Kenny G is an extremely common answer for "artist you dislike the most", "music that irritates you" or similar questions. There's a somewhat popular photo of Miles Davis and Kenny G, where Miles Davis seems to be the less amused of the pair.

Miles Davis and Kenny G Photo

We don't know the context. Perhaps Miles Davis was just looking at someone barfing or something. But the photo is often presented as "Miles hates Kenny" or something around those lines.

This trend is even bigger among Jazz musicians, I've noticed, where Kenny G is often called "a lie", "a hack", or something similar.

In contrast, Kenny G is successful in sales, and is popular among other niches, just not among jazz musicians and some jazz enthusiast. This hate seems to go well beyond "I don't like his music" or "I don't like how he plays", so there must be something more to it.

Where did all this hate come from? Why is Kenny G so hated in jazz related circles? Are there objective reasons behind the hate?

  • You're basically asking the users here for their opinion on other people's opinions. – PiedPiper Jan 22 at 11:41
  • I took back my last comment since I missed the fact that you'd edited the question – PiedPiper Jan 22 at 11:58
  • There is a harsh joke about Kenny G by Clare Fischer here: youtube.com/watch?v=js0ofXnONg4, at 0.35 – Watson Jun 7 at 11:58

Personally, I find Kenny G's music as pleasant as does the next person. But the hatred for him is neither solely because his music is bland, unchallenging, and largely outside traditional jazz idioms, nor solely because he is enormously popular and successful. It's because his popularity and success stems from the bland inauthenticity of his music.

Jazz is a unique form of music, created largely by African-Americans, fusing, against all odds, both African and European music traditions. In its pure forms, it is immensely challenging to play, demands constant creativity and innovation, and actively moves the listener out of his or her comfort zones.

Kenny G is immensely technically proficient, but his music lulls the listeners, instead of challenging them, and he hasn't done much, if anything, to advance the art form. Nevertheless, he has been rewarded with enormous wealth and popularity, and is synonymous with "jazz" in the minds of many. Fairly, or unfairly, his prominence makes him a symbolic exemplar of countless white artists who have been idolized by the same mainstream audiences that ignore and reject the artists of color who created the genres and styles in the first place. Thus, he is regarded as an undeserving appropriator of the creativity and artistic risk-taking of others. The white jazz artists who have escaped this contempt typically a) have done more personal artistic risk-taking and creative work and b) have been perceived as more visibly respectful of the genre's originators.

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It's unclear exactly why Kenny G is the object of so much vilification, particularly from jazz musicians. Kenny would probably never claim that what he plays is jazz.

  • Is it because he's a mediocre player? There are plenty of mediocre players around. I can can go to a local club any night of the week and listen to far worse players.
  • Is it jealousy because he's successful? Unfortunately talent and commercial success have a very poor correlation. Just listen to half the Top-20 hits from the last fifty years.
  • Is it because he's pretentious? A lot of successful people are: just look at some of the politicians and company mangers around.

I get the impression this is like the weaker kid in a school class who gets picked on by a couple of pupils, and then everyone jumps on him. There seems to be no objective justification for the hate, even if one assumes it's possible to be objective at all about music beyond the most basic level (e.g. wrong notes)

There's an interview with Pat Metheny where Pat covers some of this. He would have been prepared to ignore Kenny G, but what really sends him off the rails is Kenny G overdubbing himself on top of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". This is a simple pop ballad, and probably the least musically interesting thing that Armstrong ever recorded, but the interview turns into a rant:

But when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis's tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician.

The whole article is worth reading, but there is nothing objective about Pat's opinion.

The question is garnished with a photo of Miles Davis sitting next to Kenny G and looking somewhat less than happy. The claim that this is evidence of Miles' dislike of Kenny G doesn't hold up. I don't think I've ever seen a photo of Miles smiling except on the cover of his 1966 album titled, with a touch of self-irony, "Miles Smiles".
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    The question is not whether Kenny G plays out of tune, or is otherwise mediocre ( which which I totally agree). It's about why Kenny G is singled out as a hate object. Why him and not for example Sonny Stitt who consistently plays horribly out of tune? – PiedPiper Jan 22 at 20:49
  • Nobody is forcing Pat Metheny to listen to "What a Wonderful World". – PiedPiper Jan 22 at 20:56
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    @VonHuffman Maybe I didn't explain clearly enough. Metheny's general criticism (out of tune, small vocabulary, rhythmic problems etc.) is about as objective as music criticism can be, and correct. It's also undisputed that G overdubbed "Wonderful World" but Metheny's interpretation of this as almost a sacrilege is subjective. Follow the YouTube link: there are over 300 comments, probably half of them are positive. Metheny's hatred is subjective. If he hates G for not measuring up to Coltrane's standards why doesn't he hate Maceo Parker or David Sanborn for not measuring up to Parker's? – PiedPiper Jan 22 at 22:07

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