It's been 30 years since Kenny G released his self-titled solo debut, 25 since his single "Songbird" hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and two decades since "Breathless" (Arista) went 12-times platinum. With sales of more than 75 million albums worldwide (according to Concord Jazz), Kenny G (born Kenneth Gorelick) has been nothing if not durable, but the saxophonist prefers to blow forward and not focus too much on past triumphs. Case in point: His latest release, "Namaste" (Concord Jazz), is a collaboration with Indian santoor virtuoso Rahul Sharma with remix-style production assistance from Kid Tricky. It debuted at No. 5 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.
Thirty years in, what kind of perspective do you have on your career?
You know what? I hadn't thought of it 'til you just mentioned it. I think it's cool that I'm still here, still making records, still playing gigs, still somewhat of a viable recording artist - I say that because of the way the music industry is, not because of me. Ultimately, I think it shows that I'm super-dedicated. I still practice three hours every day. I just really love my music and I love sharing and love the fact that if I work hard enough there's some other factors beside the music that will help make me more successful.
You've been one of the faces of smooth jazz. Is that an accurate name for what you do?
I've been around long enough to remember when that title came into existence. It doesn't bother me because it's just a way for people to know what they're getting, like going to a restaurant. If they say, "We serve Italian food," you may not like every Italian dish but it gives you a sense of what you'll get. But I don't walk around telling people I play anything in particular. I'm one of the only instrumentalists lucky enough to be played on popular radio. Some call it jazz. Some call it pop. But not that many people got that kind of exposure, so I'm just grateful.
You've endured despite a vocal group of haters, too. Has that been discouraging?
That's something I can't worry about. I just make the best music I can and try to stretch and grow every time I play. It's its own kind of thing, and a lot of people don't quite know what to do with it. A lot of people seem to like it, and they're the ones I'm ultimately playing for.
Those people may scratch their heads a bit when they hear Namaste, though.
[laughs] Yeah, that doesn't sound like anything I've ever done before. I couldn't play my normal runs and my normal scales that just come naturally to me - my style that I play. That doesn't really work with this music. I had to think of new notes and create new patterns. It sounds analytical, but it was all about feel, playing the notes that really worked. That was really challenging. I feel like I stretched myself as a creative person, and I think that's a good thing because you don't want to keep repeating yourself.
What other ambitions do you have for your future recordings?
My next record could be classical. I've always wanted to do some classical music and write music that sounds like a Beethoven song you've heard forever but is an original song with me playing. So I'm thinking about that. And I'd like to compose some songs that real specifically sound like the old '50s and '60s jazz standards, but are my compositions. I'm thinking about that, too.
You did quite a bit with Whitney Houston early in both of your careers, especially live. What were your thoughts when she died?
Just like everybody else, really sad. Was I super-surprised something like that happened? Not really. I knew she was having trouble. Anytime you know someone who's having to deal with problems of drugs and that kind of lifestyle and all that stuff she was dealing with, you know something is pending. It's just terrible when it winds up the way it did.