Saxophonist Kenny G rose to fame in the mid-1980s with his signature smooth jazz sound. He is the top-selling instrumental musician of the modern era.
Saxophonist Kenny G was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1956. He began playing professionally at age 17, when he performed with Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra. Kenny G released his debut album in 1982, and rose to international fame following the 1986 release of Duotones. Later albums, including Breathless and Miracles, helped make him one of the top-selling artists of all time. Kenny G also won a Grammy Award in 1994, and at one point held the world record for the longest sustained note on a sax.
Early Years and Career
Grammy Award–winning saxophonist Kenny G was born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick 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. He continued on with the instrument in his teens, while falling in love with the R&B sounds of popular groups like Earth Wind & Fire.
In 1973, at just 17 years old, Kenny G was hired by Barry White to play with his Love Unlimited Orchestra at the Paramount Northwest Theater in Seattle. The gig with White and his band was the first of several for the saxophonist, and it was around this time that he changed his name to Kenny G.
Following his graduation from Franklin High School, Kenny G followed two different career tracks: He enrolled at the University of Washington to study accounting, while also 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 marked a solid start to his solo career.
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. Eventually topping 5 million sales, 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 12 million copies in the United States alone and became the top-selling instrumental album in history. In 1994, Kenny G won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition for the track "Forever in Love." That year he also released his first holiday album, Miracles, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
In addition to his recording success, Kenny G set a Guinness World Record in 1997 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. Although his mark was surpassed in 2000 by Vann Burchfield, Kenny G was hopeful of reclaiming the record.
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. The saxophonist has recorded albums that have displayed his appreciation for jazz standards (Classics in the Key of G, 1999), tropical sounds (Paradise, 2002), and Latin beats (Rhythm and Romance, 2008). In 2010 he delivered the R&B–driven album Heart and Soul, with contributions from Robin Thicke and Babyface, and in 2015 he returned to Latin inspirations for Brazilian Nights.
In addition to his music career, Kenny G is a passionate golfer. In 2006, Golf Digest named him the music industry's No. 1 golfer.
Following 20 years of marriage to Lyndie Benson-Gorelick, with whom he had sons Max and Noah, Kenny G filed for divorce in 2012. Seemingly set to follow his dad into the music industry, Max has earned acclaim for his guitar skills.