“Smooth Jazz” is one of those terms that doesn’t get much respect from the oh-so-snobby jazz community. For a music genre that was formed on the backs of oppressed minorities in ramshackle Deep South dive bars, I’ve always been amazed at the appropriation of Jazz by white people; somehow this has become “their” music and Smooth Jazz is a bastardization of the rhythms that they’ve somehow claimed as their own. As a pasty white guy myself, I’ve never understood that. Having seen smooth jazz ambassador Kenny G several times, I thumb my nose at those critics.
The sax savant brought his band to the Rocksino on Wednesday night for a combo greatest hits/Christmas show. With record sales of over 75 million units, Kenny G is one of the best-selling artists of all time; his 1992 album Breathless is the best-selling instrumental album of all time.
Entering the venue from the back, Mr. G took to a step-stool riser and played “Going Home.” Starting from the back of the house and continuing until he strode atop the riser, he then cut into “Silhouette,” one of his most popular tunes.
From there he made his way to the stage, ending “Silhouette” with a crazy-long sustained note showing off his “circular breathing” method that plunked him into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest-sustained note on a saxophone: almost 46 minutes. As he acknowledged the crowd by holding up his sax, he started off the night with a comment that I normally wouldn’t attribute to someone the likes of Mr. Gorelick. Triumphantly waving his sax in the air he told the audience, “It goes to show you that if you blow something for 40 years you tend to stay together.”
I suppose there’s some truth to that.
Offering all of his hits in the first part of the show, there was a twenty-minute intermission that divided the sets into two parts saving the Christmas music for the latter part of the show, mega-hits like “Forever in Love” and “Havana” were highlights of the first act. Showing off their jazz chops, the band shone in “Desafinado,” in which pianist Robert Damper played an extended solo. Damper, a friend of Kenny’s since high school, has played with him for more than thirty years.
After a mishmash called “Sax-O-Loco,” the band left the stage for an intermission. He mentioned that there was going to be a raffle for a saxophone; attendees could purchase a CD (or five) that would give them an entry into the raffle. The winner of the sax would come onsstage during the second act and be serenaded by Kenny prior to being awarded the instrument. At that point, most of the crowd headed to the lobby to get in on the raffle.
The intermission abruptly ended, stranding many concertgoers in the lobby. Once again, Kenny emerged from the back of the auditorium while playing “Deck the Halls.” The majority of the second act was holiday music, “White Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” were the highlights. The latter tune became an extended solo session of drums, piano and sax.
Announcing the winning number of the raffle, a lady in the bleachers starting jumping up and down like a contestant on The Price Is Right. She brought her significant other onstage and they were offered a rendition of “Innocence.” She left the stage, sax in hand, teary-eyed and smiling all the way back to her seat.
He finished the show off with “Songbird” and then encored with a throaty rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” from the 1997 film Titanic.