Kenny G will play at the Blaisdell Concert Hall this weekend.
The saxophonist rebuffs his old label's demand to play cover tunes and heads in a new direction
NEW YORK » The easygoing, smooth jazz star Kenny G makes an unlikely rebel. But he had to put his sax down when his longtime record label insisted that he do yet another album of standards.
The G-man saw no point in following other older artists like Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow down the well-worn path of playing cover tunes. So he arranged an amicable divorce from Arista Records in order to return to making original music.
And his band with the Honolulu Symphony Pops orchestra
In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $29, $47, $62, $72 and $94
Call: 792-2000 or visit ticketmaster.com
"All my success in the past ... have always been my original compositions played the way that I play, and people seem to connect with that," said Kenny G. "I lost sight of that a little bit and I'm glad to be going back to my roots and re-establishing the integrity that I've had in my music."
His new CD "Rhythm & Romance" -- his debut for Concord/Starbucks Entertainment -- is not only the 51-year-old saxophonist's first album of original music since 2002, but also finds him exploring new territory in Latin music. His inspiration came from the jazz bossa nova recordings by Cannonball Adderley and Stan Getz that the young Kenny Gorelick heard growing up in Seattle.
"I love the way the saxophone feels with a Latin rhythm, and I felt maybe I can do something like that, but of course do my thing and have it sound different than anything else," he said.
"I always thought that my music could have a little bit more rhythm and a little less ballads," he added. "There's a lot of really up-tempo songs ... and much more improvisation on this record ... There's more rhythm here than anything I've ever done, but yet it's still romantic."
The new record marks the end of his 25-year relationship with music mogul Clive Davis, who first spotted the saxophonist when he was a sideman in Jeff Lorber's jazz-fusion band.
Their partnership resulted in 26 albums -- with global sales totaling more than 75 million records -- including his breakthrough 1986 "Duotones," which went multiplatinum thanks largely to the success of the sultry "Songbird"; the Grammy-winning 1992 "Breathless," the all-time best-selling instrumental album; and 1994's "Miracles: The Holiday Album," which put the Jewish musician right behind Elvis Presley on the U.S. list of top-selling Christmas albums.
But more recently the saxophonist says he felt "handcuffed" by having to play cover tunes on which he couldn't stray far from the melody.
"Unfortunately, I fell into a category with Arista of, 'Well you can't really do original material any more,' " he said. "I knew that doing a Latin album of original material was going to be an amazing project ... but Clive and the guys at Arista were not interested at all. I said, well I have to do this album, so we're going to have to get a friendly divorce."
Kenny G says he's fortunate his parents helped develop his sense of self-esteem, which has enabled him to laugh along with all the jokes about his music being best suited for elevators. When he went into the studio to record "Rhythm & Romance," he even came up with his own catch phrase to loosen things up: "I'm taking my music out of the elevator and south of the border."
"People can tell when somebody's doing something from their heart or whether they're doing it from their brain," he said. "Fortunately for me, I sleep well at night because I know that I've always played the best that I can ... and a lot of people seem to like what I do."