Blown away

Updated: 2012-05-18 11:11

By Xu Jingxi (China Daily)

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Blown away

Kenny G's China tour appeals to middle-aged nostalgia and youthful curiosity, and shows some things never change. Xu Jingxi reports in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

There were no flashing lights, smoke, bubbles or other special effects as Kenny G strode down the aisle, bowed to fans and demonstrated his ability to play the longest single sax note in the world - lasting about five minutes at the Shenzhen show, compared to the 45 minutes and 47 seconds that won him a Guinness World Records award.

Honestly, the siren-like blare wasn't exactly pleasant on the ears. But he mixed the sonic monotony by waving to, and shaking hands with audience members, with his free hand.

It was the same way he started his Shanghai concert four years ago.

Most people at this year's tour, from May 11-13, were in their 30s and 40s, and fell head-over-heels when they first saw the US musician.

"I fell in love with the bright and resounding tone of the soprano saxophone the first time I heard Kenny G play in 1996," 30-year-old Li Renjie, who attended his Shenzhen show on Sunday, says.

Going Home was the first Kenny G song Li heard. It's perhaps the saxophonist's most popular song in China and is often played in public places, such as schools and shopping malls.

"I even spent several thousand yuan to buy a soprano saxophone when I was in college and dreamed I could someday also play romantic melodies like Kenny G onstage," Li recalls.

Li became a businessman and is too busy to play the sax. But he relishes the memories of his youthful dreams.

Kenny G doesn't need to change to appeal to Chinese fans. They want more of the same - the same as what they fell in love with years ago, including Kenny G's curly long hairstyle.

Kenny G emphasizes his music is "romantic" in an exclusive interview with China Daily before his Shenzhen concert.

Chinese audience members at the show closed their eyes and opened their ears. There was no whistling. Nobody did the wave. Many reclined in their seats and put their feet up.

The most crowd action came from those who bobbed their heads and swayed while sitting.

I must admit, that's what I did.

I consider Kenny G romantic because he's happy and free onstage. His performances are unconstrained, and feature free movements and a great deal of improvisation. His cheerfulness is infectious, indeed.

The ability to translate any pop song into smooth sax jazz is what has made Kenny G the world's best-selling instrumentalist.

I hadn't been excited when I saw Moonlight Represents My Heart and My Heart Will Go On on the concert's set list. But these otherwise tired classics were given new vitality by Kenny G's adlibs.

That ability to reinterpret pop into sax jazz has popularized the instrument and holds potential for winning younger Kenny G fans.

Kuang Renji, 11, has been studying sax for a year.

He danced for joy after Kenny G gave the boy an autograph at the album signing following the Guangzhou show.

Kuang had been growing bored with the tedious basic exercises but rekindled his passion after Kenny G's live performance of My Heart Will Go On.

"Kenny G charms different generations," the boy's father, Kuang Weiwen, says.

He has been a fan since he attended Kenny G's concert in the US 24 years ago.

"His love of his career and family has inspired middle-aged people like me for years," the 46-year-old businessman says.

"And his kindness to the audience, especially the young kids, has promoted saxophone music worldwide."

The saxophone is no longer a novelty in China, like it was in the 1990s.

But when I heard people playing Kenny G in their cars on their way home after the concert and saw kids enjoyed the concert as much as their parents, I came to believe the 56-year-old saxophonist is - and will continue to be - popular in China.

Q+A | Kenny G

More from Kenny G's exclusive interview with China Daily before his Shenzhen concert on May 13.

Q: It's been 10 years since your debut concert in China. How do you find Chinese audiences?

A: I think I have been coming to China at least once a year. Lots of the people coming to my concerts in China are young people, while the audience for my concerts back in the US is older. It's nice that both older generations and younger generations here in China love my music.

You are successful in recomposing Chinese songs, including Jasmine Flower and Moonlight Represents My Heart. Do you have any plans to reinterpret other Chinese songs?

I do want to do my versions of more Chinese songs. They don't have many notes, and that makes the music pure. It goes well with my musical style.

Making my saxophone version of Chinese songs will be easy and enjoyable. And it will be a good idea to make an album of exclusively Chinese songs. But I need to listen to more Chinese songs and pick the really famous ones.

You cooperated with an Indian artist and released an album last year in which you mixed saxophone music and music played by a traditional Indian string instrument called the santoor. Do you know any traditional Chinese instruments?

I'm interested in a traditional Chinese musical instrument, which looks like a guitar with two strings. (He may be referring to the erhu.) I want to learn more about Chinese folk arts and do an album on that.

In fact, I want to try to combine saxophone music with folk music from all kinds of cultures around the world. It will be interesting.

What type of songs will you choose to reinterpret to make a saxophone version?

The song should be melodic and really famous. I will make my version of the famous song. It can be a song from any culture in the world, and I will play it with saxophone. That's why the saxophone is the best musical instrument in the world.

You are the holder of the Guinness World Records for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. It's 45 minutes and 47 seconds. Are you still able to play such a long note? Are you going to break your own record?

Definitely, yes I can. I have an idea of breaking the record again. And I'm waiting for the opportunity.

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