Seattle’s own Kenny G talks music and food with Rachel Belle. Oh, and he says he didn’t invent the Frappuccino!
Kenny G is one of the best selling artists of all time. He’s sold more than 75 million records and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the longest note on a saxophone. He’s also from Seattle. Kenny G went to Franklin High School, where he played in the jazz band with the piano player who has been playing with his band for 30 years.
But when Kenny G got to Franklin and tried out for the jazz band, he didn’t get in. After a second attempt he joined the band and when he was 17 his very first paycheck came from going on a little tour with Barry White.
“That’s all because of going to Franklin High School in Seattle and the fact that we had a composer in residence,” Kenny G said, from his home in Malibu. “His name was Jim Gardiner; he’s still alive, by the way. He was talking to some friend of his that happened to mention that he was putting together the orchestra for Barry White when he came to the Northwest. Barry White’s sax player wasn’t coming and they needed to find a guy who could play R&B style but improvised and read music. My band director said, ‘Well, the only guy I know who could do that is this kid in my high school band.’ And that’s how I got the gig. The biggest problem was that I didn’t have a black suit. I’m 17 and clothes were not important to me. I just had some sort of a checkered blazer that I wore at my bar mitzvah. I brought that to the gig and they said, ‘You’ve got to find a black jacket!'”
Kenny G is the latest guest on my podcast “Your Last Meal,” and when I was searching around online for any food related associations, I saw a bunch of articles that said he helped invent Starbucks’ Frappuccino.
“I did not invent the Frappuccino, so I take no credit for that. But the truth is that I did meet Howard Schultz back in in the early days when he was just getting started with Starbucks and raising money. My uncle told me that I should meet him and invest in this coffee company. My uncle was one of the bigger Jewish businessmen in Seattle. One of the things he invested in was Starbucks and he said, ‘Hey, you should do this!’ So I met Howard and was super captivated by his personality, he was passionate. My business people at the time told me it was too risky to invest and I just ignored them and did it anyway.”
But I did read that Kenny G walked passed a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in southern California and saw people lining up for a sweet, blended beverage, so he called Howard Schultz to report the trend.
“That’s true! But that doesn’t mean I helped invent the Frappuccino. Howard’s my friend, I’m one of the early investors, so my radar is up about anything with coffee. So when I see these things I just report them back to my friend. So that’s it. It’s not like I went in there with this recipe and said, ‘Hey man, I want to be in on the taste testing.'”
Kenny G recently sold out eight shows at Seattle’s Jazz Alley. But he’s even more popular in China, where everyone knows at least one of his songs.
“They have a tendency to take things literally. The song is called ‘Going Home’ so to them it must mean ‘time to go home.’ So at the time when the stores are closing my song comes on. It’s played throughout China, hundreds of millions of people hear it every single day and when they hear it it brings a feeling of ‘It’s time to go home’ because that’s what they’ve been taught about the song. It’s super cool!”
Kenny G shares his last meal, which supermodel gave him his pie crust recipe and the horror of having his hair product discontinued on my podcast your last meal. To listen: text KENNY G to 98973 and we’ll send you the episode. Or listen on iTunes or at www.yourlastmealpodcast.com
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