June 14, 2000
7:47 AM   Subscribe

Pat Methany accuses Kenny G of "lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing." And more! One of the best rants I have ever read.
posted by glish (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Concur. Stolen for my log; thanks.
posted by baylink at 8:04 AM on June 14, 2000

Got a hard time disagreeing with the man. I may not listen much to Jazz, but you don't piss all over someone else's work.
posted by Ezrael at 8:06 AM on June 14, 2000

Stolen for my log too. I'm sure someone will dislike that, but I don't mind being the Kenny G of weblogs. What I don't understand is how Kenny G makes any money at all. Who buys his stuff? Who listens to him?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:47 AM on June 14, 2000

What is Jazz? Is it really only about being a "simply better improvising musicians" as Pat Methany suggests? To me it has always been a question of style and attitude. The french deep 'ouse act St. Germain, now on Blue Note Records, has much more of this than Pat Methany or Kenny G.
posted by arf at 8:56 AM on June 14, 2000

This book provides a good account of the Kenny G phenomenon, alongside related cultural travesties.
posted by holgate at 9:19 AM on June 14, 2000

arf, it's not just about style and attitude. that's a big part of the jazz *scene*, but jazz-the-music is something different. it has a distinct history, a very simple set of basic rules (mostly, it's about improvisation, but there are also some -- often broken -- rules about beats that get emphasis. 2 and 4 instead of 1 and 3. i'm simplifying here, but you'll have to forgive me.) and it has a long history of great musicians raising the bar.

and you're missing metheny's point, anyway. he's not even really trying to define what jazz is. he's just saying that maybe we should think of Kenny G as a jazz musician (which is a new idea, because most people are just pissed that he'd be considered "jazz" at all), and thus judge him against all of the other great jazz musicians out there.

he's right. if you compare him to John Coltrane, Kenny G is worse than laughable. he's horrifyingly inept.
posted by jeremy at 10:31 AM on June 14, 2000

Personally, I'm looking for an opportunity to 'collaborate' with Thomas Pynchon by spraying my erudite text all over something he's written, then releasing it as if he and I wrote it together.What's that you say? Pynchon isn't dead? Okay, T.S. Eliot then...
posted by jsapn at 11:45 AM on June 14, 2000

I am a big fan of Pat Metheny, and I have literally never heard of Kenny G.

But I do have certain attitudes about past accomplishments in any art form. If anyone ever "colorizes" Casablanca expect to see me picketing. (And indeed, this is the line the colorizers have never crossed.)

Metheny is right: no-one, NO-ONE, has the right to dig through the musical graveyards of the past, to resurrect old recordings, and to augment them for crass commercial purposes. Those old pieces stand on their own.

Perhaps they are great, perhaps they are total trash. But they are completed and it is the height of arrogance for anyone modern to go back and take such and add to it. The original performer produced what they wanted for that recording, and we must honor that decision irrespective of whether we actually honor the particular piece.

I think it doesn't matter whether Kenny G is third rate or the best sax player who ever lived. The act of augmenting a recording by Louis Armstrong is arrogance of the highest order, and I fully agree with Pat's characterizaton of it as "hallowed ground". If there is anyone approaching being a saint in Jazz, it's Louis Armstrong. (With Benny Goodman being a close second. Irrespective of his formidable musical talent, Goodman would deserve to be considered a saint simply because he broke the color barrier when he performed with Lionel Hampton at Carnegie Hall. It was the first performance there in history by a racially mixed group. But Benny Goodman didn't care what you looked like, he only cared what you played like, and Lionel Hampton was great performer. As strange as it may seem, I'm not even sure that Goodman even realized that he was breaking the color barrier; he didn't think in those terms. He just wanted to make music. But I digress...)

An artist who creates anything is entitled to know that future generations will not come back and edit his performance -- no matter why.

Doing new performances from existing scores, perhaps even with substantial rewrites, is a different matter. That's artistic interpretation. But the actual original performance is a completed work, and the artist is entitled to know that it will not be changed.

