Kenny G brings ‘The Miracles Holiday & Hits Tour’ to Hollywood Casino

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Kenny G at Hollywood Casino (Part 1)

His signature saxophone made him the top-selling instrumentalist of all time.

This Friday, Kenny G brings his “Miracles Holiday & Hits Tour” to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, including “Songbird” and plenty of holiday tunes.

“We have five or six holiday songs that we really like to play, so I think we put a nice mix together. It’s not all holiday,” Kenny G told WTOP. “We’ll do ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Deck the Halls,’ ‘Sleigh Ride,’ ‘Winter Wonderland.’ Those are fun! The melodies are beautiful, everybody knows them, it’s fun, so we do that and we really enjoy it.”

Born in Seattle in 1956, he grew up in a Jewish family so he never celebrated Christmas, but he came to love the melodies and family spirit. In high school, he saw a saxophone performance on TV, and he has been playing his same saxophone for nearly 50 years.

“It is my longest relationship,” Kenny G said. “We have a good relationship. I think we love each other. I love the sax, I think the sax loves me, we never fight, it’s always a respectful discussion about why a note didn’t come out. … It doesn’t have a name. I don’t think I’ve wanted to cross that line! I don’t know what that means, but I don’t want to cross it.”

His career launched by performing with Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1973.

“For your younger listeners, he was the biggest, most popular male R&B singer in the world — not in the country, in the world,” Kenny G said. “To be able to play with him and get featured, for a high school white kid, was pretty great, so I got noticed a lot and that kind of helped me get established as a guy who could play the instrument.”

Clive Davis signed him to Arista Records for his self-titled debut album “Kenny G” (1982), which got good reviews and reached No. 10 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.

His fourth album “Duotones” (1986) earned his first of many Grammy nominations off the strength of the song “Songbird,” which he promises to play on the tour Friday night.

“That was my first record where I actually was in charge,” Kenny G said. “The record company really didn’t put me in charge, but I really took charge and did the instrumentals the way I wanted to play them. ‘Songbird’ was me just, I did all of the instruments on that song, so when you hear the keyboard parts, the bass parts, I did everything.”

In fact, “Songbird” is the famous song that he performed on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” against the wishes of everybody who booked him on the show.

“The Johnny Carson show was everything — it was Kimmel, it was Fallon, it was Oprah, it was Ellen, all of them combined times like 100,” Kenny G said. “If you were on that show and you got featured and you did well, that really made your career.”

His sixth album “Breathless” (1992) won his first and only Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for “Forever in Love,” which reached No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. To this day, “Breathless” remains the top-selling instrumental album ever — a point of pride.

“By far,” Kenny G said. “I don’t say that with any ego, it’s just numbers. That record sold 12 million in the states. And in the world, it’s probably 15 or 16 million. I don’t think any other instrumental record comes close to that. … I don’t see that ever being broken because people don’t buy records anymore, so I don’t think it’s possible to break that record.”

That’s right. If you followed pop music in the ’90s, you probably owned a Kenny G album.

His album “Miracles” (1994) was the top-selling holiday album of the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991-present), with “Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Greensleeves,” “Miracles,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “The Chanukah Song,” “Silver Bells,” “Away in a Manger” and “Brahm’s Lullaby.”

“Sometimes you just nail the right kind of arrangement on the song, and that album really just did it, so we do stuff from ‘Miracles’ [on our tour], and then I’ve done a couple of other Christmas records since, so if you like ‘Miracles’ and if you like the way that sounds, all of the Christmas songs that I do have that similar vibe, so it’s all going to be great.”

Ironically, some music critics didn’t dig his sound, especially after his newfound fame.

“That’s the downside of being popular,” Kenny G said. “When you’re popular, the instrumental world kind of looks down at you like, ‘Well, you went commercial.’ That’s just not even true. Yes, it went commercial, but not because the artist went commercial. It went commercial because people liked it and they bought it, but that wasn’t how it started.”

He was disappointed not to earn a Grammy nod for his recent album “New Standards” (2021), featuring 11 original compositions inspired by jazz ballads of the ’50s and ’60s.

“I have not had success with the Grammys, even though my instrumentals are probably the most-heard instrumentals on our planet, and yet I couldn’t get arrested trying to play one of them on the Grammys — they would never let that happen,” Kenny G said.

Either way, he still practices his saxophone three hours every morning with dedication.

“I’m in the middle of practicing right now as we speak,” Kenny G said. “I do that every day and that’s pretty much what’s led me to where I am, just working really hard at what I do, getting really good at it and not taking ‘no’ for an answer most of the time.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Kenny G at Hollywood Casino (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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