Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kenny G Infects Jazz (and he's coming to ruin a festival near you)

I guess it had to happen.

Poor, multimillionaire instrumental-pop player Kenny G has apparently taken so much abuse from jazz lovers over the years that some music writers are actually starting to feel sorry for the little fella.

Never mind that G's music was, is and apparently always will be the equivalent of aural wallpaper, his "improvised solos" are repetitive and unimaginative and his music it to good jazz as Spinal Tap is to good rock.

(Wait a minute. I'd actually get more sheer listening pleasure by listening to Spinal Tap, if only momentarily and only for the knowing, wink-wink comic relief of it all. Good mock rock -- good anything -- is always better than bad music of any genre).

Forget that Kenny G has spoiled an entire generation or two for jazz. By this, I'm referring to all those young listeners during the '90s who heard Kenny G's vapid, mundane, schmaltzy radio product and were conned into believing that his music = the apex of good jazz.

Sadly, G's music, contrary to the beliefs of some, never leads a listener in the direction of jazz that's more artistically valid, creative, organic or innovative (take your pick). Instead, those exposed to G's schmaltz rays were either so turned off by its blandness that they swore off jazz forever, or they found their way to other, similarly bland "smooth-jazz" product.

Never mind that the G Scam committed the musically and artistically atrocious act of overdubbing his incredibly annoying, chirpy soprano sax noise on a Louis Armstrong recording of "What a Wonderful World."

Theft? Musical rape? Incredibly unethical artistic behavior? You decide. Said actual jazz musician Pat Metheny: "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."

So forget all of Kenny G's high crimes against good music.

In the minds of some, Kenny G must be a great musician, or at least a great jazz musician, because, well, he's sold a kazillion CDs. Like commercial success is a sure sign of quality. Ever heard of Milli Vanilli? Ever listen to the CDs put out by the "American Idol" winners and second-place finishers? Ever heard (fill in the blank)?

And so, the thinking goes, because the G Scam has been so commercially successful and because he's been beaten up so much by the music press, then (drum roll) ... It's time for a little revisionism.

The new "truth" about Kenny G: He's actually a first-rate musician. And, furthermore, those who believe otherwise are merely "jazz snobs" or "jazz purists."

Those who like "serious jazz," according to this line of thinking, are mere spoil sports.

Gee whiz, has someone been drinking the smooth-jazz Kool Aid?

There are plenty of reasons (see above) why fans of good music will have nothing to do with the G Scam. None of those reasons have anything to do with snobbery (and everything to do with an ability and a willingness to discriminate between good music and shlock).

And speaking of Kenny G showing up to ruin jazz festivals ...

Is it really so wrong for music lovers to be sorely disappointed when the area's single largest jazz festival fills THREE OF FOUR HEADLINING SPOTS with folks whose music is so lackluster that they would be laughed out of the world's real jazz festivals?

Sorry, but Kenny G, Richard Elliot, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies (they're still together?) and most likely the Manhattan Transfer (once a little interesting, now passe) wouldn't be booked to play the jazz tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

They wouldn't be allowed to play the Montreal Jazz Festival or the Vienne Jazz Festival (France), to name just a couple more of the world-class fests that I've had the privilege of attending.

They'd be laughed out of nearly all of the major summer jazz festivals in Europe and New York.

So why should they sit atop the bill at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, a festival, funded in part by tax dollars, that by rights should lean toward jazz "art" rather than the commercial-jazz fare that so often dominates local entertainment halls?

Somebody 'splain it, please.

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