10 Things That Confuse Me About Kenny G’s Colonization of My Musical World

Illustration for article titled 10 Things That Confuse Me About Kenny G’s Colonization of My Musical World
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For some odd reason that I cannot quite understand, I grew up listening to a very (un)healthy amount of Kenny G. The track “Songbird”—you know the one—could be heard on any given day throughout my home as a kid. For the life of me, I do not understand why this was the case. Turns out that I was not alone. The elevator-jazz god was a staple of so many homes in the ’80s and ’90s that he and Bob Ross might as well have been our uncles.


But for why? I mean, we listened to a lot of Rod Stewart in my home, too, and maybe one day I’ll ask the question of why out loud during Thanksgiving. But today I’d like to ponder a pontification that I’m sure many others have proliferated. What made (makes) Kenny G so damn popular?

Perhaps you love Kenny G. Perhaps you were incepted with his music like I was. Perhaps the sound of any of his various saxophonings sends your heart into palpitations. Maybe he even gives you “the pressure.” I haz questions, though.

  1. How the hell did he manage to be the top-selling instrumentalist of all time making music that most of us HATE listening to in the elevator? Can you imagine getting stuck in an elevator and they only play Kenny G? What if you were stuck in a traffic jam and the only music that would play was “Silhouette,” over and over again? I think we’d all find out if G’s get to go to heaven that day.
  2. Bruh. He sold over 75 MILLION ALBUMS. HOW, SWAY?
  3. Why did almost every single black person I know grow up with more Kenny G than John Coltrane?
  4. Is Kenny G, like ... pop jazz? How come I only learned about Dave Koz watching Family Matters, but Kenny G could eat at my house whenever he wanted to?
  5. Is even Kenny G surprised by his success?
  6. What’s your FAVORITE Kenny G song that you hate that you know? (I’m going with the aforementioned “Songbird.”)
  7. He literally has some of the most ridiculous music videos of all time. How the hell did he manage to make it through them without saying, “You guys know this is all trash, right?” Did he ever say, “You guys know this is all trash, right?” And yet 75 milli. I’d like an actual answer to this. Kenny? Kenny?
  8. I want you to think real hard about this: What chore is best accomplished set to a Kenny G soundtrack? Vacuuming? Ironing? Dusting? If I have to pick one, I’m going with dusting, since I hate doing it, and I could hate-dust as Kenny hits some magnanimous run while everybody gets what they want. Me? A dusted home. Kenny? My soul.
  9. When you teach your kids about music, will Kenny G be part of those lessons? I don’t know how he ended up in my life, but he did, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to let Kenny G fade into the “What is this shit?” ether. Real question.
  10. Favorite duet collaborator? I know you have one. I think Peabo Bryson fit right in with his sound. I like Peabo, by the way, so there’s no shade here.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



Panama: have you considered that there’s some respectability shit going on with smooth jazz and bourgeois black folks of a certain generation?

Having grown up white(ish) in the extremely segregated Chicago suburbs, I was pretty ignorant about the folkways of middle-class black culture. When I was about 20 I remember once asking Deen Freelon, the son of the excellent “legit” jazz singer Nnenna Freelon (don’t ask her about Diana Krall if you don’t want to have your lungs torn out of your chest) and a very skilled bass guitarist, what middle-aged middle-/upper-middle-class black folks listened to. Without hesitation, he said, “Smooth jazz. SO GODDAMN MUCH SMOOTH JAZZ.”

The thing is that “smooth jazz” is pretty much just instrumental Quiet Storm. It’s background music for ironing and hanging the clothes you wear in the walk-in master closet of your house in Upper Marlboro, from which you ride the Orange Line from New Carrollton to your job as a GS-11 in L’Enfant Plaza.