Q&A: Kenny G on Wayne’s World, Weezer, and Barack Obama

"I’m a sax player that’s trying to become a better sax player."

Before Kenneth Gorelick started selling records by the millions, he was just another kid at Franklin High School, playing his first professional gig alongside Barry White at the Paramount. He returns Tuesday for a homecoming gig at that theater. The man who has moved more than 48 million records–one of the most satirized men in pop culture–gave us a call from Puerto Rico before a gig. For 25 minutes we talked about Rod Stewart, The Crumpet Shop, and why L.A. is the worst city in the world for dropped calls.

SW: Are you on an iPhone?

Kenny G: Blackberry. I’m checking it out, but at this point I’m still on the Blackberry.

Do you have an iPod?

No. I never was a guy who listed to a bunch of music. If I’m listening to something, it’s going to be very specific.

That’s kind of surprising. You’d think, musician, probably listening to tons of music.

I like to have a break from music when I’m not playing it. For me, it just keeps my music very unique, because I’m not doing a lot of listening. When I create a piece of music, it’s going to be very unique to me. That’s what makes me feel like I’m being creative.

What are you working on? Any covers?

At this point, I’m not interested in doing a bunch of cover tunes. It’s just so old. I’m just getting tired of it. Can’t anybody write any music anymore?

What about Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”? Ever cover that?

That’s not my style. That particular solo is so identifiable. It’s a certain song on an alto sax. I’m not saying I never will, it’s just not something that’s gotten me excited at this point.

Anything you make a point of doing when you come back to Seattle?

The Crumpet Shop. That’s where I go. It’s such a unique concept. I’ve never had anything better in terms of that kind of food. If it could be repeated and franchised . . .

You were an early Starbucks investor. Ever talk to Crumpet Shop about expanding?

No. I’ve never mentioned it. I’ve got no kind of talent in that business. I was glad to be part of the Starbucks original investors, but I certainly wasn’t asked for any advice for how to expand. I know what I’m doing in the music end of things.

How did you end up sitting in with Weezer on their AOL Session?

They called me. The lead singer or somebody in the band likes my music. That kind of stuff is the way of reinventing your brand, if you will. That’s the kind of stuff that you have to do. I’m actually getting together with Dre & Vidal, they’re these young black producers who have been working with Alicia Keys. We’re going to see if we can’t come up with a piece of music that sounds great for my instrumentalist.

Did the Weezer session make you want to do a record with the band?

Just waiting for the cameras to roll, the guitar player was playing something and I played along, and we both looked at each other and thought, “That could be a nice little thing.” They mentioned in an email following up that they may want to record that thing. So, we’ll see. They couldn’t have been nicer to me. I felt like I was one of the guys.

You’re a polarizing figure in pop culture and sometimes the butt of jokes. That hard to deal with?

It’s just comes with the territory. Barack Obama’s the butt of jokes. You gotta have a thick skin over it. Certainly when you read something, it shouldn’t change your mind about yourself. It’s cool, I always take it with a side of humor. I thought the Wayne’s World thing was funny.

Any artist you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?

It’s one of those things where everything’s kind of open. I would have never thought Weezer was a choice. That turned out to be amazing. It just kind of changed my mind about everything. Almost everything in my mind is doable.

What’s your answer when someone asks you what genre of music you play?

(Laughs) That’s a loaded question. If somebody’s asking me, they need an answer. The term is smooth jazz. Do I label myself as a smooth jazz musician? Of course not. I’m a sax player that’s trying to become a better sax player.

Do you still practice three hours a day?

I didn’t practice three hours today. I’m in a hotel. It’s tough to practice. I’ll go to the soundcheck a little early. When I’m home, two and a half hours is usually the average. It’s not songwriting time, it’s just sheer technique on the saxophone. You just need time with a horn in your mouth. There’s just no substitute for it. That way when I stand on the stage, I’m in my best shape and I’m going to play well. It could be a little bit of an addiction. At least it’s not drugs.

Anything else you want to add?

You think that my concert’s gonna be real dreamy and romantic and slow. We’re going to give you plenty of that, but our live show is very, very energetic. It’s funny, it’s fun, it’s full of surprises. They’re going to laugh hard, I promise.