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Kenny G talks new HBO documentary 'Listening to Kenny G'

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Kenny G talks to Yahoo Entertainment about his new HBO documentary Listening to Kenny G.

Video Transcript

- How are you feeling?

KENNY G: Underappreciated in general.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I learned a lot of things from the film, but I guess I'll just dive in because there's one burning question that needed to be asked. Penny Lane, right in the cold open in the film, she says that your success in music pisses a lot of people off, that people get angry about it. And she kind of wanted to explore why on earth that was the case. Do you think this film-- not to do the spoiler alert, but do you think the film answered that question?

KENNY G: Oh, I think it answers it all, like, many times. There's a lot of-- there's a lot of critics in the movie that voice their opinion, and it's not things that I haven't heard for the last 40 years. So for me--

LYNDSEY PARKER: Of course.

KENNY G: --when she warned me about it, when she showed me for the first copy, she goes, I've got to warn you about the first 15 minutes of the film. And it was very kind of her to do that. But when I saw it, I went, Penny, you don't have to warn me. I've seen this and heard this for decades and it hasn't-- hasn't changed my opinion about anything yet.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Basically, you seem very self-deprecating in the film. You seem very at peace and cool with your place in pop culture history as I speak to you now. I imagine there must have been at least some moment in your career when even though you were having a lot of commercial success that the critical acclaim was evading you, that at least maybe early on that kind of hurt your feelings.

KENNY G: No, not with me. Nope.

[LAUGHING]

LYNDSEY PARKER: What's your secret? What is your secret for this, like, rosy outlook and, like, Teflon coating you've got going on?

KENNY G: Well, it's-- the secret, there's a lot of reps of all the good stuff. A lot of reps makes you strong, you know? I got lots of reps of people telling me how good I am.

And not just people, but people like Miles Davis and George Benson and Stan Getz. And these are legitimate Jazz people. And so I got lots of reps with that. I got lots of reps with me playing in clubs where people are reacting to my music.

I got reps of standing ovations. I got reps of playing with Liberace and Sammy Davis Jr. and yeah. It got pretty strong. And that way when somebody says, hey, I don't really like what you're doing, I'm going, and? Why-- why would I even care?

LYNDSEY PARKER: True story.

KENNY G: Why would I even-- is that supposed to change anything that I'm doing? The big rep is inside. I know that I'm doing what I love, doing it the way that I-- I have an instinct about the way I want to play my saxophone. So when I do it the way that I want to, and I release an album and it's the music that I want to release, it's like, this is beautiful.

Oh, I don't like that song. OK, well, I still think it's absolutely great. Beautiful.

LYNDSEY PARKER: You brought up Miles Davis. I don't even think this is in the film. There's a photo of you and Miles Davis together. You look happy, and he looks just kind of like very hostile or intense in this photo.

KENNY G: Yeah.

LYNDSEY PARKER: And it gets circulated-- I actually saw it just the other day. People just love to send this around or post it as some kind of evidence that he's, like, not a fan of yours.

KENNY G: Ah.

LYNDSEY PARKER: But, you know, like-- like it's a moment where he's glaring at you.

KENNY G: Yeah.

LYNDSEY PARKER: But I would love to hear the true story behind that photo, because apparently he was a fan.

KENNY G: That photo was taken backstage at Lincoln Center when I was his opening act for some concerts that we did, not only there but other places. So I was his opening act. That picture happened when, in between two shows, he sticks his head into my room and he goes, hey, you play that song, that song "Songbird." It's good.

[MUSIC - "SONGBIRD"]

I go thanks, Miles. Can we do a picture together? And then somebody was there and that was the picture. So that's just the way Miles looked at me.

He wasn't looking at me like he was mad, because he had just given me a compliment about how he liked what I was doing. So there's-- there's the whole thing. So when people show that picture, I remember that picture because that's when Miles actually said to me, I like what you are doing. Wow. There's a great stamp of approval right there.

LYNDSEY PARKER: You don't even know how happy I am to have gotten this story. I get this-- I have the definitive story, because a meme or photo out of context or whatever can-- you know, people-- I'm so happy I have the true story. I cannot wait to run with this. This is awesome.

KENNY G: Run-- run as fast as you can with it.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I mean, I just-- you know, I literally just got it, saw it on Facebook, like, two days ago. So, like, here I'm going to shut everybody down.

