KIRO Radio's Josh Kerns and Shawn Stewart talk local music
Seattle Sounds
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Seattle's legendary Kenny G returns home for a special four night run at Jazz Alley. (Concord Music image)

Kenny G blows back into Seattle for special shows

Even as a young sax player growing up in Seattle, it was pretty clear there was something special about Kenneth Gorelick. And although the guy we know and love as Kenny G has long since left his hometown for the bright lights of Los Angeles, his heart remains in the Northwest.

Seattle Weekly music editor Chris Kornelis and I had a chance to visit with Kenny G as he geared up for a highly anticipated four-night homecoming stand at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley Thursday through Sunday for Seattle Sounds. We came away extremely impressed by his candor, open mindedness and continued dedication to his craft.

Josh: So have you given up Seattle for good?

Kenny G: I love Seattle. I love the Seattle weather. But at this point my kids are going to school. My son Noah goes to school down here in California so to uproot him to go to Seattle is probably not the right thing to do at the moment but he'll be graduating from high school in a couple years and who knows, I love Seattle and I see myself spending a lot more time there

Chris: What does playing Jazz Alley mean to you, having grown up in Seattle?

KG: We did Jazz Alley just a little less than a year ago, and it was just so fun, and I got a chance to hook up with my high school friends, and see my family and be in Seattle for like a week and it's really fun. Jazz Alley is a place that I've known my whole life, so to be able play there, it's prestigious to me. It's like playing at the Paramount Northwest, or actually what do they call it, just the Paramount now, so that dates me.

CK: That was where you had your first professional gig, right?

KG: It was with Barry White, 1974. I was still in high school and it was those moments where if I think now that I was 17 and I did that gig I can't even imagine how anybody could do that. But it just seems like all the things lined up for me, and I did it, and I played well, so I got a lot of positive feedback and that led me to continue playing, because quite frankly, if I would have done that gig and everybody had told me I was terrible I might not have continued.

JK: How did you prepare for that gig? Did you get much of a chance to rehearse before hand?

KG: You had one rehearsal. His rhythm section came to town and then they picked up a bunch of musicians to play to form the Love Unlimited Orchestra. So really, the Seattle Symphony and the players that were available became the Love Unlimited Orchestra for his date in Seattle.

Besides that, they needed a saxophone soloist and they needed somebody that could read music and they also needed somebody who could improvise in more of a soulful style. And I was really the only guy that qualified in Seattle for that gig, because the guys that could play soulfully didn't read, and the guys that could read didn't know how to play that soulful style.

So I grew up at Franklin High School and fortunately I was a really good sight reader at the same time you grow up in an inner city school and you're going to listen to R&B music so I had it all for that gig and even though I was 17 they let me have the gig.

JK: You've played recently with everyone from Katy Perry, Foster the People on Saturday Night Live, Weezer, and there was last year's Namaste India with Indian musician Rahul Sharma. You seem to be seriously spreading your wings these days. What's inspiring that?

KG: This is what you have to do today. As you know the radio stations are not playing music like they used to 10 years ago. So my music is not really heard on the radio like it used to be, so to get exposure we would do anything that makes sense. You know I was in an Audi commercial on TV. I'm actually in a cool commercial that's coming out in a few months that I can't tell you what it is because I had to sign a contract, and that's going to be pretty funny. We have to do what we can these days to break through and I'm happy to do stuff with Katy Perry and Foster the People and that was really, really fun. I would love to do more of that.

CK: You're known for your tireless dedication to practice. Is it still fun after all these years, and do you still work as hard?

KG: It's unbelievably fun. I mean if you really think about it I'm a pretty lucky guy. I love playing the saxophone and people come to watch me play. And the thing also I have to say, and I don't want to sound with any conceit, but you know I practice my saxophone everyday for three hours, still. Because I'm just like an animal about being the best. The best that I can be. I just want to be as good as I can possibly be.

I'm proud that when I stand on the stage and play, I know that I've got 30,000 or 40,000 practice hours underneath my belt, so that when I play I'm putting stuff out there that I know I'm doing a pretty good job.

I'm really proud of what I do and you know when you do something that you're good at and people kind of watch you, it's like a kid that goes 'Hey dad, watch this'. I love that feeling, so I'm super excited about playing because I know people enjoy what I do and I love what I do and I get a chance to do it plus I work really hard at it.

Kenny G appears Thursday Jan. 24 through Sunday Jan. 28 at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle.

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com Reporter
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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