Won't Kenny G Die Already!
Every genre of music has its own pariah: rock music has Nickleback, for instance. In the world of rap, it's 6ix9ine that draws the ire of the real hip-hop heads.
You know what we're talking about: artists that despite their millions of views and streams, significant record sales (by today's standards anyway), and sold out concerts no one will admit to being a fan, and they are despised by the critics and the die-hard music nerds.
So what about Jazz music? People who love Jazz really, really love Jazz and as much as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, and other great players are universally revered, Kenny G is universally panned as being a complete hack and an insult to the art of musical improvisation. Simply put, Kenny G is the Nickleback of jazz.
Is Kenny G Hated Because He Plays Smooth Jazz?
But maybe it's not his fault necessarily; maybe Kenny G is hated not because of his soprano sax playing or because of his signature poodle hat haircut, but because he plays what's known as smooth jazz. This is the most commercially motivated form of jazz, and it has strong elements of pop, funk, and R&B. Smooth jazz is the stuff of comedy (think of Will Ferrell's jazz flute playing character Ron Burgundy in the movie Anchorman) and it even borders on Muzak territory. Some of the earliest Smooth Jazz records were recorded in the late 60’s by guitar great Wes Montgomery during what's commonly referred to as his ‘AM Radio’ period. These records saw Montgomery do instrumental covers of Lennon & McCartney tunes and other 1960’s pop hits. Montgomery played the vocal melody on his guitar, which was set against lush orchestral arrangements. It was an obvious attempt at appealing to a wider audience, and it worked, with many of the numbers from Wes Montgomery's AM era soft jazz albums still receiving lots of radio play.
But then again, Montgomery was also a well-respected player and his earlier albums were pure bebop (arguably the purest form of Jazz). Also, during his AM years, Montgomery still toured with his trio, playing bebop in small clubs and so forth. He's even respected by jazz aficionados, such as George Benson, David Sanborn, Gerald Albright and many others whose body of musical work routinely gets categorized as being Smooth Jazz. So, it's not that people loathe Kenny Gorelick (that's Kenny G's real name) because he plays smooth jazz. There must be other finger-pointing reasons as to why.
The Pat Metheny Letter
Undoubtedly, the most scathing rebuke of Kenny G was that which came in the form of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's open letter published online at the beginning of the new millennium. We urge you to read the whole thing as it truly is very, very entertaining.
Basically, to say that Metheny doesn't think very highly of Kenny G would be an understatement. Metheny abhors Kenny G, and in the letter, he claims that Señor G constantly plays out of tune (on the sharp side). Metheny was also particularly offended by Kenny G overdubbing his lameass, jive and pseudo bluesy (Metheny's words) sax noodling over jazz legend Louis Armstrong's classic "What a Wonderful World", an act that Methany regarded as being akin to "musical necrophilia".