In case you were distracted in 2020 (the pandemic) and missed this release, legendary saxophonist Kenny G collaborated with Canadian mega pop-star, The Weeknd… and it’s a huge tune and a modern classic!
Kenny G shed some light on how the collaboration with The Weeknd arose in a recent interview with fellow smooth jazz legend, Dave Koz. The interview provides some fascinating insight into the lives and careers of these two international saxophone icons, but it feels more like eavesdropping on a conversation between old friends.
Entering The Modern Era
Early in the interview Koz asks KG if he had any trepidation about ‘refashioning himself for the modern era’ and working with today’s popular music artists. KG responds without hesitation, “if the music works I’m in”. It’s clear that KG’s answers are genuine and so we can believe that he is not motivated entirely by the publicity and exposure that these collaborations offer. He states, “obviously it has to work musically for me, not just gimmicky (… and) if the music doesn’t work, i’m out”.
When Kenny G first heard the song he instantly replied, “did you write this song for me, (…) it’s right up my alley”. KG explains that there was already a guide sax part on the song. As the featured soloist, KG respects The Weeknd’s creative vision and asks if he wants to repeat the sax part that is already on the demo. KG’s years of experience in the music industry really show when he asks The Weeknd “would you allow me to play the sax part that should have always been there”.
The Weeknd replies and asks KG to “please do your thing”. For any songwriter, relinquishing creative vision to another musician in this way shows a huge amount of trust and respect, testament to the iconic career of Kenny G. KG goes on to say, “I listened to the song and I came into my studio and (…) I spent a few hours and sent it to him and he loved it”.
To add to the pressure, Kenny G would be asked to perform the solo the NEXT DAY, alongside The Weeknd, which was being filmed for his Times’ Person of the Year performance. Understanding the significance of this occasion, KG decided that he would “not wing a solo” but “work out a solo that’s going to last forever”. What’s impressive is KG’s ability to work under such tight deadlines like this, whilst delivering the high quality performance and showmanship that we’ve come to expect of him. He says “the next day when I went to meet him (The Weeknd) I was basically performing something I had worked out, which was way better for me, but it was easy because the music was the same thing”.
There is a huge debate amongst music fans whether solos should be performed and reproduced as they appear on studio albums. Commonly, rock and pop solos tend to be reproduced, whilst jazz solos remain improvised. I respect that Kenny G was being both practical with the time he had available, but also wanted to honour the recorded solo that he had clearly spent time writing. What is clear is that KG understands that this televised performance would be as ‘legit’ as the studio recording itself, having a life of its own online with as much impact as the recorded song itself! I believe Kenny G continues to stay relevant and at the top of his game because of his preparation and ‘musical moral compass’… oh, and the 2-3 hours of daily practice!
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Kenny G starts talking about the collaboration at 06:01 but the 45-minute interview is worth watching in it’s entirety for those saxophone enthusiasts out there!