Twenty years is a lifetime in the music industry. Many acts whither and die by their third album; even the Beatles lasted less than a decade. It’s all the more impressive, then, that Kenny G enters his third decade as a solo artist as a bona fide household name. He is the best-selling instrumentalist of all time, with over 70 million records sold, whose trademark sax sound is instantly identifiable.
After years spent honing his skills in his hometown of Seattle, Kenny Gorelick played his first professional gig at the ripe old age of 17 with Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra. Studying accountancy at the University of Washington by day, at night Kenny played with many of the headliners passing through Seattle, including Johnny Mathis, the Spinners and Liberace. He played with a local funk group — Cold, Bold & Together — before joining Jeff Lorber’s jazz-fusion band in 1979.
It was during his tenure with Lorber that then-Arista Records president Clive Davis first heard Kenny. In 1982, the label released Kenny G, his first album as a solo act, and soon Kenny, along with acts such as Grover Washington Jr. and Al Jarreau, was helping popularize the “smooth jazz” sounds that were revolutionizing the jazz radio industry. Platinum albums G-Force (1984) and Gravity (1985) followed, trumped by 1986’s five-million-selling Duotones.
It was with 1992’s Breathless, however, that Kenny truly began dominating the landscape. Selling 12 million copies in the U.S. and another 3 million internationally, Breathless remains the best-selling instrumental album of all time. Two years later, Miracles: The Holiday Album became the best-selling Christmas album ever with over 13 million copies sold.
Following several other multi-platinum smashes, Kenny has now released Paradise, possibly his most diverse album. Paradise was led by the Chante Moore-sung single “One More Time,” which became the most-added track on Adult Contemporary, NAC and Urban AC radio when released in August; the follow-up, a smoldering ballad featuring Brian McKnight entitled “All the Way,” seems likely to top that success.
Throughout the album, Kenny explores several of the genres he has mastered on past releases. The title track has a wistful, even melancholic feel, while “Brazil” and “Spanish Nights” offer some smooth Latin-tinged grooves. “Midnight Magic,” with such players as guitarist Phil Upchurch and keyboardist Greg Philliganes, is a solid funk groove, and the concluding “Peace” is, as its title suggests, a soothing, tranquil ending.
With a national tour planned for 2003 and a third holiday album, Wishes, in the works, Kenny G is positioning himself to remain at the musical forefront for some time. And as he’s already proven, time is very much on Kenny G’s side.