Kenny G Biography
Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Kenny G rose to fame in the mid-1980s with his signature smooth jazz sound. He is the most successful instrumental musician of all time.
QUOTES: “I approach everything in life the same way; if it feels right, I know it.”
Born in Seattle, Washington, in 1956, saxophonist Kenny G began playing professionally at the age of 17, when he performed with Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra. In 1982, after several years of playing with other musicians, Kenny G released his self-titled debut album. He rose to international fame with his 1986 release Duotones. Since then, Kenny G has become one of the most popular instrumental musicians in history.
Grammy Award–winning saxophonist Kenny G was born Kenneth Bruce Gorlick on June 5, 1956, in Seattle, Washington. The son of Jewish parents, Kenny G grew up in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood, the center of the city’s Jewish community.
He took an early interest in music and began playing the saxophone at the age of 10. In his teens he continued on with the instrument while falling in love with the R&B sounds of groups like Earth Wind & Fire that were so popular during the 1970s.
In 1973, at just 17 years old, Kenny G was hired by Barry White to perform with his Love Unlimited Orchestra at the Paramount Northwest Theater. The performance was the first of several for Kenny G with White and his band. It was around the time he started playing with White that the saxophonist changed his name to Kenny G.
Following his graduation from Franklin High School, Kenny G followed two very different career tracks. He enrolled at the University of Washington and began studying accounting, while continuing to pursue a career in music. In addition to playing with White, Kenny G recorded with the Seattle funk band Cold, Bold & Together. Later, he hooked up with Jeff Lorber Fusion, recording an album with the group and playing with them on tour.
In 1982, after inking a deal with Arista Records, Kenny G released his self-titled debut album. Striking a balance between jazz and R&B, the record was received well by critics.
His next two albums, G Force (1983) and Gravity (1985), continued his upward trajectory, but it was his fourth studio album, Duotones (1986) that made the saxophonist an international star. Selling more than 3 million copies, the silky-smooth jazz album led the way for Kenny G to work with other big-name stars, including Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Natalie Cole. During his long career, he’s also performed with Barbra Streisand, Burt Bacharach and Frank Sinatra.
Over the next decade Kenny G and his smooth sound dominated the airwaves and the record charts. His 1992 release, Breathless, sold more than 8 million copies in the United States alone and became the top-selling instrumental album in history. Two years later, Kenny G hit stores with his first holiday album, Miracles, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. In 1993 Kenny G was awarded a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for the single “Forever in Love.”
In addition to his recording success, Kenny G also holds the 1997 Guinness Book of World Records mark for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. At a performance at J&R Music World in New York City, he employed a method called circular breathing to hold an E-flat for 45 minutes and 47 seconds.
Despite his mammoth sales numbers, Kenny G’s easy sound has made him the target of critics, especially jazz purists, who dismiss the saxophonist for what they consider his lightweight, pop-driven sound.
While shrugging off the critics, Kenny G has also made efforts to take on different kinds of musical forms. In recent years, the saxophonist has recorded albums that have showed his appreciation for jazz standards (Classics in the Key of G, 1998), tropical sounds (Paradise, 2002), and Latin beats (Rhythm and Romance, 2008). In 2010, Kenny G teamed up with Robin Thicke and Babyface for the R&B–driven album Heart and Soul.
In addition to his music career, Kenny G is a passionate golfer and in 2006 was named by Golf Digest as the music industry’s No. 1 golfer.
Kenny G has been married and divorced twice. He has two sons, Max and Noah, with his second wife, Lyndie Benson-Gorelick, whom he divorced in 2012 after 20 years of marriage.
Kenny G lives in Los Angeles.