Fun_People Archive
9 Jun
Mr. Metheny on Mr. G

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri,  9 Jun 100 00:51:05 -0700
To: Fun_People
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Subject: Mr. Metheny on Mr. G

X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649  -=[ Fun_People ]=-
Forwarded-by: Charles Keagle <>
Jim Anderson wrote:

 Here is a wonderful dissertation on Kenny G by Pat Metheny originally
 posted to the Miles Davis Listserv. It came from the following


 Subject: Metheny On G
 Date: Tue, 6 Jun 2000 14:20:43 -0400 (EDT)
 From: (kind of blue)

 "kenny g is not a musician i really had much of an opinion about at all
 until recently. there was not much about the way he played that
 interested me one way or the other either live or on records. i first
 heard him a number of years ago playing as a sideman with jeff lorber
 when they opened a concert for my band. my impression was that he was
 someone who had spent a fair amount of time listening to the more pop
 oriented sax players of that time, like grover washington or david
 sanborn, but was not really an advanced player, even in that style. he
 had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was
 extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic based and blues-lick derived
 patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of
 how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble - lorber was
 basically playing him off the bandstand in terms of actual music. but he
 did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large
 crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long
 notes and playing fast runs - never mind that there were lots of
 harmonic clams in them) at the keys moments to elicit a powerful crowd
 reaction (over and over again) . the other main thing i noticed was that
 he also, as he does to this day, play horribly out of tune -
 consistently sharp.
 of course, i am aware of what he has played since, the success it has
 had, and the controversy that has surrounded him among musicians and
 serious listeners. this controversy seems to be largely fueled by the
 fact that he sells an enormous amount of records while not being
 anywhere near a really great player in relation to the standards that
 have been set on his instrument over the past sixty or seventy years.
 and honestly, there is no small amount of envy involved from musicians
 who see one of their fellow players doing so well financially,
 especially when so many of them who are far superior as improvisors and
 musicians in general have trouble just making a living. there must be
 hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are
 simply better improvising musicians than kenny g on his chosen
 instruments. it would really surprise me if even he disagreed with that
 having said that, it has gotten me to thinking lately why so many jazz
 musicians (myself included, given the right "bait" of a question, as i
 will explain later) and audiences have gone so far as to say that what
 he is playing is not even jazz at all.
 stepping back for a minute, if we examine the way he plays, especially
 if one can remove the actual improvising from the often mundane
 background environment that it is delivered in, we see that his
 saxophone style is in fact clearly in the tradition of the kind of
 playing that most reasonably objective listeners WOULD normally quantify
 as being jazz. it's just that as jazz or even as music in a general
 sense, with these standards in mind, it is simply not up to the level of
 playing that we historically associate with professional improvising
 musicians. so, lately i have been advocating that we go ahead and just
 include it under the word jazz - since pretty much of the rest of the
 world OUTSIDE of the jazz community does anyway - and let the chips fall
 where they may.
 and after all, why he should be judged by any other standard, why he
 should be exempt from that that all other serious musicians on his
 instrument are judged by if they attempt to use their abilities in an
 improvisational context playing with a rhythm section as he does? he
 SHOULD be compared to john coltrane or wayne shorter, for instance, on
 his abilities (or lack thereof) to play the soprano saxophone and his
 success (or lack thereof) at finding a way to deploy that instrument in
 an ensemble in order to accurately gauge his abilities and put them in
 the context of his instrument's legacy and potential.
 as a composer of even eighth note based music, he SHOULD be compared to
 herbie hancock, horace silver or even grover washington. suffice it to
 say, on all above counts, at this point in his development, he wouldn't
 fare well.
 but, like i said at the top, this relatively benign view was all "until
 not long ago, kenny g put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on
 top of a 30+ year old louis armstrong record, the track "what a
 wonderful world". with this single move, kenny g became one of the few
 people on earth i can say that i really can't use at all - as a man, for
 his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a
 musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most
 important figure in our music.
 this type of musical necrophilia - the technique of overdubbing on the
 preexisting tracks of already dead performers - was weird when natalie
 cole did it with her dad on "unforgettable" a few years ago, but it was
