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What Instrument Does Kenny G Play?

There probably aren’t too many people who haven’t heard of Kenny G, especially in the musical fraternity. And that will become a very small number indeed if you are a saxophone player. But is it a sax he is playing? 

To some, it may not look like their vision of what a saxophone should look like. So, exactly what instrument does Kenny G play? We are going to take a look at that. But, before we do, let’s take a closer look at the man.

Born in Seattle

He was born Kenneth Bruce Gorelick in Seattle in 1956. It was seeing a saxophonist on the Ed Sullivan show when he was a teenager that inspired him to play.

The Start Of A Career in Music

His first major musical assignment was with Barry White at just 17 years of age. Of course, he was still at high school then and had designs on becoming an accountant. He studied at the University of Washington and soon after leaving began his career as a musician.

Eventually, he signed with Arista Records and had some modest success. But, it was his fourth album, Duotones, which brought him wider recognition. Popular in the US, it sold over five million copies.

The Long Breath

He has developed a breathing technique that allows him extraordinary long breaths. Meaning he doesn’t have to breathe and interrupt his sound like other people. It is referred to as the “Kenny G circular breathing technique.” 

It revolves around his ability to breathe in through his nose while exhaling through his mouth simultaneously.

Is It A Saxophone?

On first appearances, it looks like it could be a clarinet, albeit a rather large one. It is, however, a soprano saxophone. That is Kenny G’s main instrument. But, he also plays Alto and Tenor saxophones, as many do. And not only those but also Baritone and Bass sax as well.

Interestingly he revealed some information in an interview. The sax Kenny G uses and has used in all in shows is the same instrument he had at High School. 

It is the same instrument he records and even practices with. That bears out what a lot of musicians say, “You get one you like, then why change?”

What is Better?

He draws an interesting conclusion about instruments and their quality. His opinion is that he doesn’t need to try something or experiment with something new to find out if it is better. 

When you are using an instrument, you know if it feels comfortable and if it feels right. If it does and it produces what you want, there is no need to change it. In any case, as he rightly says, better is subjective. It is personal. What might be better for one isn’t for another.

Smooth Jazz

There are a lot of people that insist that the term smooth jazz started with him. I can’t say that I agree with that, and he doesn’t either.

Genres are given convenient names so that music can be pigeon-holed. The style of music called “smooth jazz” existed before Kenny G, and it will exist after him. It is a style, not necessarily a genre.

How He Plays His Music

It was just how he interpreted his music. That, in the eyes of some, requires you to give it a name because it was a little different. But, if we were to apply that to every musician who was a “little bit different,” we’d be in a mess.

Others came up with the name because he was a little different. But it’s not a genre, and it is odd to think that it is labeled that way. He is playing his jazz the way he wants to play it. And he is playing it very well. That is all it is, plain and simple. He probably would agree with that.

Influences

He developed his style, as all musicians do regardless of instrument, from listening to and being influenced by others. He had some serious influences in Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. 

The ‘Bird’ is probably the greatest sax player that ever lived. Rollins is not far behind, albeit with a slightly different approach and style.

Differing Styles and Regimes

Differing Styles and Regimes

Kenny’s style is a fusion of both. The Charlie Parker style was free-flowing and natural; it just came pouring out of him naturally. And then there was Sonny Rollins. He practiced frantically to keep up, and it became an obsession with him. 

He had his own regime and made his own excellence through hard work and dedication. Rollins’ hero was Parker, and little bits of him rubbed off. Kenny is no different, and he has inherited part of the style of both. It happens.

What Instrument Does Kenny G Play?

As I have already mentioned, he is playing the same sax that he has been for years. It is a Selmer Mark VI soprano saxophone. That particular instrument was first launched by Selmer in 1954 and immediately became popular amongst the jazz boys. 

It was produced until 1981, but by then, the quality of the instrument had taken a hit. They weren’t as good as the originals. But, if you can get an early one as Kenny has, it is a great sax.

His Brand

It is not uncommon for successful musicians in any field to have a branded version of what they play. There is a line of Kenny G saxophones that he has specially designed and built. He has a parent company that handles manufacturing, marketing, and distribution.

Needless to say, with anything like this, there are bound to be copies around. If you are considering buying one, check to see it is an original. Originals will be made in Taiwan, not China, where most of the copies seem to originate.

Here is a list of the instruments that are currently available. Although, you should check with their website for the availability of stock:

  • Lacquered Alto.
  • Gold Lacquered Tenor.
  • B-Flat Soprano.
  • Dark Lacquered Tenor.
  • EIII Lacquered Soprano.
  • ES-Series.
  • GIV Series.
  • Black and Silver Original Alto.
  • Concert Series.

The Concert Series is what you might refer to as the top of the range. They have been designed with silver-plated bodies and have gold lacquered keys.

Special Designs To Make Life Easier

They have all been designed with special key layouts that allow players to switch easily between Tenor, Alto, and soprano saxophones.

If you are interested in finding out a little more about his work and even learning some Kenny G sax solos, these might help:

Interested in the Saxophone?

We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Alto Saxophones, the Best Tenor Saxophones, the Best Soprano Saxophones, the Best Selmer Saxophones, the Best Yamaha Saxophones, and the Best Beginner Saxophones you can buy in 2023.

Also, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Tenor Sax Mouthpieces, the Best Saxophone Reeds for Jazz, the Best Saxophone Mouthpieces For Jazz, the Best Alto Sax Mouthpieces, and the Best Saxophone Neck Straps currently on the market.

What Instrument Does Kenny G Play?

So, when someone asks, “What kind of saxophone does Kenny G play?” you can give them the answer. He plays all of them, Tenor, Alto, Baritone, and Bass saxophones. But he is known for his Soprano sax playing, and that is a Selmer Mark VI soprano saxophone. 

Until next time, stay smooth, my friends.

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