To do what Kenny G apparently did to Armstrong is not "interpretation", it's vandalism. It's the musical equivalent of a spray paint can in an art museum.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:59 AM on June 14, 2000

Just an addition to my previous comment: I don't like that musician's approach to judge other musicians. There are other criterions for music than, say, improvising only pentatonically. If you measure it by these technical standarts, Nirvana was just bad music. Okay, Nirvana isn't Jazz, but I guess you get my point.
posted by arf at 3:49 PM on June 14, 2000

Mr. Den Beste, although I agree that G's work is less than stellar and think that he should have left Satchmo alone, creating a derivative work is certainly within the rights of any artist. Am I not allowed to make collages of pictures taken from art history books? Am I not allowed to make a movie like "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"? Of course I am. I heard a piece of music that consisted of a couple of very drunk young men yelling the lyrics to "Love is a Battlefield" in synch with Pat Benetar. Were they within their rights? Of course. Were they making art? Yes. Good art? Well...probably not, although it was entertaining and creative.

Kenny G should've thought better of doing it, but that's his choice. I've seen him once and my opinion was, "Dull. Knows two things: playing one scale and circular breathing. Big deal." But that's my opinion, and my choice is not to purchase his music.
posted by plinth at 6:41 PM on June 14, 2000

This is, unfortunately, a slippery slope. There's no easy line which can be drawn between what amounts to creating new works by utilizing pieces of old ones, and the musical vandalism performed by Kenny G.

Perhaps the qualitative difference is in the motive. When someone makes a collage of older works, they are not doing so in hopes that people will come to see the collage because of the opportunity of seeing the pieces of earlier works. The person making that collage (whether in painting or in film, for "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" was effectively a collage) is attempting to create something new, something which itself is art and which stands (or falls) on its own merits, and which indeed has merits beyond those of its components. The motivation is still to create something new.

What Kenny G did, though, was different. The goal was not to create something new which happened to contain something old, it was to get people to buy the record because it included Louis Armstrong (oh, and just in passing also contained a small and unimportant contribution by Kenny G).

That's not art. That's exploitation and, as I said, it's vandalism.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:52 PM on June 14, 2000

More: Let's take an extreme case. When most people think of "Pictures at an Exhibition", they think of the orchestral piece. A surprising number of people think that this is the only version which exists. But Mussorgsky's original version was for piano. Ravel, possibly the finest orchestrator who ever lived, saw within that piano score much possibility within the orchestral sphere, much potential to make the experience more intense while remaining totally true to the original composer's intent.

I have heard both versions. Ravel's interpretation of the original is true; Ravel did not actually try to change the original, either substantively or in terms of impact. His purpose was to make a more effective and intense version of the original, but without changing the original in any important way. AND WHEN IT IS PERFORMED, MUSSORGSKY GETS FIRST BILLING. And thus should it be, for it is Mussorgsky's composition, not Ravel's.

I consider Ravel's orchestral version to be a masterpiece. And I also know that Ravel did not think of his effort as a way of ripping off the original. He never had the motivation of stealing anything, only of trying to find within the original something more (as indeed he did). It is a superb adaptation, but that is all Ravel thought that it was. Ravel always considered it to be Mussorgsky's piece of music.

Much of how these kinds of adaptations should be judged is in the motivation of the performer as much as in the actual merits of the result.

The difficulty with this case is that apparently Kenny G truly was doing this for crass commercial reasons; simply as a way of exploiting the name of Louis Armstrong to sell more records. This compares unfavorably to Ravel's more proper attitude.

In the case of "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", it took a lot of small cuts from a lot of movies and created something which bore little resemblance to any of them. That is certainly not the case with this Kenny G recording, which contains Armstrong's original in its entirety, and is billed as such.

But the key question would be this one: On the orchestral version of "Pictures at an Exhibition", Mussorgsky always gets first billing. Who got first billing on the Kenny G recording?

posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:16 PM on June 14, 2000 [1 favorite]

Kenny G got top billing. It was his album.

Having at one time dabbled in audio collages, and being a fan of the genre, I question the idea of calling such works "vandalism." One of the many reasons why copyright laws bug me, is because everything concieved of by Man should have the right to be exploited to the fullest degree by the generations which follow.

The very concept of an assembly line system to mass produce products was originally done with guns, if my memory serves. It's possible the guy who did that stole the idea from someone even more lost in the obscurity of history. But what if that guy could "patent" the idea of an assembly line back then? Henry Ford wouldn't have been able to mass produce the Model T. We would not have mass production of pretty much everything today. At least unless you paid a hefty royalty to whoever invented the idea in the first place.