 her dad. when tony bennett did it with billie holiday it was bizarre,
 but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century
 who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment. when
 larry coryell presumed to overdub himself on top of a wes montgomery
 track, i lost a lot of the respect that i ever had for him - and i have
 to seriously question the fact that i did have respect for someone who
 could turn out to have have such unbelievably bad taste and be that
 disrespectful to one of my personal heroes.
 but when kenny g decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the
 music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has
 ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune,
 noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great
 louis's tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that i
 would not have imagined possible. he, in one move, through his
 unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on
 this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the
 musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out
 there on the road for years and years developing their own music
 inspired by the standards of grace that louis armstrong brought to every
 single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician. by
 disrespecting louis, his legacy and by default, everyone who has ever
 tried to do something positive with improvised music and what it can be,
 kenny g has created a new low point in modern culture - something that
 we all should be totally embarrassed about - and afraid of. we ignore
 this, "let it slide", at our own peril.
 his callous disregard for the larger issues of what this crass gesture
 implies is exacerbated by the fact that the only reason he possibly have
 for doing something this inherently wrong (on both human and musical
 terms) was for the record sales and the money it would bring.
 since that record came out - in protest, as insigificant as it may be, i
 encourage everyone to boycott kenny g recordings, concerts and anything
 he is associated with. if asked about kenny g, i will diss him and his
 music with the same passion that is in evidence in this little essay.
 normally, i feel that musicians all have a hard enough time, regardless
 of their level, just trying to play good and don't really benefit from
 public criticism, particularly from their fellow players. but, this is
 there ARE some things that are sacred - and amongst any musician that
 has ever attempted to address jazz at even the most basic of levels,
 louis armstrong and his music is hallowed ground. to ignore this
 trespass is to agree that NOTHING any musician has attempted to do with
 their life in music has any intrinsic value - and i refuse to do that.
 (i am also amazed that there HASN'T already been an outcry against this
 among music critics - where ARE they on this?????!?!?!?!- , magazines,
 etc.). everything i said here is exactly the same as what i would say to
 gorelick if i ever saw him in person. and if i ever DO see him anywhere,
 at any function - he WILL get a piece of my mind and (maybe a guitar
 wrapped around his head.)
 NOTE: this post is partially in response to the comments that people
 have made regarding a short video interview excerpt with me that was
 posted on the internet taken from a tv show for young people (kind of
 like MTV) in poland where i was asked to address 8 to 11 year old kids
 on terms that they could understand about jazz.
 while enthusiastically describing the virtues of this great area of
 music, i was encouraging the kids to find and listen to some of the
 greats in the music and not to get confused by the sometimes
 overwhelming volume of music that falls under the jazz umbrella. i went
 on to say that i think that for instance, "kenny g plays the dumbest
 music on the planet" - something that all 8 to 11 year kids on the
 planet already intrinsically know, as anyone who has ever spent any time
 around kids that age could confirm - so it gave us some common ground
 for the rest of the discussion. (ADDENDUM: the only thing wrong with the
 statement that i made was that i did not include the rest of the known
 the fact that this clip was released so far out of the context that it
 was delivered in is a drag, but it is now done. (it's unauthorized
 release out of context like that is symptomatic of the new
 electronically interconnected culture that we now live in - where pretty
 much anything anyone anywhere has ever said or done has the potential to
 become common public property at any time.) i was surprised by the
 polish people putting this clip up so far away from the use that it was
 intended -really just for the attention - with no explanation of the
 show it was made for - they (the polish people in general) used to be so
 hip and would have been unlikely candidates to do something like that
 before, but i guess everything is changing there like it is everywhere
 the only other thing that surprised me in the aftermath of the release
 of this little interview is that ANYONE would be even a little bit
 surprised that i would say such a thing, given the reality of mr. g's
 music. this makes me want to go practice about 10 times harder, because
 that suggests to me that i am not getting my own musical message across
 clearly enough - which to me, in every single way and intention is
 diametrically opposed to what Kenny G seems to be after."

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