The Kenny G Smack Down

I was reading a post over at Michele Catalano’s place about ‘Worst Band Ever’ lists. If you’re into music as much as I am, you won’t be surprised by the submissions (Air Supply, Poison, Wilson Phillips – you get the idea).

It’s one thing to read opinions from people about why they love or hate a certain band – I can do that in my sleep. It’s quite another to read criticisms by musicians against other musicians. I’m not talking about rivals trying to get publicity, like when Elton John accused Madonna of lip syncing her ‘live’ concerts. I’m talking about people slamming people because they play bad. They don’t have any musical talent, yet they are widely famous and sell millions of CDs (boy, could I compile a list of bands who fit that description!). If your rant is to be taken seriously though, you have to be a master player. Otherwise, it’s nothing but sour grapes.

But, band on band cat fights are just about cheesy pop music groups, boy toy groups, and east coast/west coast rapper wars right?

Apparently not. It appears that a feud has been brewing in the Jazz music industry. A commenter of Michele’s linked to a jazz fan website containing this question posed to jazz guitarist Pat Metheny:

Pat, could you tell us your opinion about Kenny G?

OK, this shouldn’t be too tough right? Pat is a master guitar player, and has the credits and awarded accolades to back it up, so he’s as qualified as anyone to give an informed answer. I expect Pat to say how Kenny is a ‘great person’ and fun to be around and how they played together at some weekend jazz fest and the crowd loved it, yadda yadda yadda.

Wrong. Pat takes the opportunity to unload on Mr. G.

“I first heard him (Kenny G) 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.”

Wait! There’s more!

“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 key 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, played horribly out of tune – consistently sharp.

Oh, but there’s even more. Pat goes on for paragraphs about how bad a musician Kenny G really is. Not only does Metheny disrespect him, but apparently, every other respectable jazz musician thinks Kenny stinks.

Meanwhile, I have yet to find a response to this criticism from the sax player. Oh, he has plenty of defenders (middle-aged housewives who curl up in a comfy chair with their favorite cup of chamomile and Kenny’s greatest hits), but no one of Metheny’s caliber has stood by the G’ster (yet).

I just hope this war of words doesn’t lead to a bullet flying confrontation on a street in Vegas. The tribute albums and benefit concerts would drive me crazy.

Stay tuned.

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