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"I'm proud my melodies are something people embrace in different cultures and there is something in them that they connect with." - Kenny G, 58, who started out at the age of 17 as a sideman for black soul star Barry White
MUSIC

Sax to the max

After 40 years and 75 million records sold, instrumentalist Kenny G powers on with a new bossa nova-inflected album.
Jan 30, 2015 5:50 AM

YOU can run but you can't hide from Kenny G, one of the world's best-selling instrumentalists who has ramped up sales of 75 million records and counting since breaking through as a solo artist with his self-titled 1982 debut.

From movies to elevators, there is no telling just when one of the saxophonist's sultry melodies might just creep up on you; so much so that even the 58-year-old, whose real name is a less catchy Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, gets caught off-guard as well.

"I've heard my music in Tiananmen Square being played out of loudspeakers - it was a little surreal for me," he says over the telephone from Los Angeles last week, ahead of the release of his 14th album, Brazilian Nights, which came out on Tuesday.

But that's also hardly surprising considering in China, Going Home, has been blaring out of PA systems throughout the country for decades now during knocking off and closing times to tell the public to, erm, go home. (When he performs there now, he saves the tune for last for the fear his audience might leave if he brings it on too early in the set.)

Even the curly-haired musician's peers tell him they have heard his music in the unlikeliest of places - "I was at a restaurant once and Sting was also there; he told me he was just in Katmandu where he heard my Christmas record being played - I think it wasn't even the holiday season."

Brazilian Nights' release is set to win over more fans as it marks the multi-Grammy winner's first foray into bossa nova, a popular jazz sub-genre which he fell in love with after hearing Cannonball Adderley's version of Corcovado(Quiet Nights For Quiet Stars), which he also covers on the new record.

Comprising half standards and half originals, he says the 10-track album is a tribute to the masters such as Adderley, Paul Desmond and particularly, Stan Getz - whose album Getz for Lovers he listened to every day for the past five years.

The five new songs were all inspired by those giants of the genre and co-written with longtime collaborator and co-producer, Walter Afanasieff.

Kenny reveals he took his time to record Brazilian Nights, spending 18 months studying bossa nova and composing melodies that "come from inside (his heart)".

The album could also find the regular Singapore visitor making a return some time this year - "I'll be back, I've been (in Singapore) six or seven times now in my career and my last show at Marina Bay Sands (in 2011) was wonderful."

Despite enjoying a successful career, Kenny is sometimes lampooned and accused of playing a cheesy brand of muzak.

It's a piece of criticism that he takes in his stride and even pokes fun at in a television commercial for Snickers a few years ago and on sketches found on the Funny or Die website.

But what makes him proud is the fact that his instrumentals have no geographical restrictions and are enjoyed anywhere in the world. "I'm proud my melodies are something people embrace in different cultures and there is something in them that they connect with," he says.

And despite entering his fourth decade as a performer - G started playing when he was just 17 as a sideman for Barry White in the latter's Love Unlimited Orchestra - he feels age has done nothing to slow him down and nobody has even tried to challenge his 1997 record of holding the longest note - 45 minutes and 47 seconds - ever played on saxophone.

"I still feel the same as I did when I was in my 20s and my weight is exactly the same as when I was in college," declares the avid golfer. "I exercise every day so everything feels the same; I'm still excited to keep working and playing."

Brazilian Nights is out in stores now