Many believe that good art is sacred, and that it shouldn't be tainted by the efforts of others in the future. I believe the opposite. When Natalie Cole sang digitally with her deceased father, she was making a personal and artistic statement. She did it out of love and respect for her father (and yeah she also did it to make a shitload of money). Now whether or not you personally agree with her statement, or liked her art, she should have the right to express herself.

And the efforts made by people in the past should be allowed as material for others to build upon. It's how society improves upon itself.

Kenny G thoughtlessly and selfishly stood on the shoulder of a giant, and he will be remembered and despised for what he has done, but he had a right to make his statement, even if the message he thought he was conveying has been lost because of his choice in material. Maybe next time he'll think it through more clearly, and grow as an artist because of it. Lord knows he needs to grow, cuz all his crap sounds the same.

But we all stand on the shoulders of giants. The PC sitting before you was designed over decades of trial and error, to reach the state of the art piece of shit now sitting before you. The keyboard's design was originally for the classic typewriter. The modem is based on technology originally invented by Alexander Graham Bell. The electricity is courtesy of Edison. The monitor is based on technology dated back around world war two, when television was in its infancy.

What if for some reason they weren't allowed to take the idea of a color monitor tube, originally designed for television, and hook it up to a processor? We scavenge the past to invent the future. As if everything ever made was a graveyard and we're constantly digging up the bones and building new bodies with them.

I agree that Kenny G doesn't have the artistic talent to play with Armstrong, but I bet if the man were still alive he'd sit in with Kenny G, cuz that's the kinda guy he was. He didn't brand people or judge them. Louis Armstrong just loved making music. And Kenny G would have risen to the challenge or fallen on his butt, but Armstrong wouldn't have had the problem with it that we have.

Why? Cuz it's the music that matters. It's creating that matters. Who invented the idea of playing the scales on an instrument? That's how most all musicians learn, by playing the scales. We all build off the efforts and ideas concieved of by those who came before us, and we learn from that and perfect the past to invent our future.

And that should not be obstructed. For any reason.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:44 PM on June 14, 2000

So 90% of the material in that recording (and 99% of the quality) came from Louis Armstrong, but Kenny G got top billing.

I need hear no more; that defines plagiarism.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:53 PM on June 14, 2000

I used to play poker with a Japanese guy from Seattle. He claimed that his brother had once sold Kenny G a stolen sax out of the trunk of his car. I dunno if it's true, but hey, it's about all I can add to this thread. Pat M. pretty much says it all.
posted by schampeo at 3:58 PM on June 15, 2000


The rights owners to the original recording authorized the remix, or it wouldn't have happened -- this wasn't just a cover, which compulsory licensing would have handled; this actually used the original masters. So, anyone who would have gotten money from a release of the Satchmo track got some anyway. More, in fact, because the recording probably sold better. That's point one.

Point two is that Gorelick *did not* change the old recording at all. It's still there. You can still go buy it. It sounds just like it did. In fact, if his record company financed any cleanup, the next release of the original you can buy might even sound *better*.

And make no mistake about it: there *will* be a "next release of the original". You heard it here first.

Third: maybe just possibly you think there are some people out there who didn't *see* "Good Morning, Vietnam!"? Satch got good exposure from this -- *in the terms of the people who heard it*. Yeah, it wasn't Jazz. But it wasn't *for us*.

And all y'all who think it was crappy musicianship can go to hell. It wasn't necessarily *jazz*, no. I've spent my last 4 years volunteering at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday; I got to see Tito, and The Count Basie Orchestra, and Stephane Grapelli, and half a dozen other *real* jazz players. But it wasn't necessarily bad *music*, if you're not being elitist about it.

If you evaluate Kenny G by traditional jazz standards, yes, he's not going to make it.

But, keerist: there are *at least* 8 different musical styles we call "jazz" these days, the most commercially sustainable of which is currently referred to as "Smooth Jazz" or "Quiet Storm" (depending on whom you ask) and, while I like my jazz a bit rougher, these styles descended from Fusion, which most jazz people will tolerate these days as "real jazz"... and they're not *that* far away, are they?

(Bring your music theory diploma if you really wanna argue that one... and a spare for me, ok? ;-)
posted by baylink at 5:08 PM on June 15, 2000

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