I have a distinct memory, from childhood, of hearing Kenny G’s Songbird in an electronics shop. I must have been about 10 years old, but that song seemed to be everywhere. You simply couldn’t escape it. While jazz might be cool now, it certainly wasn’t back in the 1980s. Not that anyone within that community wanted anything to do with the Seattle native. Or the vast majority of self-aware music fans, for that matter.
“Kenny G is the best-selling instrumentalist of all time. He’s probably the most famous living jazz musician. And I made this film to find out why that makes certain people really angry”. This is the (slightly apologetic) statement director Penny Lane (Hail Satan?, Nuts!) gives at the beginning of her new film, Listening to Kenny G. This is the starting point for what is a fascinating, fresh and highly entertaining portrait of the much-maligned musician.
Biographical films are largely either gushing tributes or hatchet jobs. To approach Listening to Kenny G in a standard linear way, would have been interminable. However, Penny Lane’s decision to approach her subject in such an unusual way bears fruit. Indeed, it’s an inspired decision and one which demonstrates why she’s one of the most exciting American documentary filmmakers working today. Leave your prejudice at the door. Listening to Kenny G is an absolute joy.
Listening to Kenny G screens at Toronto International Film Festival.