KENNY G: Well, I'm the one that provided that picture because it came from me. I mean, I'm the only one that had that picture. I'm the one to put that out into the-- into the world.

So I'm proud of that picture, because, you know, yeah. If you look at it without the context, it does look like he's glaring at me. But I think Miles just-- I think he just glares.

LYNDSEY PARKER: He had resting glare face.

KENNY G: I think he had resting glare face, at least when he was-- his eyes were open and looking up at you. I think that's just his resting glare face. Because he was not unhappy to take the picture. He was cool.

He's the one that came into my room. I didn't-- I didn't want to bother Miles Davis, you know? I'm just glad that I was his opening act. So I just kind of mind my own business and doing my thing and play my set, and he's the one that came and found me so awesome.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I need to ask one last follow up question about how that came about and how his audience responded to you. You were like-- it looks like in the photo, it was a long time ago. You were probably new, up and coming in the business.

KENNY G: I don't know how it came about, to be honest with you. Somehow it did. Obviously, I'm sure Miles had to sign off on it, because it was his gig.

The audience, they always respond to when we do our thing. People seem to enjoy it, so yeah. I mean, it wasn't like his audience was not responsive and just waiting for him.

LYNDSEY PARKER: As you mentioned, the first 15 minutes of the film are kind of laying down the premise that you've gotten a lot of flak over your career, and they do have a lot of like Jazz historians or scholars or critics who aren't being super kind. But then as the film-- plot twist-- as the film continues, you start to see them, maybe not everyone but certainly some of the talking heads in the film kind of come around.

KENNY G: Yeah.

LYNDSEY PARKER: They start to dissect it, almost like they're doing a thesis or class on you, and start to sort of see the appeal almost in real time. You're seeing the wheels in their brain. Like, tell me about-- you know, that must have felt, you know, maybe you don't lose any sleep over this kind of stuff, but, like, that must have felt good. That must have felt vindicating.

KENNY G: It did feel good. It felt good. It also brought a smile to my face and-- and the audience also laughed when they start to actually put out a few compliments, knowing how strongly they felt before in the earlier part of the movie.

So yeah, it was nice. It was-- I was happy for them because I felt-- I felt like, oh, they're going to-- maybe their lives will get a little bit better if they can embrace my music. It's going to make them happier, I'm sure.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I hate to harp on it so much, but it is such a big part of the film. In that first-- it's probably in the first 15 minutes, they're doing kind of a loop of things in pop culture where you've been made fun of, like "Family Guy," "South Park," and the late great Norm MacDonald.

KENNY G: It made me laugh. I love it when he says it's great if you love crap.

NORM MACDONALD: Hey, happy birthday, Jesus. Hope you like crap.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Obviously, you have a great sense of humor about this stuff. You know, it doesn't bother you. Are there any kind of like send ups, lampoons of you in pop culture besides the "Saturday Night Live" one that you actually really enjoy, that makes you laugh.

KENNY G: The "South Park" was wonderful. I love the "South Park." You know, I think I-- what did I make the-- I play a note that makes the world crap their pants or something?

[LAUGHING]

That was-- I'm so flattered that I'm on the radar of-- of "South Park." I mean, I'm like a hero to my kids. Dad, man, you were featured on "South Park." That's, like, awesome. So great. I thought that was so funny.

LYNDSEY PARKER: In the three part or whatever story arc of this film, you know, it begins with all of setting up the fact that, you know, you've had all this derision. And then it kind of, like-- there's that turn around and then it ends with this Renaissance you're having. Do you think, like, your time has come? Is the Kenny G Renaissance fully afoot?

KENNY G: I am feeling that right now. I'm loving it. I think it's great. If you were around long enough, I always think this. Quality is always going to rise to the top.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Perhaps this record will be better received than it would have been had you released it 10 or 20 years ago. Perhaps this is the moment where people will kind of get it.

KENNY G: I'm thinking you're right about that. I feel this is always-- this is gonna be the right time. Yeah, everything feels good with the HBO special coming out in December, record coming out in December.

It just feels great to me. It feels like-- yeah, it feels like I'm kind of back, doing what I was doing, you know, 30 years ago, and here we go. Let's go-- let's go again. I'm ready. I've got the energy.

[MUSIC PLAYING]