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A Conversation With Saxophonist Kenny G

Kenny G
AP Photo/ Jim Cooper

Sax man and bestselling instrumentalist of all time, Kenny G, needs no introduction. Following stints with Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra (at the age of 17) and The Jeff Lorber Fusion, the Seattle native and UW grad embarked on a solo career in the early 1980s.

His 1992 album "Breathless" is the bestselling instrumental album of all time, and his 1994 album "Miracles" is the bestselling Christmas album of all time. He's collaborated with musical legends from Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder and even popped up in a Katy Perry video. The one and only Kenny G is in town to perform at Seattle's Jazz Alley. He joins us for a conversation about his life in music.

Kenny G’s Work Ethic

Jeff Lorber, one of Kenny G’s first employers, said Kenny G was interested in working hard to make it in music business. “He had a fantastic attitude about wanting to jump in and get with the program,” said Lorber.

Kenny G agreed with this sentiment. “I still need to jump on and work hard. I practice every day, three hours on this thing. I still feel I’ve got so far to go and so many things to do,” said Kenny G.

Kenny G’s Saxophone

Kenny G still plays his high school saxophone. “I’ve got a few others, but I never play them. They’re backups that I never use.”

Kenny G bought his saxophone for $300.

“I put an ad in paper when I was at Franklin High School; I was 17. It said, Wanted: soprano sax. This guy from Lacey, Washington, answered the ad.” The man had brought the saxophone over from France where he was in the service. “It was a lot shinier then,” Kenny G added.

Kenny G On Paying Dues

Kenny G was on the road with Miles Davis for many months at a time. According to Kenny G, Davis didn’t talk much, but he did teach Kenny G a big lesson. They were playing at Lincoln Center, two shows in one night. Kenny G opened the first show, then between shows, Davis paid him a visit.

“[Davis] comes into my dressing room, says, 'Man that was great. You were great. I’m going to open for you second show.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, you know what, I’ve made it.’ By the time I got on stage it was midnight. Out of 3,000 people, there were about 100 left,” laughed Kenny G. “That guy knew what he was doing. He just didn’t want to stay there late.” Kenny G said as an opening act, that’s what happens. “Pay your dues and you get your chance later.”

Kenny G performed “Loving You” and “Sax-o-loco,” both written by Kenny G and Walter Afanasieff.

Also this hour: the Washington State Liquor Control Board holds its second public hearing on the state's new marijuana law in Seattle tonight. We check in with John Davis of the Northwest Patient Resource Center. Plus, radio dramas have been around for decades, but the allure of a play that unfolds in our ears and our imaginations never grows old. Marcie Sillman talks with Leslie Law of Seattle's Sandbox Radio Live.

This interview originally aired on January 24, 2013. Produced for the Web by Jenna Montgomery.

Year started with KUOW: 2012