Listening to Kenny G – Toronto 2021

Kenny G in Listening to Kenny G. Courtesy of HBO.

Penny Lane is back with her newest documentary, Listening to Kenny G, which goes into why he’s such a polarizing jazz musician.

Lane interviews a number of jazz artists and critics in hopes of getting to the bottom of finding out why Kenny G is so polarizing. She makes sure we here from a wide variety of people. You either like him or don’t. And for some, he’s not representative of what real jazz is–sound familiar? But in as much as this documentary is about why he’s so polarizing, Kenny G opens up about his life and how he deals with the criticism. Having already been scarred, he says that the jazz police will no longer rock his world.

There was a point early in his career when the studio wanted him to write songs about the ghetto. At that point, Kenny became so disgusted because he was a Jewish musician from Seattle. And so when he goes on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, he plays “Songbird” instead of the single he was expected to play. “Songbird” would go onto change his career and chart in the top 5! Clive Davis had written off to radio programmers and so the song kept climbing in the charts. And then Carson’s booker comes calling for Kenny G again.

Kenny G offered a donation to charity if he could get permission to cover Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” His take wasn’t as well received in the jazz world but it certainly makes for a fascinating conversation in its own right. And again, you either love it or don’t like it! Pat Metheny, a jazz musician, wrote an article on it and it went viral. Penny Lane chooses to have this article read by a variety of talking heads on screen. It adds to the flavor that the filmmaker is going for with the documentary.

As the times change, so, too, must Kenny G. Everything is all about social media right now. It’s no longer just about the number of albums or singles that a musician can sell. It’s about staying engaged with the audience. G-d forbid he cut his care because he knows his career will end in an instant.

He hopes to still perform music into his 80s but in the meantime, he would the chance to score a feature film. Could Oscar potentially come calling? I don’t know but time will certainly tell.

Listening to Kenny G is a long overdue documentary that puts the polarizing musician in a new light.

DIRECTOR: Penny Lane
FEATURING: Kenny G (Kenneth Bruce Gorelick)

Listening to Kenny G holds its world premiere during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival in the TIFF Docs program. HBO will air the film in the fall of 2021.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.