorelick, introduced him to it when he was ten.
Kenny G's career started with a job as a sideman for Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1973, when he was 17 and still in high school. He continued to play professionally while studying for a major in accounting at the University of Washington in Seattle, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. He qualified, and only needed to pass the CPA exam to get into practice.
He played with the funk band Cold, Bold and Together before becoming a credited member of The Jeff Lorber Fusion. He then left the band, later claiming that he had outgrown his association with them.
1980s: Start of solo career, Duotones, and Silhouette
Kenny G signed with Arista Records as a solo artist in 1982, after label president Clive Davis heard his rendition of "Dancing Queen" by ABBA. He adopted Kenny G as his stage name because it "had a nice ring to it". His debut studio album, Kenny G, was recorded in 1981 with members of the Jeff Lorber Fusion, and released in the following year. The album received warm reviews from critics, and reached No. 10 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. Kenny G followed his debut with G Force in January 1983 and Gravity in May 1985, both of which reached Platinum certification in the US for selling one million copies. During this time, he collaborated with musician, singer, songwriter, and producer Kashif on many tracks, including the 1985 single "Love on the Rise".
In 1986, Kenny G entered the most commercially successful period of his career. His fourth solo album, Duotones, was released in September 1986 and features an original instrumental track, "Songbird", inspired by his decision to move from Seattle to Los Angeles, which marked the start of a new life for him. The album went on to sell five million copies in the US alone and increased his profile worldwide as a result. "Songbird" reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the lead single, "Don't Make Me Wait for Love", featuring Lenny Williams on lead vocals, went to No. 15 on the Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in 1987.
Kenny G worked in the mid-to-late 1980s with jazz and R&B artists such as George Benson, Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin. The 1987 hit-single "Love Power", a Dionne Warwick duet with Jeffrey Osborne that featured G as a guest saxophonist, peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 5 on R&B/Hip-Hop songs.
His first live album, Kenny G Live, included popular songs, among which "Going Home" achieved great success in the People's Republic of China. Kenny G has collaborated with a wide variety of artists, such as Andrea Bocelli, Aaron Neville, Toni Braxton, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Natalie Cole, Steve Miller, Weezer, Dudley Moore, Lee Ritenour, The Rippingtons, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra, Bebel Gilberto, and Smokey Robinson. Influenced by saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., his albums are usually classified as smooth jazz.
1990s: Breathless, Miracles, and The Moment
Kenny G has worked on several film soundtracks, including Dying Young and The Bodyguard. The song "Theme for Dying Young", written for that movie, was nominated for the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Kenny G appears on the soundtrack of The Bodyguard, starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, performing "Waiting for You" and "Even If My Heart Would Break". His music was also included in The Shadow and Miracle on 34th Street.
His sixth studio album, Breathless, was released in 1992, and went on to become the best-selling instrumental album ever, with over 15 million copies sold worldwide, selling 12 million copies in the United States alone. The album included many hits such as "Forever in Love", the recipient of the Grammy Award for the Best Instrumental Composition and which charted in the Billboard Year-End Hot 100. "Sentimental" charted at No. 27 on the Adult Contemporary Chart, and "By the Time This Night Is Over", a collaboration with Peabo Bryson, peaked at No. 25 on the Hot 100.
His first holiday album, Miracles, sold over 13 million copies, making it the most successful Christmas album to date. He also performed the "National Anthem of the United States" at the 1994 FIFA World Cup closing ceremony at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on July 17, 1994.
Kenny G earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997 for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. Using circular breathing, Kenny G held an E-flat for 45 minutes and 47 seconds at J&R Music World in New York City. The same year, his song "Havana", from the album The Moment, was remixed by Todd Terry and Tony Moran and released to dance clubs in the U.S. The mixes went to No.1 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs chart in April 1997.
Kenny G's second holiday album, Faith, is the best selling holiday album of 1999 in the United States selling 2 million units according to Nielsen/SoundScan. The singles taken from the album, the traditional "Auld Lang Syne", reached No. 7 on the Hot 100. His rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" was, at the time of charting, popularized by the then-upcoming New Year celebration for 2000. At the time of its peak, it was also the oldest-written song to make the Hot 100 charts.
