Some people are not fans of saxophone and jazz icon Kenny G, and one of his most vocal detractors was Pat Metheny, another jazz icon, whose harsh takedown became one of the most widely read pieces of jazz criticism ever. That exchange is a big moment in director Penny Lane’s latest documentary, “Listening to Kenny G.”
Back in 2000, Metheny famously called out Kenny G for playing out of tune and not knowing advanced scales. But what he really took great exception to was Kenny’s sharing the stage in a “duet” with one of the all-time jazz greats, Louis Armstrong, by overdubbing Armstrong’s icon recording of “What a Wonderful World.”
Speaking with TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman in a video interview at the Toronto International Film festival, Kenny G said he thought it was a joke when he first read Metheny’s critique, and he even tried to extend the olive branch to the jazz guitarist.
“When I first read it I thought, I thought it was a joke. Oh, this has gotta be a joke. And then I had my manager talk to his manager, and they go, ‘No that was real.’ Wow! ‘Can I have his email address?’” he asked. “I wrote him something directly and said, ‘Hey man, why are you so angry? Do you want to get together for lunch and talk about it?’”
Lane was fascinated about making a movie about people who don’t like someone else’s art, and she guessed correctly that Kenny had a sense of humor and would not be “so sensitive” to talk about it.
“I thought that whole episode said a lot more about the people who flipped out than it did about Kenny or anything about his music,” Lane said about Metheny’s screed. “I thought it was really funny. Who would be so angry? It’s one thing to say I don’t like that song, I don’t think he should’ve done that but to write a 10,000-word rant?”
But “Listening to Kenny G” doesn’t just stop at Metheny’s criticism but looks at how fans and critics have lambasted his music for decades, even as he’s continued to sell millions of records. And even for how personal some of the attacks have gotten, Kenny is still playing.
“I’m full of confidence and good reps of doing things that are great, and plus I like the way that I play,” he said. “Unfortunately, most people in the world, our whole identity of ourselves are based on what other people think of us and most people are narcissists anyway. We all think about ourselves. So if you’re waiting for somebody else to give you your view of yourself and they’re telling you what they think of you, you’re doomed to be miserable. I know who I am, I know what I do.”
“Listening to Kenny G” is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival and will air on HBO as part of the music documentary series “Music Box.” Watch the full interview above.