In February 2000, Kenny G was invited to the White House and performed for state governors and members of the Clinton Cabinet.
On At Last...The Duets Album, he collaborated with friends and colleagues David Sanborn, David Benoit; Daryl Hall, lead singer of Hall & Oates; Burt Bacharach, and Barbra Streisand. It includes covers such as Careless Whisper, and Elton John's "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word", a collaboration with Richard Marx. The album is certified Gold in the US.
2006 saw the release of Kenny G's eleventh studio album I'm in the Mood for Love...The Most Romantic Melodies of All Time featuring renditions of The Beatles's songs, the love theme from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the Secret Garden's hit song "You Raise Me Up", and James Blunt's "You're Beautiful", as well as the Chinese ballad "The Moon Represents My Heart".
In October 2009, Kenny G appeared with the band Weezer in an AOL promotion of their album Raditude by soloing during "I'm Your Daddy". Kenny G said he knew nothing of Weezer before the performance. Though some music critics thereby rejoined in the common criticism of his work, the unlikely combination was fairly well received by AOL's magazines Spinner.com and Popeater.com.
He made an appearance in the music video for Katy Perry's single "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" as Uncle Kenny. On the October 8, 2011 episode of Saturday Night Live, he performed with alternative rock band Foster the People on the song "Houdini".
His Brazilian Nights was announced on October 28, 2014. The album was inspired by Cannonball Adderley's bossa nova recordings, Paul Desmond, and Stan Getz. The album was released in January 2015. It helped Kenny G get back to the Billboard 200 at number 86. He started The Brazilian Tour for the album, traveling throughout North America and Asia throughout the year.
Kenny G posted Twitter images of his visit to the site of the 2014 Hong Kong protests, which the PRC government has declared illegal, saying, "I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation". The feed provoked an immediate angry reaction from the Chinese foreign ministry. Kenny G issued a clarification, "I don't really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong...I only wanted to share my wish for peace for Hong Kong and for all of China as I feel close to and care about China very much".
In February 2017, Kenny G was satirized by Andy Samberg in the Netflix program "Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special". At the end of the scene Kenny G appears as a janitor. He competed in an episode of Drop the Mic against country singer Jake Owen.
In October 2019, Kenny G appeared on the Kanye West gospel album Jesus Is King, on the song "Use This Gospel". Reaching 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, the song was his first entry on the chart since 2000 and resulted in his becoming one of the few artists - alongside Michael Jackson, Madonna, U2 and "Weird Al" Yankovic - to have appeared in the top 40 every decade from 1980-2010.
Kenny G contributed to the soundtrack of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run in 2021 with his covers of "My Heart Will Go On" as well as "Gary's Song", which had been written for the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Have You Seen This Snail?" The Nickelodeon series parodies the artist with the character Kelpy G.
Popularity in China
Since 1989, Kenny G's recording "Going Home" from the Kenny G Live album has become an unconventional mega-hit throughout China: It has become the unofficial national closing song for many businesses such as food courts, outdoor markets, health clubs, shopping malls and train stations throughout the country. Many businesses begin piping the music over their loudspeakers shortly before closing at night. Television stations also play the song before ending their evening broadcasts. Many Chinese, when asked, say they associate the song with the need to finish their activity or business and go home (although they may not even know the name of the song or its artist).
Kenny G has attracted significant criticism from mainstream jazz musicians and enthusiasts. Pat Metheny found him "not really an advanced player, even [among pop-oriented sax players of that time]," adding that, according to his opinion, Kenny G had "major rhythmic problems" and his "harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic-based and blues-lick derived patterns". Metheny stated that the "controversy" that has surrounded Kenny G "among musicians and serious listeners" is due to the fact that "he sells an enormous amount of records while not being anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that have been set on his instrument over the past sixty or seventy years". Saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Branford Marsalis, stating that he's refusing to "fight that silly war between jazz and smooth jazz," called on G's critics as follows: "When all these jazz guys get in a tizzy over Kenny G, they need to leave Kenny alone. He's not stealing jazz. The audience he has wouldn't be caught dead at a real jazz concert or club. It's not like some guy says, 'You know, I used to listen to Miles, Trane and Ornette. And then I heard Kenny G, and I never put on another Miles record.' It's a completely different audience."
Kenny G's 1999 single "What a Wonderful World" was particularly criticized for its overdubbing of Louis Armstrong's recording of the same song. Mark Sabbatini found G's cover to be an "unconscionable act of auditory graffiti" over the Armstrong song. The New York Times' Ben Ratliff opined that a recording by Armstrong, known especially for improvisation, should not be altered by a musician "whose range and depth of understanding was already in question." Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson expressed "mixed feelings," stating that Kenny G's "audience probably does not know Armstrong or Getz or Charlie Parker. So, if he feels like his audience should be more familiar with those people, I can’t see anything aesthetically wrong with that." On the other hand, pianist Fred Hersch, commenting on the occasion of that cover track, said that Kenny G is "not a jazz musician."
Critic Josef Woodard found Kenny G serving "a noble purpose by offering musicians a paradigm of what not to do," in a JazzTimes poll in which, though, players such as Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman were characterized as "over rated."
In 2021, HBO Max started streaming director Penny Lane's documentary Listening to Kenny G, with the subject of the film not having had any control over its content. Lane stated she chose Kenny Gorelick as her subject because he is "a musician who is objectively popular, by way of record sales, but is also hated by the 'critical class'." Richard Brody, in a New Yorker report, cited Kenny G in the film responding "cheerful[ly]" to a question about what he loves about music, with, "I don’t know if I love music that much," and continuing, "when I listen to music, I think about the musicians and I just think about what it takes to make that music and how much they had to practice."
Kenny G married Janice DeLeon in 1980 and they divorced in 1987. He married Lyndie Benson in 1992, and the couple had two sons: Max and Noah. Max graduated from Columbia University and Noah from the University of Southern California. In January 2012, Benson-Gorelick filed for legal separation. Kenny G filed for divorce in August 2012.
Kenny G built a house in Hunts Point, Washington, in 1996 which he sold in 1999 to Craig McCaw. Kenny G now lives in Malibu, California. He is an avid golfer and has a handicap of +0.6. He has participated in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tournament seven times as of 2007 and teamed with Phil Mickelson to share the AT&T pro-am title in 2001 with the team of Tiger Woods and Jerry Chang. In the Golf Digest rankings of Top 100 in Music, according to golf handicap indexes of major musicians, he was first in 2006 and second in 2008. He is a member of Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California.
- Kenny G (1982)
- G Force (1983)
- Gravity (1985)
- Duotones (1986)
- Silhouette (1988)
- Breathless (1992)
- Miracles: The Holiday Album (1994)
- The Moment (1996)
- Classics in the Key of G (1999)
- Faith: A Holiday Album (1999)
- Paradise (2002)
- At Last...The Duets Album (2004)
- I'm in the Mood for Love...The Most Romantic Melodies of All Time (2006)
- Rhythm and Romance (2008)
- Heart and Soul (2010)
- Namaste with Rahul Sharma (2012)
- Brazilian Nights (2015)
- New Standards (2021)
- Greatest Hits (1997)
Awards and nominations
- Brazilian Tour (2015)
- The Miracles Holiday & Hits Tour (2017)
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- on YouTube, February 1, 2011
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Having been a member at Sherwood Country Club for the last 20 years, Gorelick is interested to see how Champions Tour players like Bernard Langer, John Daly, Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin play on a course he knows so well.
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The 59-year-old Jewish saxophonist, born as Kenneth Gorelick, is considered as the biggest selling instrumental musician alive with sales of his 23 albums over 30 years totaling over 75 million records, according to "Billboard Magazine."
- Kenny G on His Best-Selling Christmas Album: "But I'm Jewish!" | Where Are They Now | OWN YouTube